Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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After Drake University and its Board of Trustees expelled plaintiff for sexually assaulting a female student, plaintiff filed suit for violations of Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities (ADA), as well as claims related to breach of contract. On appeal, plaintiff challenges the district court's grant of summary judgment on his Title IX claim based on an erroneous outcome theory, his ADA claim, and his breach of implied duty of good faith and promissory estoppel claims.After determining that the court had jurisdiction to review plaintiff's appeal, the court held that there is no genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether being male was a motivating factor for plaintiff's expulsion from Drake; Drake's Code of Student Conduct and Policy on Sexual and Interpersonal Misconduct processes, although not equivalent to those provided in nonacademic settings, are not reflective of gender bias, either in statement or in application; the hearing panel did not reach decisions contrary to the weight of the evidence; and the pressure that was being put on Drake to investigate and adjudicate Title IX complaints by females against males does not appear to have approached that described in Doe v. University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, 974 F.3d at 865, nor was it combined with the clearly irregular investigative and adjudicative processes that were found to support a prima facie claim of sex discrimination in Doe v. Columbia University, 831 F.3d at 56-57, and in Menaker v. Hofstra University, 935 F.3d 20, 35 (2nd Cir. 2019).The court rejected plaintiff's ADA claim and affirmed the district court's ruling that no genuine issue of material fact existed regarding plaintiff's need for accommodations. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's claims for breach of implied duty of good faith and promissory estoppel. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Drake and remanded with instructions to dismiss with prejudice the claims that had previously been dismissed without prejudice by stipulation. View "Rossley v. Drake University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former student at the University, filed suit against the Board of Trustees and several university officials, claiming that they violated his rights in a disciplinary action against him. This case stemmed from another University student's accusation against plaintiff for sexual assault. After the initial decision by the Title IX coordinator finding no misconduct, the other student herself publicly criticized the University's decision. Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that the University was under pressure and fearful of sanctions from the Office for Civil Rights, so it took steps harmful to him to alleviate and lessen the scrutiny that it was attracting from the other student's media blitz and protests. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss.The Eighth Circuit held that the complaint stated a claim under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that is plausible on its face. First, the allegations in the complaint support an inference that the hearing panel reached an outcome that was against the substantial weight of the evidence. Second, the panel's chosen sanctions are allegedly contrary to the ordinary disposition in cases of sexual assault by force. Third, plaintiff alleged that the University was under pressure on multiple fronts to find males responsible for sexual assault. The court held that these circumstances, taken together, are sufficient to support a plausible claim that the University discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of sex. However, the court held that plaintiff's due process claims against the University officials in their official and individual capacities were properly dismissed. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. University of Arkansas - Fayetteville" on Justia Law

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A.C.'s Westside eighth-grade class watched a video about athletes kneeling during the national anthem. During a “critical thinking” discussion, the teacher insisted that A.C. share her ideas. A.C. stated that “kneeling was disrespectful to law enforcement and military," and questioned that violence could have stemmed from music lyrics including "F-the Police, and the use of the N-word.’” A.C. stayed home the next day due to illness. The teacher allegedly told students that A.C. was a racist and was on suspension. A.C. was subjected to bullying. After meeting with school officials, her parents removed A.C. from school. A.C. attempted suicide. Her parents contacted eight lawyers. but were unable to retain one.On behalf of A.C., they filed the pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit. The court ruled that they could not serve pro se as A.C.’s representatives and lacked standing to bring individual claims that only derive from alleged violations of their child’s constitutional rights. They contacted 27 more lawyers and organizations. They refiled, requesting court-appointed counsel. The district court refused, reasoning that the claims were “not likely to be of substance,” and that A.C. lacked standing for declaratory and injunctive relief, as she was no longer a student at Westside. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that the parents may not represent A.C. pro se but remanded with directions to appoint counsel. The court did not err in considering the potential merit of the claims and other relevant factors in deciding whether to request counsel but the allegation of First Amendment retaliation is a serious claim on which the plaintiffs and the court would benefit from the assistance of counsel. View "Crozier v. Westside Community School District" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action brought by a student and Turning Point USA, alleging that defendants violated plaintiffs' rights under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs aimed to recruit students for a local Turning Point chapter by setting up a table at the Union Patio. University administrators then asked that the student take down her table.The court held that the patio is a limited designated public forum in which speech restrictions must be reasonable and viewpoint neutral. Furthermore, the Tabling Policy was not viewpoint-discriminatory. The court held that the Tabling Policy, as applied to the student, is unconstitutional because the distinction between registered student organizations and individual students is not reasonable, when the sole justification offered for the distinction provides no meaningful reason for differentiating the two. Therefore, plaintiffs have put forward sufficient facts to show a constitutional violation. However, the court held that defendants were properly granted qualified immunity because the student's First Amendment right to access a limited public forum, which she was unjustifiably denied, was not clearly established at the time. View "Turning Point USA at Arkansas State University v. Rhodes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit asserting Title IX violations and various state law claims against the University after it began disciplinary proceedings that resulted in plaintiff's suspension. The disciplinary proceedings arose from a fellow student's accusation against plaintiff of sexual misconduct.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the University. The court held that, while the district court erred by rejecting Rollins v. Cardinal Stritch Univ., 626 N.W.2d 464, 470 (Minn. Ct. App. 2001), and formulating a reasonable care standard that no Minnesota court has adopted, even applying the more permissive reasonable care standard, no reasonable jury would find the investigators' actions showed bias against plaintiff. In this case, no reasonable jury would find bias because the investigators did question the accuser about inconsistencies in her story and found her to be credible. Furthermore, no implication of bias arises by asking the accuser to preserve evidence or by offering her mental health services. View "Doe v. University of St. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Independent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Minnesota has adopted an "open enrollment" process that allows a parent to enroll a student in a school outside of the student's local district.The Eighth Circuit held that the IDEA does not require a school district that enrolls a nonresident student like M.N.B. to provide transportation between the student's home and the school district where her parent has chosen to enroll her. The court saw nothing in the IDEA that provides clear notice to a state that it must cover transportation expenses when a student's travel is the result of a parent's choice under an open enrollment program. Therefore, under the circumstances presented here, the court concluded that the IDEA does not require the Osseo District to reimburse M.N.B.'s parent for the cost of transportation between her home and the border of the Osseo District. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of M.N.B. View "Osseo Area Schools v. M.N.B." on Justia Law

