Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Title IX claims carry a three-year statute of limitations

This case resolves two issues that I thought was settled long ago: what is the proper forum for educational discrimination claims brought under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? And, what is the statute of limitations for educational discrimination claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act? The Court of Appeals holds for the first time in a published ruling that a three year statute of limitation applies.

The case is Purcell v. New York Institute of Technology, issued on July 18. The issue arises because plaintiff says the institute discriminated against him as a student. The trial court said the statute of limitations is four months, which is the timeline under Article 78 of the New York CPLR. The Article 78 angle may seem silly, but it is true that you can challenge academic decisions against private colleges under Article 78, which is an expedited legal procedure that asks the court to resolve the dispute on the basis of affidavits and exhibits without live testimony. The drawback for plaintiffs is that, in Article 78's, the colleges get the benefit of the doubt in cases involving academic decisionmaking on the theory that colleges are best suited to address these issues unless they abuse their discretion and issue a crackpot ruling on the academic dispute.

The Court of Appeals (Katzmann, Walker and Cabranes) now holds that federal law is available to resolve these disputes as well, if the students raise federal claims. We all kinda knew this, but sometimes it takes a while for the Court of Appeals to definitively resolve what we all kinda knew all along. Purcell wins on this issue because he is raising a federal claim and not the kind of state law claim that normally arises in an Article 78 proceeding. The Court says, "However strongly New York may feel about the need to defer to academic decision-making, and however justified its decision to funnel all related state claims into Article 78 proceedings may be, New York cannot nullify a federal right or cause of action it believes is inconsistent with its local policies." If at all possible, federal law reigns supreme in our system, however the State of New York feels about it. Since the statute of limitations under Title IX is three years (borrowing from state law personal injury deadlines), Purcell's case is timely and the case returns to the federal trial court.

Along the way, the Court of Appeals resolves an issue that lingered for years without a definitive ruling from this appellate court. In unpublished summary orders, the Second Circuit had held that ADA claims against educational institutions carry a three-year statute of limitations. The Court now solidifies that reasoning in a published ruling. It also reaffirms that the three-year statute of limitations governs Title IX claims.

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