In Jane Jones v. Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity, Inc.; No. 17-3272, (3d Cir. April 1, 2019), the Third Circuit held that Ramapo College of New Jersey and several of its officers were entitled to sovereign immunity in their official capacities, and that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity for certain counts of the complaints.
Plaintiff, a former student, had attended a fraternity party on the campus of Ramapo College and claimed that she was sexually assaulted at the party, and then subsequently at a dormitory. Her complaint alleged violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983 based on “deliberate indifference” and “state-created danger”, Title IX, and state law. Jones further claimed that various Public Safety and Security employees of Ramapo named as Doe defendants “had the opportunity to intervene and stop” her assault and rape.
The Third Circuit held that Ramapo and its officers were an arm of the state, and thus were immune to suit in federal court. Using the three part test established in Fitchik v. New Jersey Transit Rail Operations, Inc., 873 F.2d 655, 659 (3d Cir. 1989), the Court concluded that Ramapo and its officers met two of the three parts. The first part of the test focused on the amount of funding that came from the State of New Jersey. Since Ramapo only received 27.9% of its budget from the State of New Jersey, it was not an arm of the state under the funding factor.
However, its status under state law (the second part of the test) favored the court’s finding that it is an arm of the state. Because Ramapo was represented by the state Attorney General, was immunized from paying taxes, was authorized by state law to exercise eminent domain and because it was required to comply with New Jersey’s administrative procedure and civil service laws, the Third Circuit found that it was an arm of the state. Lastly, Ramapo’s trustees are appointed by the governor and the secretary of higher education is vested with authority to issue certain rules governing the college. As such, it is an arm of the state.
The appeals court also concluded that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity in their individual capacities because the plaintiff failed to properly plead a claim for state created danger. It further noted that the college’s alleged failure to do more to protect her from a private actor is outside the scope of a state-created danger.
Plaintiff successfully argued that the officers in their individual capacities waived any argument regarding her claim of deliberate indifference. The Third Circuit concluded that a claim for deliberate indifference is an “independent basis for liability” premised on a distinct set of elements from a state-created danger claim. Since the officers failed to address the elements of this claim, the Court held that they had waived the issue.
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