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Doe v. Dallas Independent School District

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

October 25, 2019

JANE DOE, Individually and as Next Friend of Minor T.W., Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
DALLAS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant-Appellee

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

          Before SMITH, DENNIS, and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.

          HAYNES, Circuit Judge:

         Appellant Jane Doe appeals the district court's dismissal of her Title IX complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). For the reasons set forth below, we REVERSE the district court's dismissal of Doe's complaint and REMAND the case for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         Taking the Plaintiff's allegations as true, T.W., a special needs student in Dallas Independent School District ("Dallas ISD"), was repeatedly assaulted by a classmate, V.A. T.W. and her case manager, Ms. Gray, notified the school. The school's "solution" was to move T.W. and V.A. to different parts of the room. V.A. was assigned to a desk in front of the class bathroom. The abuse did not stop. V.A. allegedly raped T.W. in the class bathroom, a foot away from his desk. Doe, T.W.'s mother, withdrew her daughter after finding out about the rape.

         Doe sued Dallas ISD on behalf of T.W., asserting that the school violated T.W.'s rights under Title IX. The district court dismissed Doe's Title IX claim for failure to exhaust her IDEA administrative remedies. The IDEA includes the following exhaustion provision:

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to restrict or limit the rights, procedures, and remedies available under the Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 [("ADA")], title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or other Federal laws protecting the rights of children with disabilities, except that before the filing of a civil action under such laws seeking relief that is also available under this subchapter, the procedures under subsections (f) and (g) shall be exhausted to the same extent as would be required had the action been brought under this subchapter.

20 U.S.C. § 1415(l). Though Doe had not sued under the IDEA, the district court concluded that Doe's claim could have been brought as an IDEA claim. It therefore determined that § 1415(l) barred Doe's suit until she exhausted her claim.

         Doe did not appeal that decision and instead attempted to comply with the district court's direction to exhaust her claims. She filed both a Title IX claim and an IDEA claim with a special education hearing officer. The hearing officer dismissed her IDEA claim because the claim was filed well beyond the one-year statute of limitations. The hearing officer also concluded that he lacked jurisdiction to consider the Title IX claim and dismissed that claim.

         Doe then went back to federal court, again asserting only a Title IX claim. In addition to attempting to exhaust her claim, she had the benefit of the recently decided Supreme Court decision, Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools. 137 S.Ct. 743 (2017). In Fry, the Supreme Court held that § 1415(l)'s exhaustion requirement applies only if a plaintiff seeks relief available under the IDEA, which is limited to a student's right to a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). Id. at 748. Doe claimed that Fry clarified that she did not need to administratively exhaust her claim under the IDEA because she did not seek relief related to the denial of a FAPE.

         Dallas ISD moved to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). The district court again dismissed Doe's claim, concluding that its previous legal reasoning was consistent with Fry. Since the hearing officer had dismissed the IDEA claim as time-barred, which did not exhaust the claim, the district court concluded that Doe's Title IX claim, which the court ruled was intertwined with a potential IDEA claim, was also unexhausted under § 1415(l). It dismissed her suit for lack of jurisdiction. Doe now appeals the dismissal of her Title IX claim.

         II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

         The district court had federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. We have jurisdiction over the appeal as an appeal from a final decision under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review a district court's dismissal under Rule ...


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