Published on:

Disciplinary sanctions and Title IX procedure by Valencia College found Constitutional

The issue disputed in Koeppel v. Valencia College was whether Valencia College violated Jeffrey Koeppel’s statutory or constitutional rights when it suspended him for his harassing conduct against another student. Koeppel’s suspension followed an investigation by the Valencia Dean of Students after a “Jane Roe” lodged a complaint about messages Koeppel had been sending her. The investigation showed that he sent Jane Roe dozens of messages making lewd reference to her body and send these unwanted massages over a period of days. He continued to contact her despite her repeated pleas that he stop contacting her and after the Dean issued an order that he not contact her.

After the Dean determined that Koeppel likely violated the school’s Code of Conduct for four types of conduct prohibited by the Code, a disciplinary hearing was held by the Student Conduct Committee. At a hearing held by the Committee they reviewed the evidence of the text messages and questioned Koeppel about his messages. It concluded he was responsible for the charged conduct and suspended him for attending the college for one year.

The court of appeals concluded that a school is not foreclosed from regulating off campus conduct where the conduct invaded the rights of another student. Koeppel challenged the provision in Valencia’s Code of Conduct dealing with physical abuse, sexual harassment, stalking, and disorderly or lewd conduct claiming that they are unconstitutionally overbroad, vague on their face, and vague as applied to him. The court only considered the first offense, stalking, (because he would have to find all four overbroad to succeed), and it found no constitutional violation. The stalking provision was not unconstitutionally vague on its face because Koeppel’s conduct was clearly proscribed under the stalking provision.

Koeppel also claimed he was denied due process claiming that the Committee assumed that Jane was telling the truth in her unsworn complaint and denied him the opportunity to cross examine her. He also claimed the committee applied the wrong standard of proof.

The court of appeals rejected the procedural due process claim because it found that Koeppel failed to take advantage of available state remedies that Florida provides. He could have sought review as a matter of right through a state certiorari proceeding.

He also claimed that he was deprived of substantive due process because he had a constitutionally protected right to continue his enrollment at Valencia and that right was violated when the school acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner during his disciplinary proceedings. But the court of appeals reject this argument finding that students at a public university do not have a fundamental right to continued enrollment.

He also contended that the school violated Title IX statute by disciplining him for off-campus conduct which he claimed was protected by the First Amendment.  A challenge to a Title IX proceeding requires a showing the student was innocent and wrongly found to have committed an offense and that there is a causal connection between the flawed outcome and gender bias.  But he failed to show that the outcome of the Title IX was an erroneous outcome. It found there was no genuine issue about the correctness of the outcome of his disciplinary proceeding.