Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, February 26, 2024


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Ninth Circuit:

School District’s Actions After Girl Reported Rape Reflected No ‘Deliberate Indifference’

Opinion Says District’s Many Affirmative Steps to Support Alleged Victim Precludes Liability in Suit Under Title IX


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a school district, sued in a Title IX action, did not evince “deliberate indifference” to the needs of a student who had reported an off-campus rape where it provided her with a security escort and made other accommodations.

A panel, in a memorandum opinion filed Thursday, affirmed an order by District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson of the Central District of California granting summary judgment in favor of against the Manhattan Beach Unified School District, as well as Mira Costa High School principal Ben Dale. The appeal by a student identified as Jane Doe was heard before Judges Mary M. Schroeder, Patrick J. Bumatay, and Salvador Mendoza Jr.

Doe was enrolled at Mira Costa from 2017-19. She alleges that during her time as a student, another student, identified as T.G., raped her.

The plaintiff put forth claims under Title IX, prohibiting discrimination based on gender in education. Specifically, 20 U.S.C. §1681(a) provides:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Failure to Expel

Doe alleged that the school district acted with “deliberate indifference” to student-on-student harassment by failing to discipline T.G., and that the Title IX investigation resulted in an “erroneous outcome.”

Relying on the 2000 Ninth Circuit case of Reese v. Jefferson School District which sets forth the “deliberate indifference” standard for imposition of school district liability under Title IX, the panel found that “[a] school is deliberately indifferent when its ‘response to the harassment or lack thereof is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.’ ”

In Doe’s case, the school district provided the girl a security escort, accommodated changes to her schedule, continuously monitored her mental health, and controlled T.G.’s movements. The district also offered alternatives for Doe to consider, such as a shorter school day, completing her studies online, or taking classes off-campus.

Doe claimed that she faced continuing harassment and the district’s failure to expel or remove T.G. from a school athletic team rendered the measures taken by the school insufficient.

Quoting from the 2006 Ninth Circuit case of Oden v. Northern Marianas College, the judges found that “[a]n aggrieved party is not entitled to the precise remedy that he or she would prefer” and “deliberate indifference” requires more than just a “negligent, lazy, or careless” response. The panel found the district’s actions were sufficient even if “the school may have been able to take more action.”

Delayed Investigation

Doe further argued that “deliberate indifference” should be inferred from the delay in the Title IX investigation.

The opinion noted that the 2020 Ninth Circuit case of Karasek v. Regents of the University of California found that a “school’s delayed response constitutes deliberate indifference if it prejudices the plaintiff or if the delay was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the plaintiff’s complaint or its orderly resolution.”

The judges said:

“Here, the school explored many options with Doe. It ‘was not idle’ in the months between learning of Doe’s allegations and the launch of its Title IX investigation….The District held meetings with Doe and her family, changed her schedule, offered counseling and a security escort, and presented alternative ways for her to finish the school year. And there is no evidence of a deliberate attempt to sabotage Doe’s complaint.”

Erroneous Outcome

The panel found that Doe’s “erroneous outcome” claim under Title IX was insufficient.

 Relying on the 2020 Ninth Circuit case of Schwake v. Arizona Board of Regents, the judges explained that the Ninth Circuit does not recognize the “erroneous outcome” theory for Title IX liability.

The panel further found that “the record does not indicate that the District’s Title IX investigation was tainted by gender bias.”

Claims Against Principal

In her action against Dale, Doe made an equal protection claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983, asserting that he was the source of certain false statements in the district’s Title IX report. The panel found that, even that was so, there was no “deliberate indifference” or attempt to sabotage the resolution of her complaint.

The opinion notes:

“After learning about Doe’s allegations, Dale spoke with Doe’s counselor to make sure Doe was being supported. And when Doe asked to meet with Dale in December 2018, he met with her the same day. When Doe asked for sexual assault curriculum to be added to the school, he created a program.”

The case is Doe v. Manhattan Beach Unified School District, 23-55233.


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