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Weckhorst v. Kansas State University

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 13, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Kansas State University's (“KSU”) Motion to Join an Additional Party Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a)(2), or, in the Alternative, to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(7) and 19(b) (Doc. 14). KSU seeks to have the students alleged to have sexually assaulted Plaintiff joined to this case, in which Plaintiff asserts Title IX, Kansas Consumer Protection Act (“KCPA”), and negligence claims. The motion is fully briefed and the Court is prepared to rule. For the reasons explained below, the Court denies KSU's motion for joinder.

         I. Factual Allegations

         The following allegations are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint. On April 26, 2014, Plaintiff Sara Weckhorst attended a fraternity event at Pillsbury Crossing, a frequent K-State party location not far from campus. Plaintiff became extremely intoxicated and blacked out. Her last memory was speaking with a new acquaintance, J.F., a fellow KSU student and the fraternity's designated driver for the party. J.F. took Plaintiff into his truck and raped her while about fifteen KSU students looked on, some taking video and photographs. J.F. then transported Plaintiff to the fraternity house, which is situated about a quarter-mile from campus.

         On the drive to the fraternity house, he assaulted her again. Once at the fraternity house, J.F. took Sara to the “sleep room, ” which was lined with beds, and raped her again. When he was finished, J.F. left her there, naked and passed out, and joined other fraternity members in partying downstairs. Several hours later, at about 10:00 p.m., Plaintiff awoke from blackout, not knowing where she was or how she got there. A man she did not know was raping her from behind. Plaintiff later learned the man was J.G., a KSU student and a member of the fraternity. Still very intoxicated and confused, Plaintiff made her way out of the bed and to a nearby patio. J.G. followed her to the patio and raped her again. J.G. informed Plaintiff that two fraternity brothers had penetrated her in the same day. Plaintiff began to cry uncontrollably, having no recollection of the earlier sexual assaults. She retrieved her clothing and went home. Plaintiff later received a text from a KSU student stating “heard you got fucked at the lake, ” and stating rumors about her. Plaintiff further alleges that photographs and videos of her were posted on social media and widely spread.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint against the two alleged assailants with the KSU Affirmative Action Office. On May 5, 2014, Plaintiff met with KSU investigator Ameerah McBride of the Office of Affirmative Action, who was charged with enforcing the University's sexual misconduct policy. Ms. McBride explained that KSU would do nothing about the rapes or the two student-assailants because the rapes occurred off-campus. Plaintiff also reported the sexual assault to the Riley County Police Department. Over the course of several months, Plaintiff and her parents met with KSU officials, who explained that KSU would not investigate the alleged assaults.[1] Plaintiff alleges that KSU suspended the fraternity after Plaintiff reported the presence of alcohol at the party where she was assaulted, but that KSU did not investigate her report of rape or sanction the two alleged assailants.[2] Plaintiff alleges J.F. and J.G.'s continued presence on campus has placed her in fear and that the sexual assault was so severe, pervasive, and offensive as to deny her access to the benefits and opportunities of an education at KSU. Among other relief, Plaintiff seeks an injunction “ordering K-State to conduct an investigation and disciplinary proceedings into” Plaintiff's report of sexual assault.

         II. Discussion

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(a) provides, in relevant part:

(1) Required Party. A person who is subject to service of process and whose joinder will not deprive the court of subject-matter jurisdiction must be joined as a party if:
. . . (B) that person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that disposing of the action in the person's absence may: (i) as a practical matter impair or impede the person's ability to protect the interest; or (ii) leave an existing party subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations because of the interest.
(2) Joinder by Court Order. If a person has not been joined as required, the court must order that the person be made a party. A person who refuses to join as a plaintiff may be made either a defendant or, in a proper case, an involuntary plaintiff.

         Failure to join a necessary party is a defense under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(7).

