Princeton University filed its response to a lawsuit from Xiyue Wang GS on Jan. 24. Along with his wife, Hua Qu GS ’21, the doctoral student is suing the University for “severe personal injuries and other irreparable harm” through “grossly negligent acts” following over three years in an Iranian prison.
While in Iran, local authorities charged Wang with espionage. At the time of his arrest, the scholar was overseas completing academic research in pursuit of a doctorate in Eurasian history from the University.
In its response, formally a “motion to dismiss,” the University requested that Judge Douglas Hurd dismiss the case “without prejudice,” a legal mechanism which allows for a plaintiff to revise and refile their lawsuit.
The University’s motion argues that the complaint initially filed by the plaintiffs’ lawyers is unclear, and that deficiencies in the lawsuit hamper its ability to raise legal defenses, noting that “[t]heir approach unfairly hampers the University’s efforts to frame responsive pleadings and the Court’s ability to assess whether the Complaint, in fact, pleads cognizable causes of action.”
This motion comes after several months of extensions for the University, which was originally slated to submit its response on Dec. 10, 2021.
The initial lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey in Mercer County, accuses the University of “wanton” misconduct and blames Nassau Hall for encouraging Wang to study in Iran, not taking the scholar’s safety concerns seriously, and failing to adequately lobby for his release.
In the complaint, Wang and Qu allege that the University had “a duty to provide a safe environment to its students, whether on campus or abroad performing research as a requirement of their coursework.” In its response, the University disputes this method of categorization.
“Plaintiffs’ allegations suggest a much wider variety of duties,” counsel for the University wrote, “each of which presents separate questions as to whether the University even had such a duty of care and, if so, the extent of such a duty and whether it was in fact breached.”
They continued, stating that “each of these allegations, again, involves distinct breaches of distinct duties of care, and thus constitute distinct — and dubious — theories of liability. The method of pleading employed by Plaintiffs forces Princeton and the Court to guess which duties Plaintiffs have in fact pleaded, which breaches may correspond to which duty, and which factual allegations are intended to support which alleged breach.”
In addition to conflating charges, the University’s motion to dismiss contends that Wang and Qu’s complaint unduly merges allegations that took place at different times.
“The theories of liability within Plaintiffs’ single count arise from separate transactions and occurrences,” the University wrote.
“Requiring Plaintiffs to separate out their different theories into different counts will assist the parties and the Court,” it later concluded.
Attorneys at Gaeta Law Firm are representing Wang and Qu in this case, while the University’s counsel comes from Gibbons P.C.
Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss declined to comment on the decision to file for dismissal without prejudice. In an email to The Daily Princetonian, Hotchkiss referenced his previous statement on the matter.
“Xiyue Wang, Hua Qu, and their son are valued members of the Princeton University community, and the University’s singular focus has always been the safety and well-being of Mr. Wang,” he wrote in a prior statement following the initial complaint. “We are surprised and disappointed by this complaint and believe it is without merit.”
Wang’s legal team declined a request for comment from the ‘Prince.’
The motion is scheduled to be decided on Feb. 18. The court has not decided whether it will hear oral argument on this matter.
Sam Kagan is the Head Data Editor and a senior writer with experience reporting on University finances, alumni in government, University COVID-19 policy, and more. His projects, including the Frosh Survey, focus on numerical storytelling and data journalism. He previously served as a news editor. Sam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thesamkagan.