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

Articles Posted in Education Law
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Plaintiff was raped by a fellow student two weeks after starting at the University of Washington. Plaintiff later learned that two other students had reported the same individual for unwanted sexual advances and contact. Plaintiff filed Title IX and common-law negligence claims against the University in the district court, which granted summary judgment to the University after finding that the University did not owe Plaintiff a duty of care. Plaintiff appealed.The Ninth Circuit certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court:1. Does Washington law recognize a special relationship between a university and its students giving rise to a duty to use reasonable care to protect students from foreseeable injury at the hands of other students?2. If the answer to question 1 is yes, what is the measure and scope of that duty? View "MADELEINE BARLOW V. STATE OF WASHINGTON" on Justia Law

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The en banc Ninth Circuit court dismissed as moot an appeal from the district court’s summary judgment in favor of California Governor Newsom and state officials in an action brought by a group of parents and a student alleging Defendants violated federal law when they ordered schools to suspend in-person instruction in 2020 and early 2021, at a time when California was taking its first steps of navigating the Covid-19 pandemic.   The en banc court held that this was a classic case in which, due to intervening events, there was no longer a live controversy necessary for Article III jurisdiction. Nor was there any effective relief that could be granted by the court. The parents had not brought a claim for damages; they sought a declaratory judgment that Governor Newsom’s executive orders, to the extent they incorporated guidance on school reopening, were unconstitutional. Relatedly, they sought an injunction against the 2020-21 Reopening Framework. But Governor Newsom has rescinded the challenged executive orders, and the 2020-21 Reopening Framework has been revoked. Schools now operate under the 2021-22 Guidance, which declares that all schools may reopen for in-person learning. And the parents conceded that, since April 2021, there has been no “state-imposed barrier to reopening for in-person instruction.” The actual controversy has evaporated.The en banc court rejected Plaintiffs’ assertion that the case survived under two exceptions to mootness: the voluntary cessation exception and the capable of repetition yet evading review exception. Neither exception applied. View "MATTHEW BRACH V. GAVIN NEWSOM" on Justia Law

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Riley’s Farm provides historical reenactments and hosts apple picking. In 2001-2017, schools within the District took field trips to Riley’s. In 2018, Riley used his personal Twitter account to comment on controversial topics. Parents complained; a local newspaper published an article about Riley and his postings. The District severed the business relationship. In a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit alleging retaliation for protected speech, the district court granted the District defendants summary judgment.The Ninth Circuit reversed as to injunctive relief but affirmed as to damages. Riley made a prima facie case of retaliation; he engaged in expressive conduct, some of the District defendants took an adverse action that caused Riley to lose a valuable government benefit, and those defendants were motivated by Riley’s expressive conduct. There was sufficient evidence that Board members had the requisite mental state to be liable for damages. The defendants failed to establish that the District’s asserted interests in preventing disruption to their operations and curricular design because of parental complaints outweighed Riley’s free speech interests. Even assuming that the selection of a field trip venue was protected government speech, the pedagogical concerns underlying the government-speech doctrine did not apply because Riley was not speaking for the District. Nonetheless, the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the damages claim. There was no case directly on point that would have clearly established that the defendants’ reaction to parental complaints and media attention was unconstitutional. View "Riley’s American Heritage Farms v. Elsasser" on Justia Law

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The "borrower defense" cancellation of federal student loans is allowed in certain cases of school misconduct, 20 U.S.C. 1087e(h). After DeVos became the Secretary of the Department of Education, the Department used a new methodology to decide borrower defense claims. The Department was preliminarily enjoined from using that methodology. From June 2018-December 2019, the Department issued no borrower defense decisions. Individuals with pending applications sued. The parties negotiated a proposed settlement that included an 18-month deadline to resolve outstanding claims. Before the class fairness hearing, the Department sent out form letters denying borrower defense applications at a rate of 89.8%. The district court denied final approval of the settlement and ordered updated written discovery. Plaintiffs took four depositions of Department officials and received about 2,500 documents. In 2021, after DeVos resigned as secretary, the district court authorized class counsel to take her deposition. Plaintiffs then served a subpoena for a nonparty deposition on DeVos under FRCP 45.The Ninth Circuit quashed the subpoena. Compelling the testimony of a cabinet secretary about the actions she took as a leader in the executive branch is allowable only in extraordinary circumstances. The party seeking the deposition must demonstrate agency bad faith and that the information sought from the secretary is essential to the case and cannot be obtained in any other way. There was no indication that DeVos held information that was essential to the case or that it was otherwise unobtainable. View "In re: United States Department of Education" on Justia Law

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Brown, who suffered physical abuse at the hands of her former boyfriend and fellow University of Arizona student at his off-campus residence, brought a Title IX action, 20 U.S.C. 1681, against the University.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the University. Title IX liability exists for student-on-student harassment when an educational institution exercises substantial control over both the harasser and the context in which the known harassment occurs. The control-over-context requirement was not met based on Brown’s theory that the university had substantial control over the context of Brown’s former boyfriend’s abuse of other victims and failed to take proper action. The court rejected a theory that the boyfriend, a university football player, had to have university approval to live off-campus and his housing was paid for with scholarship funds that he received from the university. View "Brown v. State of Arizona" on Justia Law

