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Doe v. Enfield Board of Education

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 6, 2018

EMILY DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
ENFIELD BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          RULING RE: MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. NO. 13)

          C. Hall United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The plaintiff, Emily Doe, by and through her parents and next friends, Jane and John Doe, filed a Complaint on November 10, 2017. See Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1). In it, Doe brings five claims against the Enfield Board of Education and individual defendants Superintendent Jeffrey Schumann, Principal Andrew Longey, and Vice Principal Connel Clark in their individual and official capacities. See id. Doe's claims include violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Counts One and Two), negligence (Count Three), negligent supervision (Count Four), and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count Five). See id. The defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Counts One and Two and/or Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on February 27, 2018. See Motion to Dismiss (“Mot. to Dismiss”) (Doc. No. 13).

         For the reasons stated below, the defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, and Counts One and Two of the Complaint are DISMISSED.

         II. FACTS

         The Complaint alleges the following facts.[1] At the time of the events that are the subject of the Complaint, Emily Doe was a 14-year-old student at Enfield High School. See Compl. at ¶ 9. She had special education needs due to her mental disabilities, including a diagnosis or history of Attention Deficit Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Mixed Expressive and Receptive Language Disorder. See Compl. at ¶ 10. Student A was another student at Enfield High School, who was committed to the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) and who the Complaint alleges had a history of aggressive behavior and a propensity for sexual violence about which the defendants knew or should have known. See id. at ¶¶ 13-14.

         On November 11, 2015, Student A called Doe at home and told her that he wanted to take her virginity. See id. at ¶ 17. He asked her if he could do it the next day, and Doe said no. See id. The next day at school, in a public location that was observed or observable by the defendants, Student A told Doe to follow him. See id. at ¶ 19. Although she did not want to, Doe followed him, and he led her to a hallway in the school's basement that was undergoing construction. See id. at ¶ 23.

         The Complaint alleges that the defendants and their agents failed to block access to the area under construction or otherwise ensure that the hallway did not become a dangerous location that could be used by students for acts of misconduct. See id. at ¶ 21. The Complaint further alleges that the defendants and their agents observed or should have observed that Student A brought Doe to an unsafe location where she was not scheduled to be at that time. See id. at ¶ 23.

         Student A then dragged Doe into the boys' bathroom and raped her in one of the stalls. See id. at ¶¶ 24-25. The Complaint alleges that Vice Principal Clark was or should have been in the proximity where this occurred, but failed to timely respond. See id. at ¶¶ 25-26. Vice Principal Clark opened the door to the bathroom after the assault had occurred and asked who was in the boys' bathroom. See id. at ¶¶ 28-29. Doe wanted to yell out, but felt threatened by Student A not to tell Vice Principal Clark what was happening. See id. at ¶ 29. Doe exited the stall and, when Vice Principal Clark asked why she was there, she answered that she had to use the bathroom and must have walked into the wrong one. See id. at ¶¶ 30-31. Vice Principal Clark then sent her back to class. See id. at ¶ 31.

         Doe told two friends what had happened when she returned to class, and she was called to Principal Longey's office. See id. at ¶¶ 32-33. She told Vice Principal Clark and Principal Longey about the sexual assault. See id. at ¶ 33. Administrators then contacted the police, and Doe was brought by her mother to Connecticut Children's Medical Center for sexual assault evaluation. See id. at ¶ 34. The construction area in the basement was closed off from student access starting November 24, 2015. See id. at ¶ 35.

