Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
by
After the school districts sought modification of existing desegregation consent decrees to allow their exemption from Arkansas's Public School Choice Act, Ark. Code. Ann. 6–18–1906, the district court granted the motions and modified the consent decrees to explicitly limit the transfer of students between school districts. The Department appealed, alleging that the modification imposed an impermissible interdistrict remedy.After a panel of the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's modifications, the Department moved for rehearing, at which point the United States—for the first time—involved itself in the case and asked the court to reconsider its opinion. The court accepted the invitation, received supplemental briefing from the parties, and reversed the judgment of the district court.The court agreed with the Department that the district court abused its discretion by modifying the consent decrees because the 2017 amendments were not a significant change in circumstances supporting modification of the decrees and—even if they were—the district court did not impose a suitably tailored modification. Because no vestige of discrimination traces to interdistrict school transfers, the district court abused its discretion in expanding the consent decrees to prohibit such transfers. View "United States v. Arkansas Department of Education" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of the University's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' action under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 for failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs, former players of the University's women's ice hockey team, filed suit after the University cut its women's ice hockey team but not its men's ice hockey team.Given the regulatory structure and its textual content, the court disagreed with the district court's reasons for dismissing the complaint. The court explained that, when applying the 1979 Interpretation of the implementing regulation, the district court improperly relied on a compliance test from the Levels of Competition provision (VII.C.5) as the only way to analyze a claim under the separate, unrelated Selection of Sports provision (VII.C.4). The court concluded that the 1979 Interpretation's Contact Sports Clause's plain text is not inconsistent with the regulation's Separate Teams Provision. By disregarding the plain text, the court concluded that the district court erred in its analysis.Ultimately, the court concluded that the district court's primary reasons for dismissing the complaint rested on an incorrect view of the law. In this case, it appears that the district court saw the Contact-Sports-Clause claim as futile, not novel. Therefore, no set of facts could have convinced the district court to give the athletes a second look. But given a level playing field, the court concluded that the athletes may be able to state an actionable Title IX claim. The court remanded for the district court to apply the law to plaintiffs' complaint in the first instance. View "Berndsen v. North Dakota University System" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that University employees violated InterVarsity's First Amendment rights and denial of qualified immunity. In this case, the University deregistered InterVarsity as a Registered Student Organization based on the University's determination that InterVarsity had violated the University's Policy on Human Rights by requiring its leaders to subscribe to certain religious beliefs.The court agreed with the district court that the University's policy was reasonable and viewpoint neutral, but not as applied to InterVarsity. The court explained that the University's choice to selectively apply the policy against InterVarsity suggests a preference for certain viewpoints over InterVarsity's. Furthermore, these rights were clearly established at the time of the violation. View "Intervarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. University of Iowa" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, parents of LD, filed suit against the school district and others after their daughter LD, a 13-year-old, 7th grade student, was sexually abused by her teacher, Brian Robeson.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the school district and the principal. The court concluded that plaintiffs failed to present any evidence that the principal had actual notice of the abuse, and the principal and the school district were entitled to summary judgment on plaintiffs' Title IX and 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims. The court also concluded that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment in favor of the school district and principal on plaintiffs' Nebraska Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act where plaintiffs' claim arose out of Robeson's sexual assault of LD, an intentional tort to which the Act's intentional tort exception applies. The court further concluded that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the principal on plaintiffs' aiding and abetting intentional infliction of emotional distress claim where nothing in the record, even when viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, indicates that the principal encouraged or assisted Robeson in inflicting emotional distress on LD.The court joined its sister circuits in finding that there is no right to a jury trial on the issue of damages following entry of default judgment. The court affirmed the district court's order denying plaintiffs' request for a jury trial on the issue of damages against Robeson. Finally, the court affirmed the $1,249,540.41 amount of damages awarded against Robeson. View "KD v. Douglas County School District No. 001" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, ten former University of Minnesota football players, appealed the dismissal of their Amended Complaint against the University and two University officials, asserting a variety of claims arising out of the University’s investigation of a complaint of sexual assault and harassment by another student, Jane Doe. Plaintiffs are African-American males who alleged that the University targeted them on the basis of their sex and race and unfairly punished them in response to Jane's accusations. The district court dismissed all claims.The Eighth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs' complaint alleged a number of circumstances which, taken together, are sufficient to support a plausible claim that the University discriminated against plaintiffs on the basis of sex. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that the University was biased against them because of external pressures from the campus community and the federal government, and plaintiffs alleged historical facts that reinforce the inference of bias in this specific proceeding. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' Title IX discrimination claims.The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Title IX claims for retaliation where plaintiffs did not plausibly allege that their request for a Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittee hearing was tantamount to a complaint of sex discrimination, and even if a request for a hearing made by a person accused of sexual misconduct could amount to protected activity, the Amended Complaint did not plausibly plead prima facie retaliation claims. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the race discrimination claims where the Amended Complaint did not plausibly allege a comparator similarly situated to plaintiffs in all relevant aspects; affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' due process claims where plaintiffs failed to exhaust the existing procedures for appealing the University's disciplinary decision and failed to allege prehearing deprivations or deprivation of protected property or liberty interests in violation of due process; and affirmed the dismissal of the contract and negligence claims on Eleventh Amendment grounds. View "John Does 1-2 v. Regents of the University of Minnesota" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against the college, alleging that it mishandled the sexual misconduct disciplinary process and committed other acts of deliberate indifference in the wake of the first of two assaults. Plaintiff seeks relief under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Minnesota common law.