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Garrett v. University of South Florida Board of Trustees

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

April 18, 2018

SAMANTHA L. GARRETT, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA BOARD OF TRUSTEES, Defendant.

          ORDER

          STEVEN D. MERRYDAY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Samantha Garrett, a graduate student at the University of South Florida, sues (Doc. 1) USF under Title IX and claims a “hostile educational environment, ” a “clearly unreasonable response to sexual violence, ” and retaliation. USF moves (Doc. 22) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim.[1]

         DISCUSSION

          1. Garrett's allegations

          On Saturday, November 12, 2016, Garrett visited a classmate, Andrew Thurston, at Thurston's off-campus apartment. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9) That night or early the next morning, Thurston allegedly “committed sexual battery on [Garrett]” by forcing unspecified “sexual acts on [Garrett].” (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 9-10)

         Three weeks after the alleged assault, Garrett mentioned the incident to a USF psychology professor, who reported the incident to a Title IX official at USF. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 15) On December 6, the day after the psychology professor's report, USF acknowledged receiving the report in a “Title IX initial contact letter” to Garrett. On December 9, Garrett formally complained to USF about Thurston's conduct, and USF assigned Joanna Elwood to investigate. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 18) Elwood allegedly learned that Thurston “offered to drop out of USF so as not to interfere with [Garrett's] progress” and that Thurston falsely reported to police that Garrett “was threatening suicide, ” a false report that purportedly resulted in Garrett's involuntary commitment under the Baker Act. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 20) Garrett alleges that Elwood found evidence sufficient to substantiate the complaint that Thurston violated two provisions of USF's code of conduct “relate[d] to [] non-consensual intercourse and non-consensual sexual contact.” (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 21 and 23)

         On March 9, 2017, USF allegedly wrote Thurston a “no-contact letter” in which USF asked Thurston not to contact Garrett. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 22) That same day, USF charged Thurston with violating USF's code of conduct. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 23) USF recommended sanctioning Thurston by imposing a “deferred suspension” that permitted Thurston to remain enrolled at USF and to attend the same classes as Garrett. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 24) Thurston allegedly accepted the recommended sanction, and USF informed Garrett on March 20, 2017, about the disposition of her complaint against Thurston. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 24-25) The complaint includes no allegation that Garrett appealed from the disposition of her university complaint.

         After the incident, Garrett allegedly “began to struggle and fail in her academic studies.” (Doc. 1 at ¶ 20) Garrett attributes her academic and emotional difficulties to Thurston's continued presence in Garrett's classes and in other areas of the campus; both Garrett and Thurston remain enrolled in a “small” and “close knit” program. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 20) Garrett alleges that USF “permitted Thurston to continue to have regular direct contact with [Garrett]” by:

a. Park[ing] in the same parking lot that [Garrett] was assigned to park in.
b. Maintain[ing] an office as a teaching assistant in the same building that [Garrett's] assigned office was in.
c. Be[ing] on campus at the same time [Garrett] was for academic purposes, including attending classes.
d. Attend[ing] classes that Plaintiff was enrolled in.
e. Enter[ing] classrooms where [Garrett] was performing her duties as a teaching assistant.
f. Attend[ing] weekly guest speaker sessions that were an academic requirement for [Garrett's] studies.
g. Be[ing] in the same room as Plaintiff, no matter how small, at educational meetings, educational and ...

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