Snyder-Hill v. Ohio State Univ.

Decision Date14 December 2022
Docket Numbers. 21-3981/3991
Citation54 F.4th 963 (Mem)
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

ON PETITION FOR REHEARING EN BANC: Michael H. Carpenter, Timothy R. Bricker, David J. Barthel, CARPENTER, LIPPS & LELAND, LLP, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee. ON RESPONSE: Ilann M. Maazel, Debra L. Greenberger, Marissa R. Benavides, EMERY CELLI BRINCKERHOFF ABADY WARD & MAAZEL LLP, New York, New York, Adele P. Kimmel, Alexandra Z. Brodsky, PUBLIC JUSTICE, P.C., Washington, D.C., Scott E. Smith, SCOTT ELLIOT SMITH, LP A, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellants. ON BRIEF: James R. Saywell, JONES DAY, Cleveland, Ohio, Stephen J. Cowen, Amanda K. Rice, Andrew Clopton, JONES DAY, Detroit, Michigan, for Amicus Curiae.

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

The panel issued an order denying the petition for rehearing en banc. MOORE, J. (pp. –––– – ––––), delivered an opinion concurring in the denial of rehearing en banc. THAPAR (pg. ––––) and READLER, JJ. (pp. –––– – ––––), delivered separate opinions dissenting from the denial of the petition for rehearing en banc, in which BUSH, J., joined the latter.

ORDER

The court received a petition for rehearing en banc. The original panel has reviewed the petition for rehearing and concludes that the issues raised in the petition were fully considered upon the original submission and decision of the case. The petition then was circulated to the full court. Less than a majority of the judges* voted in favor of rehearing en banc.

Therefore, the petition is denied.

Judge Guy would grant rehearing for the reasons stated in his dissent.

CONCURRING IN THE DENIAL OF REHEARING EN BANC

KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge, concurring in the denial of rehearing en banc.

The dissent from denial of rehearing recycles the same arguments put forth in the panel dissent to accuse this court of ignoring Supreme Court precedent in order to expand the scope of Title IX when, in fact, the panel's decision was firmly rooted in both this court's and the Supreme Court's long-standing precedents. Despite the en banc petition's and the dissent's claims to the contrary, the panel's opinion did not eliminate the statute of limitations for Title IX claims, nor did it improperly broaden the reach of Title IX. Instead, this court straightforwardly applied the discovery rule to the plaintiffs’ claims, in line with both our precedent and the plain language of Title IX. The panel correctly decided this case for the reasons explored at length in our original opinion. I write separately to reiterate that our decision conformed with Supreme Court precedent, our precedent, the precedents of our sibling circuits, and the text of Title IX.

In Snyder-Hill v. Ohio State Univ. , 48 F.4th 686 (6th Cir. 2022), this court held that the plaintiffsTitle IX claims against the Ohio State University were not barred by the statute of limitations because the plaintiffs adequately alleged that they did not know, and could not have reasonably known, that they were injured by Ohio State until 2018. Id. at 690. This case arose from the allegations that Dr. Richard Strauss, a university physician and athletic team doctor at Ohio State, abused hundreds of young men between 1978 and 1998 under the guise of performing medical examinations. Id. at 689. The allegations became public only in 2018, following Ohio State's commissioning of an independent investigation undertaken by the law firm Perkins Coie, which substantiated the plaintiffs’ allegations of abuse. Id. at 691. After the allegations became public, the plaintiffs filed Title IX suits against Ohio State, alleging that Ohio State was deliberately indifferent to their heightened risk of abuse. Id. at 689–90. Because the plaintiffs, in the context of a motion to dismiss, plausibly alleged that Ohio State engaged in a decades-long cover up regarding Strauss's behavior, which prevented them from reasonably being able to discover Ohio State's actions in enabling their abuse, this court held that their Title IX claims against Ohio State did not accrue until 2018, and that the claims therefore were not barred by the two-year statute of limitations. Id. at 690, 705–06.

All of the plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that they could not have known about Ohio State's responsibility for their abuse, because they had no "reason to know that others had previously complained to Ohio State about Strauss's conduct, let alone how Ohio State had responded to any previous complaints." Id. at 694. Indeed, two physicians employed by Ohio State "stated that they did not know of ‘any way’ that ‘any Ohio State student’ could have known that Ohio State knew about Strauss's abuse and nonetheless failed to ‘get rid of’ him." Id. That is because Ohio State administrators engaged in a long-standing cover up of Strauss's behavior by hiding what they knew about his abuse, falsifying Strauss's performance reviews, destroying medical records, shredding files relating to Strauss's abuse, and actively misleading students about Strauss and Ohio State's knowledge of his abuse. Id. at 692–94, 705.

Some plaintiffs alleged yet more specific instances of concealment: Snyder-Hill alleged that the director of Ohio State's Student Health Services "sent him a letter falsely stating that Ohio State had never before received a complaint about Strauss," even though the administration had "received multiple complaints, including one just three days earlier." Id. at 695. The director then "agreed to inform Snyder-Hill about any future complaints" about Strauss but never did so. Id. The director also "falsely told Snyder-Hill that all complaints would be kept in Strauss's personnel file," but the file "had no record of Snyder-Hill's or any other complaint." Id. In short, although the plaintiffs argue that Ohio State administrators knew about Strauss's abuse as it was occurring, the plaintiffs also "allege that they did not know until 2018 that Ohio State administrators knew or that they enabled and perpetrated the abuse." Id. And because Ohio State's conduct was the cause of the plaintiffs’ injury under Title IX, their claims did not accrue until they reasonably could have discovered that conduct. Id. at 705–06.

Even though Ohio State may have mishandled the plaintiffs’ individual reports of Strauss's abusive conduct, until 2018 the plaintiffs had no reason to know that the mishandling of their reports was part of a much broader policy of deliberate indifference towards Strauss's abuse. Id. at 704. Because the plaintiffs bring their Title IX claims on a theory of deliberate indifference, Ohio State's prolonged cover up and enabling of Strauss's severe, pervasive, and ongoing sexual assaults of students, which put the plaintiffs at heightened risk of abuse, constituted the cause of their injury under Title IX. See id. Thus, the plaintiffs had no reason to know that Ohio State injured them until Ohio State's conduct became public. This court accordingly held that the plaintiffs’ claims survived Ohio State's motion to dismiss "for three independent reasons." Id. at 707. In sum, this court concluded that:

First, the plaintiffs plausibly allege that they did not know and lacked reason to know that Ohio State caused their injury. Second, they plausibly allege that even if they had investigated further, they could not have learned of Ohio State's conduct. Third, most plaintiffs plausibly allege that they did not know that they were abused. Alone, each of these grounds is sufficient to delay accrual.

Id. The panel therefore provided several independently adequate grounds for its holding.

The panel's application of the discovery rule fully comports with our precedent and Supreme Court precedent. This court has held that "[t]he general federal rule is that ‘the statute of limitations begins to run when the reasonable person knows, or in the exercise of due diligence should have known, both his injury and the cause of that injury.’ " Bishop v. Child.’s Ctr. for Developmental Enrichment , 618 F.3d 533, 536 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Campbell v. Grand Trunk W. R.R. Co. , 238 F.3d 772, 775 (6th Cir. 2001) ). In other words, the "discovery rule" applies absent a statutory directive to the contrary. Because "Title IX does not contain its own statute of limitations," Lillard v. Shelby Cnty. Bd. of Educ. , 76 F.3d 716, 728 (6th Cir. 1996), our precedent dictates that the discovery rule determines when a Title IX claim will accrue. The panel's opinion thus straightforwardly applied this general federal rule to the facts of this case. As the panel explained, "we have long held that the discovery rule applies in the § 1983 context." Snyder-Hill , 48 F.4th at 698 (collecting cases). And "every other circuit to have considered the matter in a published opinion has concluded that Title IX is subject to the same limitations period as § 1983." King-White v. Humble Indep. Sch. Dist. , 803 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2015) (collecting cases).

The dissent's reliance on Rotkiske v. Klemm , ––– U.S. ––––, 140 S. Ct. 355, 205 L.Ed.2d 291 (2019), is misplaced, for the reasons explained in depth in the panel opinion. Rotkiske involved the accrual of claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), the text of which—unlike Title IX—contains a statute of limitations. 140 S. Ct. at 358. It therefore has no bearing on the application of the discovery rule...

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    • January 6, 2023
    ...state, law, see, e.g., Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388. While federal courts are not unanimous, see, e.g., Snyder-Hill v. Ohio State University, 54 F.4th 963, 972-75 (6th Cir. Dec. 14, 2022) (Readler, J. dissenting) (discussing the application of the “discovery rule” to federal statutes), the Cour......

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