Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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Jane Doe appealed the dismissal of her Title IX claim against School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado (the District or DPS) for failure to state a claim. According to the complaint, a group of students began sexually harassing Ms. Doe after she was sexually assaulted by another student in March of her freshman year at East High School (EHS). She alleged that despite her numerous reports of the harassment to school personnel, as well as reports from teachers and a counselor, the school administration never investigated her complaints and little if anything was done to prevent the harassment from continuing. She stopped attending regularly scheduled classes about 14 months after the assault, and she transferred to a different school after completing her sophomore year. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding Ms. Doe's complaint contained sufficient allegations to support an inference of deliberate indifference. View "Doe v. School District Number 1" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Board of Education of Gallup-McKinley County Schools (Gallup) successfully obtained summary judgment on certain Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) claims made by Mavis Yazzie in the administrative action below. Subsequently, Gallup sought attorneys’ fees from Yazzie and her counsel, the Native American Disability Law Center (NADLC). The question presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether the controlling provision of the New Mexico Administrative Code (NMAC) permitted Gallup to pursue attorneys’ fees within 30 days of the final decision relating to any party in the administrative action, or did the NMAC limit Gallup to seeking fees within 30 days of obtaining summary judgment, which Gallup failed to do. The Tenth Circuit concluded the plain meaning of the regulatory language permitted petitions for attorneys’ fees made within 30 days of the final decision in the administrative action regardless of whether that decision related to the party seeking fees. Accordingly, Gallup’s petition was timely. The Court therefore reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Board of Education of Gallup v. Native American Disability Law" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff John Doe asserted that the disciplinary proceeding brought against him by Defendants, the University of Denver (“DU”) along with several University employees, violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and under Title IX. The court granted summary judgment to Defendants on the Fourteenth Amendment claim because Plaintiff had failed to show that DU, a private school, was a state actor. The court also granted Defendants summary judgment on the Title IX claim, concluding that Plaintiff had adduced insufficient evidence of gender bias. Plaintiff enrolled as a freshman at DU in 2014. In October 2014, Plaintiff had a sexual encounter with Jane Doe, a female freshman, in his dorm room. Six months later, Jane’s boyfriend reported the encounter as an alleged sexual assault to a DU resident director. The resident director then spoke with Jane, who repeated the allegations and later filed with DU’s Office of Equal Opportunity a complaint of non-consensual sexual contact. Under DU’s policies, a student’s non-consensual sexual contact with another was a policy violation. Prohibited sexual contact includes contact by “coercion,” which the policy defined as “unreasonable and persistent pressure to compel another individual to initiate or continue sexual activity against an individual’s will,” such as “continued pressure” after “someone makes clear that they do not want to engage in sexual contact.” Two of the named defendants investigated the claims; the outcome of the investigation ultimately led to Plaintiff’s expulsion. The district court concluded that Plaintiff had failed to adduce sufficient evidence to raise a genuine dispute that gender was a motivating factor in DU’s decision to expel him. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Doe v. University of Denver" on Justia Law

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Amanda M. (“Parent”), the mother of Nathan M., a child with autism, challenged an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) developed with Harrison School District No. 2 (“the District”) that proposed removing Nathan from Alpine Autism Center (a private, autism-only facility) and placing him in Otero Elementary School (a public school). Nathan’s mother contended the school district did not comply with numerous procedural requirements in developing the IEP and that the IEP itself failed to offer Nathan a “free appropriate public education” as required by the Act. The Tenth Circuit determined that because the IEP at issue governed a schoolyear that has passed, and because the various IEP deficiencies alleged by Parent were not capable of repetition yet evading review, the case was moot. View "Nathan M. v. Harrison School District No. 2" on Justia Law

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Beginning in 2009, Plaintiff Rajesh Singh worked as an untenured professor in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University (ESU). He was informed in February 2014 that his annual contract would not be renewed. He sued ESU and various administrators in their individual capacities, asserting several retaliation and discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Kansas Act Against Discrimination (KAAD); and the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants on every claim except one: a First Amendment retaliation claim under section 1983 against Provost David Cordle. Provost Cordle appealed the denial of summary judgment on the ground that he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court then certified as final under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) its order granting summary judgment on all other claims, and Plaintiff filed a cross-appeal, challenging the grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims: (1) ESU and the individual Defendants discriminated against him by not renewing his contract; and (2) ESU and the individual Defendants retaliated against him for filing discrimination complaints with ESU’s human resources department and the Kansas Human Rights Commission (KHRC). The Tenth Circuit found the claims against ESU were brought under Title VII and the KAAD, and the claims against the individual Defendants were brought under section 1983. The Court reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment for Provost Cordle and affirmed grants of summary judgment on the remaining claims. Cordle was entitled to qualified immunity because he could have reasonably believed that the speech for which he allegedly punished Plaintiff was not on a matter of public concern. As for the discrimination claims, the district court properly granted summary judgment because Plaintiff did not establish a genuine issue of fact that ESU’s given reason for his nonrenewal, that he was noncollegial, was pretextual. “Although Plaintiff contends that these discrimination claims survive under the cat’s-paw theory of liability, he does not provide adequate evidence that the allegedly biased supervisor - his school’s dean - proximately caused the ultimate nonrenewal decision.” The Court affirmed summary judgment on Plaintiff’s retaliation claims because he failed to present adequate evidence that the ESU employees who allegedly retaliated against him knew that he had filed formal discrimination complaints. View "Singh v. Cordle" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Harrison School District No. 2 asks us to reverse the district court’s ruling that it violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by failing to provide Plaintiff-Appellee Steven R.F. with a free appropriate public education. The Tenth Circuit concluded this case was moot “[b]ecause the status quo remained in effect from the time [the parents] challenged the school district’s attempt to modify the IEP, they de facto received the relief they originally sought . . . ; the modified IEP never took effect.” And there was no evidence that the asserted IDEA violation was likely to occur again. View "R.F. v. Harrison School District No. 2" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Tessa Farmer and Sara Weckhorst, two students at Kansas State University (“KSU”), alleged KSU, a recipient of federal educational funds, violated Title IX by being deliberately indifferent to reports it received of student-on-student sexual harassment which, in this case, involved rape. Plaintiffs alleged KSU violated Title IX’s ban against sex discrimination by being deliberately indifferent after Plaintiffs reported to KSU that other students had raped them, and that deliberate indifference caused Plaintiffs subsequently to be deprived of educational benefits that were available to other students. At the procedural posture presented by these interlocutory appeals, which addressed the denial of KSU’s motions to dismiss, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals accepted as true Plaintiffs’ factual allegations indicating that KSU was deliberately indifferent to their rape reports. Accepting that premise, the legal question presented to the Court was what harm Plaintiffs had to allege KSU’s deliberate indifference caused them. The Tenth Circuit concluded that, in this case, Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that KSU’s deliberate indifference made each of them “vulnerable to” sexual harassment by allowing their student-assailants (unchecked and without the school investigating) to continue attending KSU along with Plaintiffs. “This, as Plaintiffs adequately allege, caused them to withdraw from participating in the educational opportunities offered by KSU.” The Court affirmed the district court’s decision to deny KSU’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Title IX claims. View "Farmer v. Kansas State University" on Justia Law

