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University of Denver v. Doe.

2024 CO 27. No. 22SC499. Summary Judgment—Breach of Contract—Enforceability of a Promise to Conduct a “Thorough, Impartial and Fair” Investigation of Any Sexual-Misconduct Claim—Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing—Existence of an Extra-Contractual Tort Duty to Adopt and Implement Fair Procedures for Investigating and Adjudicating Sexual-Misconduct Claims.

May 6, 2024

John Doe took legal action against the University of Denver (DU), after the school expelled him for allegedly engaging in nonconsensual sexual contact with another student, Jane Roe. Specifically, through claims for breach of contract, breach of contract based on the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, promissory estoppel, and negligence, Doe challenged DU’s investigation and adjudication of Roe’s accusation. The district court granted DU’s request for summary judgment, and Doe appealed. A division of the court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part.

The Supreme Court affirmed the division’s judgment in part and reverses it in part. Like the division, the Court held that the promise in DU’s Office of Equal Opportunity Procedures (OEO procedures) of a “thorough, impartial and fair” investigation, when considered in conjunction with the specific investigation requirements listed in those procedures, is sufficiently definite and certain to be enforceable under contract law. Further, in lockstep with the division, the Court concluded that the record did not permit the entry of summary judgment for DU on Doe’s general contract claim or on Doe’s contract claim premised on the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. As the division determined, there are genuine disputes of material fact as to (1) whether DU adhered to the specific investigation provisions in the OEO procedures and, by extension, (2) whether DU fulfilled its promise of a “thorough, impartial and fair” investigation.

But the Court parted ways with the division on Doe’s tort claim. The Court held that DU does not owe its students an extra-contractual duty to exercise reasonable care in adopting and implementing fair procedures related to the investigation and adjudication of sexual-misconduct claims. Therefore, DU is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Doe’s tort claim.

Official Colorado Supreme Court proceedings can be found at the Colorado Supreme Court website.

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