Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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After a “very public complaint” by a female student, Oberlin instructed its faculty that they should “[b]elieve” students who report sexual assault. Professor Raimondo became Oberlin’s Title IX Coordinator, stating she was “committed to survivor-centered processes.” The Department of Education’s Office notified Oberlin of an investigation into its sexual harassment and sexual assault complaint process. While that investigation was pending, undergraduate “Jane” told Raimondo that “John” had sexually assaulted her. Raimondo appointed Nolan to investigate. Oberlin’s policy states that investigation should usually take no more than 20 days and resolution should take no more than 60. Nolan took 120 days to issue a report. John emailed Raimondo about the impact the investigation was having on his life. Raimondo did not respond with any information. Assistant Dean Bautista was appointed as John’s advisor. The testimony at the hearing was mixed. Bautista “left the hearing early” and, two weeks later, retweeted: “To survivors everywhere, we believe you.” About 240 days after the complaint, the panel found John responsible for sexual misconduct because “the preponderance of the evidence established that effective consent was not maintained for the entire sexual encounter” because Jane was incapacitated from the moment she stated that she was “not sober.” The panel cited no other behavior supporting that finding and did not mention the contradiction between what Jane told Nolan (and others) and what she told the hearing panel. John was expelled. The Sixth Circuit held that John adequately stated a claim that Oberlin violated Title IX. The court noted “clear” procedural irregularities. The record did not support a finding that Jane met the Policy’s definition of “incapacitation.” View "Doe v. Oberlin College" on Justia Law

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UK freshman Doe reported two rapes. After the first report, UK’s Title IX Office issued a no-contact order to the male student (John) and investigated. Doe reported subsequent encounters with John. The Office investigated and determined that the no-contact order had not been violated. UK denied Doe's request to ban John from a certain library area. Before the Sexual Misconduct Hearing Panel, Kehrwald, UK’s Dean of Students presented evidence on Doe’s behalf. Doe alleges that Kerhwald failed to adequately represent her interests, failed to object when John’s attorneys actively participated by examining and cross-examining witnesses, and did not introduce evidence of a voicemail that she left on the night of the alleged rape. John’s attorneys successfully argued against its admission. The Sexual Misconduct Appeals Board upheld a finding in John's favor. In the investigation of Doe’s allegations against “James,” the Office also issued a no-contact order but James refused to comply with a request to change his class sections and failed to appear at a hearing. James was dismissed from UK. Doe brought Title IX claims, 20 U.S.C. 1681, arguing that UK’s response caused a hostile educational environment and vulnerability to further harassment and that UK demonstrated deliberate indifference by failing to follow UK’s policies throughout the investigation and hearing. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Doe failed to show that UK’s response subjected her to further actionable harassment that caused Title IX injuries. View "Doe v. University of Kentucky" on Justia Law

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T.R., in the seventh grade, met with the school principal, Gill-Williams. T.R. told Gill-Williams that she had been thinking about suicide for a month, stating. that “things at home like guns and knives" made her "want to hurt herself.” Gill-Williams called a police officer assigned to the school, Olney, who called T.R.’s father, Machan. Machan, at work about 90 minutes away, objected to Olney taking T.R. to the hospital, telling Olney to keep T.R. at the school until he got there. Olney took T.R. to the hospital. An emergency-room nurse conducted a mental-health assessment and concluded that T.R. needed treatment. Although T.R. did not appear intoxicated or disoriented, the physician, Dr. Friedman, ordered a blood draw as part of the standard procedure for a mental evaluation. T.R. resisted the blood draw, which tested negative for drugs. Friedman and other medical staff talked to T.R. about her suicidal thoughts. Machan arrived. After considerable discussion, the hospital released T.R. on a condition that she go to a mental health center. Machan took T.R. there, where they stayed for about 45 minutes. Machan filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court denied Olney qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit held that Olney was entitled to summary judgment. The existence of probable cause to fear that T.R. might hurt herself meant that Olney did not need Machan’s consent to take T.R. to the hospital. Olney did not violate the Fourth Amendment by taking T.R. to the hospital and authorizing the blood draw. View "Machan v. Olney" on Justia Law

