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S.C. v. Lansing Unified School District #469

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 22, 2019

S.C., as Parent and Next Friend of A.J., a Minor, Plaintiff,
v.
LANSING UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT #469, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DANIEL D. CRABTREE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on defendants Steve Dike, Darrel Stufflebeam, and Lansing Unified School District #469's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Doc. 23. Plaintiff's Complaint asserts three claims: (1) a Title IX claim against the District; (2) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 substantive due process claim against all defendants; and, (3) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 policy or custom claim against the District. The parties agreed plaintiff would dismiss the § 1983 substantive due process claim (Count II). Doc. 35. And so, defendants' present motion contends that plaintiff has failed to state plausible claims against the District under Title IX (Count I) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count III). Plaintiff has filed a Memorandum in Opposition. Doc. 33. And, defendants have filed a Reply. Doc. 34. After considering the arguments and authorities presented in the parties' papers, the court denies defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on Count I and Count III. The court explains why, below.

         I. Facts

         Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Courts evaluate a Rule 12(c) motion under the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Colony Ins. Co. v. Burke, 698 F.3d 1222, 1228 (10th Cir. 2012). The following facts are taken primarily from plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 1), accepted as true, and viewed in the light most favorable to them. Id. (explaining that, on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court must “accept all facts pleaded by the non-moving party as true and grant all reasonable inferences from the pleadings in favor of the same” (citation omitted)).

         A.J. was enrolled as a Junior at Lansing High School during the 2017-18 school year. Defendant Jacob Baker was A.J.'s chemistry teacher in the fall 2017 semester. Beginning around September 2017, Mr. Baker subjected A.J. to ongoing sexually harassing comments during class.

         Around September 5, 2017, A.J. was in Mr. Baker's class. A.J. and a male friend joked during conversation about the male classmate becoming pregnant. Mr. Baker injected himself into the conversation declaring he “wasn't betting on [plaintiff's male friend] to be the one getting pregnant this year.” Upon information and belief, Mr. Baker was insinuating that A.J. would get pregnant during the school year.

         Around the third week of November 2017, A.J. was bouncing on a yoga ball available to the students in Mr. Baker's class. While plaintiff bounced on the ball, Mr. Baker told plaintiff, “You're a little too good at that.” Mr. Baker made this comment during class, and multiple students heard it. Male students in the class laughed at Mr. Baker's comment, then proceeded to make their own sexually inappropriate jokes about A.J. Mr. Baker witnessed the male students sexually harassing A.J., but he failed to intervene.

         Around November 29, 2017, A.J. sat at her desk in the front of Mr. Baker's classroom, near Mr. Baker's desk. Mr. Baker initiated a series of questions about A.J.'s ex-boyfriend, ultimately telling A.J. that he did not like A.J.'s ex-boyfriend. A.J. responded that she did not like her ex-boyfriend either. Mr. Baker told A.J. that-if she dated her ex-boyfriend even though she did not like him-her ex-boyfriend “must have been good at laying the pipe.” Around December 1, 2017, A.J.'s mother, S.C., called defendant Steve Dike, the Lansing High School principal, to report Mr. Baker's sexually harassing comments toward A.J. And, around December 4, 2017, A.J. and S.C. met with Principal Dike and an assistant principal to discuss Mr. Baker further. During the meeting, Principal Dike said he would remove A.J. from Mr. Baker's chemistry class pending the outcome of an investigation. During the investigation, Mr. Baker admitted to making the sexually harassing comments to A.J.

         Around December 8, 2017, SC met with defendant Darrel Stufflebeam, the Lansing Unified School District superintendent, to discuss Mr. Baker's sexual harassment of A.J. Upon information and belief, Mr. Baker was placed on paid suspension around December 8, 2017, just two days before the holiday break.

         When classes resumed around January 4, 2018, Mr. Baker returned to school. A.J. was forced to see Mr. Baker at school and on school premises many times per week.

         Around April 25, 2018, A.J. informed her mother that she was being assigned to Mr. Baker's homeroom, despite her previous complaints of sexual harassment. Again, SC complained and asked administrators not to place A.J. in Mr. Baker's homeroom because of previous sexual harassment. Although the school assigned A.J. to a different homeroom, the Complaint alleges, on information and belief, that Mr. Baker received no additional discipline and is still entrusted with supervising other minor female students. The thought of being assigned to Mr. Baker's homeroom class caused A.J. further emotional distress, including, but not limited to, fear of attending school and anxiety.

         Mr. Baker made his comments on school property, on school grounds, during school hours, and in the presence of other students in the chemistry class. Based on information and belief, Mr. Baker previously has made sexual harassing comments toward at least four female students besides A.J.

         To date, defendants have not offered A.J. counseling or any other type of mental health services. Because of the sexual harassment A.J. experienced, and because defendants failed to prevent the sexual harassment and otherwise take appropriate remedial actions to address Mr. Baker's conduct and assist A.J., her academic performance has suffered. And, A.J. has suffered emotional distress due to defendants' acts and omissions, particularly the omissions by Superintendent Stufflebeam and Principal Dike: They had actual and/or constructive knowledge of Mr. Baker's earlier incidents at the school, but allowed Mr. Baker to remain in school.

