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Doe v. Syracuse University

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 28, 2018

JOHN DOE #1, JOHN DOE #2, JOHN DOE #3, JOHN DOE #4 and JOHN DOE #5, Plaintiffs,
v.
SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY; KEN SYVERUD, individually and as Chancellor of Syracuse University; PAMELA PETER, individually and as Assistant Dean of Student Rights and Affairs and the Director of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities; ROBERT HRADSKY, individually and as Syracuse University Dean of Students and Associate Vice President of the Student Experience; and TERESA ABI-NADER DAHLBERG, individually and as the Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Defendants.

         APPEARANCES

          SMITH, SOVIK, KENDRICK & SUGNET, P.C. Attorneys for Plaintiffs

          HANCOCK ESTABROOK, LLP Attorneys for Defendants

         OF COUNSEL

          DAVID M. KATZ, ESQ. KAREN G. FELTER, ESQ. KEVIN E. HULSLANDER, ESQ. JOHN POWERS, ESQ.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          FREDERICK J. SCULLIN, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On June 13, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction by Order to Show Cause.[1] See Dkt. No. 14. That same day, the Court denied the motion for a temporary restraining order and scheduled a motion hearing regarding Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction for June 21, 2018. See Id. At the conclusion of the motion hearing, the Court reserved decision on the motion and directed counsel to file supplemental briefing on several issues. The parties filed their supplemental papers on June 25, 2018. See Dkt. Nos. 21-22. Having completed its review of all of the parties' submissions, as well as their oral arguments, the following constitutes the Court's written disposition of Plaintiff's motion.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Generally, "[a] party seeking a preliminary injunction must show (1) irreparable harm; (2) either a likelihood of success on the merits or both serious questions on the merits and a balance of hardships decidedly favoring the moving party; and (3) that a preliminary injunction is in the public interest." North Am. Soccer League v. U.S. Soccer Fed'n, 883 F.3d 32, 37 (2d Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). However, when a party seeks a mandatory, as opposed to a prohibitory, injunction, "[b]ecause [such] injunctions disrupt the status quo, a party seeking one must meet a heightened legal standard by showing 'a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits.'" Id. (quoting N.Y. Civ. Liberties Union v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 684 F.3d 286, 294 (2d Cir. 2012)).

         Since "the proposed injunction's effect on the status quo drives the standard, [the court's first step is to] ascertain the status quo - that is, 'the last actual, peaceable uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy.'" Id. (quoting Mastrio v. Sebelius, 768 F.3d 116, 120 (2d Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (quoting La-Rouche v. Kezer, 20 F.3d 68, 74 n.7 (2d Cir. 1994)) (footnote omitted). In the context of a preliminary injunction, "[t]he 'status quo' . . . is really a 'status quo ante.'" Id. at 37 n.5 (citations omitted). The Second Circuit explained that "[t]his special 'ante' formulation of the status quo in the realm of equities shuts out defendants seeking shelter under a current 'status quo' precipitated by their wrongdoing." Id.; see also O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal v. Ashcroft, 389 F.3d 973, 1012 (10th Cir. 2004) (en banc) (per curiam) (explaining that determining the status quo is important in this context because, "[a]t the preliminary injunction stage, . . ., the function of the court is not to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent irreparable harm, but primarily to keep things as they were, until the court is able to determine the parties' respective legal rights").

         Not surprisingly, the parties do not agree on what constitutes the "status quo ante." Plaintiffs assert that "the last actual, peaceable uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy" was the moment before Defendants placed a hold on their student accounts and refused to release their transcripts without a disciplinary notation. On the other hand, Defendants argue that "the last actual, peaceable uncontested status" was the situation that existed immediately prior to Plaintiffs filing this lawsuit on April 24, 2018, at which time there was a hold on Plaintiffs' academic files, including their transcripts.

         After reviewing the entire record in this matter, the Court concludes that, because Defendant University's policy and regular procedure was to place a hold on a student's academic file in all student conduct cases that involved charges that might result in a suspension or when the case arose close to the end of the semester, see Dkt. No. 20-3 ("Nestor Decl.") at ¶ 3, [2] the status quo ante was the relationship that existed between the parties immediately prior to Plaintiffs commencement of this action on April 24, 2018, at which point there was a hold on Plaintiffs' academic files.

         Having determined the "status quo ante," the Court must next determine whether Plaintiffs are seeking a mandatory ...


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