         KSU argues that J.F. and J.G. are necessary parties under both Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a)(1)(B)(i) and 19(a)(1)(B)(ii). KSU argues that disposition of this action without J.F. and J.G. would violate their due process liberty and property interests, and would subject KSU to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations. Thus, KSU moves for joinder of J.F. and J.G. as parties in this case, or for dismissal of the case pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(7).

         A. Interests of Party to be Joined

         Pursuant to Rule 19, a person who claims an interest in the litigation is a necessary party where disposing of the action in the person's absence would “as a practical matter impair or impede the person's ability to protect the interest.”[3] KSU argues that resolution of this action in the absence of J.F. and J.G. would impede their ability to protect their interests. KSU's argument rests on two fundamental assertions. First, KSU claims that to recover on her Title IX, KCPA, and negligence claims, Plaintiff will have to prove that J.F. and J.G. raped her. Second, KSU asserts that because Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief ordering KSU to conduct “disciplinary proceedings, ” Plaintiff seeks an order compelling a pre-ordained finding by KSU that J.F. and J.G. raped her.

         KSU further argues that because Plaintiff must prove in this action that J.F. and J.G. raped her, and because the relief Plaintiff seeks would compel a finding by KSU to the same effect, resolution of this action without J.F. and J.G. would impede J.F. and J.G.'s due process interests. KSU asserts that categorizing someone as a “sex offender” implicates a protected liberty interest where that labeling is accompanied by a “plus” factor that will significantly alter the person's status.[4] KSU further asserts that J.F. and J.G. have protected property interests in continued education, such that they cannot be expelled or dismissed without due process.[5]Because KSU will be compelled to find J.F. and J.G. rapists in any forthcoming investigation and disciplinary proceedings, and because Plaintiff will likely be able to employ issue preclusion and use this Court's findings regarding J.F. and J.G.'s liability for rape in those proceedings, KSU argues that resolution of this action in J.F. and J.G.'s absence will impede their due process interests.

         The Court first addresses the assertions that underlie KSU's arguments regarding the effects of this litigation on J.F. and J.G.'s interests. First, the Court is not persuaded that Plaintiff must prove J.F. and J.G. raped her to recover on her Title IX claim.[6] Certainly, to recover on her Title IX claim Plaintiff must prove KSU had actual knowledge of “harassment that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive as to” deprive access to the educational benefits or opportunities provided by the school.[7] But Title IX liability does not depend on Plaintiff proving-or the Court making a finding-that J.F. and J.G. committed the sexual assaults alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint. While Plaintiff's case may involve evidence of J.F. and J.G.'s involvement in the alleged sexual assaults, her claim does not depend on this proof. Instead, it depends on Plaintiff proving KSU was on notice of, and was deliberately indifferent to, sexual harassment that deprived her educational access.

         Second, the Court is not convinced that the relief Plaintiff seeks-injunctive relief ordering KSU to engage in “an investigation and disciplinary proceedings” in response to her report of sexual assault-mandates a pre-ordained finding by KSU in any such proceedings regarding J.F. and J.G.'s liability. Nowhere in her Complaint does Plaintiff request that this Court simply order KSU to discipline J.F. and J.G.[8] Indeed, such relief would be a non-starter.[9]KSU refers to its Policy Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Violence, and Procedure for Reviewing Complaints (“Policy”).[10] KSU argues that under this Policy, the “disciplinary” step, referred to in the Policy as “Decision on Sanction if Violation Found, ” occurs only after a complaint of sexual violence has been reviewed and investigated, and a violation of the Policy has been found.[11] Thus, according to KSU, Plaintiff's request to order KSU to engage in “disciplinary proceedings” would require it to skip the investigatory and determinative steps, and proceed directly to imposing sanctions. Plaintiff's relief, however, does not appear to be framed in terms of the steps outlined in KSU's Policy. Although KSU interprets Plaintiff's request for “disciplinary proceedings” as synonymous with the “Decision on Sanction” step in the Policy, there is no indication in her Complaint that Plaintiff was referring to ...

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