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Compton v. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 11, 2013

SANDRA COMPTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ALPHA KAPPA ALPHA SORORITY INCORPORATED, et al., Defendants

For SANDRA COMPTON, SOROR, LAURIN COMPTON, LESSIE COFIELD, SOROR, LAUREN COFIELD, Plaintiffs: Jon Wyndal Gordon, THE LAW OFFICE OF J. WYNDAL GORDON, P.A., Baltimore, MD.

For ALPHA KAPPA ALPHA SORORITY INCORPORATED, Defendant: Justin Michael Flint, LEAD ATTORNEY, ECCLESTON & WOLF, Washington, DC; Laura M.K. Hassler, ECCLESTON & WOLF, P.C., Washington, DC.

For HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Defendant: Lydia Auzoux, LEAD ATTORNEY, HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Washington, DC.

OPINION

Page 104

ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Two members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and their daughters sued the Sorority, alleging that the daughters were wrongly denied entry into the AKA chapter at Howard University. Because the younger women are seniors at Howard University whose last window of opportunity

Page 105

to join the Sorority was rapidly closing, Plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive relief. Immediately prior to an evidentiary hearing on the preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs' counsel alleged that AKA had sought to tamper with and intimidate witnesses and presented official Sorority letters in support. For reasons stated on the record, the Court denied preliminary injunctive relief but directed briefing on the allegations of witness tampering. As explained below, the Court will deny the motion without prejudice.

I. FACTS

Plaintiffs filed suit on February 28, 2013, invoking this Court's diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See Compl. [Dkt. 1]. Plaintiffs brought common law claims, including breach of contract, against AKA and Howard University, as well as claims for violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 2-1401.01 et seq. [1] Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, see Dkts. 3 & 4, because the Sorority initiation process at Howard was scheduled to end shortly, and relief would thereafter be unavailable. The Court heard oral argument on the motion for a TRO at a hearing on March 5, 2013, at which counsel for all parties were present. The Court denied the motion from the bench. See Minute Order dated March 5, 2013. At Plaintiffs' request, the Court scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction for March 7, 2013, at which Plaintiffs' counsel stated he expected at least one of the Sorority-member Plaintiffs--Sandra Compton or Lessie Cofield--to testify.

Before the March 7 evidentiary hearing began, however, counsel for Plaintiffs stated that he believed AKA had engaged in witness tampering, and he made an oral motion for sanctions. Specifically, Plaintiffs' counsel asserted that AKA had sent letters to Sorority members Compton and Cofield on March 4, 2013 that immediately suspended their membership privileges and threatened permanent expulsion because they filed this lawsuit. Plaintiffs' counsel argued that the letters intimidated the Plaintiffs, made them reticent to testify or pursue the case, and inhibited their ability to secure testimony or evidence from other Sorority members who were supportive of Plaintiffs but feared similar retaliation. The Sorority's lawyer conceded that AKA had sent the letters but contended that AKA had done so pursuant to its internal policies requiring members to pursue administrative avenues prior to seeking judicial remedies. The Court expressed grave concern about AKA's conduct and proceeded with the evidentiary hearing, at which Ms. Cofield testified. For reasons stated on the record, the Court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction, but directed AKA to file a memorandum addressing the allegations of witness tampering and permitted Plaintiffs to file a response. See Second Minute Order dated March 7, 2013. AKA has filed its memorandum, see Dkt. 12 (" AKA Mem." ), as well as a reply, see Dkt. 16. Plaintiffs have filed a response and surreply. See Dkt. 13 (" Pls. Resp." ), Dkt. 14 (" Pls. Exs." ), Dkt. 17 (" Surreply" ).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A United States district court has the inherent authority " to protect ...


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