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Crofts requested that the School District evaluate her daughter, A.S., for special-education services after she received an outside evaluation indicating that A.S. might have dyslexia. The District evaluated A.S. under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1401(30). enumerated “specific learning disability” category, which encompasses conditions like dyslexia. It determined that she was eligible for services in reading and writing and created an individualized education plan (IEP) targeting A.S.’s deficiencies in those areas. Crofts argued that the District should have evaluated A.S. specifically for dyslexia and used her preferred teaching method for dyslexia, and that it improperly denied her request for an independent educational evaluation.A Washington State ALJ found that the District did not violate the IDEA. The district court and Ninth Circuit affirmed. The ALJ properly discounted expert witness testimony. The District satisfied the IDEA by evaluating A.S. under the “specific learning disability” category and did not violate its obligation to evaluate the student in “all areas of suspected disability” when it did not formally evaluate her for dyslexia. The District’s IEPs were reasonably calculated to help the student progress; the District did not deny a FAPE by failing to use the parents’ preferred teaching method. View "Crofts v. Issaquah School District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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Doe, a Chinese national graduate student, alleged that UCLA violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681(a), when it discriminated against him on the basis of sex in the course of a Title IX disciplinary proceeding instituted after a former student accused him of misconduct. Doe was just months away from completing his Ph.D. in chemistry/biochemistry when he was suspended for two years after a finding that he violated the University’s dating violence policy by placing Jane Roe “in fear of bodily injury.” Doe lost his housing, his job as a teaching assistant, and his student visa. The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of Doe’s suit. Doe stated a Title IX claim because the facts he alleged, if true, raised a plausible inference that the university discriminated against him on the basis of sex. Doe’s allegations of external pressures impacting how the university handled sexual misconduct complaints, an internal pattern and practice of bias in the University of California and at UCLA in particular, and specific instances of bias in Doe’s particular disciplinary case, when combined, raised a plausible inference of discrimination on the basis of sex sufficient to withstand dismissal. At "some point an accumulation of procedural irregularities all disfavoring a male respondent begins to look like a biased proceeding." View "Doe v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment affirming in part and reversing in part an ALJ's decision in favor of student B.W. The panel held that goals (as opposed to services) in B.W.'s first grade Individualized Education Program (IEP) were not inadequate; Capistrano did not have to file for due process to defend the first grade IEP; and Capistrano did not have to have an IEP in place for the second grade. The panel remanded for the limited purpose of considering attorneys' fees. The panel addressed other issues in a concurrently filed memorandum disposition. View "Capistrano Unified School District v. S.W." on Justia Law

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A 16-year-old high school student and her parents filed an emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal, seeking to enjoin the school district from requiring compliance with a student vaccination mandate. The Ninth Circuit granted plaintiffs' motion in part. The court ordered that an injunction shall be in effect only while a "per se" deferral of vaccination is available to pregnant students under the school district's student vaccination mandate, and that the injunction shall terminate upon removal of the per se deferral option for pregnant students. Defendants then filed a letter and supporting declaration explaining that the deferral option for pregnant students has been removed from the mandate. Given the removal of the per se deferral option for pregnant students, the injunction issued in the November 28, 2021 order has terminated under its own terms.The Ninth Circuit issued an order providing its reasoning for why an injunction pending appeal is not warranted as to the now-modified student vaccination mandate. The court concluded that plaintiffs have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success in showing that the district court erred in applying rational basis review, as opposed to strict scrutiny, to the student vaccination mandate. The court explained that plaintiffs' emergency motion fails to raise a serious question as to whether the vaccination mandate is not neutral and generally applicable; plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success in showing that the district court erred by applying rational basis review; and plaintiffs do not argue that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their free exercise claim if rational basis review applies. The court also concluded that plaintiffs have not carried their burden of establishing that they will suffer irreparable harm if this court does not issue an injunction, or that the public interest weighs in their favor. View "Doe v. San Diego Unified School District" on Justia Law

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Erick and his tenth-grade classmates attended an end-of-year party at a park. Erick told school aide Lopez that he was going to the park’s swimming pool, which was monitored by three lifeguards. Lopez did not enter the pool area but watched Erick from a designated observation area, as required by pool rules. Lopez allegedly knew that Erick had asthma and could not swim. Lopez saw Erick leave the pool and enter the locker area. He left the observation deck to wait for Erick at the locker room exit. Unbeknownst to Lopez, Erick returned to the pool. Five minutes later, Lopez began searching for Erick. He found lifeguards trying unsuccessfully to resuscitate Erick, who had drowned.Erick’s parents sued Lopez, the school district, and others for negligence and wrongful death, with a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim for deprivation of familial relationship. The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The Due Process Clause generally does not provide an affirmative right to government aid, but a state’s failure to protect may give rise to a section 1983 claim under the state-created danger exception, which applies when the state places the plaintiff in danger by acting with deliberate indifference to a known or obvious danger. The court applied a subjective standard; because the aide was unaware that Erick was in the pool area when he drowned, the defendants cannot be liable. View "Herrera v. Los Angeles Unified School District" on Justia Law