Florida Record

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Appeals court refuses to support alleged stalker's claims that a Florida college violated his civil rights


By Mary Ann Magnell | Sep 15, 2018

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MIAMI — A U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a district court’s decision on Sept. 13 in a stalking case involving a student who claims Valencia College violated his civil rights by expelling him.

The appeals court found that plaintiff Jeffrey Koeppel’s claims that the disciplinary proceedings by the college were “erroneous” because it could not regulate off-campus conduct, that it had violated a “constitutionally protected right” to his continued enrollment at Valencia, and the stalking provision was “unconstitutionally vague” on its face were all unwarranted. 

“Accused robbers, racists, and murderers have statutory and constitutional rights,” said Chief Judge Carnes. “So does a college student who is accused of stalking and sexually harassing another student. The question in this case is whether Valencia College violated Jeffrey Koeppel’s statutory or constitutional rights when it suspended him for his conduct toward another student at the college. 

"The district court did not think so, and neither do we.” 

The 42-year-old plaintiff was accused of stalking a 24-year-old unnamed female, referred to as “Jane” throughout the filing, whom he had tutored in biology in 2014. 

After an investigation by the school, Koeppel was found to have violated the school’s Code of Conduct and was suspended. 

Mr. Koeppel then filed a lawsuit against the Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Joyce Romano, the Dean of Students, Joseph Sarrubbo, and Valencia College, claiming that they had violated his First Amendment rights and his right to procedural and substantive due process. He claimed the college violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681. 

Valencia et al. moved to dismiss all of Koeppel’s claims or for a summary judgement. The court then granted summary judgment to Valencia on all of Koeppel’s claims, which prompted this appeal.

The appeal, decided by Chief Judge Carnes, pointed to a Supreme Court case, which had held that a public school “may regulate student speech not only when it ‘substantially interfere[s] with the work of the school,’ but also when it ‘impinge[s] upon the rights of other students’ to be secure and to be left alone.

“We take it as a given that when the Supreme Court stated that conduct involving an ‘invasion of the rights of others’ is not constitutionally protected,” wrote Judge Carnes, “it meant that conduct invading the rights of others is not constitutionally protected.”

The appeals court found that Mr. Koeppel’s conduct invaded the accuser’s rights when he sent her “dozens of messages throughout the night making lewd references to her body,” and other unwanted messages, despite her “repeated pleas that he stop contacting her,” as well as the Seminole County police's’ “recommendation that he not contact her” and Dean Sarrubbo’s order that he not contact her. 

“…The worst aspect of Koeppel’s misbehavior was not the quantity” of the contacts, but that “instead of controlling his impulses Koeppel continued to harass Jane, knowing that it was unwelcome and despite being told to leave her alone.”

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, case no. 17-12562


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