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Austin v. University of Oregon

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

June 4, 2019

Brandon Austin, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
University of Oregon; Sandy Weintraub; Chicora Martin; Robin Holmes; Michael R. Gottfredson, all in their individual capacities only, Defendants-Appellees. and Dominic Artis; Damyean Dotson, Plaintiffs, Dominic Artis; Damyean Dotson, Plaintiffs-Appellants, and Brandon Austin, Plaintiff,
v.
University of Oregon; Sandy Weintraub; Chicora Martin; Robin Holmes; Michael R. Gottfredson, all in their individual capacities only, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted December 6, 2018 Seattle, Washington

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon D.C. Nos. 6:15-cv-02257-MC 6:16-cv-00647-MC Michael J. McShane, District Judge, Presiding

          Alan Carl Milstein (argued), Sherman Silverstein Kohl Rose & Podolsky P.A., Moorestown, New Jersey; Marianne Dugan, Eugene, Oregon; for Plaintiff-Appellant Brandon Austin.

          Brian I. Michaels (argued), Eugene, Oregon, for Plaintiffs-Appellants Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson.

          Kevin Scott Reed (argued), Office of the General Counsel, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon; P.K. Runkles-Pearson, Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP, Portland, Oregon; for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: Susan P. Graber, M. Margaret McKeown, and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of a complaint brought by three male student athletes against the University of Oregon alleging the University discriminated against them on the basis of their sex in violation of Title IX and violated their due process rights in connection with the University's sexual misconduct proceedings.

         Following the Supreme Court's guidance in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002), the panel held that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), not the evidentiary presumption set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), provides the appropriate standard for reviewing, at the pleading stage, a motion to dismiss in a Title IX case.

         The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Third Amended Complaint because, putting aside mere conclusory allegations, the complaint failed to make any claims of discrimination on the basis of sex cognizable under Title IX. The panel rejected plaintiffs' three theories under Title IX: selective enforcement, erroneous outcome, and deliberate indifference. The panel determined that plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege that the decision to discipline them was grounded in gender bias or that the administration or outcome of the disciplinary proceedings were flawed due to the student athletes' sex. The panel further determined that plaintiffs waived their "deliberate indifference" theory of Title IX liability.

         The panel held that the student athletes' due process claims failed because they received constitutional due process through the University's disciplinary proceedings. The panel assumed, without deciding, that the student athletes had property and liberty interests in their education, scholarships, and reputation as alleged in the complaint. Nonetheless, the panel held that the student athletes received the hallmarks of procedural due process: notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard.

          OPINION

          McKEOWN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         These companion cases concerning campus sexual assault raise an issue of first impression in this circuit- whether the McDonnell Douglas[1] evidentiary presumption applies at the pleading stage in a Title IX case. Following the Supreme Court's explanation of Title VII's pleading requirements in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002), we conclude that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), not McDonnell Douglas, applies at the motion to dismiss stage. On this basis, we affirm the district court's dismissal of the Third Amended Complaint because, putting aside mere conclusory allegations, the ...


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