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Judge dismisses suit over UMBC sexual assault investigations

Chasanow gives women 21 days to refile

A federal judge on Monday dismissed – at least for now — a civil rights lawsuit alleging UMBC, county police and the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office improperly handled sexual assault investigations by at least five women.

In dismissing the lawsuit without prejudice, U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow criticized the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ “verbose complaint” whose “sheer volume of factual allegations and legal issues” fomented confusion rather than sound legal argument.

Chasanow gave plaintiffs’ counsel three weeks to file “a more focused, perhaps modest” complaint.

“(P)laintiffs, at best, have masked meritorious allegations by the overambitious pleading, and, at worst, have simply failed to state any viable claim,” Chasanow wrote in her memorandum opinion.

Rignal W. Baldwin V, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, said Monday afternoon that “we will absolutely be amending” the complaint.

“We intend to continue to pursue this matter until those who need to be accountable will be held accountable,” said Baldwin, of BaldwinLaw LLC in Baltimore.

The lawsuit, first filed last September, contends UMBC and law enforcement had a pattern of failing to properly investigate and prosecute sexual assault allegations. In a 134-page amended complaint, the five women contended there is “systematic, institutionalized indifference to crimes of sexual violence, coupled with bias against women.”

The lawsuit named 22 defendants, including the university and its leadership, an attorney hired by the university to investigate Title IX complaints, the county, State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger and prosecutors in his office, and the Baltimore County Police Department and individual officers.

The defendants have denied the allegations.

Chasanow, in her opinion, specifically dismissed civil rights allegations against the university, county and state’s attorney defendants in their official capacities, saying the state officials were immune from liability under the federal Constitution’s 11th Amendment. She also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that their constitutional right to equal protection was violated, saying they failed adequately to contend they were treated differently or with discriminatory intent.

“Here, plaintiffs fail to provide any sufficient, non-conclusory allegations that they were treated differently than similarly situated individuals,” wrote Chasanow, who sits in the federal courthouse in Greenbelt. “Notably, plaintiffs do not allege any facts to support an inference that the investigative processes were the result of gender discrimination. Further, plaintiffs fail to identify a discriminatory intent on behalf of any defendant.”

The judge also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims that the defendants violated their right under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments to be protected from student-on-student sexual harassment.

Chasanow said the plaintiffs failed adequately to claim that the defendants were “deliberately indifferent” to their having been assaulted. The judge cited the plaintiffs’ acknowledgment that UMBC hired an investigator, allowed the women to participate in the investigation, provided them with the final report and notified them of the resolution, which included punishment but not expulsion of the perpetrator.

“Although the process and results were not perfect, plaintiffs have not met the bar for deliberate indifference,” Chasanow wrote, while permitting the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint within 21 days. “Some of the defects in plaintiffs’ second amended complaint cannot be remedied, and plaintiffs have already amended twice, but it is not entirely clear that a more modest, focused, complaint would be futile.”

The case is Anna Borkowski et al. v. Baltimore County, Md., et al., Civil Action No. DKC 18-2809.

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