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K.T. v. Culver-Stockton College

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 1, 2017

K.T. Plaintiff- Appellant
Culver-Stockton College; A.B.; Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity; Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Defendants - Appellees Women's and Children's Advocacy Project at New England Law Boston Amicus Curiae

          Submitted: April 5, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, ARNOLD and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

          K.T. brought a Title IX student-on-student harassment claim against Culver-Stockton College after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a Culver-Stockton student on campus. The district court[1] dismissed her complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). We affirm.


         Sixteen-year-old K.T., a junior in high school, was invited by Culver-Stockton College to visit campus as a potential recruit to the women's soccer team. While there, K.T. went to a party at an on-campus fraternity house, where she says she was served alcohol before being physically and sexually assaulted by a fraternity member. The alleged assailant was a student of Culver-Stockton College. According to K.T., the incident was reported to College authorities the same weekend of the party, but the College did nothing other than cancel a scheduled conference with K.T. and her parents.

         K.T. sued the College in federal court seeking money damages under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.[2] The claim was couched in terms of student-on-student harassment (or peer harassment), a theory first articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Davis ex rel. LaShonda D. v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999). Davis held that a federally funded institution may be liable for damages in a private Title IX action if its deliberate indifference to known acts of peer harassment denied the victim access to educational opportunities provided by the institution. Id. at 650. K.T.'s complaint stated that the College acted with deliberate indifference toward sexual harassment on its campus by failing to (1) take reasonable preventative measures such as supervising K.T. during her visit, and (2) investigate and provide treatment for K.T. once the College received reports of the alleged incident.

         The College moved to dismiss the Title IX claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that K.T. failed to state a claim because she was not a Culver-Stockton student when the alleged assault occurred. The College averred that the student-on-student harassment doctrine, as its name suggests, applies only in cases where a student sues her own school over harassment by a fellow student. In support, the College quoted language from Davis that a funding recipient is not liable under Title IX "unless its deliberate indifference subject[s] its students to harassment." Id. at 644-45 (alteration in original) (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted). The College further asserted that no federal court has extended Davis's holding to claims by non-students.

         The district court agreed with Culver-Stockton. In an order dismissing the Title IX claim, the court first concluded that as a non-student K.T. could not bring a Title IX claim against the College. Even if K.T. could bring such a claim, the district court continued, she failed to plausibly allege that (1) an appropriate person at the College had actual knowledge of previous incidents of similar harassment so as to alert it to a substantial risk of further abuse, and (2) the College's response to K.T.'s allegations was deliberately indifferent and caused her to undergo harassment, made her vulnerable to it, or subjected her to further discrimination. The court determined that K.T. therefore failed to state a plausible claim under Title IX.[3]


         The parties dispute whether K.T.'s status as a non-student precludes her from asserting a Title IX harassment claim. Assuming arguendo that it does not, we find no merit in K.T.'s appeal because her complaint failed to state a plausible claim to survive dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6). Accordingly, we affirm.

         A. Standard of Review

         We review the district court's grant of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss de novo. Cox v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 685 F.3d 663, 668 (8th Cir. 2012). To prevail, K.T. must allege more than "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The complaint must allege sufficient facts that, taken as true, "'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when its factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "We make this determination by ...

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