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the college on all of plaintiff's claims. In regard to the Title IX claim, the court concluded that, on the record, it cannot say that a reasonable jury would conclude that the college's response to the sexual assault by Student One amounted to deliberate indifference. Although the court noted that the college could have been more inclusive during the sexual assault complaint and more attentive to plaintiff in the aftermath, the court agreed with the district court that permitting a meeting between plaintiff and Student One to take place, after the sexual assault proceedings had concluded, was not an act of deliberate indifference. Even if it was, it is far from clear that requiring plaintiff to attend the meeting would have violated Title IX. The court also concluded that, even assuming that track posters of Student One on campus qualify as sexual harassment for purposes of Title IX liability, the record evidence fails to support a finding that not removing the posters amounted to deliberate indifference. Finally, the evidence does not show that the college's conduct in the wake of plaintiff's complaint concerning Student Two was clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances. In regard to the ADA and Section 504 claims, the court concluded that nothing in the record suggests that the college denied plaintiff reasonable accommodations as she endeavored to finish her degree while struggling with challenges to her mental health brought on by the sexual assaults. View "Shank v. Carleton College" on Justia Law

by
Business Leaders in Christ filed suit against the University and others, alleging that the University defendants violated its First Amendment rights through the application of the University's Policy on Human Rights. This action arose from the University's investigation of Business Leaders' refusal to allow a gay member to become an officer in the religious organization. The district court held that the University defendants violated Business Leaders' First Amendment rights to free speech, expressive association, and free exercise of religion; granted Business Leaders permanent injunctive relief and thus prohibited the University defendants from enforcing the Policy against Business Leaders under certain conditions; but granted qualified immunity to the individual defendants on Business Leaders' money damages claims.The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the district court erred in granting qualified immunity to the individual defendants on Business Leaders' free-speech and expressive-association claims. In this case, the law was clearly established at the time the individual defendants acted that the University's recognition of registered student organizations constituted a limited public forum, that the university may not discriminate on the basis of viewpoint in a limited public forum, and that Business Leaders had a right not to be subjected to viewpoint discrimination while speaking in the University's limited public forum. However, the district court correctly granted qualified immunity to the individual defendants on Business Leaders' free-exercise claim, because the law was not clearly established at the time that the individual defendants' violated Business Leaders' free-exercise rights. View "Business Leaders In Christ v. The University of Iowa" on Justia Law

by
After police officers interrogated L.G. at her high school, she filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that the school resource officer had unconstitutionally seized her by escorting her to the office for questioning. Once L.G. was in the office, defendant left her alone with the officers and closed the door.The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's order rejecting defendant's request for qualified immunity and remanded with directions to dismiss the section 1983 claim against defendants. The court respectfully disagreed with the district court that it was clearly established that the school setting makes no difference for Fourth Amendment purposes when the seizure occurs at the behest of police. In this case, defendant's involvement in the alleged seizure was minimal and ministerial. Furthermore, the incident occurred in a public school setting where it would not necessarily be clear at what point a student has been unreasonably seized for constitutional purposes. Therefore, the court did not think existing circuit precedent, such as Stoner v. Watlingten, 735 F.3d 799, 804 (8th Cir. 2013), and Cason v. Cook, 810 F.2d 188 (8th Cir. 1987), would have alerted every reasonable officer in defendant's position that she was violating L.G.'s constitutional rights. The court also concluded that L.G. has not successfully demonstrated a robust consensus of persuasive authority that created a clearly established right, and this is not the rare case where a general constitutional rule applies with "obvious clarity." View "L.G. v. Edwards" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint challenging Missouri's form to claim a religious exemption from mandatory immunizations for school children, as violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiffs, children enrolled or seeking to reenroll in Missouri public schools, have sincere religious objections to immunization. After plaintiffs refused to fill out Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Form 11, plaintiffs were disenrolled from school until they filed the form. Plaintiffs claimed that the form and the text of the form regarding "vaccine education" violated their rights to free speech, free religious exercise, and equal protection.The court held that Form II does not compel speech, restrict speech, or incidentally burden speech, and thus does not violate plaintiffs' free speech rights; does not require plaintiffs to engage in conduct against their religious beliefs; and does not make plaintiffs morally complicit in the production or use of vaccinations. Rather, Form 11 communicates neutrally to anyone considering opting out on religious grounds that the government discourages it, but the ultimate decision belongs to the parents. The panel explained that the form states the government's neutral and generally applicable position that immunization prevents childhood diseases, and thus should be required for school attendance. The court also held that plaintiffs failed to plead specific facts about forced immunization education, and that Form 11 does not target religious believers or violate their right to equal protection. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs have not stated a hybrid rights claim that requires strict scrutiny. View "B.W.C. v. Williams" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota alleging retaliation and sex discrimination under Title IX. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that the University violated Title IX by (1) retaliating against her for supporting a former coach in a sexual harassment investigation by not allowing her to redshirt; and (2) discriminating against her on the basis of sex.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the University's motion to dismiss because plaintiff did not have an actionable claim for retaliation under Title IX and she failed to show that she was treated differently because of her sex. In this case, plaintiff failed to allege that she engaged in a protected activity, and no part of Title IX designates participation in a sexual harassment investigation on the side of the accused as protected activity. In regard to plaintiff's claim that she was discriminated against on the basis of her sex when she was denied the right to redshirt, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to support a claim of sex discrimination in violation of Title IX. View "Du Bois v. The Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota" on Justia Law