Mary King-White alleges that her daughter was sexually abused by a dance instructor employed by Humble ISD. The lawsuit alleged that this started in the spring of 2009, when the girl was 16, and continued until she graduated in 2011. More than two years later, the mother and daughter sued the dance instructor, the district and certain district officials.
According to the 5th Circuit, that was too late to pursue a suit against the district or its officials under Title IX or 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Thus the district and its officials were dismissed from the suit without the court ruling on the substance of the allegations. Instead, the case was decided pursuant to the statute of limitations.
Neither Title IX nor Section 1983 contain a federal statute of limitations, and so the courts apply a comparable state statute. In particular, courts are supposed to use the “general or residual” statute of limitations under state law. Here, that is Section 16.003 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, which calls for a two-year timeframe for personal injury cases.
The plaintiffs argued that the case did not “accrue,” and thus the two-year countdown did not start, until long after the girl’s graduation when they obtained more information about HISD policy and practice. The court disagreed. The case “accrued,” according to the court, when 1) the plaintiff became aware of the injury; and 2) the plaintiff became aware of “causation, that is, the connection between the injury and the defendant’s actions.” This means that the plaintiff is aware of “circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to investigate further.”
The court pointed out that the girl certainly knew that she was being abused by a teacher. And the mother had complained about the relationship to school officials while the girl was still in school—so she must have known something was amiss. On top of that, as the court emphasized, the daughter actually lived with the dance instructor, with the mother’s consent. Thus the court concluded that the cause of action accrued long ago. The statute was “tolled” until the girl turned 18, but the suit was filed more than two years after that. Case dismissed.
The case is King-White v. Humble ISD, decided by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on October 20, 2015. We found it at 2015 WL 6159761.
DAWG BONE: TITLE IX AND SECTION 1983 CLAIMS IN TEXAS HAVE A TWO YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS.