COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State University intends to petition the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appeals court determined that lawsuits filed by victims of former Ohio State physician Richard Strauss can proceed.
According to a Wednesday court filing, Ohio State has requested the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals delay its order for Strauss lawsuits to go to trial, arguing that “substantial questions exist” regarding the court’s application of Title IX law. The motion comes one week after the appeals court denied Ohio State’s earlier request for a full-panel, en banc review of the case.
Appealing to the 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.
Scott Smith, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said plaintiffs oppose the motion and believe it is a tactic to delay the cases going to trial.
Ohio State spokesperson Ben Johnson said in an email that the university was “considering all available options.”
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.
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 2-1 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 abuse 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.
In last week’s ruling, the Sixth Circuit agreed with the victims, rejecting Ohio State’s additional claim that allowing decades-old abuse allegations to move forward in lawsuits threatens to make universities unfairly liable for Title IX claims.
“The holding desired by the dissent would have ignored Title IX’s plain language and eviscerated Title IX’s purpose by creating a perverse incentive for institutions to run out the clock on the limitations period by covering up sexual abuse,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in her concurring opinion.
In its Wednesday motion, Ohio State argued that the appeals court incorrectly applied aspects of Title IX to the facts of the case. Attorneys cited tension among federal courts, including disagreements among other circuit courts, about when a Title IX claim accrues. Ohio State also argued that the appeals court improperly extended the scope of Title IX to apply to “members of the public,” including visitors to campus.
Since 2020, Ohio State has settled with 296 survivors for more than $60 million. About 100 men and their families joined the federal appeal.
Ohio State has until March 14, 2023 to file a petition of writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court. At least four justices must vote to accept the case.