Supreme Court Denies OSU’s Attempt to Dismiss Remaining Strauss Lawsuits
Ohio State sought to have the remaining sexual abuse lawsuits dismissed, arguing that the statute of limitations had long passed.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected Ohio State University’s (OSU) attempt to dismiss Title IX lawsuits filed against the school by alleged sexual abuse victims of a now-deceased campus doctor.
In 2018, the school hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation after a former member of the university’s men’s wrestling team reported to the school that ex-physician and team doctor Richard Strauss had abused him decades earlier. A 232-page report released in 2019 verified claims that officials received multiple warnings of alleged sexual abuse by Strauss but did nothing to stop it. The report found school officials knew of at least 177 students who were sexually abused by Strauss from 1978 to 1998.
News of the investigation and its findings prompted more than 500 plaintiffs to sue the school, and OSU has settled with 296 survivors for $60 million since 2020. However, in 2021, a federal judge dismissed the remaining lawsuits filed under Title IX by more than 230 men.
Title IX lawsuits look to state law statutes of limitation but federal courts determine when the time starts, according to Reuters. U.S. District Judge Michael Watson initially dismissed the claims under Ohio’s two-year statute of limitations, meaning the clock ran out two years after the abuse occurred.
In Sept. 2022, the Cincinnati-based Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuits, noting it wasn’t until 2018 that the plaintiffs became aware that administrators had known about the abuse. Therefore, the statute of limitations clock should have started when the alleged victims learned that administrators were aware of Strauss’ conduct “and failed to respond appropriately.”
Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the panel’s ruling that most of the men didn’t realize until 2018 that they were sexual assault victims. The vast majority of survivors have claimed they did not know Strauss’ medically unnecessary exams and inappropriate sexual questions constituted abuse.
“At the time of the abuse, they were teenagers and young adults and did not know what was medically appropriate,” Moore said. “Strauss gave pretextual and false medical explanations for the abuse.”
Ilann M. Maazel, an attorney for the victims, praised the ruling.
“It’s a major moment in the case, a major step toward getting justice,” he said. “OSU has for years tried to hide behind this phony statute of limitations defense, and they failed. We intend to proceed and hold them accountable once and for all.”
Steve Snyder-Hill, a survivor and lead plaintiff in the case appealed to the Supreme Court, said in a statement that he was “in shock” that the cases would proceed with discovery and trial, reports NBC4.
“Justice has prevailed,” he said. “Colleges are not going to be able to cover up and lie about sexual assault then turn around and tell you it is too late.”
In its appeal, OSU argued if the lawsuits were allowed to move forward, academic institutions would face an “onslaught” of civil suits “based on decades-old allegations,” and that allowing lawsuits to proceed based on the Sixth Circuit’s ruling would mean “there is essentially no limit on the stale claims that could be brought.”
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