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

Articles Posted in Education 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

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Plaintiff, a student with ADHD and disability-related behavioral issues, filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) alleging that the school district denied him equal access to a public education because of his disability. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to exhaust administrative procedures under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as required when a plaintiff seeks relief under other federal statutes for the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE).In 2020, the Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal. The en banc court subsequently affirmed the dismissal, holding that exhaustion of the IDEA process was required because the gravamen of the complaint was the denial of a FAPE by failing to provide a one-on-one behavioral aide and related supportive services. The court analyzed two hypothetical questions: whether the plaintiff could have brought essentially the same claim if the alleged conduct had occurred at a non-school public facility, and whether an adult at the school could have pressed essentially the same grievance. A court also must consider the history of the proceedings, particularly whether the plaintiff has previously invoked the IDEA’s formal procedures to handle the dispute. The court rejected D.D.’s argument that he need not exhaust because he seeks compensatory damages for emotional distress, which is not available under the IDEA. The court declined to address whether D.D.’s settlement of the administrative proceedings equated to exhaustion or whether D.D.’s settlement rendered further exhaustion futile. View "D. D. v. Los Angeles Unified School District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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An ALJ concluded that the school district had failed to provide the student, who has Prader-Willi Syndrome, with a free appropriate public education (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(1)(A)) because she required “total food security” to obtain a meaningful educational benefit at school. The ALJ ordered the student’s placement at the educational center, which treats students with Prader-Willi Syndrome and provides total food security at the district’s expense. After the district failed either to appeal or to comply with the order, the student’s parent sought a stay-put order. The district court denied relief.The Ninth Circuit reversed. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) stay-put provision provides that while an administrative appeal or civil action filed by an “aggrieved” party is ongoing, the student must remain in her then-current educational placement. A “party aggrieved” includes a parent who is aggrieved by a school district’s failure to either appeal or comply with a final administrative order and who seeks court enforcement of that order. The district court incorrectly interpreted the ALJ order as providing alternative remedies, rather than an immediate transfer to the educational center, where the student was to remain, at the district’s expense, until the ALJ determined that a new individualized education plan addressed the perceived inadequacies in her prior setting. Under the appropriate analysis, the ALJ order changed the student’s legal placement to the educational center. Under the IDEA’s stay-put provision, this new placement must be made and maintained. View "S. C. v. Lincoln County School District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the high school and school district in an action brought by plaintiff under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiff, a student with attention deficit disorder, sought damages after he was assaulted and seriously injured by another student at a high school football game. Petitioner argues that guidance issued by the DOE in various Dear Colleague Letters should be binding, and that the school's failure to adopt all of the Letters' suggestions for preventing harassment of disabled students amounts to disability discrimination.The panel concluded that guidance issued by the DOE in the Letters was not binding and that plaintiff may not use the Letters to leapfrog over the statutory requirements to assert a cognizable claim under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. The panel explained that the Letters do not adjust the legal framework governing private party lawsuits brought under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act. Therefore, plaintiff's claims—which rely entirely on the enforceability of the Letters as distinct legal obligations—fail. In this case, the Letters did not make plaintiff's need for social accommodation "obvious," such that failure to enact their recommendations constituted a denial of a reasonable accommodation with deliberate indifference. Furthermore, no request for a social-related accommodation was ever made and no prior incidents of bullying or harassment involving plaintiff were observed or reported by the school prior to the assault during the football game. View "Csutoras v. Paradise High School" on Justia Law

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Yu, a Chinese international student, enrolled in ISU's Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology in 2008. He completed the requisite four years of instruction and successfully defended his dissertation but failed to complete a mandatory professional internship consisting of 2,000 clinical hours. Several of Yu’s supervisors commented on his limited English language fluency and that Yu had trouble “form[ing] alliances” with clients and patients, and possessed limited “ability to adjust treatment.” Dr. Landers, Yu's supervisor, dismissed Yu, later testifying that Yu was never able “to grasp the communication nuances that are required” and noting the vulnerability of the patients, who were particularly high risk. After Yu was dismissed from the internship, ISU dismissed Yu from the Program.Yu filed suit, alleging that ISU violated Title VI because it intentionally discriminated against him based on his race or national origin. Yu presented the expert testimony of Dr. Zorwick that Yu was a victim of “aversive racism,” comparable to “unconscious” or “implicit” bias. The district court ruled in favor of ISU. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Evidence of unconscious bias against a protected class in an appropriate case may be probative of whether an entity has intentionally discriminated in a Title VI case but the question is factual, and here the court permissibly found that ISU did not intentionally discriminate. View "Yu v. Idaho State University" on Justia Law

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Blind students, Payan and Mason, took classes at LACC, a Southern California community college. Upon their enrollment, each registered for disability accommodations through the college’s Office of Special Services (OSS). Their approved accommodations included tape-recorded lectures, preferential seating, receiving materials in electronic text, and test-taking accommodations. Mason also received weekly tutoring. Each uses a screen reading software to read electronic text. Despite these accommodations, each encountered accessibility problems at LACC, relating to in-class materials, textbooks, educational technology, websites and computer applications, and research databases in the LACC library.Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that individual and systemic failures to remedy accessibility barriers violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court granted partial summary judgment for Plaintiffs, after instructing them to reframe their disability discrimination arguments through a disparate impact framework only. A jury found the discrimination against Payan was deliberately indifferent and awarded Payan $40,000 in compensatory damages but no damages to Mason.The Ninth Circuit vacated. Despite acknowledging the individual accommodations to which OSS determined the Plaintiffs were entitled, the district court erroneously rejected these claims as failure to accommodate claims because it found that the Plaintiffs did not adequately put LACC on notice that they required specific accommodations. On remand, the court must reconsider Plaintiffs’ individual claims under either the disparate impact framework or the individual failure to accommodate framework, depending on the nature of the claim. View "Payan v. Los Angeles Community College District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law