Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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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

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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

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Speech challenged University of Michigan policies prohibiting,“[h]arassing or bullying another person—physically, verbally, or through other means.” The office that investigates alleged violations defined terms on its website, using state law, University policies, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Speech challenged only the Dictionary definitions: Harassing: to annoy persistently; to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for, especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal and physical conduct. Bullying: to frighten, hurt, or threaten ...; to act like a bully ...; to cause (someone) to do something by making threats or insults or by using force; to treat abusively; to affect by means of force or coercion. After this lawsuit was filed, the University removed those definitions, leaving only the unchallenged state law definitions. Speech also challenged the Bias Response Team, which responds to student-reported “bias incidents,” defined as “conduct that discriminates, stereotypes, excludes, harasses or harms anyone in our community based on their identity (such as race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age, or religion).” Causing a bias incident is not, itself, punishable. The Team does not determine whether reported conduct is a bias incident but offers support to the individual who made the report; it may request a voluntary meeting with the subject of the report. The Team cannot compel a meeting and has no direct punitive authority but can make reports to other bodies. The district court denied a preliminary injunction. The Sixth Circuit vacated. Speech has standing to bring its facial challenge because its members face an objective chill: the referral power and the invitation to meet. the University has not established that its voluntary change makes it “absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.” View "Speech First, Inc. v. Schlissel" on Justia Law

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Endres has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; since age six, Endres has taken medication to treat that condition, beginning with Ritalin. Endres began medical school at Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED). Endres passed 14 required classes during his first year at NEOMED, but having stopped taking Ritalin because of side effects, Endres failed one class. NEOMED made Endres repeat the entire first-year curriculum including the classes he had passed. During a test in a class he had already passed, Endres appeared to shift his eyes repeatedly toward another student’s laptop. NEOMED dismissed Endres for cheating. Endres sued, citing procedural due process violations, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The district court dismissed Endres’s complaint as untimely, stating that even if Endres’s due process claim were timely, the NEOMED official is entitled to qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding the case timely. The statute of limitations did not start until Endres learned that a second panel issued a final, non-appealable decision recommending his dismissal. Endres alleged facts which, taken as true, establish several violations of his procedural due process rights. Because the contours of those rights were not clearly established, the court affirmed the grant of qualified immunity to the official, which immunizes her from damages though not from injunctive relief. View "Endres v. Northeast Ohio Medical University" on Justia Law

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Sensabaugh, the former head football coach at David Crockett High School in Washington County, Tennessee, made two Facebook posts expressing his concerns about the conditions and practices of schools within the District. The posts included pictures of students. Sensabaugh refused to comply with requests to remove the posts and became aggressive with his supervisors who noted other alleged misconduct, including his use of profane language with students and his requiring a student to practice while injured. He was fired after a guidance meeting where his conduct caused his supervisor to report her concern “that Sensabaugh posed a threat to the safety of the students and staff.” He sued, raising First Amendment retaliation and municipal liability claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding no causal connection between Sensabaugh’s Facebook posts and his termination. A thorough independent investigation preceded Sensabaugh’s termination; that investigation concluded that the misconduct allegations were substantiated in full or in part and that the misconduct supported termination. View "Sensabaugh v. Halliburton" on Justia Law

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Doe sued the University for violating his due-process rights during a disciplinary hearing. The Sixth Circuit remanded Doe’s case in light of a related ruling requiring live hearings and cross-examination in such proceedings. Upon remand, the district judge, frustrated with the University’s apparent foot-dragging, scheduled a settlement conference and required the University’s president to attend. The University requested that the president be allowed to attend by telephone but the district judge refused. The University then requested permission to send someone with both more knowledge about the sexual assault policy at issue and full settlement authority. The judge again refused, stating he wanted the president to be there even if someone else with full settlement authority attended, and “even if the parties [we]re able to resolve" the issue. The University planned for the president to attend. Two days before the settlement conference, the district judge decided that the conference (which he had assured the University would be private) should be a public event, stating that “the University’s public filing of a Motion to Dismiss . . . . The filing incited confusion amongst the media.” The Sixth Circuit issued a writ of mandamus, finding that the district judge acted beyond his power and abused his discretion. Neither Congress nor the Constitution granted the judge the power to order a specific state official to attend a public settlement conference. View "In re: University of Michigan" on Justia Law

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Mother contends that Utica Schools (UCS) violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400 because the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for her son, Dylan did provide him with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Dylan suffers from Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette’s Disorder, and symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. During the 2012–2013 school year, Dylan was 18 years old and in his fifth year of high school. Dylan's IEP provided that Dylan’s IEP team would implement and document a trial of “assistive technology” and that his curriculum would be evenly split between special education and general education classes. The “Post-Secondary Vision and Transition Activities” section listed several activities in which Dylan was interested that could lead to employment but did not list any next steps or resources. UCS placed Dylan in Community Based Inclusion (CBI) for two periods of his school day. CBI covers “daily living skills, employability training, recreation[,] leisure, [and] personal social skills.” Dylan was enrolled in three special education classes and one general education class, so the CBI placement was inconsistent with his IEP. After mother objected, UCS provided Dylan with instruction in the office, apart from other students. By June 2013, the school had reevaluated Dylan and developed a new IEP, which was amended several times. Mother voluntarily withdrew Dylan from UCS and enrolled him in private school. She filed an administrative complaint with the Michigan Department of Education. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment, noting that the district acknowledged denying Dylan a FAPE. UCS was ordered to pay for 1,200 hours of tutoring and one year of transition planning as compensatory education and to pay $210,654.65 in attorney fees and costs. View "Somberg v. Utica Community Schools" on Justia Law

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In 1984, a Tennessee jury convicted Zagorski of two first-degree murders and sentenced him to death. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentence; state courts denied post-conviction relief. Zagorski sought federal habeas corpus relief, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate an alternative suspect, that the court erred by improperly instructing the jury on the meaning of mitigating circumstances, and that the jury could not constitutionally impose the death penalty because prosecutors originally offered a plea deal for two life sentences. Finding all three arguments procedurally defaulted, the district court denied relief, the Sixth Circuit affirmed, and the Supreme Court denied certiorari. The Supreme Court subsequently decided "Martinez," permitting ineffective assistance of counsel at initial-review collateral proceedings to establish cause for a prisoner’s procedural default of an ineffective assistance claim at trial. Zagorski sought post-judgment relief under FRCP 60(b)(6), which grants courts equitable power to vacate judgments “to achieve substantial justice” in the most “unusual and extreme situations.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, “giving due deference to the district court’s discretion in balancing the equities” and noting that, given the overwhelming evidence, a more thorough investigation of another suspect would not have reasonably been likely to affect the outcome. View "Zagorski v. Mays" on Justia Law