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Case Name Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina ED-NC-0001
Docket / Court 1:14-cv-00954-TDS-JLW ( M.D. N.C. )
State/Territory North Carolina
Case Type(s) Education
Case Summary
On Nov. 17, 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the University of North Carolina (UNC). The plaintiff, represented by ... read more >
On Nov. 17, 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the University of North Carolina (UNC). The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief to prohibit the consideration of race in college admissions, claiming that UNC's current admissions policy discriminated against Asian American applicants.

Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that UNC's current admissions policy held Asian American students to a higher standard based on their race, that UNC was engaged in a prohibited form of racial balancing, that UNC was not limiting its consideration of an applicant's race to "merely a plus factor," and that a racially neutral alternative was available to achieve the same goals of diversity.

As evidence of this, the plaintiff pointed to admissions data that showed a disparity between acceptance for Asian American students at UNC and at other schools (for example, the University of California) that did not employ racial considerations in their admissions process. Additionally, the plaintiff pointed to the steady rate of acceptance of Asian American students despite the change in application rates and qualifications for those applicants. According to the plaintiff, this was evidence of a policy indistinguishable from racially based quotas for admissions. The plaintiff also pointed to a long history of admissions discrimination at UNC as evidence suggesting the current policy may have similar aims.

The case was assigned to Judge Loretta C. Biggs on Jan. 12, 2015.

On Mar. 20, 2015, the parties filed a joint stipulation of voluntary dismissal of a subset of the plaintiff's claims. The parties dismissed the UNC Board of Trustees and the individual trustees named as defendants, arguing that the Board did not play an active role in creating the admissions policy. The parties also dismissed all Title VI claims against the individually named defendants from the Board of Governors, the UNC president, and various other UNC Chapel Hill administrators. Finally, the parties dismissed the 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claim against all defendants.

On Jun. 30, 2015, a series of individual UNC students and parents of students intending to apply to UNC moved to intervene on behalf of the defendants. The intervenors identified themselves as African American, Black, Moorish, Indian, and Hispanic.

On Jul. 6, 2015, the defendants moved to stay the proceedings in light of the Supreme Court's pending decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Although the plaintiff initially opposed the motion, the parties filed a joint motion to partially stay proceedings on Sept. 30. They sought partial stay of the proceedings pending the resolution of Fisher in the Supreme Court, but on the condition that defendants produce "certain agreed-upon materials." The court granted the partial stay motion and then stayed all proceedings on Oct. 1.

The Supreme Court decided Fisher on Jun. 23, 2016, holding that the University of Texas' use of race in the admissions process did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 136 S. Ct. 2198. The court here lifted the stay on Aug. 1, 2016 and discovery continued. The court granted permissive intervention to the current and prospective students on Jan. 13, 2017. 319 F.R.D. 490.

On Oct. 25, 2017, the defendants moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that the plaintiff brought suit as "an organizational plaintiff asserting representational standing" but did not meet its burden of showing its members had "indicia of membership in an organization." The court held on Sep. 29, 2018, that the "indicia of membership" test did not apply to Students for Fair Admission, since it was a voluntary membership association with actual members. The court held that Students for Fair Admission had standing because four of its members were recent high school graduates who had applied to the University of North Carolina and were denied admission. 2018 WL 4688388

On Jan. 18, 2019, the defendants moved for summary judgement, arguing that the University employed a narrowly tailored admissions policy, using the type of holistic review endorsed by the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on Mar. 4, 2019, asking the court to find as a matter of law that the University's admissions policy was not narrowly tailored.

On Sep. 30, 2019, Judge Biggs denied both motions for summary judgement. She found that there was an issue of material fact regarding UNC's use of race as a "plus" factor. UNC presented evidence that their system, which lists "background" as a factor in admissions decisions but does not assign points to students based on their race or ethnicity as it does with other categories, takes the kind of holistic approach endorsed by the Supreme Court. UNC presented expert evidence based on four years of admissions decisions that their approach considers each student individually. The plaintiffs presented conflicting expert evidence, which they claimed showed that race was a predominant factor in admissions decisions. 2019 WL 4773908

Judge Biggs also found an issue of material fact regarding UNC's efforts to explore race neutral alternatives. UNC presented expert evidence that concluded that no race blind alternatives were available that would allow the university to maintain both its academic standards and racial diversity. The Plaintiffs countered that UNC had not sufficiently attempted to use race neutral alternatives such as increasing financial aid, adopting policies using geographic diversity, including percentage plans and the use of zip codes and Census tract data, reducing or eliminating preferences for legacies, or eliminating the Early Acton admissions options.

A bench trial was set for May 11, 2020.

The case is ongoing.

Patrick Branson - 02/16/2015
Virginia Weeks - 01/24/2018
Jonah Feitelson - 04/09/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
College/University
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Race
Asian/Pacific Islander
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.
Defendant(s) University of North Carolina
Plaintiff Description Students for Fair Admissions, whose membership includes applicants who have been denied admission, prospective college applicants, parents of applicants and prospective applicants, and other interested parties.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 11/17/2014
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing ED-TX-0005 : Students for Fair Admissions v. University of Texas at Austin (State Court)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Project on Fair Representation Announces Lawsuits Challenging Admissions Policies at Harvard Univ. and Univ. of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
https://studentsforfairadmissions.org/
Date: Nov. 17, 2014
By: Students for Fair Admissions
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
1:14-cv-00954-TDS-JLW (M.D. N.C.)
ED-NC-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/11/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint
ED-NC-0001-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 11/17/2014
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 79] (319 F.R.D. 490) (M.D. N.C.)
ED-NC-0001-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/13/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 150] (2018 WL 4688388) (M.D. N.C.)
ED-NC-0001-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 09/29/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 190] (2019 WL 47739) (M.D. N.C.)
ED-NC-0001-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 09/30/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Biggs, Loretta Copeland (M.D. N.C.) show/hide docs
ED-NC-0001-0002 | ED-NC-0001-0003 | ED-NC-0001-0006 | ED-NC-0001-9000
Webster, Joe L. (M.D. N.C.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
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Plaintiff's Lawyers Boyle, W. Ellis (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Connolly, J. Michael (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Consovoy, William S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Freeman, Andrew Allen (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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McCarthy, Thomas R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Park, Michael Hun (New York) show/hide docs
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Ruley, Daniel Alan M. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Strawbridge, Patrick (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
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Weir, Bryan K. (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Defendant's Lawyers Bischoff, Christine C. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Brennan, Stephanie A. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Caspar, Edward G. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Colfax, Reed N. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Combs, Marianne H. (Illinois) show/hide docs
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Crook, Jamie L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Fitzgerald, Patrick J. (Illinois) show/hide docs
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Flath, Lara A. (Illinois) show/hide docs
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Gaztambide−Arandes, Laura (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Greenbaum, Jon M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Henderson, Tamika (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Hinojosa, David G. (Texas) show/hide docs
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Holtzman, Jack (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Samberg-Champion, Sasha M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Schlactus, Glenn (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Scudder, Michael Yale Jr. (Illinois) show/hide docs
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Shum, Brenda L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Sullivan, Nora F (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Torres, Genevieve Bonadies (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Tulchin, Matthew T. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Turner, Emily P. (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Van Gelder, Amy L (Illinois) show/hide docs
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Other Lawyers Feldman, Stephen Daniel (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Leerberg, Matthew Nis (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Weiss, James (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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