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Sturdivant v. Blue Valley Unified School District

United States District Court, D. Kansas

May 30, 2019

Camille Sturdivant, Plaintiff,
v.
Blue Valley Unified School District, USD 229; Amy Pressly; Carley Fine; Katie Porter; and Kevin Murakami, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          JOHN W. LUNGSTRUM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a former member of her high school dance team, filed this lawsuit alleging that she was excluded from team dances and team activities based on her race, African-American, in violation of her Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection. She asserts a single equal protection claim, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against each of the individual defendants-defendant Carley Fine, the coach of the dance team; defendant Kevin Murakami, the choreographer of the dance team; defendant Amy Pressly, the principal of the high school; and defendant Katie Porter, a teacher at an elementary school in the district and the mother of another dancer on the team. She asserts several claims under § 1983 against defendant Blue Valley Unified School District, USD 229 alleging that the equal protection violations committed by the individual defendants flowed from the District's failure to train those employees on issues of discrimination. Finally, plaintiff asserts a claim against the School District under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., which prohibits racial discrimination by recipients of federal funds.

         This matter is presently before the court on defendant Carley Fine's motion to dismiss (doc. 12) on the basis of qualified immunity and failure to state a claim and defendant Katie Porter's motion to dismiss (doc. 36) for failure to state a claim. As explained below, defendant Fine's motion is denied and defendant Porter's motion is granted.

         Applicable Standards

         In analyzing defendants' motions to dismiss, the court accepts as true “all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and view[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Burnett v. Mortgage Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 706 F.3d 1231, 1235 (10th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).[1] The court then determines whether the plaintiff has provided “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Safe Streets Alliance v. Hickenlooper, 859 F.3d 865, 878 (10th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted). In determining the plausibility of a claim, the court looks to the elements of the particular cause of action, “keeping in mind that the Rule 12(b)(6) standard [does not] require a plaintiff to set forth a prima facie case for each element.” Id. (quotations omitted). While “the nature and specificity of the allegations required to state a plausible claim will vary based on context, ” “mere ‘labels and conclusions' and ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action' will not suffice; a plaintiff must offer specific factual allegations to support each claim.” Id. (citations and quotations omitted). Thus, a “claim is facially plausible if the plaintiff has pled ‘factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides that a person acting under color of state law who “subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured.” “Section 1983 itself does not create any substantive rights, but merely provides relief against those who, acting under color of law, violate federal rights created elsewhere.” Brown v. Buhman, 822 F.3d 1151, 1161 n.9 (10th Cir. 2016) (quoting Reynolds v. Sch. Dist. No. 1, Denver, 69 F.3d 1523, 1536 (10th Cir.1995)). In other words, § 1983 is a remedial vehicle for raising claims based on the violation of constitutional rights; there can be no “violation” of § 1983 separate and apart from the underlying constitutional violations. Id. (citations omitted).

         Background

         Consistent with the standard articulated above, the following well-pleaded allegations, taken from plaintiff's amended complaint, are accepted as true. Defendant Blue Valley School District, USD 229 is a Kansas public school district comprised of over 20, 000 students headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas. At the pertinent time, plaintiff was an African-American student of Blue Valley Northwest High School and a member of the school's “Dazzlers” dance team during her sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. Plaintiff graduated in May 2018. During plaintiff's senior year, there were 14 members on the dance team and plaintiff was one of two African-American members.

         Defendant Carley Fine, who is Caucasian, was employed by the District as the head coach of the Dazzlers. Defendant Kevin Murakami was, according to plaintiff, an agent of the District and the acted as the choreographer of the Dazzlers. Plaintiff alleges that during the summer before her senior year, defendant Murakami excluded her from performing in a contemporary dance scheduled for the upcoming school year because her “skin was too dark” and the “audience would look at her and not the other dancers.” Plaintiff alleges that defendant Murakami also told her that her “skin color clashed with the color of the costumes.” Plaintiff alleges that defendant Fine had knowledge of defendant Murakami's decision to exclude plaintiff and his reasons for doing so and that she agreed with both the decision and basis for that decision. In September 2017, plaintiff's parents met with defendant Amy Pressly, the principal at the high school, for the purpose of notifying defendant Pressly about the comments made to plaintiff and the fact that plaintiff had been excluded from participating in the contemporary dance. According to plaintiff, defendant Pressly informed them that defendant Fine could pick whomever she wanted to perform in the dances.

         In April 2018, plaintiff learned that she had been accepted as a member of the “Golden Girls” dance team at the University of Missouri, where she intended to enroll for college for the next academic year. Shortly thereafter, on May 1, 2018, plaintiff was assisting defendant Fine by cuing music for the Dazzlers during practice. Defendant Fine provided her personal cell phone to plaintiff for purposes of cuing the music. While plaintiff had defendant Fine's cell phone, a text message from defendant Murakami “popped up” on the phone screen. The full text exchange between defendant Murakami and defendant Fine was as follows:

Murakami: I can't believe Maggie didn't make it again. I'm heart broken.
Fine: AND [PLAINITFF] MADE MENS.[2] I can't talk about it.
Murakami: THAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE. I'm so mad. Fine: It actually ...

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