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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
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Feds Duck Suit by Alleged UVA Assault Survivor

WASHINGTON (CN) - Two government agencies are not liable to a woman seeking justice after an alleged sexual assault at the University of Virginia, a federal judge ruled.

The court record identifies the woman in question only as Jane Doe. Last year, she filed lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of the respective handling by those agencies of her complaints against UVA, where the woman says she was severely sexually harassed and assaulted as undergraduate in December 2011.

Doe went to the government with Title IX and Title IV claims after school administrators sided with her alleged assailant.

She claimed in the ensuing court petitions that HHS requested more information but otherwise took no further action. The DOE meanwhile allegedly consolidated Doe's claim into its ongoing review of UVA's sexual-misconduct policies.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell dismissed both complaints Tuesday, however, after finding that her claim stemmed from "an erroneous interpretation" of the amendments at issue.

Though Doe asserted that the defendants had a duty to resolve her complaints "promptly," Howell said DOE and HHS regulations only require the agencies to investigate promptly, not resolve complaints promptly.

The defendants each opened investigations into Doe's claims within weeks, the court found. Their alleged failure to resolve Doe's complaints does not warrant the drastic remedy of mandamus relief, Howell said.

Doe's claim under the Administrative Procedure Act meanwhile conflicts with precedent that precludes a plaintiff from filing a claim against a public agency when an avenue for private remedy is available, according to the 18-page opinion.

Howell said Doe is essentially seeking relief for UVA policy failures through her claims against DOE and HHS, and that is prohibited.

Doe's court filings also took issue with statutory amendments that she said allowed the agencies to change the standard for review of sexual-assault cases.

She asserted that Section 304 of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2013 created substantive negative changes requiring higher standards of proof for allegations of sexual assault, but Howell said she simply got it wrong.

The Clery Act, the law that VAWA amended, specifically prohibits its governing agency, DOE, from changing the requirements of institutes of higher learning to prevent discrimination under Title IX, according to the ruling.

Doe also failed to demonstrate how the changes in Section 304 affected Title IV. As such, Howell wrote, Doe's final claims against the defendants are dismissed based on her failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

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