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Students at several of Detroit’s worst-performing public schools were subject to poor conditions within their classrooms, missing or unqualified teachers, physically dangerous facilities, and inadequate books and materials. In 2016, the plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that these conditions deprive them of a basic minimum education that provides a chance at foundational literacy, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses. They sought recognition of a fundamental right to a basic education. They argued that the schools they are forced to attend are schools in name only, so the state cannot justify the restriction on their liberty imposed by compulsory attendance. They sued state officials, rather than local entities, based on the state’s general supervision of all public education and the state’s specific interventions in Detroit’s public schools. The state argued that it recently returned control to local officials. The district court found that the state defendants were the proper parties to sue but dismissed the complaint on the merits. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Though the plaintiffs failed to adequately plead their equal protection and compulsory attendance claims, the court reinstated claims that they have been denied a basic minimum education, and have been deprived of access to literacy. Application of the principles in the Supreme Court’s education cases to a substantive due process framework demonstrates that a basic minimum education should be recognized as a fundamental right. View "Gary B. v. Whitmer" on Justia Law

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A fifth-grade student, C.T., lit a match during the bus ride home from an Ohio elementary school. The students sat in assigned seats, with the youngest students at the front of the bus. School administrators moved C.T. to the front of the bus, where he sexually assaulted a kindergarten student, Doe, as they rode home from school over several weeks. The bus driver apparently was aware that C.T. had moved across the aisle to sit with Doe but police concluded that the driver was not aware of the assaults. C.T. was expelled. Doe’s parents brought a state-created-danger claim against the School District and five employees. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, holding that no reasonable jury could find that they knowingly exposed Doe to the risk of sexual assault. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating “that the Constitution does not empower federal judges to remedy every situation” that is “heart-wrenching.” Nothing about C.T.’s school record could have put the school employees on notice that C.T. posed a risk of sexually assaulting Doe. The school employees’ responses to the risk also do not show the “callous disregard” or “conscience-shocking” behavior that state-created-danger cases require. Certain employees could have done more in implementing C.T.’s discipline, but their actions did not amount to “callous disregard for the safety” of Doe. View "Doe v. Jackson Local School District Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Foster and the respondent were classmates an off-site executive MBA program based in Los Angeles through the University of Michigan. Students participated in once-a-month, weekend sessions at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. Foster developed a friendship with the respondent but the two did not have a dating or sexual relationship. The respondent began sending complimentary texts, giving Foster unsolicited gifts, expressing romantic interest. and making unwanted physical contact. He came to her hotel room and removed his clothing. Foster reported that the respondent had sexually harassed her to the University, which made arrangements so that the two would not stay in the same hotel, eat together, attend social functions together, or interact in class. Foster was not satisfied with the arrangements. During the next “residency,” the respondent sent vulgar text messages to administrators, violated the restrictions, and was barred from the second day of classes. His communications became increasingly aggressive. Foster obtained a restraining order but the respondent appeared at graduation in Michigan. The district court rejected Foster’s deliberate-indifference claim under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681–1688, on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Foster established a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the University was deliberately indifferent by alleging that the University’s response to the respondent’s unwillingness to comply with its orders was clearly unreasonable and caused her to undergo further harassment. View "Foster v. Board of Regents of University of Michigan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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While at Rhodes College, Bose was accepted into the George Washington University medical school early selection program. Bose completed Professor Bea’s course, Organic Chemistry I. The following summer, Bea approached Bose on campus, asking personal questions and inviting her to have dinner. Bose declined. Bose took Bea’s Organic Chemistry II class the following semester. Bose also took a corresponding lab course with a different professor. Bea regularly visited the lab, starting conversations with Bose and offering to help her; he did not give the same attention to other students. Bea gave his students the option to take tests early. Bose often used this option and took tests in Bea’s office while he taught another class. After Bose asked Bea, in the presence of a classmate, to stop asking about her boyfriend and “keep the relationship professional,” Bea’s behavior changed. Bose claims Bea misrecorded her test score and would not respond to Bose’s requests for help. Bea told a colleague that he suspected a student of cheating, then created a fake answer key and stayed logged in on his computer. Bea later testified that Bose took Quiz 5 in Bea’s office and that her answers matched the fake answer key precisely. The Honor Council voted to expel Bose. An investigator determined that her allegations of sexual harassment could not be sustained. Bose sued, alleging retaliation under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681–88, and defamation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of Bose’s Title IX claim. There is no individual liability under Title IX; the court declined to apply the cat’s paw theory, which imputes the discriminatory animus of another to the funding recipient, as inconsistent with Title IX principles. The district court erred by holding that Bea’s statements were subject to absolute privilege under Tennessee defamation law. View "Bose v. Bea" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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Two former players for the St. Marys (Ohio) Memorial High School Football Team brought claims for federal Title IX violations and state-law intentional infliction of emotional distress against their coach, Frye. The players claim that Frye harassed them by using numerous derogatory terms—most notably, the term “pussy”—with the intent to insult (and presumably to motivate) the two in front of their teammates. The plaintiffs also sued the school board, superintendent, and athletic director for failing to address Frye’s conduct. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. As a matter of decency, Frye’s conduct was distasteful and offensive to many but as a matter of law, his conduct did not constitute sex-based discrimination, in violation of Title IX, nor was it conduct intolerable in a civilized society, in violation of Ohio tort law. Frye did not make sexual advances or act out of sexual desire. Frye was not motivated by general hostility to the presence of men. Frye did not treat men and women differently in a mixed-sex environment. View "Lininger v. St. Marys City School District Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, four female students each reported sexual assault to the campus police and authorities. The plaintiffs contend that the administration’s response was inadequate, caused them physical and emotional harm, and consequently denied them educational opportunities. They sued, claiming violations of Title IX, Due Process and Equal Protection under 42 U.S.C. 1983, and Michigan law. The district court dismissed all but three claims under Title IX and one section 1983 claim. The Sixth Circuit remanded for dismissal of those claims. A victim of “student-on-student sexual harassment” has a private cause of action against the school under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681, if the harassment was “pervasive” and the school’s response “caused” the injury. A student-victim must plead, and ultimately prove, that the school had actual knowledge of actionable sexual harassment and that the school’s deliberate indifference to it resulted in further actionable sexual harassment against the student-victim, which caused the Title IX injuries. A student-victim’s subjective dissatisfaction with the school’s response is immaterial to whether the school’s response caused the claimed Title IX violation. Because none of the plaintiffs suffered any actionable sexual harassment after the school’s response, they did not suffer “pervasive” sexual harassment and cannot meet the causation element. The court also held that the individual defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. View "Kollaritsch v. Michigan State University Board of Trustees" on Justia Law

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D.T.’s parents, concerned that their son, who has autism, was not getting an appropriate education in the Tennessee schools, removed him from public school and placed him in a private therapy program, where he improved. They were convicted of truancy. To avoid further prosecution. they enrolled D.T. in a state-approved private school and a private therapy program. To have the option of removing him from school again in the future, they sought a preliminary injunction to keep the state from charging them with truancy. They argued they had the right to remove D.T. from school because federal disability law preempts state educational requirements. The district court found that D.T.’s parents had not yet suffered an immediate and irreparable injury. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The hypothetical threat of prosecution is not an “immediate,” “irreparable” injury that warrants the “extraordinary remedy” of a preliminary injunction. View "D.T. v. Sumner County Schools" on Justia Law