         Superintendent Stufflebeam and Principal Dike failed to take steps preventing or addressing A.J.'s harm, including, but not limited to, the following: (1) fully investigating complaints about Mr. Baker's similar conduct with other female students; (2) preventing Mr. Baker from sexually harassing additional students, including A.J., by removing him from the school and/or eliminating his contact with minor female students; (3) educating faculty and students about district policies and procedures to prevent and address sexual harassment and unwanted contacts by and between students and district employees in the future; and (4) failing to take seriously, and investigate, address, and remedy allegations of unwelcome sexual harassment by district employees, despite actual or constructive knowledge that sexual harassment was occurring between students and district employees.

         Based on information and belief, defendant Lansing Unified School District #469 (“the District”) had policies and procedures in place to prevent and remedy sexual harassment suffered by all students, and they require the District to take appropriate action to prevent and remedy such harms. Upon information and belief, the District and its officials and employees, including, but not limited to, Superintendent Stufflebeam, Principal Dike, and Mr. Baker, failed to prevent and remedy the sex discrimination and harassment within its District, which A.J. endured. Defendants' failure occurred despite earlier complaints of inappropriate or unwelcome contacts by Mr. Baker. Plaintiff alleges defendants' actions and omissions were committed with deliberate indifference toward A.J.'s well-being and rights.

         Defendants failed to adhere to the District's policies for appropriately disciplining Mr. Baker for his pattern of sexually harassing minor female students. And defendants failed to prevent or remedy A.J.'s sexual harassment effectively.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c)

         Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Courts evaluate a Rule 12(c) motion under the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Colony Ins. Co. v. Burke, 698 F.3d 1222, 1228 (10th Cir. 2012).

         Under this Rule 12(b)(6) standard, the court must accept all facts pleaded by the non-moving party as true and draws any reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. “To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], 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)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Under this standard, ‘the complaint must give the court reason to believe this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.'” Carter v. United States, 667 F.Supp.2d 1259, 1262 (D. Kan. 2009) (quoting Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007)).

         Although this Rule “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, '” it demands more than “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'” which, as the Supreme Court has explained, simply “will not do.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In short, the court need not “accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)) (internal quotation omitted).

         B. Title IX

         “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, . . . be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance[.]” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). Title IX's express enforcement comes via administrative agencies-i.e., federal agencies condition federal funds on this nondiscrimination mandate, and they may withhold or terminate funds based on a recipient's failure to comply with that mandate. Gebser v. Lago Vista Indep. Sch. Dist., 524 U.S. 274, 280-81. (1998). But, to enforce Title IX's mandate, the Supreme Court also has recognized an implied private right of action for money damages. See Id. (first citing Cannon v. Univ. of Chi., 441 U.S. 677 (1979); then citing Franklin v. Gwinnett Cty. Pub. Schs., 503 U.S. 60 (1992)). In Gebser, the Court further refined the scope of the private right of action under Title IX: “[A] damages remedy will not lie under Title IX unless an official who at a minimum has authority to address the alleged discrimination and to institute corrective measures on the recipient's behalf has actual knowledge of discrimination in the recipient's programs and fails adequately to respond.” Id. at 290; Davis Next Friend LaShonda D. v. Monroe Cty. Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 642 (1999); see also Doe No. 1 v. Boulder Valley Sch. Dist. No. RE-2, No. 11-CV-02107-PAB-KLM, 2012 WL 4378162, at *4 (D. Colo. Sept. 25, 2012), aff'd, 523 Fed.Appx. 514 (10th Cir. 2013) (“Under Title IX, a school district cannot be held liable on a theory of respondeat superior for an employee's violation of the statute” (citing Gebser, 524 U.S. at 285)). But, a plaintiff may bring such claims only against educational institutions, and not against the institution's employees or administrators. Clay v. Bd. of Trs. of Neosho Cty. Cmty. Coll., 905 F.Supp. 1488, 1495 (D. Kan. 1995).

         Teacher-on-student sexual harassment constitutes discrimination under Title IX. See X. v. Fremont Cty. Sch. Dist. No. 25, 162 F.3d 1175 (10th Cir. 1998) (per curiam) (citing Franklin, 503 U.S. at 74-75); see also Gebser, 524 U.S. at 290. A school district will be held accountable for its employees' actions “(1) only if the school remains deliberately indifferent to acts of harassment of which it has actual knowledge, (2) the harassment was reported to an appropriate person . . . with the authority to take corrective action to end the discrimination, and (3) the harassment was so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it . . . deprived the victim of access to the educational benefits or opportunities provided by the school.” Escue v. N. Okla. Coll., 450 F.3d 1146, 1152 (10th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). ‚ÄúThis ...


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