Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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A policy that allows transgender students to use school bathroom and locker facilities that match their self-identified gender in the same manner that cisgender students utilize those facilities does not infringe Fourteenth Amendment privacy or parental rights or First Amendment free exercise rights, nor does it create actionable sex harassment under Title IX. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action challenging an Oregon public school district's Student Safety Plan as violating the Constitution and numerous other laws. The Plan allowed transgender students to use school bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers that match their gender identity rather than the biological sex they were assigned at birth. The panel held that plaintiffs failed to state a federal claim upon which relief can be granted, and that the district court's carefully-crafted Student Safety Plan seeks to avoid discrimination and ensure the safety and well-being of transgender students. The panel held that there is no Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy to avoid all risk of intimate exposure to or by a transgender person who was assigned the opposite biological sex at birth; a policy that treats all students equally does not discriminate based on sex in violation of Title IX, and the normal use of privacy facilities does not constitute actionable sexual harassment under Title IX just because a person is transgender; the Fourteenth Amendment does not provide a fundamental parental right to determine the bathroom policies of the public schools to which parents may send their children, either independent of the parental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children or encompassed by it; and the school district's policy is rationally related to a legitimate state purpose, and does not infringe plaintiffs' First Amendment free exercise rights because it does not target religious conduct. View "Parents for Privacy v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Three plaintiffs filed suit against UC, under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, alleging that UC violated Title IX by failing to adequately respond to their individual assaults and that UC violated Title IX by maintaining a general policy of deliberate indifference to reports of sexual misconduct, which heightened the risk that plaintiffs would be assaulted. The Ninth Circuit held that a plaintiff alleging a Title IX claim against a school that arises from student-on-student or faculty-on-student sexual harassment or assault must establish five elements: (1) the school exercised substantial control over the harasser and the context in which the harassment occurred; (2) the harassment was so severe that it deprived the plaintiff of educational opportunities; (3) a school official with authority to address the alleged discrimination had actual knowledge of it; (4) the school acted with deliberate indifference to the harassment, such that the school's response was clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances; and (5) the school's deliberate indifference subjected the student to harassment. The panel affirmed the dismissal of two of the plaintiffs' individual claims and affirmed the district court's holding that the third plaintiff failed to establish triable issues. The panel vacated the district court's dismissal of the pre-assault claim, holding that allegations that UC had actual knowledge or acted with deliberate indifference to a particular incident of harassment are unnecessary to sustain this theory of liability. Rather, all plaintiffs needed to allege are facts demonstrating (1) a school maintained a policy of deliberate indifference to reports of sexual misconduct, (2) which created a heightened risk of sexual harassment, (3) in a context subject to the school’s control, and (4) the plaintiff was harassed as a result. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Karasek v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the school district in an action brought by a parent, alleging that the school district violated his First Amendment rights by imposing a "Communication Plan," limiting his communications with school district employees regarding his daughters' education. The panel held that the Communication Plan did not violate plaintiff's First Amendment rights even if it restricted his speech; plaintiff failed to explain how the Communication Plan imposed unreasonable restrictions on his ability to share his concerns about his daughters' educational needs or any other topic; the Communication Plan addressed the manner in which plaintiff communicated with the school district – not the content of his speech or any viewpoints he wished to convey; and thus the panel agreed with the district court that the Communication Plan was a reasonable effort to manage a parent's relentless and unproductive communications with school district staff. View "L. F. v. Lake Washington School District #414" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action alleging claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The panel held that plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), because their section 504 and ADA claims concerned whether the child was provided appropriate education services. In this case, plaintiffs settled their IDEA case without receiving an administrative decision on whether plaintiffs' son needed the placement they now assert was required for him to receive a free and appropriate public education. View "Paul G. v. Monterey Peninsula Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an action brought by plaintiff, a Division 1 college football player, alleging that he was an employee of the NCAA and the PAC-12 Conference within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act and California labor law. The panel held that the district court properly concluded that Division I FBS Football Players are not employees of the NCAA or PAC-12 as a matter of federal law. In this case, the economic reality of the relationship between the NCAA/PAC-12 and student-athletes does not reflect an employment relationship. The panel held that, within the analytical framework established by the Supreme Court, the NCAA and PAC-12 are regulatory bodies, not employers of student-athletes under the FLSA. The panel also held that the district court correctly dismissed plaintiff's California law claims for failure to state a claim. Under California law, student-athletes are generally deemed not to be employees of their schools. Furthermore, there was no authority that supported an inference that, even though the student-athletes are not considered to be employees of their schools under California law, the NCAA and PAC-12 can nevertheless be held to be "joint employers" with the students' schools. View "Dawson v. National Collegiate Athletic Association" on Justia Law