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A student and her parents filed suit against the Minnesota Department of Education, alleging that the school district's failure to classify the student as disabled denied her the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The ALJ concluded that the school district's treatment of the student violated the IDEA and related state special-education laws. The district court then denied the school district's motion for judgment on the administrative record and granted, in part, the student's motion for judgment on the record, modifying the award of compensatory education.The Eighth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the school district's request for supplementation of the record; the school district's evaluation of the student was insufficiently informed and legally deficient; the student is eligible for special education and a state-funded FAPE like every other child with a disability; the ALJ and the district court did not err in concluding the school district had breached its obligation to identify the student by the spring of her eighth-grade year as a child eligible for special education; and the district court did not err in finding plaintiffs were entitled to recover the costs associated with comprehensive psychological evaluation, educational evaluation and private educational services. However, the court reinstated the ALJ's award of compensatory education costs. View "Independent School District No. 283 v. E.M.D.H." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the school district's motion to dismiss in part and motion for summary judgment in an action brought under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.The court held that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiffs' request for attorneys' fees as time barred by the 90-day statute of limitations in Arkansas Code section 6-41-216(g), Arkansas's statutory framework for IDEA compliance. The court explained that the claim for attorneys' fees is ancillary to judicial review of the administrative decision. The court also held that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to the school district where there is no genuine issue of material fact about whether the school district acted in bad faith or with gross misjudgment with respect to plaintiffs' claim that their son was the victim of peer and teacher bullying. View "Richardson v. Omaha School District" on Justia Law

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Marion Carter sued the Pulaski County Special School District for race discrimination under Arkansas state and federal laws. Carter taught at the Joe T. Robinson High School in the School District. She also coached the cheer and dance teams. In 2017, the school's principal recommended to the District Superintendent that Carter's cheer and dance duties not be renewed for the 2017-2018 school year, and that she be offered a teaching contract only. The principal cited: (1) lack of student participation in cheer and dance in the previous two years; (2) inappropriate cheer routines at sporting events; and (2) inappropriate behavior of cheerleaders during out-of-town travel. After a hearing, the District's School Board accepted the recommendation not to renew Carter's cheer and dance contract. The District filled the cheer position with an African-American woman, and eliminated all dance teams district-wide. The Eighth Circuit concurred with the district court's grant of summary judgment to the District on all claims. The Court found Carter's allegations were insufficient to defeat summary judgment. View "Carter v. Pulaski CO Special School Dist" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), bringing a due process challenge to the school district's individualized education plan (IEP) and school placement before the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission. The Commission affirmed the plan and placement, denying reimbursement. The district court reversed the Commission but limited the reimbursement award based on equitable considerations.The Eighth Circuit held that the school district violated the IDEA and the district court erred in limiting the award. As a preliminary matter, the court held that the school district's jurisdictional challenge was without merit; the school district's mootness challenge also failed; and the district court properly placed the burden on plaintiffs in the proceeding before it and correctly stated the standard of review on appeal.On the merits, the court held that the school district denied plaintiffs' son a free and appropriate education as required by the IDEA when it placed him at a school without direct occupational therapy or a sensory diet plan in place to address his autism-related issues. The court also held that an award limitation based on improvements to the school was inappropriate and inconsistent with the purposes of the IDEA because the school district failed to give any notice to plaintiffs. Furthermore, limiting an award based on improvements not communicated to plaintiffs was inconsistent with the IDEA's purpose. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's limitation of tuition reimbursement and awarded full tuition reimbursement. View "D. L. v. St. Louis City School District" on Justia Law