Snyder-Hill v. Ohio State Univ.

Decision Date14 September 2022
Docket Numbers. 21-3981/3991
Citation48 F.4th 686
Parties Steve SNYDER-HILL; Ronald McDaniel ; David Mulvin; William Brown; Kurt Huntsinger; William Rieffer; Steve Hatch; Kelly Reed; Melvin Robinson ; Douglas Wells; James Khalil; Jerrold L. Solomon; Joseph Bechtel; Michael Murphy; John David Faler; Matt McCoy; Gary Avis ; Robert Schriner; Michael Montgomery; John Does 1–22, 25, 27, 29–37, 39–47, 49, 52, 54, 56–60, 62–64, and 66–77 (21-3981); Timothy Moxley; Ryan Callahan; John Jackson, Jr. ; James Carroll; Jeffrey Rohde ; Patrick Murray; Everett Ross ; John Does 78–95 and 97–105 (21-3991), Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. The OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant-appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

ARGUED: Ilann M. Maazel, EMERY CELLI BRINCKERHOFF ABADY WARD & MAAZEL, New York, New York, for Appellants. Michael H. Carpenter, CARPENTER, LIPPS & LELAND, LLP, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Ilann M. Maazel, Debra L. Greenberger, Marissa R. Benavides, EMERY CELLI BRINCKERHOFF ABADY WARD & MAAZEL, New York, New York, Adele P. Kimmel, Alexandra Z. Brodsky, PUBLIC JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., Scott Elliot Smith, SCOTT ELLIOT SMITH, LP A, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellants. Michael H. Carpenter, Timothy R. Bricker, David J. Barthel, CARPENTER, LIPPS & LELAND, LLP, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee. David A. Lebowitz, KAUFMAN LIEB LEBOWITZ & FRICK LLP, New York, New York, Caroline Hickey Zalka, Alexandra Rose, Seth Massey, WEIL, GOTSHAL & MANGES LLP, New York, New York, Arianna Scavetti, WEIL, GOTSHAL & MANGES LLP, Washington, D.C., Roger A. Cooper, Mitchell A. Lowenthal, Charity E. Lee, Sarah B. Gutman, CLEARY GOTTLIEB STEEN & HAMILTON LLP, New York, New York, Jim Davy, ALL RISE TRIAL & APPELLATE, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tad Thomas, THOMAS LAW OFFICES, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Amici Curiae.

Before: GUY, MOORE, and CLAY, Circuit Judges.

MOORE, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which CLAY, J., joined. GUY, J. (pp. 709-21) delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

In his role as university physician and athletic team doctor at the Ohio State University, Dr. Richard Strauss allegedly abused hundreds of young men under the guise of performing medical examinations. The abuse occurred between 1978 and 1998, but it did not become public until 2018. After the allegations became public, survivors of this abuse—including the plaintiffs in these cases—brought Title IX suits against Ohio State, alleging that Ohio State was deliberately indifferent to their heightened risk of abuse. The district court found that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the statute of limitations.

The district court erred. The plaintiffs adequately allege that they did not know and could not reasonably have known that Ohio State injured them until 2018. Thus, at the motion-to-dismiss stage, we cannot say that their claims accrued before then. We REVERSE and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Factual Allegations1
1. Strauss's Conduct

Richard Strauss served on the Ohio State faculty starting in 1978.2 He soon became a team physician. In that capacity, he "had regular contact with male student-athletes" in at least seventeen different sports.3 He also served as a physician at Ohio State's Student Health Center.4 Strauss served in these roles until 1996, when Ohio State placed him on administrative leave, investigated his conduct, and ultimately declined to renew his appointments with Student Health Services and terminated his employment agreement with the Athletics Department.5 It did not publicly provide reasons for these decisions. Ohio State conducted a hearing but did not notify students or give them an opportunity to participate.6

Strauss remained a tenured faculty member. When he retired in 1998, Ohio State gave him emeritus status.7 He opened a private men's clinic near Ohio State to treat "common genital/urinary problems," advertised the clinic in Ohio State's student newspaper, and continued to see and treat Ohio State students.8 The vice dean for the College of Medicine told Strauss that "there would be no problem" with this arrangement.9

In his roles at Ohio State, Strauss regularly abused male students during medical examinations, committing at least 1,429 sexual assaults, and 47 rapes.10 He "groped and fondled students’ genitalia"11 ; "performed unnecessary rectal examinations and digitally penetrated students’ anuses"12 ; "pressed his erect penis against students’ bodies"13 ; "drugged14 and anally raped students"15 ; "masturbated during or after the exams"16 ; and engaged in other sexually abusive behavior. Snyder-Hill R. 123 (Second Am. Compl. ("SAC") ¶¶ 135–46) (Page ID #2013–14); Moxley R. 6 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 81–87) (Page ID #220). Each plaintiff alleges that Strauss abused him between 1979 and 2000; all but four were Ohio State students during this time.17

An independent investigation commissioned by Ohio State in 2018 and undertaken by the law firm Perkins Coie substantiates the plaintiffs’ allegations of abuse. See Caryn Trombino & Markus Funk, Perkins Coie LLP, Report of the Independent Investigation: Sexual Abuse Committed by Dr. Richard Strauss at The Ohio State University , (May 15, 2019) (hereinafter "Perkins Coie Report"). The Perkins Coie Report found that Strauss sexually abused at least 177 male student patients, the majority of whom were student athletes.18 Perkins Coie Report at 1, 43.

2. Ohio State's Conduct

The plaintiffs allege that Ohio State knew about, facilitated, and covered up Strauss's sexual abuse.19 Many students complained to Ohio State about Strauss's abuse,20 and more than 50 members of the Athletics Department Staff knew about Strauss's inappropriate sexual conduct.21 Staff at the Student Health Center were also aware of and received many complaints about Strauss's examinations of male students.22 For example, during Strauss's first year working at Ohio State, a wrestler complained to staff at the Student Health Center "that Dr. Strauss had examined his genitals for 20 minutes and appeared to be trying to get him excited."23 In addition, Dr. Murphy, the head team physician had received at least five written reports about Strauss's misconduct.24

The plaintiffs allege that, despite this knowledge, Ohio State took no action to prevent the abuse.25 At times, Ohio State falsely told student athletes, as well as some staff members, that it had not received prior complaints about Strauss or that all complaints were maintained in an appropriate file.26 At other times, Ohio State employees had limited conversations with Strauss about his behavior but failed to follow up, investigate, report, or meaningfully address the concerns.27 Despite the complaints of abuse, Strauss's supervisors rated Strauss's performance as "exceptional" and "excellent" in his evaluations and had a policy of never mentioning allegations of sexual misconduct on evaluations.28 All the while, Ohio State required students to be examined and treated by Strauss, often explicitly or implicitly making students feel that they risked their scholarships or athletic opportunities if they refused.29

The Perkins Coie Report substantiates the plaintiffs’ claims that Ohio State knew of and facilitated this abuse. The report found that although Ohio State received "persisten[t], serious[ ], and regular[ ]" complaints from students, it took "no meaningful action ... to investigate or address the concerns until January 1996" when it quietly suspended Strauss. Perkins Coie Report at 3; see id. at 87–162.

Even after Ohio State completed its perfunctory investigation in 1996, at which time it ultimately suspended and terminated Strauss, it "hid the reason why it was investigating Strauss and placing him on leave"; "actively concealed Dr. Strauss’ abuse by not investigating or attempting to identify the students Dr. Strauss harmed"; "further concealed Dr. Strauss’ abuse by destroying medical records";30 and shredded files related to Strauss's sexual abuse.31

3. What the Plaintiffs Knew

Because the central issue at this stage is when the plaintiffs’ claims accrued, the most relevant allegations relate to what the plaintiffs knew or had reason to know regarding Strauss's and Ohio State's conduct and when they knew or had reason to know it. These allegations vary among the different plaintiffs, but the plaintiffs all allege a significant gap between what they know now and what they knew before the allegations about Strauss's conduct became public.

First, most plaintiffs allege that they did not know they were abused until 2018.32 At the time of the abuse, they were teenagers and young adults and did not know what was medically appropriate.33 Strauss gave pretextual and false medical explanations for the abuse. For example, he stated the abuse was necessary to perform a hernia check;34 check for muscle and bone anomalies;35 check for STIs;36 perform a prostate exam;37 perform a rectal exam;38 monitor a patient's testicles that were different sizes;39 check a patient's lymph nodes;40 or treat a skin infection on a patient's penis.41

Thus, the plaintiffs allege, even students who felt "very uncomfortable during Dr. Strauss’ examination[s]" often "did not understand or believe that Dr. Strauss had sexually abused [them]."42 This was true even of many students who complained about Strauss's conduct at the time.43 Additionally, many students believed that because the conduct was so widely known and talked about, it could not have been abuse.44 Similarly, many believed that Ohio State would not have made Strauss the athletic team doctor unless his examinations were legitimate, and thus, that the conduct was medically appropriate even if it was uncomfortable.45

The plaintiffs allege that Ohio State witnesses, including physicians, conceded in sworn testimony that the students could not have known Strauss abused them because "patients do not know what is a ‘normal...

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