Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Plaintiff alleges that when she was fourteen years old, she was brutally sexually assaulted by another student in a stairwell at Cypress Creek High School, following an abusive relationship with the same student. After suffering severe injuries and weathering subsequent harassment, Plaintiff says that instead of investigating her assault and providing her with academic or other appropriate support, Cypress Creek recommended that she drop out of school. After doing so—and never returning to any high school—Plaintiff sued the school district under Title IX, arguing that it was deliberately indifferent both to the risk of her sexual assault and in response to her abusive relationship, sexual assault, and subsequent related harassment and bullying on school property.   The district granted Cypress Creek’s motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff appealed. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court explained that because the district court correctly concluded that the District was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff’s risk of sexual assault, the court affirmed that portion of the judgment.   However, the totality of the circumstances, including the District’s lack of investigation, awareness of the pre-assault abusive relationship, failure to prevent in-person and cyberattacks from the assailant and other students post-assault, and failure to provide any academic or other appropriate support to Plaintiff culminated in exactly what Title IX is designed to prevent—the tragedy of Plaintiff dropping out of school. A reasonable jury could find that the District violated Title IX based on these facts. Accordingly, the court reversed that portion of the judgment. View "Roe v. Cypress-Fairbanks Indep" on Justia Law

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Appellants, two police officers, arrested Plaintiff, a student, at a school basketball game. The district court denied summary judgment based on qualified immunity, finding a dispute of material fact regarding the events surrounding Plaintiff's arrest. The officers filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the district court’s decision.The Fifth Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The issues raised by Plaintiff create factual disputes that meet the required threshold to overcome Appellant's qualified immunity defense at this stage. View "Byrd v. Cornelius" on Justia Law

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Two former students of Tulane University, on behalf of a putative class of current and former students, sued the University for failing to provide a partial refund of tuition and fees after Tulane switched from in-person instruction with access to on-campus services to online, off-campus instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court agreed with Tulane that the student's complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court concluded that the claim is not barred as a claim of educational malpractice because the Students do not challenge the quality of the education received but the product received. Second, the court rejected Tulane’s argument that the breach-of-contract claim is foreclosed by an express agreement between the parties because the agreement at issue plausibly does not govern refunds in this circumstance. And third, the court concluded that Plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that Tulane breached an express contract promising in-person instruction and on-campus facilities because Plaintiffs fail to point to any explicit language evidencing that promise. But the court held that Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged implied-in-fact promises for in-person instruction and on-campus facilities. Moreover, the court found that the Students’ alternative claim for unjust enrichment may proceed at this early stage. Finally, genuine disputes of material fact regarding whether Plaintiffs saw and agreed to the A&DS preclude reliance on the agreement at this stage. Thus, Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged a claim of conversion. View "Jones v. Admin of the Tulane Educ" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a person of color and of mixed heritage, reported to school administrators that she was harassed by her peers on the basis of her race and national origin during her sixth-grade year in the Austin Independent School District. Plaintiff alleged that she was told to "go back where [she] came from" and that, in some cases, the harassment involved physical shoving. There were also incidents in which Plaintiff responded physically to verbal threats and name-calling, resulting in the school requesting she be transferred. Through her parents, Plaintiff sued the District for failure to address the harassment under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The trial court dismissed Plaintiff's 1983 claim under Rule 12(b)(6) and ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of the district on Plaintiff's Title VI claim.While the Fifth Circuit took issue with some of the district court's findings, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court ultimately reached the correct result. Thus, the court affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiff's 1983 claim and the court's grant of summary judgment on the Title VI claim. View "Menzia v. Austin Indep School Dist" on Justia Law

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On appeal, the St. Martin Parish School Board (the “School Board”) challenges the district court’s (1) exercise of remedial jurisdiction over the case, (2) denial of its motion for unitary status, and (3) imposition of additional equitable relief. The Fifth Circuit concluded that hat the district court properly retained remedial jurisdiction over the action; the court otherwised affirmed in part and reversed in part.The court explained that the district court did not clearly err in determining that the School Board failed to achieve unitary status in student assignment, faculty assignment, and the quality of education. The denial of unitary status was, therefore, not clearly erroneous. However, the court found that the district court abused its discretion in closing Catahoula Elementary School. The record demonstrates that progress has been made and progress can continue through the implementation of other reasonable, feasible, and workable remedies. Accordingly, the court reversed the closing of Catahoula Elementary School and remanded for consideration of other methods of addressing that concern. View "Borel v. Sch Bd Saint Martin Parish" on Justia Law

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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