         A report was filed anonymously with DCF, alleging inadequate supervision at the school. See id. at ¶ 36. DCF conducted an investigation, but closed the matter without findings of neglect, stating that Principal Longey and Vice Principal Clark addressed the situation swiftly after the incident. See id. at ¶ 38. The Complaint alleges, however, that DCF did not conduct a thorough investigation. See id. The Complaint further alleges that Doe suffered severe emotional distress as a result of the incident. See id.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD[2]

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires a complaint to plead “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 8(a). Under Rule 12(b)(6), to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, that plain statement must allege facts sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While this plausibility standard does not require probability, it is not satisfied by “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully” or by allegations that are “merely consistent with a defendant's liability.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept all material factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Hemi Grp., LLC v. City of New York, 559 U.S. 1, 5 (2010); Jaghory v. N.Y. State Dep't Educ., 131 F.3d 326, 329 (2d Cir. 1997). However, the court is not required to accept as true a “legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). In those instances, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The court may consider “only the facts alleged in the pleadings, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the pleadings, and matters of which judicial notice should be taken.” Samuels v. Air Trans. Local 504, 992 F.2d 12, 15 (2d Cir. 1993).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Count One of the Complaint alleges that defendants Superintendent Schumann, Principal Longey, and Vice Principal Clark violated Doe's rights under the Due Process Clause by failing to protect her from sexual assault by Student A. See Compl. at ¶¶ 41- 57. Count Two alleges that the Enfield Board of Education[3] violated Doe's rights under the Due Process Clause by failing to train and supervise its employees and thereby adopting a custom or policy of not addressing safety concerns related to construction within the building and sexual assault amongst students. See id. at ¶¶ 58-67. Counts Three, Four, and Five are not addressed by the Motion to Dismiss.

         The defendants argue that Counts One and Two should be dismissed because the Due Process Clause does not require the defendants to affirmatively protect Doe from assault unless Doe had a special relationship with the state or the state assisted in creating the danger to Doe. See Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss (“Mem. in Supp.”) (Doc. No. 13-1) at 9-10. The defendants argue that neither is the case here because there is no special relationship based on compulsory school attendance and a failure to intervene does not constitute an affirmative act in creating the danger. See Id. at 10-12. The defendants additionally argue that, even if they were required to protect Doe, their actions or inactions did not rise to the level of egregious and outrageous conduct necessary to sustain a substantive due process claim. See id. at 12-14. Finally, the defendants argue that Count Two against the Enfield Board of Education should be dismissed because Doe has not alleged facts supporting a custom or policy sufficient to establish municipal liability under the Monell doctrine. See id. at 14-15.

         A. Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Claim (Count One)

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment states that “[n]o State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. “Among the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is ‘a right to be free from . . . unjustified intrusions on personal security.'” Matican v. City of New York, 524 F.3d 151, 155 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 673 (1977)). Doe here alleges that this includes the right to be free from sexual abuse. See Compl. at ¶¶ 56, 66. The defendants do not dispute that such a right is included within the substantive protections of the Due Process Clause. See Mem. in Supp. at 9.

         However, “nothing in the language of the Due Process Clause itself requires the State to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors.” DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 195 (1989). Thus, the Due Process Clause “generally confer[s] no affirmative right to governmental aid, even where such aid may be necessary to secure life, liberty, or property interests of which the government itself may not deprive the individual.” Id. at 196. “[A] State's failure to protect an individual against private violence simply does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause.” Id. at 197.

         Interpreting DeShaney, the Second Circuit has recognized two exceptions to this rule. See Matican, 524 F.3d at 155. “First, the state or its agents may owe a constitutional obligation to the victim of private violence if the state had a ‘special relationship' with the victim.” Id. (citing Ying Jing Gan v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522, 533 (2d Cir. 1993)). “Second, the state may owe such an obligation if its agents ‘in some way had assisted in creating or increasing the danger to the victim.'” Id. (quoting Dwares v. City of New York, 985 F.2d 94, 98-99 (2d Cir.1993), overruled on other grounds by Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993)).

         In addition to alleging facts sufficient to satisfy one of the two above exceptions, in order to state a due process claim, the plaintiff must also allege facts to plausibly show that the defendants' behavior was “so egregious, so outrageous, that it may fairly be said to shock the contemporary ...


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