COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Just more than a week after Ohio State University asked a federal court for a full-panel review of sexual abuse victims’ lawsuits against it, seven universities have joined a letter supporting the university’s request.
An amicus brief filed in federal appeals court Tuesday by midwestern universities calls on the court to review its previous ruling allowing victims of former Ohio State Dr. Richard Strauss to sue the university. Bowling Green, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan, Michigan, Michigan State, Oakland and Purdue universities said in the letter that the court’s ruling threatens “serious harm to universities and students.”
Strauss was a physician at the university’s wellness center and varsity team doctor from 1978 to 1998. In May 2019, Perkins Coie LLP’s investigation found that Strauss sexually abused at least 177 students and student-athletes during his tenure. The firm also found evidence that university officials were aware of Strauss’ conduct as early as 1979, but failed to investigate or act meaningfully.
Strauss died by suicide in 2005. Since 2018, more than 350 men have joined lawsuits against Ohio State for its failure to address and prevent their abuse. Ohio State filed motions to dismiss in every Strauss-related lawsuit against it, claiming the two-year statute of limitations on civil sexual abuse cases should have no later than two years after each victim left the university.
In September, a three-judge panel struck down a federal judge’s September 2021 ruling that the statute of limitations had expired for victims to sue the university, ruling that the university fraudulently concealed Strauss’ abuse – and its knowledge of it – from survivors. The universities join Ohio State in asking for an en banc review of the case by all 16 judges sitting on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal.
Rocky Ratliff, an attorney representing some of Strauss’ survivors, said the brief was akin to “spitting in the face” of sexual abuse survivors.
“I am shocked and disgusted that public universities of ‘higher education’ are using taxpayer money to come to the rescue of OSU, who covered up and concealed a serial sexual predator not only from their own students but from the world,” Ratliff said.
Ohio State declined to comment.
In their brief, the universities argued that allowing victims of Strauss to sue Ohio State would erroneously extend federal Title IX protections beyond students to anyone who uses university property. They also claimed the case would open the door for an influx of Title IX lawsuits that “put schools in the impossible position of being forced to defend against claims where the only evidence remaining may well be the plaintiff’s own say-so.”
In 2018, Michigan State reached a $500 million settlement with more than 300 survivors of the former university Dr. Larry Nassar. The University of Michigan settled with more than 1,000 victims of its former doctor Robert Anderson for $490 million.
Ohio State has paid about $60 million to 296 survivors in other settlements and has covered the cost of counseling services and treatment for survivors. Attorneys for the survivors have until Oct. 18 to respond to Ohio State’s en banc request.
The full amicus brief can be read below: