WASHINGTON (WCMH) – Ohio State University has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent the survivors of former university physician Richard Strauss from following through on dozens of lawsuits they’ve filed since learning the school covered up their sexual abuse.
As it has in previous briefs to lower courts, the university argued in its petition that by allowing Strauss’ survivors and families to sue the university on the basis of Title IX violations decades after their abuse, the court is disincentivizing universities from thoroughly investigating abuse allegations. The university argued the 2019 investigation into allegations opened the floodgates of abuse accusations.
“This investigation was integral to uncovering the extent of the abuse, facilitating reconciliation with survivors, and preventing anything like this from happening again,” the petition read. “But if the price of such investigations is an onslaught of Title IX damages suits based on decades-old allegations, schools may be deterred from undertaking them.”
Ahead of the filing – which was due to the court Tuesday – Ohio State developed a website outlining its petition, featuring menu drop-downs to a timeline of the Strauss investigation, frequently asked questions and the lawsuits’ legal history. Under the FAQ page, the university affirms its belief that the statute of limitations – which is two years for civil sexual abuse cases in Ohio – is an important “cornerstone of the rule of law.”
“OSU’s petition for Supreme Court review is yet another attempt to delay justice for the abuse survivors and avoid accountability for its wrongdoing,” attorneys for survivors said in a statement.
Appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court is Ohio State’s final possible legal maneuver to prevent hundreds of men’s lawsuits from proceeding to trial. Of the more than 7,000 petitions the court receives each year, it agrees to hear 100-150 cases.
Strauss was an Ohio State physician and varsity team sports doctor from 1978-98. During his tenure, he sexually abused and harassed hundreds of victims — nearly all men — under the guise of medical exams.
Strauss died by suicide in 2005. Since 2018, more than 400 victims and their families have filed lawsuits against Ohio State for its failure to prevent and address the abuse, which an independent investigation found in 2019 that university officials were aware of as early as 1979.
Steve Snyder-Hill, a survivor of Strauss’s abuse and the lead plaintiff in the case Ohio State has appealed, said by framing the appellate court’s interpretation of Title IX law as a potential cost to universities, the university is obfuscating the real issue at hand: That students were sexually abused under the watch and tacit approval of university administrators.
“They act like this is a frivolous lawsuit against them and Title IX is a big threat and is going to hurt students,” Snyder-Hill said.
Following a lower court’s decision in 2021 to throw out the lawsuits on the basis that the statute of limitations — which is two years for civil sexual abuse claims in Ohio — had expired, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals voted last fall to overturn the decision.
While Ohio State has maintained that the statute of limitations should have run out two years after each victim left the university, victims and their attorneys argue that they didn’t know that they had been sexually abused until 2018 — when other victims began to come forward.
And because of documented evidence that university officials were aware of and complicit in Strauss’ abuse, plaintiffs’ lawyers further argued that Ohio State’s handling of the matter amounted to fraudulent concealment — meaning the statute of limitations should not apply.
Since Snyder-Hill’s lawsuit was filed in 2018, he said the group has faced plenty of tribulations, including the death of both a survivor and an attorney. He believes it’s the university’s intent to drag the case out as long as possible. He said survivors remain determined, however.
“I’m so proud to be part of this, because this to me is about making change for the right reasons and protecting people,” Snyder-Hill said. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
By “this,” Snyder-Hill said he doesn’t only mean his sexual assault, but also the legal battle with the university for five years.
Since 2020, Ohio State has settled with 296 survivors for more than $60 million. Lawyers for Strauss’ victims will have 30 days to file a response. At least four justices must vote to hear the case for Ohio State’s petition to be granted.