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Dodson v. Cartwright Elementary School District

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 25, 2016

Jude Dodson, et al., Plaintiffs,
Cartwright Elementary School District, et al., Defendants.



Before the Court is Defendants Cartwright Elementary School District (the “District”) and Officer Sue Doe’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ federal claims. (Doc. 18.) The motion is fully briefed, and neither party requested oral argument. For the following reasons, Defendants’ motion is granted.


Plaintiffs Jude and Byron Dodson bring this action on behalf of their minor child, B.D., a special needs student, against the District and Officer Sue, the school resource officer, for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). (Doc. 16, ¶¶ 1-10.) Plaintiffs allege B.D. was subjected to undue harassment, bullying, and taunting for several months by both peers and school staff while attending school in the District. Plaintiffs allege the District and Officer Sue knew about the incidents, but failed to take adequate steps to remedy the situation.

The alleged harassment and bullying spanned approximately twenty months, from August 2012 to April 2014. Plaintiffs describe several incidents of bullying, including derogatory name-calling by classmates, physical altercations between B.D. and fellow students, school staff accusing B.D. of faking illness, Officer Sue arresting B.D. at school, and Principal Winters tackling B.D. during a fight. (Id., ¶¶ 20-168.) As a result of these incidents, Plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) on April 22, 2013, alleging discrimination on the basis of disability, race, and gender by the District. (Id., ¶¶ 20-94.) On November 4, 2013, the District entered into a voluntary resolution agreement with OCR to resolve the complaint, which required the District to turn over its policies and procedures to OCR for review. (Id., ¶¶ 96-98.) On March 20, 2014, OCR sent notice to the District’s Superintendent that the District’s policies did not satisfy the resolution agreement. (Doc. 16-1 at 35.)

In July 2014, while resolution of the complaint was pending, B.D. transferred to another school. (Doc. 16, ¶ 178.) In October 2014, Plaintiffs served a Notice of Claim on the Superintendent of Cartwright School District. (Doc. 16-1 at 1-6.) On April 15, 2015, OCR submitted a letter addressing Plaintiffs’ Notice of Claim, which concluded that there was insufficient evidence of discrimination or retaliation. (Doc. 18-1 at 1, 4.) This lawsuit followed. Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiffs’ federal claims.


To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain factual allegations sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The task when ruling on a motion to dismiss “is to evaluate whether the claims alleged [plausibly] can be asserted as a matter of law.” See Adams v. Johnson, 355 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). When analyzing the sufficiency of a complaint, the well-pled factual allegations are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Cousins v. Lockyer, 568 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2009). However, legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are not entitled to the assumption of truth, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680, and therefore are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, In re Cutera Sec. Litig., 610 F.3d 1103, 1108 (9th Cir. 2008).


Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges six counts: (1) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (2) retaliation in violation of the ADA, (3) retaliation in violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, (4) negligent failure to train, (5) negligent failure to train/supervise, and (6) negligence per se. (Doc. 16.) Defendants move to dismiss only the federal claims: counts one, two, and three.

I. Section 1983 Claim

“To state a claim for relief in an action brought under § 1983, [plaintiffs] must [allege] that they were deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state law.” Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999). “Section 1983 ‘is not itself a source of substantive rights, ’ but instead provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.’” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144, n.3 (1979)). “It is well settled that section 1983 ‘imposes liability for violations of rights protected by the Constitution, not for violations of duties of care arising out of tort law.’” Johnson v. Barker, 799 F.2d 1396, 1399 (9th Cir. 1986) (quoting Baker, 443 U.S. at 146).

Here, Plaintiffs invoke the substantive component of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, arguing that Defendants deprived B.D. of the right to be free from bodily harm while under the District’s supervision. It is this alleged constitutional deprivation for which they seek damages under § 1983. Defendants are alleged to have been acting under color of state law. The only issue is whether Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that Defendants deprived B.D. of a constitutional right.

Generally, the Due Process Clause does not impose a duty on the state to “protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors.” DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep’t of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, 195 (1989). “[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. However, two important exceptions to the general rule exist: (1) when there is a “special relationship” between the plaintiff and the state (the “special relationship exception”), and (2) when the state “affirmatively places the plaintiff in danger by acting with ‘deliberate indifference’ to a ‘known or obvious danger, ’” (the “state-created danger exception”). Patel v. Kent School Dist., 648 F.3d 965, 971-72 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting L.W. v. Grubbs, 92 F.3d 894, 900 (9th Cir. 1996)).

Plaintiffs argue they have plausibly alleged that both exceptions apply to this case. They assert a special relationship exists between B.D. and the District because she is a special needs student. Plaintiffs also claim the state-created danger exception applies because the District placed B.D. “in harm’s way” by ignoring her claims that other students wanted to attack her, as well as failing to prevent the incident in which Principal Winters tackled her. (Doc. 23 at 11.) Defendants argue that, as a matter of law, Patel forecloses Plaintiffs’ reliance on the special relationship exception. (Doc. 18 at 3-4.) With respect to the ...

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