Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (SFFA), a nonprofit organization committed to ending race discrimination in higher-education admissions, sued the University of Texas at Austin (UT) over its use of race in admitting students. The district court concluded SFFA has standing but dismissed its claims as barred by res judicata. It reasoned that SFFA’s claims were already litigated in a prior challenge to UT’s admissions policies. See Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. (Fisher II), 579 U.S. 365 (2016); Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. (Fisher I), 570 U.S. 297 (2013).   The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. The court agreed that SFFA has standing, but disagreed that res judicata bars its claims. The parties here are not identical to or in privity with those in Fisher, and this case presents different claims.   The court first explained that SFFA has associational standing to challenge UT’s race-conscious admissions policy and the district court correctly denied the motions to dismiss based on standing. The court wrote that, however, the district court erred in applying the control exception to nonparty preclusion in two key respects. First, it mistakenly rejected SFFA’s argument about the different capacities in which Fisher and Blum acted in Fisher and act in this case. Second, even if Fisher’s and Blum’s different capacities did not foreclose applying claim preclusion, the district court erred in finding that Fisher and Blum control SFFA. Further, under the court’s transactional test, SFFA’s claims are not the same as those in Fisher because the claims are not related in time and space. View "Students for Fair Admissions v. Univ of TX" on Justia Law

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Defendants dismissed Plaintiff from two graduate nursing studies programs. She sued, claiming that her dismissal violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act, and the Due Process Clause. The district court refused to dismiss some of her claims. The Defendants appealed part of that order, contending that they have sovereign immunity from Plaintiff’s ADA claims and that she failed to state Fourteenth Amendment claims.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed Defendants' appeal in part finding that the court lacks appellate jurisdiction over the Fourteenth Amendment claims. The court affirmed the order in part and reversed the order in part, concluding that Plaintiff stated some Title II claims but not all of the claims that the district court refused to dismiss. Defendants were not entitled to sovereign immunity at this stage of the litigation because Plaintiff’s allegations did not permit the court to assume that Defendants did not violate her due-process rights. The court explained that it has appellate jurisdiction over only the denial of sovereign immunity from Plaintiff’s ADA claims. The court wrote it must assume that Plaintiff’s allegations are true and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. The state may or may not be correct that its rebuttal evidence vitiates any inference that Defendants discriminated against Plaintiff because of her disability. But the pleading stage was not the right time to raise those contentions. Although the court has done so in the past, Plaintiff’s allegations do not permit the court to assume that the Due Process Clause was not violated. View "Pickett v. Texas Tech Univ" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff is an education company that owns various trademarks, including "Read a Million Words," "Million Dollar Reader," "Millionaire Reader," and " Millionaire Reading Club." Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant, a public school district in Texas, based on trademark infringement. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant.The thrust of any Lanham Act complaint is that the defendant's use of the mark causes confusion which harms the plaintiff's interests. Here, Defendant's implementation of a "million-word reading challenge" would not result in any reasonable person being confused between Defendant's use of the terms and Plaintiff's products. Further, Plaintiff does not make any claim that Defendant was a competitor, only that their use of the terms caused confusion. View "Springboards to Educ v. Pharr San Juan" on Justia Law

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Student is an elementary school pupil at the School District (“SD”). The SD moved her from general education into an essential academics program after they determined that despite the accommodations it offered her, Student was not making appropriate progress. Student’s mother objected to the SD’s decision and sought a due process hearing under the IDEA. A hearing officer concluded that the SD’s proposal was: (1) Student’s least restrictive environment; and (2) appropriate in light of her circumstances. Student’s mother appealed to the district court which affirmed the hearing officer’s decision. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision.   The court held that It is Student’s burden to establish that the SD’s decision violates IDEA and she has not carried that burden. The court reasoned that the proposed blended placement IEP is Student’s least restrictive environment. The court found that the SD took steps to accommodate Student by reviewing her overall record and found that she was not making appropriate progress in light of her circumstances. Further, the court considered what effect Student had on the general education classroom.   Finally, the court reasoned that to comply with the IDEA, a student’s plan must provide for exposure to nonhandicapped students to the maximum extent appropriate. Here, although Student occasionally saw glimpses of progress, the bottom line was one of minimal improvement and even regression. The proposed blended placement IEP was the next logical step when the SD found that Student was still not improving. View "H.W. v. Comal Indep Sch Dist" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and her now-adult son K.S., a former high school student with a specific learning disability, filed suit under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), alleging that the school district neither provided K.S. with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) nor complied with procedural safeguards meant to ensure such.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision affirming two administrative decisions concluding that the school district did not violate the IDEA's substantive and procedural requirements. The court reviewed the voluminous record and the magistrate judge's thorough report that the district court adopted, discerning no reversible error in the district court's holding that: (1) the school district did not violate its obligation to identify and evaluate K.S. as a student with a suspected disability; (2) the individualized education programs and transition plan created for K.S. complied with IDEA's substantive requirements; and (3) the school district's procedural foot-faults in failing to include K.S. for the first manifestation determination review and failing to consider certain relevant information were not actionable. View "H v. Riesel Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Mandawala attended a medical sonography program at Baptist School. After failing to graduate, Mandawala sued, alleging that he failed because the school did not staff its clinics adequately. He later added claims under education and privacy laws and that the school had failed him out of racial animus. The state judge dismissed Mandawala’s amended petition.Mandawala then sued in federal court, alleging racial and sex discrimination, fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of contract, conversion, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of the First and Twenty-Sixth Amendments. He also claimed that the school’s attorney conspired with the state judge to deny him his civil rights and his right to a fair trial. Mandawala later attempted to add defendants. The district court dismissed with prejudice nearly all the claims; only Mandawala’s sex discrimination and breach-of-contract claims against Baptist School survived. The court ordered the parties to mediate. Mandawala unsuccessfully sought a writ of mandamus, demanding the replacement of the district judge. Mandawala then filed an unsuccessful recusal motion and told the court that he would not participate in mediation. The district court stayed the caseThe Third Circuit affirmed, finding no evidence of bias on the part of the district judge and noting several false statements and procedural errors made by Mandawala. The district court carefully examined Mandawala’s civil rights claims and correctly decided that they merited dismissal with prejudice. View "Mandawala v. NE Baptist Hospital" on Justia Law

