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Benning v. Corporation of Marlboro College

United States District Court, D. Vermont

August 5, 2014

LUKE BENNING, Plaintiff,



Plaintiff Luke Benning brings suit against Marlboro College following his suspension in December 2013, alleging breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and defamation. Compl., ECF No. 1. Benning seeks an injunction ordering Marlboro to reinstate him as a student in good standing and to prevent Marlboro from representing that Benning engaged in wrongdoing that led to his suspension. Id., p. 10. Benning also seeks damages in excess of $75, 000, with the exact amount to be determined at trial. Id.

Before the Court is Marlboro's motion to dismiss and two discovery-related motions. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies in part and grants in part Marlboro's motion to dismiss, ECF No. 7. The Court denies Marlboro's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) because the Court has diversity jurisdiction to hear the case under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, but grants Marlboro's motion to dismiss Count III for failure to state a claim for defamation under Rule 12(b)(6). The Court denies Benning's motion to expedite discovery, ECF No. 17. The Court denies Marlboro's motion for a protective order to prevent Benning from deposing certain Marlboro employees, ECF No. 10.


Plaintiff Luke Benning was a student in good standing at Marlboro College during the 2011-2012 academic year. Compl. ¶ 1. At the time, he was dating another student at the College, [hereinafter referred to as "Complainant"]. ¶ 11. In the summer of 2012 he visited Complainant's home in Massachusetts, where she introduced him to her family as her "boyfriend" and, to his discomfort, encouraged him to "perform sexual acts on her." ¶¶ 11-13. The two eventually "engaged in consensual physical intimacy" on August 28, 2012, after they returned to Marlboro. ¶ 16. In the following days, the couple discussed the encounter over Facebook messenger and then "engaged in consensual physical intimacy" again. ¶¶ 17-19. The relationship deteriorated after this second encounter. ¶¶ 20-21.

In the fall of 2012, Benning began spending time with another female student, a friend of the Complainant, initially as friends and then as romantic partners. ¶ 22. The Complainant reacted to Benning's new relationship by publishing disparaging comments about him on social media websites and by filing two complaints with Marlboro that alleged that Benning had sexually assaulted her. ¶ 23. At the end of the 2013 spring semester, Marlboro closed the first complaint and deemed the second unworthy of further action. ¶ 24.

In the fall of 2013, Complainant resumed a formal complaint against Benning. ¶ 26. Marlboro officials investigated the woman's allegations and Benning cooperated with the investigation by providing relevant electronic message history. ¶ 27. Marlboro convened a hearing with the Sexual Misconduct Panel ("Panel") to review the findings. ¶ 28. Benning received a letter expelling him from Marlboro on November 1, 2013. The letter stated that the Panel had found that Benning engaged in sexual relations without obtaining effective consent; retaliated, presumably against the Complainant; and had shown a pattern of sexual misconduct. ¶ 30.

Benning appealed the Panel's decision to the Dean's Advisory Committee. ¶ 31. The Committee found three "serious material errors" in the Panel's proceedings, and reduced Benning's punishment to a three-semester suspension. ¶¶ 33-34. Despite these material errors, the Committee nonetheless upheld the Panel's first two findings (lack of consent and retaliation). ¶ 34. The Committee informed Benning that after three semesters, Marlboro would allow him to apply to re-enroll through the Deans of Faculty and Students, but that re-enrollment would be contingent on his completion of sexual respect training and counseling. ¶ 35.

Following the Committee's decision, Benning filed this lawsuit against Marlboro College on April 15, 2014. In the Complaint, he alleges that he has suffered irreparable reputational harm, severe emotional distress, economic injuries, and loss of educational opportunities, and claims that Marlboro overlooked irrefutable exculpatory evidence in rendering its decision. ¶ 41. As relief, he seeks monetary damages in excess of $75, 000 and an injunction requiring Marlboro to reinstate him as a student in good standing and preventing Marlboro from representing to students or the public that he engaged in wrongdoing that resulted in his dismissal. Marlboro has now moved to dismiss the Complaint. According to the parties at the motions hearing, discovery has not moved forward pending the release of this opinion.


There are three motions presently before the Court. First, Benning moves to expedite discovery. Second, Marlboro moves to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under 12(b)(1) or, alternatively, to dismiss Count III of the Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under 12(b)(6). Third, Marlboro moves for a protective order to shield its employees from being deposed.

I. Motion for Expedited Discovery

On April 30, 2014, Benning moved to expedite discovery in order to depose witnesses before the end of the academic term on May 13, 2014. The Court denied the motion on May 8, 2014 because Benning failed to show that the witnesses would be unavailable after May 13, 2014. Order, ECF No. 12. On the same day, May 8, 2014, Benning again filed a motion for expedited discovery. Presumably Benning filed the second motion before seeing the Court's ...

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