Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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John and Jane attended Princeton University where they began a volatile relationship, including physical altercations. When they broke up Jane spread rumors about John on campus and threatened John: “take a year off and nothing will happen to you.” John complained that he did not “feel safe.” The Director of Student Life recommended mental health services and did not recommend a Title IX complaint. Jane told Princeton’s Director of Gender Equity and Title IX Administration, that she was a victim of “Intimate Relationship Violence” but that she was not interested in pursuing further action. She was advised to press charges. Despite a no-contact order, Jane approached John on campus. Princeton told Jane not to let it happen again. Princeton barred John—but not Jane—from campus during its investigation. John accidentally “liked” one of Jane’s social media posts and self-reported the mistake. Princeton launched another disciplinary process. Princeton expressed no interest in pursuing John's counterclaims and ultimately found evidence to support Jane's allegations of physical abuse but nothing to confirm John’s claims, resulting in John’s expulsion. Jane tweeted about “boy problems that were never real problems just things I created.”The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of John’s Title IX discrimination complaint. On a motion to dismiss, a court must “accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” View "Doe v. Princeton University" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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Keles was admitted into Rutgers’s Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department’s graduate program and received his M.S. degree in 2014. While pursuing this degree, Keles expressed his interest in continuing his studies as a Ph.D. student. To continue their studies as Ph.D. students, M.S. students in the CEE Department must submit a “Change-in-Status” form, identifying advisors and describing their research plans. At the end of the M.S. program, Keles submitted an incomplete Change-in-Status form. Keles disputed that he needed to submit a completed Change-in-Status form due to his claimed enrollment as an M.S.-Ph.D. student. Members of the CEE Department and the University’s administration informed him that he needed to satisfy the admission prerequisites. Keles neither found an advisor nor submitted a completed form but sought to register for classes in 2015. Rutgers’s Administration informed Keles that his lack of academic standing prevented him from registering.Keles sued, alleging contract, tort, statutory, and due process claims. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit, finding that Rutgers adhered to its own policies and did not act in bad faith. All M.S. students were subject to the same departmental requirements. Rutgers afforded Keles sufficient process and did not venture “beyond the pale of reasoned academic decisionmaking.” View "Keles v. Bender" on Justia Law

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The parents of M.W., a minor eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), filed a Petition for Due Process against the Board of Education. Before a scheduled hearing, the ALJ met with counsel, M.W.’s parent, and a Board representative. The terms of a purported settlement were read into the record. In a “Decision Approving Settlement,” the ALJ made specific findings and ordered, “that the parties comply with the settlement terms.” The parents later contacted the Board, repudiating the agreement, and moved the ALJ to “set aside the settlement.” They filed suit, seeking relief under the IDEA.The district court questioned whether the ALJ’s bare findings that the settlement was entered into voluntarily and resolved all disputes satisfied the IDEA's jurisdictional requirements, concluded that it lacked jurisdiction, citing IDEA provisions for the enforceability of settlement agreements (20 U.S.C. 1415(e), 1415(f)(1)(B)), and held that the ALJ’s decision was not based on “substantive grounds,” under 1415(f). The Third Circuit reversed. The entry of a “Decision Approving Settlement” in an IDEA dispute satisfies section 1415(I)'s jurisdictional prerequisite to an appeal of an administrative IDEA determination. If a prevailing party may enforce a settlement agreement embodied in an administrative consent order as an “aggrieved party” under 1415(i)(2), then a party seeking to challenge such an order as improperly entered must likewise be able to bring a challenge in federal court. View "G W v. Ringwood Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The Halls sued Millersville University under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681, after their daughter, Karlie, was murdered in her dorm room by her boyfriend, Orrostieta. Orrostieta had previously been removed from campus at Karlie’s request and, on the night of the murder, a resident assistant heard Karlie scream but did not follow up. Despite finding genuine issues of material fact, the district court granted Millersville summary judgment, holding that Millersville lacked notice it could face liability under Title IX for the actions of a non-student guest.The Third Circuit