from the United States District Court for the Middle District
of Florida D.C. Docket No. 6:15-cv-01800-PGB-KRS
ED CARNES, Chief Judge, MARCUS, and EBEL, [*] Circuit Judges.
robbers, rapists, and murderers have statutory and
constitutional rights. 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.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Koeppel met Jane Roe (pseudonym) during the summer of 2014
when they were assigned to the same biology lab group at
Valencia College, a public college in Florida. Because they
were assigned to work together, they exchanged phone numbers
and would occasionally talk outside of class. As the semester
went on, the 42-year-old Koeppel began to develop feelings
for the 24-year-old Jane that were not purely academic. He
volunteered to do things for her. He tutored her in biology.
He offered to give her his old computer. And he asked if he
could buy her a gift certificate for a massage. Eventually
Koeppel told Jane that he was attracted to her. Jane let him
know that the feeling was not mutual. She told him that she
already had a boyfriend; that her relationship with Koeppel
was strictly related to their role as lab partners in the
biology class; and that she did not want him to have the
wrong impression. After that the two of them finished the
summer semester without incident.
Koeppel Messages Jane
days before the fall semester began, Koeppel saw something
online that made him think that Jane was single. Ever
hopeful, on August 3 he sent her a text message telling her
once again that he had feelings for her: "So im saying I
am interest[ed] in you . . . but im not on any mission or
anything . . . i just don't enjoy feeling conflicted so I
would rather talk about it." That message came around
10:00 p.m. on a Sunday night while Jane was at home watching
a movie with her son and her boyfriend. Jane responded:
I have told you that I just want this to be class related
[because] I am with someone who I've been seeing for 3
years now . . And we live together . . So I don't know if
i gave you the wrong impression or whatever the case may be .
. But I do have a serious [boyfriend] and really just thought
we were studying and getting through the class.
replied that "[i]t really doesn[']t matter [because]
you have been very fair with me . . ." and that "I
just kinda hoped you would come around . . . be interested in
me." He explained that he had asked her again because
after looking at her Facebook page, he thought she had broken
up with her boyfriend. And he told her that "U never
sent any signals . . . I guess i just wanna ask what your
reiterated: "Listen I have a [boyfriend]. I have been
busy with work. [W]hy are u texting me that when we already
discussed this[?]" Then: "And saw what exactly on
my Facebook? We are not even friends so how did u get on
their [sic] . . . ." Jane and her boyfriend then called
Koeppel, and Jane asked him why he was texting her, told him
he had crossed a line by looking at her Facebook page, and
told him that they were not friends.
apparently was not what Koeppel wanted to hear. He responded
with a message to Jane advising her: "Get a nosejob.
[Your boyfriend] can pay with his foodstamp[s]." Jane
and her boyfriend called Koeppel again and informed him that
they were calling the police. Koeppel admits that he then
sent Jane a series of "inappropriate" messages and
pictures in the hopes of "hurt[ing] her feelings."
Each of these quotations is from a separate text:
• "I wondered if u were a hussie and i guess
• "Dress like a hooker and now act like it
• "Just sucks i didn't wear your pussy
• "Them skinny legs i been thinkin about."
• "Believe me i have had plenty of sex with you
even if you weren[']t present."
• "What u think i was thinkin bout when ur in them
tiny whore shorts."
• "Your little butt cheeks hanging out."
• "Yum yum!!!!!"
• "Ur cute with a LOT of face paint . . ."
• "But I like that cute little mole by ur
• "A hussie is as a hussie does."
also sent her a picture of his bare chest, a picture of
himself wearing a costume with his arm around a woman, and a
picture of a woman pretending to perform oral sex on another
person. He later conceded that given the content and the
number of his text messages, it was possible that someone
receiving them would have been concerned.
Jane's boyfriend called the Seminole County Sheriff's
Office. Deputy Brenton Rush responded and met Jane outside of
her apartment. She told him what had happened and that she
was scared. Deputy Rush looked at the messages and, at
Jane's request, called Koeppel to recommend that he stop
talking to her. Despite his recommendation, Koeppel called
her again around midnight from an unknown number.
midnight that same night, Jane twice messaged Koeppel to
"Stop calling me. Do not have any contact with me."
But Koeppel kept on texting her until 5:00 a.m. The messages in
those later texts included questions about Jane's
boyfriend, statements mocking Jane's anxiety disorder, an
apology, and, when Jane didn't respond to his apology,
this message: "Starbucks date - a 6.5 oz can of expresso
[sic] and cream - despite the fact that it is not carbonated
when opened it tends to eject some of its contents directly
on one[']s face."
August 6, Koeppel texted Jane again, but she did not respond
until August 13, when she once again told him to stop:
"You are crazy[. L]eave me alone and my [ ] life[. S]top
stalking my Facebook[. L]eave us alone! The cops already
informed u to leave me alone and you haven't." He
Valencia Suspends Koeppel
August 11, 2014, Jane, accompanied by her boyfriend and son,
went to Valencia Dean of Students Joseph Sarrubbo's
office to complain about Koeppel's messages. At that
meeting Sarrubbo noticed that Jane was "visibly upset
and shaken," and he recommended that she complete a
witness statement with the campus safety and security
security forwarded Jane's complaint and an incident
report to Dean Sarrubbo, and he used those documents to
create a charge letter listing the potential violations of
the Valencia Student Code of Conduct. Sarrubbo emailed Koeppel
informing him in writing about the charges against him and
instructing Koeppel to schedule a time to meet for an
informal hearing. Sarrubbo also told Koeppel that he was
beginning an investigation and that until the investigation
was concluded Koeppel was under a no contact order with Jane
and had been unenrolled from a fall class that Jane was also
taking. Koeppel violated that no contact order when he texted
Jane later that evening. He admits that he sent Jane 20
messages trying to persuade her to withdraw her complaint
with the college.
met with Sarrubbo on August 15, Koeppel admitted to sending
the messages, explained how he viewed his relationship with
Jane, and commented on each allegation in her complaint. A
few days later Sarrubbo met with Jane. During that interview
Jane appeared "nervous and concerned." She told
Sarrubbo that she was "concerned about running into -
interacting with Mr. Koeppel on campus" because they
were enrolled in the same class in the fall and she
didn't "want to be around him."
addition to meeting with both students, Dean Sarrubbo spoke
with Deputy Rush and reviewed documents submitted by Jane and
by Koeppel. Jane gave Sarrubbo screen shots of the messages
that Koeppel had sent her. Koeppel, who had deleted the
messages on his phone, used a text recovery service and
submitted a Word document with some of the messages that he
had sent to Jane. Koeppel also submitted a receipt for the
computer he insisted that he had bought Jane, an image of