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

Articles Posted in Education Law
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Plaintiff, a former high school student, filed suit alleging disability discrimination by school officials in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court dismissed the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and, in the alternative, as barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations.The panel applied Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., 137 S. Ct. 743 (2017), and held that the crux of plaintiff's complaint seeks relief for the disability-based discrimination and harassment she faced at school, and not for the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Therefore, plaintiff need not exhaust the administrative remedies under the IDEA, and the panel reversed the district court's order dismissing her complaint for failure to exhaust. The panel also vacated the district court's order dismissing the complaint as alternatively barred by the statute of limitations and remanded. On remand, the district court should reconsider whether any of plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations in light of the panel's conclusion that plaintiff does not seek relief for the denial of a FAPE under the IDEA. View "McIntyre v. Eugene School District 4J" on Justia Law

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Individual parents of Hindu children in the California public schools and CAPEEM filed suit against the State Department of Education and State Board of Education, claiming discrimination against the Hindu religion in the content of the History-Social Science Standards and Framework for sixth and seventh graders.The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the challenged content of the Standards and Framework, and process leading up to the Framework's adoption, did not disparage or otherwise express hostility to Hinduism in violation of the Constitution. The panel held that the district court properly dismissed the Equal Protection claims where the district court correctly characterized plaintiffs' claims as an indirect attack on curricula; Monteiro v. Tempe Union School District, 158 F.3d 1022 (9th Cir. 1998), bars plaintiffs' claims; and plaintiffs' dislike of challenged content does not constitute a violation of Equal Protection, absent a plausible allegation of discriminatory policy or intent.In regard to plaintiffs' claims under the Free Exercise clause, the panel held that the complaint did not allege interference with plaintiffs' exercise of their religion under the Constitution as required for a viable Free Exercise claim under Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, 137 S. Ct. 2012 (2017), and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, 140 S. Ct. 2246, 2252 (2020). Furthermore, there are no expressions of hostility here as there was in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 138 S.Ct. 1719 (2018).In regard to the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim, the panel held that parents have the right to choose the educational forum, but not what takes place inside the school. The panel stated that parents do not have a due process right to interfere with the curriculum, discipline, hours of instruction, or the nature of any other curricular or extracurricular activities. Finally, in regard to the First Amendment Establishment clause claims, the panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to consider plaintiffs' expert report in its analysis; the Standards and Framework do not call for the teaching of biblical events or figures as historical fact, thereby implicitly endorsing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and none of plaintiffs' characterizations of the Hinduism materials as disparaging was supported by an objective reading of those materials. View "California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials v. Torlakson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the University of Arizona violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681(a), by discriminating against plaintiff on the basis of sex during the course of a sexual misconduct disciplinary case against him.The Ninth Circuit reversed and vacated the district court's order and judgment dismissing the Title IX claim, holding that plaintiff stated a Title IX claim against the University because he plausibly alleged gender bias. The panel held that plaintiff's allegations of contemporaneous pressure and gender-based decisionmaking establish background indicia of sex discrimination relevant to his Title IX claim. In this case, a professor's comments regarding plaintiff's disciplinary case reflects an atmosphere of bias against plaintiff during the course of the University's disciplinary case. Furthermore, plaintiff was not permitted to appeal the punishment and the University's underlying finding of responsibility; plaintiff was not permitted to file a harassment complaint against the complainant; and the investigation was one-sided. Considering the combination of plaintiff's allegations of background indicia of sex discrimination along with the allegations concerning his particular disciplinary case, the panel stated that sex discrimination is a plausible explanation for the University's handling of the sexual misconduct disciplinary case against plaintiff. View "Schwake v. Arizona Board of Regents" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment and of state law arising from the suspension and termination of his employment. In this case, plaintiff was terminated from his position as an economics professor after the university concluded that plaintiff had sexually harassed his former student.The panel held that SCU, as a private university, does not become a state actor merely by virtue of being required by generally applicable civil rights laws to ameliorate sex (or any other form of) discrimination in educational activities as a condition of receiving state funding. Furthermore, the receipt of federal and state funds conditioned on compliance with anti-discrimination laws is insufficient to convert private conduct into state action. View "Heineke v. Santa Clara University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff raised a First Amendment challenge to part of California's Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009, which prohibit plaintiff, Esteban Narez, from enrolling in plaintiff Bob Smith's horseshoeing class unless he first passes an examination prescribed by the U.S. Department of Education. However, if Smith were running a flight school or teaching golf, dancing, or contract bridge, Narez could enroll without restriction. The district court held that the Act does not burden plaintiffs' free speech and dismissed the complaint based on failure to state a claim.The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that plaintiffs have stated a claim that the Act burdens their rights under the First Amendment. The panel held that the statutory scheme here not only implicates speech, but also engages in content discrimination; because content discrimination is apparent, the district court should have applied some form of heightened scrutiny; and thus the panel remanded for the district court to determine whether this case involves commercial or non-commercial speech, whether California must satisfy strict or intermediate scrutiny, and whether it could carry its burden under either standard. View "Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, Inc. v. Kirchmeyer" on Justia Law

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In this antitrust action, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order enjoining the NCAA from enforcing rules that restrict the education-related benefits that its member institutions may offer students who play Football Bowl Subdivision football and Division I basketball.The panel held that the district court properly applied the Rule of Reason in determining that the enjoined rules are unlawful restraints of trade under section 1 of the Sherman Act. In this case, the district court found that the NCAA's rules have significant anticompetitive effects in the relevant market for student-athletes' labor on the gridiron and the court; the district court fairly found that NCAA compensation limits preserve demand to the extent they prevent unlimited cash payments akin to professional salaries, but not insofar as they restrict certain education-related benefits; and the district court did not clearly err in determining that the less restrictive alternative would be virtually as effective in serving the procompetitive purposes of the NCAA's current rules, and may be implemented without significantly increased cost.The panel also held that the record supported the factual findings underlying the injunction and that the district court's antitrust analysis is faithful to the panel's decision in O'Bannon v. NCAA (O’Bannon II), 802 F.3d 1049 (9th Cir. 2015). View "Alston v. National Collegiate Athletic Association" on Justia 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