Court Sides with Accuser in Liberty University Title IX Case

Dec 22, 2017

A federal judge from the Western District of Virginia has dismissed the twin claims of a Liberty University football player, who after being accused of sexual assault, sued his accused of defamation and filing a false report. In so ruling, the court held that the claims were barred by the statute of limitations.
Plaintiff Kyle Carrington met Sarah Browning, a fellow Liberty University student, at a large house party in August 2015. Purportedly, Browning asked Carrington and Cameron Jackson to join her outside. Once outside, Browning allegedly offered and performed oral sex on Carrington and Jackson. The trio was interrupted by approaching party-goers and returned to the party. The Lynchburg Police Department later disbanded the party due to a noise complaint. Browning allegedly did not appear to be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, and she did not report the sexual encounter to the police.
Months later, Browning was “administratively withdrawn” (i.e. expelled) from Liberty for violations of the school’s honor code. Browning began to speak negatively about Liberty, telling her friends that she could “take down” the football team, according to the plaintiff. On July 13, 2016, Browning contacted Liberty and reported that the 2015 sexual encounter with Carrington was non-consensual. She further alleged that she was raped while under the influence of alcohol or some other drug that prevented her consent. Liberty immediately began an investigation into Browning’s claims.
On Sept. 8, 2016, this investigation culminated in a hearing before the Conduct Review Committee. The next day that committee notified Carrington that he was in violation of the Liberty Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, and Assault Policy, and that he would be expelled. Carrington appealed the decision. On Sept. 12, 2016, while his appeal was pending, Liberty issued a press release that announced Carrington had been found in violation of Liberty’s Honor Code and sexual assault policy. The press release specified that an appeal process and concurrent police investigation were ongoing, and so Liberty would not provide further details about the incident. The local press picked up the story.
Carrington’s appeal hearing occurred on Oct. 3, 2016. The plaintiff was assisted by counsel at the hearing. The finding of sexual assault was ultimately upheld, and the plaintiff’s expulsion sustained. On Sept. 11, 2017, Carrington filed this suit in the Circuit Court for the City of Lynchburg, Va., and the case was removed to federal court on Oct. 6, 2017.
In his lawsuit, Carrington alleged that Browning defamed him by falsely reporting that he sexually assaulted her. He separately alleged that Liberty University and Len Stevens defamed him and violated Title IX through their handling of those allegations. Browning moved to dismiss the claims, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), claiming they are barred by the statute of limitations.
In its analysis, the court honed on two facts, which are most relevant to the current inquiry. First, Carrington alleged that Browning’s defamatory verbal and written statements were made on July 13, 2016. And second, Carrington filed this suit on Sept. 11, 2017, over one year later. Virginia, whose law applies here, has a one-year statute of limitations for defamation claims. Va. Code § 8.01-247.1. Despite his protestations, Carrington’s claim against Browning accrued when Browning made the allegedly defamatory statements on July 13, 2016. Carrington filed his suit against Browning too late.
Furthermore, the court denied Carrington’s request for leave to amend his claim, labeling it “futile.”
Kyle Carrington v. Liberty University, et al.; W.D. Va.; CASE NO. 6:17-CV-00068, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 189327; 11/15/17
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Rebecca Lee Wetzel, LEAD ATTORNEY, Wetzel & Washburn, PLLC, Forest, VA. (for defendants) Melissa Wolf Riley, Robert Craig Wood, LEAD ATTORNEYS, McGuireWoods LLP, Charlottesville, VA; Summer Laine Speight, LEAD ATTORNEY, McGuireWoods LLP, Richmond, VA.


Articles in Current Issue