COLUMBUS, Ohio. (WLNS) — Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are among several schools arguing that victims of sexual assault at another university should not be allowed to sue the school.
The brief – filed Monday in support of a lawsuit against Ohio State University – says that allowing former students to sue after their two year statute of limitations has expired would ‘threaten serious harm to universities and students.’
It also says that when faced with allegations of wrongdoing that are years or decades old, that ‘universities can and should seek to right past wrongs of their own volition.’
In 2018, Michigan State University settled with hundreds of victims of Dr. Larry Nassar, who was accused of molesting hundreds of women and girls over the course of two decades in an agreement worth half a billion dollars.
Earlier this year, the University of Michigan also settled a lawsuit with more than a thousand victims of Dr. Robert Anderson for just under half a billion dollars.
The filing was supported by several other schools, including Eastern Michigan, Oakland University, Purdue University, Bowling Green, and Cleveland State.
Rocky Ratliff, an attorney representing some of Strauss’ survivors, told WCMH-TV that 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 told the station.
Ohio State declined to comment to WCMH on the new filing.
Monday’s filing stems from a lawsuit filed by hundreds of former students at Ohio State involving Dr. Richard Strauss. The university has acknowledged 1,500 incidents of rape and fondling by Dr. Strauss over his 20 year career at the school. He served as a doctor at the university’s wellness center and as a varsity team doctor between 1978 and 1998.
An independent investigation found evidence that officials at Ohio State knew about Strauss’ behavior as early as 1979, but failed to investigate or take meaningful action.
Dr. Strauss died by suicide in 2005.
Since 2018, more than 350 men have joined lawsuits against the school. But OSU argues that there’s a two year statute of limitations on each case and that the window began no later than when each victim left the school.
In September of 2021, a federal judge agreed and tossed the lawsuits. But this past September, three judges on the federal Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to let the lawsuits continue.
Ohio State is appealing that decision to the entire 16 judge panel on the Court of Appeals. The brief filed by the seven universities on Monday is in support of Ohio State’s appeal to the whole panel.
The lawsuit makes several arguments, among them that the finding by the three judge panel flies in the face of Supreme Court decisions.
It also claims the decision opens schools to Title IX violations by any member of the public (not just students) who used university libraries, went on tours, or attended sporting events.
In addition, it says if the decision stands, schools may be swamped by lawsuits ‘as decades-old allegations and non-student theories of liability inevitably proliferate’ and that the cost of defending themselves “’alone could overwhelm many school[s]’ – to say nothing of the ‘limitless liability’ that could result.”
And without an effective statute of limitations, the schools argue that they will be ‘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.’