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Suraci v. Hamden Board of Education

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 10, 2019

MARC SURACI, JR., a minor suing by and through his father and next friend, MARC SURACI, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
HAMDEN BOARD OF EDUCATION, BARBARA NANA, ROBIN RICCITELLI, ERIN BAILEY, and HOWARD HORNREICH, Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JANET BLOND ARTERTON, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff, a schoolchild with autism who received special education services at Hamden's elementary schools during the time period of the allegations in his complaint, brings this action through his father and next friend Marc Suraci, Sr. against the Hamden Board of Education and certain of its officials and employees: Barbara Nana (Spring Glen Elementary School Principal), Robin Riccitelli (Coordinator for Elementary Special Education for the Hamden Board of Education), Erin Bailey (Dunbar Hill School Principal), and Howard Hornreich (successor Principal of Spring Glen).

         Plaintiff originally claimed violations of "the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, etseq., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 794(a), et sea., and the Constitution and laws of the United States and the State of Connecticut [, ]" and further claims that certain conduct of Riccitelli was "extreme and outrageous and constituted the intentional infliction of emotional distress upon the plaintiff in violation of Connecticut common law." (Compl. [Doc. # 1] 1, 27.)

         Defendants argue that Plaintiffs ADA and Section 504 claims must be dismissed due to Plaintiffs failure to exhaust his administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (Defs.' Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Summ. J. [Doc. # 23-1] at 5-6.) Plaintiff agrees that he did not exhaust these remedies and that his ADA and Section 504 claims are therefore precluded. (Pl's Br. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. [Doc. # 26] at 1.) Accordingly, summary judgement will be entered in favor of Defendants on these claims.

         With respect to Defendants Bailey and Hornreich, Plaintiff offers no factual allegations of any personal involvement by them related to deprivations of Plaintiffs rights. (See generally Compl.) Accordingly, summary judgment will be entered in their favor on all claims.

         The only remaining claim is Plaintiffs IIED claim against Robin Riccitelli, (see Compl. ¶ 27), relating to her conduct on March 14, 2014. On that date, Riccitelli states that she "was called to Spring Glen Elementary School due to safety concerns regarding" Plaintiff, based on his indications that he wished to kill or harm other students or teachers, unsolicited notes from students who were hurt or scared by him, and a list written by Plaintiff of students and teachers labeled "Subjects for Weapon X[.]" (Ex. E (Riccitelli Aff.) to Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. [Doc. # 23-7] ¶ 8.) According to Riccitelli, "[d]ue to these and other incidents, it was decided that... it would be best for [Plaintiff] to have an emergency evaluation." (Id. ¶ 9.)

         According to Plaintiffs father, on that day, after he dropped Plaintiff off, he received a call from the school telling him to return. (Ex. B (Marc Suraci, Sr. Dep.) to Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. [Doc. # 23-4] at 6.) After Mr. Suraci returned, he saw a fire engine and ambulance and was brought into a room with Ms. Riccitelli, who told him they believed his son was in crisis and needed to go to the Yale psychiatric ward. (Id. at 7.) Riccitelli told Mr. Suraci that they were going to take Plaintiff there from school because he threatened to bring a weapon to school, showing Mr. Suraci Plaintiffs drawing of "Weapon X" and the student letters. (Id.) Mr. Suraci questioned how his son could be in crisis so soon after he left him when he appeared fine and told Riccitelli that "Weapon X" was merely a Marvel cartoon character, "like Spiderman[, ]" not a weapon, reflecting Plaintiffs interest in Marvel characters. (Id. at 7-8.)

         Riccitelli told Mr. Suraci "there's nothing you can do about it" and asserted that "[i]t's the law, and we're taking him." (Id. at 8.) Mr. Suraci told Riccitelli "[y]ou cannot put him in that ambulance[, ]" offering, "if he's in crisis, I will take him[, ]" and explaining that "[t]he last time he saw his mother was getting taken away in the ambulance [, ]" so "[t]o do that would be so damaging." (Id.) Riccitelli responded "[t]here's nothing you can do about it." (Id.)

         According to Riccitelli, because Mr. Suraci "would not agree to an emergency evaluation [, ]" Riccitelli called 911 after consulting with the Acting Superintendent. (Riccitelli Aff. ¶ 10-11.) Plaintiff "was eventually brought to the main office at his father's request, but when [Plaintiff] reached the lobby the police arrived at the same time." (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff began "pleading with [the police] not to take" his father away. (Suraci Dep. at 9.) Plaintiff "thought they were going to take" his father, and given "his issues with abandonment and watching his mother leave, he was very upset about" this. (Id.) Plaintiff told police "[p]lease don't take my father[, ]" "[m]y mother died of cancer" and "[h]e's the only person I have; he's a good guy." (Id.)

         It is undisputed that Riccitelli said nothing in Plaintiffs presence about either his father being taken away from him or about Plaintiff himself being taken involuntarily in an ambulance. (See Riccitelli Aff. ¶¶ 13-14.) Eventually a conversation was held with Riccitelli, Nana, Mr. Suraci, and the police, and Plaintiff was permitted to leave school to go home with his father and was not transported involuntarily anywhere. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         The Hamden Board of Education Policy 5131.21, on which Richitelli claims to have relied in her actions, states: "... [A]ny school employee who may have knowledge of a threat or act of violence must take the proper steps to report this information to the school principal who will, in turn, notify the appropriate school officials, the student's family and appropriate resource services." (Ex. A to Riccitelli Aff.)

         Thus, the circumstance which Plaintiff claims to be extreme and outrageous was Riccitelli's summoning the ambulance to the school to transport Plaintiff involuntarily to a psychiatric hospital knowing Plaintiffs traumatic associations with ambulances and subjecting Plaintiff to great distress when Plaintiff interpreted the presence of emergency responders as coming for his father.

         A claim for IIED must establish four elements. "It must be shown: (1) that the actor intended to inflict emotional distress; or that he knew or should have known that emotional distress was a likely result of his conduct; (2) that the conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) that the defendant's conduct was the cause of the plaintiffs distress and (4) that the emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was severe." Petyan v. Ellis, 200 Conn. 243, 253 (1986).

         This conduct falls well short of what reasonable minds could differ on as to whether it was extreme and outrageous. Moreover, there is no evidence Riccitelli's actions were "especially calculated to cause" Plaintiff "[serious] mental distress," DeLaurentis v. City of New Haven,220 Conn. 225, 267 (1991) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted), even though they likely did. Riccitelli had a factual and reasonable basis for her actions, unlike the false accusation of a student's criminal conduct by a school official in Zulawski v. Standi, No. CV05000203S, 2006 WL 2089470, at *4 (Conn. Super. Ct. July 14, 2006). Riccitelli did not humiliate, embarrass or mistreat Plaintiff in any way, in contrast to the teacher in Baird ex rel. Baird v. Rose, who mortified ...


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