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G.D. v. Lansing Unified School District #469

United States District Court, D. Kansas

November 1, 2018

G.D., as parent and next friend of A.D., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
LANSING UNITED SCHOOL DISTRICT #469, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HOLLY L. TEETER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff alleges claims under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1680-1688 (“Title IX”), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq. (“Title VI”) based on two incidents of student-on-student misconduct that occurred on February 6, 2018.[1] Defendants move for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 20), arguing Plaintiff fails to state a claim. Because Plaintiff fails to plausibly allege at least one essential element of each claim, the Court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Plaintiff is an African-American male student at Lansing Middle School. Lansing Middle School is a school within Defendant Lansing Unified School District USD 469 (“Defendant School District”). On February 6, 2018, Plaintiff was sitting in study hall when a white male student (“Student”) asked Plaintiff how Plaintiff would react to having his penis or buttocks touched and/or grabbed. Student then groped or touched Plaintiff's buttocks. Plaintiff told Student to stop the behavior immediately. Plaintiff “notified Ms. Templeton”-the teacher in charge of study hall- of “the harassment he was experiencing” and that Student “was messing with him in a way Plaintiff disapproved.” Doc. 1 at 4. Ms. Templeton had not noticed Student's behavior before Plaintiff reported it. Subsequently, while still in study hall, Student used his foot and began striking Plaintiff several times on the buttocks. Plaintiff again told Student to stop. Ms. Templeton interjected and asked Plaintiff to move his seat but did not ask Student to relocate his seat or modify his behavior.

         After school that day, Plaintiff and Student got on the same bus. Student was sitting in the seat directly behind Plaintiff. On the bus, Student grabbed Plaintiff's penis, struck Plaintiff on the head five times, struck Plaintiff's body, and kicked Plaintiff in the nose causing Plaintiff to bleed. The bus driver did not intervene, so Plaintiff then defended himself.

         The next morning, February 7, 2018, Plaintiff's mother contacted Defendant Kerry Brungardt (the Principal of Lansing Middle School) and Defendant Brooks Jenkins (the Assistant Principal of Lansing Middle School) via email to describe the incident and alert them to her concerns. Defendant Brungardt's responsive email pointed out that Student suffered injuries and stated that he was withholding a decision on discipline. Later that day, Defendant Brungardt suspended Plaintiff from riding the bus that afternoon.

         That same day, Plaintiff's parents met with Defendants Brungardt and Jenkins to discuss the incident. Defendants Brungardt and Jenkins, in describing the incident as they interpreted it from the video recording made by the bus, suggested Student was only “hugging” Plaintiff before the “mutual fight” broke out. Defendants Brungardt and Jenkins acknowledged that “the school and its personnel were aware that [Student] had a known history of bad behavior at school” and questioned Plaintiff as to why he did not alert a second teacher or provide a more graphic description of Student's conduct to Ms. Templeton before getting on the bus.

         Two days later, on February 9, 2018, Plaintiff's mother asked to view the bus video. On February 12, 2018, Plaintiff's parents viewed the video with Defendants Brungardt and Jenkins. After viewing the video together, Defendants Brungardt and Jenkins acknowledged that Student was the aggressor.

         The next day, February 13, 2018, Defendant Brungardt noted that Plaintiff was not in his appropriate seat on the bus on the date of the incident and suspended Plaintiff from the bus again. School officials also questioned Plaintiff on various topics including: (1) what he could have done to prevent the February 6, 2018 incident, (2) why he was so quick to fight Student, (3) whether Student was simply being annoying and not hitting him that hard, (4) why Plaintiff was not in his assigned seat, and (5) whether the incident was just an accident. Plaintiff does not know if Student faced any consequences for the events on February 6, 2018, and no further action has been taken regarding this incident.

         Since then, Plaintiff “lost trust” in Defendants Brungardt and Jenkins and “is in fear while at school and extracurricular activities.” Plaintiff “lives in constant fear of further assault, harassment, bullying, and physical abuse by [Student]” and is “unable to avoid interactions with [Student] in the hallways and extracurricular school activities.”

         II. STANDARD

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings is analyzed under the same standards that apply to a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Sanchez, 870 F.3d at 1199. Accordingly, to survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The plaintiff's claim is facially plausible if he pleads sufficient factual content to allow the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The plausibility standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully” but “is not akin to a ‘probability requirement.'” Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         This standard results in two principles that underlie a court's analysis. Id. First, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id. Stated differently, though the court must accept well-pleaded factual allegations as true, it is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations and quotations omitted). “Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives” the motion. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘shown'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (original brackets omitted)). “In keeping with these [two] principles, a court considering a [motion] can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiff Fails to Allege Essential Elements of the Title IX Claim

         Plaintiff contends Defendant School District is liable under Title IX for the sexual harassment endured by Plaintiff because it had actual knowledge of Student's sexual harassment based on Student's behavior in study hall and based on Student's known history of bad behavior and was deliberately indifferent to those reports. Defendant School District argues that Plaintiff fails to plausibly allege that it had actual knowledge of the sexual harassment before Plaintiff's mother sent an email on February 7, 2018, and that once it received notice it appropriately and reasonably responded to the report.

         Title IX states that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). A school receiving federal funds may be liable under Title IX for its own conduct in being deliberately indifferent to student-on-student harassment. Rost ex rel. K.C. v. Steamboat Springs RE-2 School Dist., 511 F.3d 1114, 1119 (10th Cir. 2008). A school district may be liable under Title IX when (1) an appropriate person has actual knowledge of, and (2) is deliberately indifferent to, (3) harassment that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive as to (4) deprive access to the educational benefits and opportunities provided by the school. Id. An “appropriate person” is one who has authority to take corrective action to end the harassment. Escue v. N. Okla. College, 450 F.3d 1146, 1152 (10th Cir. 2006). And a district is deliberately indifferent “only where the district's response to the harassment or lack thereof is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.” Rost, 511 F.3d at 1121. In evaluating deliberate indifference, courts should not second-guess a school administrator's disciplinary decisions. Davis ex rel. LaShonda D. v. Monroe Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 642 (1999).

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