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Newsletter > November 2021 > "Indiana University Prevails in CrimsonCard Case"
Indiana University Prevails in CrimsonCard Case
Ilana Linder, Fraternal Law Partners, Ilana.Linder@manleyburke.com
In November 2020, Fraternal Law reported on a case that had been filed by individual students against Indiana University (“IU”) regarding IU’s tracking of those students’ movements using swipe date from their student ID cards (“CrimsonCards”). As part of an investigation into potential hazing occurring within the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, IU compared the students’ swipe data to their testimony regarding their whereabouts at the time of alleged hazing incidents. Ultimately, IU sanctioned Beta Theta Pi following the investigation, although none of the individual students who brought the subsequent lawsuit were individually found responsible for any wrongdoing.
Nonetheless, the students filed suit against the University and its President, alleging that the University’s gathering of data from their university identification cards that tracked their movements across campus violated their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The students also asserted a claim for breach of contract. The Plaintiffs sought nominal damages, declaratory relief, attorney’s fees and costs, and requested that IU be enjoined from further using swipe data in internal investigations. The Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint.
On September 1, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss as it related to Plaintiffs’ federal constitutional claims. The Court also dismissed the breach of contract claim upon declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state claim.
Regarding the constitutional claims, Court concluded that, pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment, the Defendants were entitled to sovereign immunity on each of those claims that sought monetary or declaratory relief.
Moreover, the Court analyzed the constitutional claims that sought injunctive relief against IU’s President by evaluating whether, assuming the use of the swipe data constituted a “search,” the search was reasonable. Here, the Court referenced the express terms and conditions related to using a CrimsonCard as support for its determination that “it is not reasonable to conclude that Plaintiffs expected their use of the CrimsonCard—which, in turn, reflected which IU facilities and services they accessed—to be private.” The Court continued, noting that this is “particularly true in today’s day and age, when Plaintiffs were likely carrying cell phones which also could be used to track their locations to some extent, and where cameras on buildings, traffic lights, and businesses were likely to capture many of Plaintiffs’ public movements.” The Court also highlighted that any such search was reasonable “Based on IU’s limited, non-prosecutorial use of the Swipe Data to confirm that Plaintiffs were not present during a hazing incident,” an interest the Court found to be “plainly legitimate.”
It is likely that other courts will reach similar decisions in the future, particularly if the written terms and conditions associated with using a school’s identification card are clear. As such, students must be mindful of how and when they are using their cards and should be reminded that being found responsible for dishonesty during a university’s investigation can make an already undesirable situation significantly worse for both themselves and their organizations.
 Tim Burke, Indiana University Uses Student ID Cards To Track Student Movements, 167 Fraternal L. 1, 7 (Nov. 2020).
Gutterman v. Ind. Univ., No. 1:20-cv-02801-JMS-MJD, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165841 (S.D. Ind. Sep. 1, 2021).
 Id. at *19-20.
 Id. at *20.
 Id. at *22.