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Petitions of the week

Ohio State asks court to toss lawsuits over sexual abuse by former university physician

A courier drops off a package at the Supreme Court

The Petitions of the Week column highlights a selection of cert petitions recently filed in the Supreme Court. A list of all petitions we’re watching is available here.

Over a period of 20 years, the late Dr. Richard Strauss sexually abused at least 177 male students in his role as a physician with the Ohio State University’s athletics department and student health center. This week, we highlight cert petitions that ask the court to consider, among other things, at what point Strauss’ victims should have known that the clock on their window to sue the university had started to run.

Ohio State launched a public investigation into Strauss’ conduct in April 2018. According to a final report released in May 2019, the university knew of complaints against Strauss “as early as 1979.” However, it took “no meaningful action” to address the complaints until 1996, when it quietly fired Strauss from his roles at the student health center and the athletics department after a brief investigation. Strauss remained a tenured professor in the university’s public health department, and upon his retirement in 1998 he was named a professor emeritus. He died by suicide in 2005.

The lawsuits now before the Supreme Court were filed against Ohio State in 2018 and 2021 by hundreds of former Ohio State students who allege that they were sexually abused by Strauss. They relied on Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, the federal law barring sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. The Supreme Court has ruled that the law authorizes victims of sexual harassment or abuse at school to sue for damages if – as the students in this case allege – they can show their school knew about the abuse but deliberately ignored it.

Ohio State argued that the victims’ lawsuits were filed too late, because the statute of limitations for their claims was two years. Federal district courts agreed, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reinstated the claims.

In the court of appeals’ view, the statute of limitations began to run when the victims knew of both Strauss’ abuse and Ohio State’s inaction. There is a very good reason, the 6th Circuit concluded, that the students waited to file suit. Given the widespread knowledge of Strauss’ “treatments” among the student body and the resounding silence from the university, the court explained, many victims did not realize they were sexually abused until Ohio State announced its investigation in 2018. For those who did know and complained, the 6th Circuit ruled, the existence of prior complaints ignored by the university only came to light with the release of the 2019 report.

In The Ohio State University v. Snyder-Hill and The Ohio State University v. Gonzales, the university asks the justices to review (and ultimately reverse) the 6th Circuit’s decision. While acknowledging the damage left in Strauss’ wake and its own complicity, Ohio State argues that the victims’ two-year window to sue nevertheless began to run at least 20 years ago, when Strauss abused them, or at the very least when they graduated from the university. In the Snyder-Hill cases, Ohio State also asks the justices to weigh in on whether Title IX authorizes the victims to bring their claims at all when they are not currently students at the university.

A list of this week’s featured petitions is below:

Ohio v. Yellen
Issues: (1) Whether courts have jurisdiction over a state’s constitutional challenge to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021’s tax mandate, which bars states from using Rescue Plan funds to “directly or indirectly offset a reduction in … net tax revenue … resulting from a change in law, regulation, or administrative interpretation;” and (2) whether the tax mandate is unconstitutional.

South Carolina v. Brewer
Issue: Whether lab results requested not by law enforcement but by a forensic pathologist to assist in making a routine cause-of-death determination are testimonial in nature and their admission without cross-examination of the analyst violates a criminal defendant’s right to confrontation as articulated in Crawford v. Washington and subsequent decisions.

Diaz-Tomas v. North Carolina
Issue: Whether North Carolina’s practice of indefinitely postponing drunk-driving prosecutions where the defendant fails to appear for a scheduled court date unless the defendant pleads guilty and relinquishes their right to a trial violates the speedy trial clause of the Sixth Amendment or the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

Quad Graphics, Inc. v. North Carolina Department of Revenue
Issues: (1) Whether the North Carolina Supreme Court was correct that state courts and taxing authorities no longer must follow McLeod v. J. E. Dilworth Co. because this court has implicitly overruled it; and (2) whether this court should overrule or retain the holding of Dilworth that a state may not tax sales that occur outside its borders.

The Ohio State University v. Snyder-Hill
Issues: (1) Whether, or to what extent, a claim under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 accrues after the date on which the alleged injury occurred; and (2) whether, or to what extent, Title IX’s implied private right of action extends to individuals who are not current or prospective students or employees.

The Ohio State University v. Gonzales
Issue: Whether, or to what extent, a claim under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 accrues after the date on which the alleged injury occurred.

Recommended Citation: Kalvis Golde, Ohio State asks court to toss lawsuits over sexual abuse by former university physician, SCOTUSblog (Apr. 7, 2023, 9:24 AM),