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Chester Bailey Jr. was employed by the Independent School District No. 69 of Canadian County Oklahoma (“the School District”) as Director of Athletics from 2009 to 2016. Throughout his career, Bailey received positive evaluations, indicating that he “exhibited strong leadership abilities,” “demonstrat[ed] a high degree of integrity,” and was “an asset to the district.” Bailey's nephew, Dustin Graham, pled guilty in 2014 to various state charges largely stemming from video recordings he made of women in the bathroom of his apartment without their consent. Graham also pled guilty to a single count of manufacturing child pornography based on a video he recorded of a minor. There was considerable media coverage of Graham’s arrest, trial, and sentencing. During Graham’s sentencing proceedings in 2014, Bailey wrote a letter to the sentencing judge on Graham’s behalf. The School District does not issue its employees official letterhead but it was common practice for individuals to produce their own letterhead using the school logo and their titles. Bailey had created such a letterhead and used a sheet to write to Graham’s sentencing judge. The letter’s header contained the logo for the school district, and gave the address of the Department of Athletics and Bailey’s job title. More than thirty individuals wrote letters to the sentencing judge on Graham’s behalf, including his local state representative. In 2017, the Superintendent of Schools for the School District received a letter expressing concern that Bailey used School District letterhead in support of an individual convicted of a child pornography offense. The Superintended decided to recommend Bailey's termination, citing loss of trust in Bailey's judgment, for using the school letterhead to request leniency for Graham. After a due process hearing before the Board of Education, the Board terminated Bailey's employment. Bailey filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the School District and Superintendent, alleging wrongful termination in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment. Concluding that Bailey’s speech did not relate to a matter of public concern, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the School District and the Superintendent. Bailey timely appealed. The issue this case presented on appeal to the Tenth Circuit was whether a letter written by a public employee, seeking a reduced sentence for his relative, speech on a matter of public concern for the purposes of a First Amendment "Garcetti/Pickering" inquiry. The Court determined it was, and reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgement favoring the School District. Nonetheless, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to school superintendent Sean McDaniel because the law was not previously clearly established on this issue. View "Bailey v. Independent School District No. 69" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Abigail Ross was allegedly raped by a fellow student at the University of Tulsa. The alleged rape led plaintiff to sue the university for money damages under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the University of Tulsa, and plaintiff appealed. On the first theory, the dispositive issue was whether a fact-finder could reasonably infer that an appropriate person at the university had actual notice of a substantial danger to others. On the second theory, there was a question of whether a reasonable fact-finder could characterize exclusion of prior reports of the aggressor's sexual harassment as "deliberate indifference." The Tenth Circuit concluded both theories failed as a matter of law: (1) campus-security officers were the only university employees who knew about reports that other victims had been raped, and a reasonable fact-finder could not infer that campus-security officers were appropriate persons for purposes of Title IX; (2) there was no evidence of deliberate indifference by the University of Tulsa. View "Ross v. University of Tulsa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were families with children enrolled in the Douglas County School District RE-1 (“DCSD”) and the American Humanist Association (“AHA”). Plaintiffs filed suit challenging various DCSD practices as violations of the Establishment Clause and the Equal Access Act (“EAA”), contending DCSD engaged in a pattern and practice of promoting Christian fundraising efforts and permitting faculty participation in Christian student groups. The Tenth Circuit found most of the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that they or their children experienced “personal and unwelcome contact with government-sponsored religious” activities. Furthermore, they failed to demonstrate their case for municipal taxpayer standing because they could not show expenditure of municipal funds on the challenged activities. The sole exception is plaintiff Jane Zoe: she argued DCSD violated the Establishment Clause when school officials announced they were “partnering” with a Christian student group and solicited her and her son for donations to a “mission trip.” The district court held that because Zoe’s contacts with the challenged actions were not conspicuous or constant, she did not suffer an injury for standing purposes. The Tenth Circuit found "no support in our jurisprudence" for the contention that an injury must meet some threshold of pervasiveness to satisfy Article III. The Court therefore concluded Zoe had standing to seek retrospective relief. View "American Humanist Assoc. v. Douglas County School District" on Justia Law