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T.O. and his parents appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims arising under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974. Plaintiffs' claims arose from a primary school disciplinary incident experienced by T.O.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the substantive due process claim, concluding that the facts simply do not suggest that T.O. was the subject of a random, malicious, and unprovoked attack, which would justify deviation from Fee v. Herndon, 900 F.2d 804. In this case, an aide removed T.O. from his classroom for disrupting class, and the teacher used force only after T.O. pushed and hit her. Even if the teacher's intervention were ill-advised and her reaction inappropriate, the court cannot say that it did not occur in a disciplinary context. Furthermore, the court has consistently held that Texas law provides adequate, alternative remedies in the form of both criminal and civil liability for school employees whose use of excessive disciplinary force results in injury to students in T.O.'s situation.The court also concluded that plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims fail because this court has not conclusively determined whether the momentary use of force by a teacher against a student constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure. In regard to the ADA and section 504 claims, the court concluded that the amended complaint failed to allege facts permitting the inference that either the teacher's actions or the school district's actions were based on T.O.'s disability. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying leave to amend. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's rulings. View "T.O. v. Fort Bend Independent School District" on Justia Law

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After the University terminated her employment as the head coach of the women's basketball team, plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as state-law claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and invasion of privacy.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment as to the breach of contract and Title IX claims. The court concluded that judgment in favor of plaintiff on the breach of contract claim was proper where a reasonable jury could have concluded that plaintiff's management of funds did not give the University cause to terminate her employment. Furthermore, the University was not entitled to a new trial on plaintiff's breach of contract claim. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to provide the requested jury instruction and any error on the district court's part was harmless. In regard to the Title IX claim, the court concluded that denial of plaintiff's jury instruction was not an abuse of discretion or grounds for a new trial. However, the court reversed the district court's judgment as to the privacy claim and concluded that it failed as a matter of law. The court explained that the facts disclosed by the University were of legitimate concern to the public and the district court clearly erred in concluding otherwise. View "Taylor-Travis v. Jackson State University" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal without prejudice of T.B.'s discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. The court held, on the record before it, that T.B. seeks redress for denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and thus, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), he was required to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing this claim to the district court. Because he has failed to do so, his complaint was properly dismissed. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying T.B.'s motion to reconsider or request to amend. View "T. B. v. Northwest Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of Speech First's First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to several policies that intend to regulate speech at the University of Texas at Austin. Speech First sought a preliminary injunction against enforcement of these policies, but the district court dismissed the case based on lack of standing.The court held that Speech First has standing to seek a preliminary injunction. After determining that the case was not moot, the court held that the chilling of allegedly vague regulations, coupled with a range of potential penalties for violating the regulations, was, as other courts have held, sufficient "injury" to ensure that Speech First has a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy. In this case, Speech First's three student-members at the University have an intention to engage in a certain course of conduct, namely political speech; it is likely that the University's policies arguably proscribe speech of the sort that Speech First's members intend to make; and the existence of the University's policies, which the University plans to maintain as far as a federal court will allow it, suffices to establish that the threat of future enforcement, against those in a class whose speech is arguably restricted, is likely substantial. The court also held that the causation and redressability prongs are easily satisfied here. The court remanded for assessment of the preliminary injunction. View "Speech First, Inc. v. Fenves" on Justia Law