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Pearson v. Logan University

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 4, 2019

Morgan Katelin Pearson; Kirsten Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Plaintiffs - Appellants
Logan University, doing business as Logan College of Chiropractic Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: April 17, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, KELLY and KOBES, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Morgan Katelin Pearson and Kirsten Elizabeth Kirkpatrick each sued Logan University under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688, as well as various state laws, alleging that Logan failed to protect them against stalking and sexual harassment by a fellow student (FS). The district court granted summary judgment for Logan, which Pearson and Kirkpatrick appeal. We affirm.


         We draw the following background facts from the summary judgment record, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Pearson and Kirkpatrick. See Schilf v. Eli Lilly & Co., 687 F.3d 947, 948 (8th Cir. 2012).

         In September 2015, Pearson and Kirkpatrick enrolled as undergraduate students at Logan. Logan's academic catalog contains its harassment policy. According to the catalog, a student who wants to complain of stalking or sexual assault should contact Logan's Title IX Coordinator, who will commence an investigation within seven days of notification.

         On December 8, 2015, Pearson met with Sandra Periello, Logan's Associate Dean of Students. Pearson complained that FS would come into the library - where she worked - to stare at her, that he would stare at her during chemistry lab, and that he once pressed himself up against her in November in the cadaver lab. Periello told Pearson to write down what happened to her and that Periello would give her statement to Shelley Sawalich, Logan's Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator. On December 9, Periello emailed Pearson, reminding her to provide a written statement. Pearson responded by asking to meet with Sawalich, stating she believed another dean had allowed FS to take Pearson's same "complete schedule" in the next trimester. Sawalich and Pearson then exchanged emails to set up a meeting that same day.

         At their December 9 meeting, Pearson repeated to Sawalich what she had told Periello with respect to FS's conduct and provided the names of four people who she said had witnessed the harassment. Pearson said that she was "terrified of being raped." She also agreed with Sawalich that the November incident in the cadaver lab may have been an accident.

         Sawalich labeled Pearson's allegations as harassment and stalking and said that she was required to investigate FS's conduct. Sawalich told Pearson that she had the option to remain anonymous as the complainant. Pearson asked how Sawalich would interview her witnesses while maintaining her anonymity, and Sawalich gave Pearson an example of the kind of question Sawalich would ask. Pearson elected to remain anonymous. Sawalich explained that she was not going to move forward with the investigation at the time because she had another case to "take care of" and Logan's finals and holidays were coming up, but told Pearson that before meeting with FS, she would email Pearson. Sawalich asked Pearson for a written statement, which she expected to receive from Pearson by Monday, December 14. She wanted the written statement "to assist with understanding the situation, interactions, and timeline" of relevant events.

         On December 14, Pearson emailed Sawalich that she was "pinched for time" and asked, "Is it okay if I send it to you via email by next Monday?" On December 15, Sawalich responded, "You are welcome to get me the information next week . . . . What this means, though, is that I won't really be able to move forward until next trimester with the investigation. Is that okay with you?" Pearson did not respond to that question.

         On December 21, Pearson sent her written statement to Sawalich. In her statement, Pearson claimed that at the beginning of the semester FS had made several attempts to spend time with her outside of class, wanting to study with her and waiting at the end of class to walk out with her. She stated that FS suggested they could drink beer while studying together, which she found inappropriate because he knew she was underage and did not drink. FS was in his early thirties. After she began working at the library, FS would come to the library every day and watch her, trying to find opportunities to interact with her. She claimed that he would always sit at a nearby table and often appear to not be doing homework or other library-related work. She alleged that in class, FS would "try to jump into conversations" she was having with other people. Pearson also stated that she thought FS was trying to take her very same schedule in the next trimester, which made her uncomfortable because she believed he had no good reason to do so. Pearson made no mention in her statement of the November incident in the cadaver lab. Sawalich replied that same day, stating that she would review Pearson's statement and "call [FS] in to talk" after he returned to campus. Sawalich also stated, "I . . . want to reiterate that Logan's ability to meaningfully investigate the incident and pursue disciplinary action may be limited because of the attempt to maintain confidentiality."

         Sawalich met with FS on January 8, 2016, and again on January 15, 2016, but did not email Pearson in advance of either meeting. Among other things, she told him there had been a complaint filed against him, and reminded him of Logan's policy against retaliation. On January 16, Pearson emailed Sawalich for an update, stating that FS continued to make her feel unsafe on campus. Sawalich responded that same day, telling Pearson she had met with FS twice and asking Pearson to meet on January 19, after the holiday weekend. At that meeting, Pearson told Sawalich that she continued to feel uncomfortable. She believed FS had followed her inappropriately at a school event and had stopped to watch as a female classmate measured her hip bone at the library. Sawalich told Pearson that FS had been very angry at their first meeting and that she had reiterated to FS at the second ...

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