reversed. Millersville had adequate notice it could be liable under Title IX for its deliberate indifference to known sexual harassment perpetrated by a non-student guest. Title IX’s plain terms notify federal funding recipients that they may face monetary liability for intentional violations of the statute; it is an intentional violation of Title IX’s terms for a funding recipient to act with deliberate indifference to known sexual harassment where the recipient exercises substantial control over the context in which the harassment occurs and the harasser, even if they are a third party. Millersville’s own Title IX policy thus contemplated Title IX liability could result from the actions of third parties such as “visitors” like Orrostieta. The court agreed that factual disputes preclude summary judgment. View "Hall v. Millersville University" on Justia Law

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When Aleckna filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, she still owed the University (CCU) tuition. The filing of her bankruptcy petition imposed an “automatic stay” of all collection actions against her. While her case was pending, Aleckna, who had completed her coursework, asked CCU for a copy of her transcript. The University would only provide her with an incomplete transcript that did not include her graduation date, explaining that a “financial hold” had been placed on her account. Aleckna filed a counterclaim in the Bankruptcy Court arguing that CCU violated the automatic stay by refusing to provide her with a complete certified transcript, 11 U.S.C. 362(a)(6).The Bankruptcy Court found in Aleckna’s favor, concluding that she was entitled to receive her complete transcript, plus damages and attorneys’ fees because CCU’s violation was “willful.” The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Section 362(k) provides that an individual who commits a willful violation is liable for damages and attorneys’ fees unless “such violation is based on an action taken by an entity in the good faith belief” that the stay had terminated. Precedent establishes a “willfulness” defense that is distinct from one of good faith but CCU failed to show that the law regarding the transcript issue was sufficiently unsettled to establish a lack of willfulness within the meaning of that precedent. View "In re: Aleckna" on Justia Law

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H.K., a fifth-grader who has been diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional tendencies, and developmental delays, lives within the East Brunswick school district. H.K. was previously enrolled at Hatikvah, a local educational agency. Both East Brunswick and Hatikvah are funded by taxpayers, East Brunswick’s annual budget is approximately 25 times greater than Hatikvah’s budget. Hatikvah proposed an individualized education program (IEP) under which H.K. would attend Bridge, a private school. H.K.’s parents instead unilaterally enrolled H.K. in a different private school, Laurel, then filed a due process petition under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), seeking reimbursement for H.K.’s costs of attendance at Laurel. In administrative proceedings, Hatikvah agreed to implement a new IEP that kept H.K. at Laurel. East Brunswick did not participate in that proceeding but subsequently filed a separate petition with the New Jersey Department of Education, challenging H.K.’s placement at Laurel and arguing that East Brunswick could provide H.K. with a free, appropriate public education in a less restrictive environment. H.K.’s parents sought to compel East Brunswick to pay for H.K.’s costs of attending Laurel while that petition was litigated. Laurel is H.K.’s IDEA "pendent placement."The Third Circuit ruled in favor of Hatikvah. Financial responsibility for all pendent placement costs rests entirely with the resident school district under the stay-put rule, 20 U.S.C. 1415(j)m noting that East Brunswick was challenging H.K.’s placement at Laurel. View "Hatikvah International Academy Charter School v. East Brunswick Township Board of Education" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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S.B., a 12-year-old boy with Down Syndrome, requires special education. In 2014, S.B. and his parents moved from New York to Lakewood, New Jersey. S.B.’s parents requested an individualized education program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 20 U.S.C. 140, from the Lakewood Township School District. Lakewood determined it could not provide S.B. an IDEA-mandated free appropriate public education (FAPE) at its own public schools. It crafted an IEP that placed S.B. at the private School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI) and reimbursed the costs. In November 2016, the family moved homes and transferred S.B. from Lakewood to the Howell School District. Howell’s staff reviewed the Lakewood IEP, met with the family, and indicated “that [S.B.’s] IEP can be implemented in [Howell’s special education] class at Memorial Elementary School where [S.B.] will receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.” His parents continued to send S.B. to SCHI. In February 2017, Howell terminated S.B.’s enrollment.After a due process hearing, an ALJ ruled for Howell. The district court granted Howell summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed. While section 1415(j), the “stay-put” provision, provides generally that eligible students must remain in their current educational settings during certain procedures, section 1414(d)(2)(C)(i)(I), the intrastate transfer provision, says that schools need only provide eligible transfer students comparable services to those they were previously receiving. View "Y.B. v. Howell Township Board of Education" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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Plaintiffs brought a putative class action against the School District, claiming that shortcomings in the District’s translation and interpretation services violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400.The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the District, based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. A “systemic exception” to IDEA’s administrative exhaustion requirement applies where plaintiffs “allege systemic legal deficiencies and, correspondingly, request system-wide relief" that cannot be addressed through the administrative process. The fact that a complaint is structured as a class action seeking injunctive relief, without more, does not excuse exhaustion; the systemic exception applies when plaintiffs challenge policies that threaten basic IDEA goals, not mere components of special education programs. Both named plaintiffs could bring the same IDEA claim from their complaint before a hearing officer who could then order that the District provide each parent with translated individualized education plans, more qualified or consistent interpretation services, or whatever process would ensure meaningful participation for that parent. Both the claim and the relief would be individualized, even if the relief could create spillover benefits for other parents. View "T.R. v. School District of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Doe became a TCNJ tenure-track Assistant Professor in 2016, after giving birth to her third child. She alleges that the Dean and the Department Chair suggested that they were relieved that she would not need pregnancy-related accommodations in the future. Doe received positive reviews for 2017. Doe claims that after she became pregnant again, she was reassigned to a less desirable class. After Doe had her fourth child, the Dean, the Chair, and others, repeatedly asked whether she was done having children. She notified TCNJ that she was pregnant again. In 2018, a TCNJ professor attended the same class that the professor had positively reviewed in 2017 but entered a negative review; Doe claims there were no material changes. The Chair reported “non-material deficiencies” after having given her a positive review in 2017. Doe complained to the Provost, who allegedly “placed a record of discipline” in Doe’s personnel file for the Reappointment Committee. She claims she “suffered emotional trauma, became depressed, and had a miscarriage,” and that she was falsely accused of canceling classes, supported by “doctored” student comments. Doe was not reappointed.She filed suit, alleging gender, national origin, and pregnancy discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of her motion to proceed anonymously. Doe’s case does not merit appellate review under the collateral order doctrine. Nothing indicated that Doe’s interest in anonymity outweighs the public’s interest in open judicial proceedings. View "Doe v. The College of New Jersey" on Justia Law

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Shulick, an attorney, owned and operated DVHS, a for-profit business that provided alternative education to at-risk students. The School District of Philadelphia contracted with DVHS to operate Southwest School for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. DVHS was to provide six teachers at a cost of $45,000 each; benefits for the staff at a total cost of $170,000 annually; four security workers totaling $130,000 annually; and a trained counselor and two psychology externs totaling $110,000 annually. The agreement was not flexible as to budgeted items. Shulick failed to employ the required dedicated security personnel, hired fewer teachers, provided fewer benefits, and paid his educators far less than required. Shulick had represented to the District that he would spend $850,000 on salary and benefits annually but spent about $396,000 in 2010-11 and $356,000 in 2011-12. Shulick directed the unspent funds to co-conspirator Fattah, the son of a former U.S. Representative, to pay off liabilities incurred across Shulick’s business ventures, keeping a cut for himself.Shulick was convicted of conspiring with Fattah to embezzle from a program receiving federal funds (18 U.S.C. 371), embezzling funds from a federally funded program (18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(A)), bank fraud (18 U.S.C. 1344), making a false statement to a bank (18 U.S.C. 1014), and three counts of filing false tax returns (26 U.S.C. 7206(1)). The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments ranging from speedy trial violations to errors in evidentiary rulings, faulty jury instructions, and sentencing miscalculations. View "United States v. Shulick" on Justia Law