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The Koala brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the University student government's passage of the Media Act, which eliminated registered student organization (RSO) funding for all print media, violated its First Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit held that the Eleventh Amendment did not bar The Koala's claims and the relief The Koala sought was consistent with the Ex parte Young doctrine. The panel saw no reason why the rule articulated in the Free Speech cases cited -- that the government may not withhold benefits for a censorious purpose -- should not apply when the state singles out and burdens the press by revoking a subsidy, particularly where, as here, the record includes unusually compelling allegations that the government acted with discriminatory intent. Therefore, the second amended complaint's (SAC) Free Press Clause claim was sufficient to survive defendants' motion to dismiss because it alleged that the Media Act was passed for the express purpose of silencing a newspaper, and that defendants singled out The Koala for a disparate financial burden. The panel also held that the allegations in the SAC, and in the documents incorporated by reference into the SAC, supported the conclusion that defendants created a limited public forum encompassing all student activity funding, not one constrained to only media funds. Furthermore, the complaint sufficiently alleged a claim for First Amendment retaliation where The Koala's article was clearly protected speech, the Media Act chilled The Koala's speech, and The Koala adequately alleged a nexus between its speech and the Associated Students' alleged retaliatory conduct. Accordingly, the panel reversed in part and vacated in part. View "The Koala v. Khosla" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a complaint brought by three male student athletes, alleging that the University discriminated against them on the basis of their sex in violation of Title IX and violated their due process rights in connection with the University's sexual misconduct proceedings. The panel held that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), not the evidentiary presumption set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), provides the appropriate standard for reviewing, at the pleading stage, a motion to dismiss in a Title IX case. In this case, plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient, nonconclusory allegations plausibly linking the disciplinary action to discrimination on the basis of sex. The panel also held that plaintiffs' due process claims failed because they received constitutional due process through the University's disciplinary proceedings. The panel assumed, without deciding, that the student athletes have property and liberty interests in their education, scholarships, and reputation as alleged in the complaint. The panel nonetheless held that they received notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard. View "Austin v. University of Oregon" on Justia Law

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The summary arrest, handcuffing, and police transport to the station of middle school girls was a disproportionate response to the school's need, which was dissipation of what the school officials characterized as an "ongoing feud" and "continuous argument" between the students. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment to defendants based on qualified immunity and grant of summary judgment for students in an action alleging that a sheriff's deputy arrested the students on campus without probable cause in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights and state law. In this case, the deputy was invited to speak to a group of girls in school about bullying and fighting. When the girls were unresponsive and disrespectful, the deputy arrested the girls. The panel applied the two-part reasonableness test set forth in New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 333 (1985), holding that the arrests were unreasonable because they were not justified at their inception nor reasonably related in scope to the circumstances; officers were not entitled to qualified immunity because no reasonable officer could have reasonably believed that the law authorized the arrest of a group of middle schoolers in order to teach them a lesson or to prove a point; and the evidence was insufficient to create probable cause to arrest the students for violating California Penal Code 415(1) or Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code 601(a), and thus plaintiffs were entitled to summary judgment on their state false arrest claim. View "Scott v. County of San Bernardino" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying the school's motion for summary judgment in a qui tam action brought by relators under the False Claims Act (FCA). Relators alleged that the school violated an incentive compensation ban included in its program participation agreement with the Department of Education, through which it qualified for federal funding. The panel held that a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the school's actions met the falsity requirements in Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016). The panel held that Escobar did not overrule United States ex rel. Hendow v. Univ. of Phoenix, 461 F.3d 1166 (9th Cir. 2006), which held that, with regard to materiality, the question is whether the false certification was relevant to the government's decision to confer a benefit. The panel applied Esobar's standard of materiality and held that a reasonable trier of fact could find materiality because the DOE's payment was conditioned on compliance with the incentive compensation ban, past enforcement activities, and the substantial size of the incentive payments. Finally, the safe harbor provision was inapplicable in this case. View "US ex rel. Rose v. Stephens Institute" on Justia Law

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Washington public school teachers filed a class action to order the Director of DRS to return interest that was allegedly skimmed from their state-managed retirement accounts. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a stipulated motion to certify a class and dismissal of the action as prudentially unripe. The panel held that the district court erred in dismissing the teachers' takings claim as prudentially unripe because DRS's withholding of the interest accrued on the teachers' accounts constitutes a per se taking to which the prudential ripeness test in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), did not apply. In regard to the Director's alternative grounds for summary judgment, the panel held that plaintiffs stated a takings claim for daily interest withheld by the Director; the panel clarified that the core property right recognized in Schneider v. California Department of Corrections, 151 F.3d 1194 (9th Cir. 1988), covered interest earned daily, even if payable less frequently; plaintiffs' takings claim was not barred by issue preclusion or by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; and the takings claim was not foreclosed by the Eleventh Amendment. The panel also held that the district court erred in denying the motion for class certification. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Fowler v. Guerin" on Justia Law