Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

Two students sue Miami over COVID-19 related suspension

<p>Two students are suing Miami University after being suspended for an off-campus party. </p>

Two students are suing Miami University after being suspended for an off-campus party.

Two Miami University students filed a lawsuit against the university over their suspension for hosting a party in August. 

The two students, referred to as Jane Doe and Jane Roe in the lawsuit, were charged with violating Miami’s code of conduct through the Office of Community Standards for having a gathering with more than 10 people on Aug. 22. 

According to the lawsuit, the complainants have been suspended until Jan. 1. 

The two students claim at the time the party took place, they had received very little information from the university clarifying its expectation on mass gatherings.

Clarification came from the university five days later, according to the lawsuit.

Oxford banned mass gatherings on Aug. 18, which the city defined as 10 or more non-household residents. 

According to a statement Doe made in the lawsuit, she lived with nine other students at the time. The lawsuit said the gathering consisted of 13 people when OPD responded. 

“I was not found responsible [by the city] for hosting, planning, inviting, nor even being outside when the ‘mass gathering’ was occurring,” Doe wrote. 

Doe claimed in her statement that some of the 13 that were counted — some of those pictured in the officer's body cam footage, including Doe and her housemate — only came up to the house after the OPD officer arrived. 

“Our neighbor was counted in that total as well, although she had only run over from her

house upon seeing a police officer to check that we were OK,” Doe said. “Additionally, a male was counted in that total even though we believe he only walked up after the officer arrived as he was only pictured after the citation was written.”

Eric Long, the attorney representing Doe and Roe, originally filed the suit in Ohio’s Southern District Court, which is a federal court. Long said because Miami is a state institution, the university has rights through the 11th amendment, which prevents federal courts from hearing certain cases against states. A state can waive those rights if it chooses, but Long was advised by Miami’s attorneys that Miami would not be waiving those rights. So the case was moved from the district court to the Ohio Court of Claims, a state level court. 

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

“Ultimately that jurisdiction is not appropriate in the federal court,” Long, a Miami alumnus, said. “So, we have re-filed the claim in the state court seeking essentially the same issues; breach of contract, failure to abide by Miami's own policies and procedures, what amounts to a lack of good faith and fundamental fairness in their disciplinary process.”

According to court records, Miami is being represented by Ohio’s attorney general, Dave Yost, whose office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Long said the students were never cited by Oxford Police Department (OPD) for violating the mass gathering ban. However, he said Miami interpreted the mass gathering differently.

“Amazingly, the officer who responded basically acknowledged it's really confusing and nobody really knows what all the policy means,” Long said.

Ann James, director of Miami’s office of community standards, said there are instances in which Miami would pursue a case even if OPD does not. 

Both James and Carole Johnson, interim director of university news and communications, declined to comment on Doe and Roe’s case specifically. 

The students are asking for at least $75,000 in damages, for the university to reinstate them immediately and for the suspension to be expunged from their records. 

Long said he has filed a motion for the students to be reinstated at Miami for the duration of the case. 

“Miami is coming down very heavy handed,” Long said. “I don't know if it's because of the national response to that one party where people had COVID and were kind of broadcasting it. But in any event, they seem to be taking an approach that is extremely heavy handed and unfortunately jeopardizing the future of a lot of students.”