Erica Kinsman (“Student”) filed suit against Florida State University (“FSU”) and the action was brought under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688 (“Title IX”). Student claims FSU failed to properly investigate or respond to reports of sexual assault and that this denied her educational benefits. FSU moved to dismiss the complaint in accordance with Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
FSU argued that Student’s complaint fails to meet one or more of the four requirements of Title IX. A plaintiff must prove 1) the defendant must be a recipient of federal funds under Title IX; 2) an appropriate person must have actual knowledge of the discrimination or harassment the plaintiff alleges occurred; 3) a funding recipient is liable for student-on-student harassment only if the funding recipient acts with deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment in its programs or activities; and 4) the discrimination must be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.
FSU argued that an “appropriate person” did not have actual knowledge of the Student’s report. Student alleges that an associate athletics director and the head football coach were appropriate people under Title IX. The Court concluded that it cannot say as a matter of law that the associate athletics director and the head coach were not appropriate people. Next, FSU argues these people did not have “actual knowledge.” The complaint alleges that the Tallahassee Police Department (“TPD”) informed the FSU athletics department of a sexual assault report involving football player Jameis Winston (“Winston”). For the purposes of a Motion to Dismiss, the Court assumed such allegations were true.
In FSU’s second argument, FSU argues even if the “appropriate person” had “actual knowledge,” the response up until November 2013 was not clearly unreasonable. FSU further argues that FSU provided Student with a victim advocate and informed her of FSU’s processes including the opportunity to change classes and disciplinary proceedings. To the contrary, Student alleges that no one at FSU offered safety precautions and that FSU failed to investigate complaints lodged against Winston. Accordingly, the compliant plausibly alleges deliberate indifference.
In FSU’s third argument, FSU argues that Student being on campus with Winston was not serious enough to constitute further discrimination under Title IX. Student alleges she was fearful of Winston, struggled with her coursework, altered her social activities at FSU, and she was frightened when she saw Winston. The Court concluded, for the purposes of Title IX, it is certainly plausible that this alleged harassment was severe and pervasive enough to deprive her of educational benefits.
Next, FSU argues it is not liable for third-party harassment via social media. Student argues that had FSU appropriately responded to her report to TPD in January 2013, then she would not have been “relentlessly vilified by the press and the Seminole football community.” The Court concluded the record was undeveloped and, thus, denied the motion.
Finally, FSU argues that it is not liable for harassment in the form of Student’s exclusion from school. According to Student’s complaint, Student left campus on November 14, 2013 though she alleges that she wished to remain at FSU. The Court concluded that FSU offered a different take on some of the facts in the complaint and offered additional facts. The Court stated it does not resolve factual disputes on a motion to dismiss.
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