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Former student's case against University unsealed

Administrators have acted ‘appropriately,’ according to U. spokeswoman

A federal judge unsealed a civil case against the University, President Ruth Simmons, several other administrators and staff members, a female student and her father Monday at a hearing in Rhode Island District Court.

The judge also heard motions from the defendants' attorneys to dismiss the case.

William McCormick III, a former member of the class of 2010, and his parents filed the claim following a September 2006 incident in which he was accused of raping a female student, according to the complaint. The complaint states that McCormick was detained unlawfully and then sent home. The complaint also alleges that this series of events has aggravated McCormick's preexisting seizure condition. He and his parents are seeking unspecified damages from the defendants.

The complaint accuses the University, Simmons, Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98, Senior Vice President for Corporation Affairs and Governance Russell Carey '91 MA'06 and several other University employees of acts "tantamount to criminality," breach of contract, false imprisonment, libel and six other counts of civil misconduct.

The complaint also alleges that the University was guided by "financial self-interest" when handling the incident because the female student's father, an alum, has donated and raised large sums of money for Brown.

District Judge William Smith had placed the case under seal after a motion on behalf of the female student and her father. The reasons for the request to seal the case were given to the judge in private, according to the motion. Until Monday, there was no publicly available record of the case.

"The University and its officers have acted appropriately in this matter," Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Marisa Quinn wrote in an e-mail to The Herald late Monday. "As in all instances, the University respects and maintains the confidentiality of student and employee records."

The plaintiffs' motion to unseal the case, filed March 29 by their lawyer, J. Scott Kilpatrick, argued that the public had a right to know about the case and that the family of the female student did not have the right to seal the case.

"This case has been somewhat atypical," said Steven Richard, the lawyer representing the University and its 15 employees named as defendants, at the hearing held in front of Smith.

After granting the plaintiff's motion to unseal the case, Smith heard motions to dismiss several charges by both Joseph Cavanagh, the lawyer for the female student and her father, and Richard. The Herald is withholding the female student's name because she may have been the victim of a sex crime.

Though Richard said he acknowledges "the case can go forward," he challenged several counts and attacked the McCormicks' complaint for naming all 15 Brown defendants and the University collectively in each count of which they are accused, "without identifying who did what" and which charges apply to whom.

He said the involvement of at least one Brown employee named as a defendant was limited to a single meeting with the female student.

Kilpatrick responded that in some instances the specific Brown defendants to whom a count applied would be unclear until more information is obtained through discovery. He said access to internal University records would be required to determine each individual's specific involvement.

Richard said the parties had already agreed that the count of breach of contract, which previously accused the University and the 15 Brown defendants, would proceed only against the University.

Kilpatrick said he had agreed to drop the count of acts tantamount to criminality and conceded that "we might lose defendants."

"It seems like the complaint is still a mess," Smith told Kilpatrick, calling it "too all over the place."

He advised Kilpatrick to "get focused" on "three or four viable counts," such as breach of contract and negligence against the University and top administrators.

Both Cavanagh and Richard declined to comment. Kilpatrick could not be reached for comment.

Smith said he would consider the motions and issue a ruling promptly.


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