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Doe v. Board of Education of County of Mercer

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Bluefield

March 22, 2019

JOHN DOE, an infant, by and through his next friend M. DOE, Plaintiff,


          David A. Faber Senior United States District Judge.

         Pending before the court is the Board of Education of the County of Mercer's renewed motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 42). For reasons appearing to the court, that motion is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         According to the complaint, the allegations of which are taken as true for purposes of this motion, during the 2014-2015 school year, John Doe was a student at Pikeview Middle School in Mercer County, West Virginia. See Complaint ¶ 9. John Doe has been diagnosed as suffering from Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Mild Mental Retardation. See id. at ¶ 10. Because of his “developmental delays” John Doe received special education services while attending public schools and has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that “places him in the Moderately Mentally Impaired Program.” Id. at ¶ 8. Significantly, for purposes of this motion, the complaint alleges that “Mercer County Board of Education acting through its employees and/or agents knew or should have known that the Plaintiff had a history of touching others as noted in his IEP.” Id. at ¶ 13 (emphasis added).

         John Smith was a fellow student of John Doe's “who also has developmental and mental impairments.” Id. at ¶ 14. The complaint alleges that John Doe and John Smith “were directed to collect attendance reports from various classrooms and take them to the school office.” Id. at ¶ 12. On or about May 4, 2015, John Doe and John Smith were caught in a bathroom stall “performing sex acts.” Id. at ¶ 14.

         M. Doe is the mother of John Doe. See id. at ¶ 6. On August 29, 2016, John Doe, by and through M. Doe, filed the instant lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against The Board of Education of the County of Mercer (“BOE”). According to the Complaint, in directing John Doe to collect the attendance sheets while unsupervised, the BOE created the danger which led to plaintiff's injury. Therefore, plaintiff argues the BOE is liable under § 1983. See Complaint generally.

         The BOE has moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In so doing, the BOE argues that the alleged injury suffered by John Doe “was not a foreseeable risk of any danger alleged by Plaintiff.” ECF No. 42 at ¶ 7.

         II. Standard of Review

         "[A] motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for relief should not be granted unless it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff would be entitled to no relief under any state of facts which could be proved in support of his claim." Rogers v. Jefferson-Pilot Life Ins. Co., 883 F.2d 324, 325 (4th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 48 (1957), and Johnson v. Mueller, 415 F.2d 354, 355 (4th Cir. 1969)). "In considering a motion to dismiss, the court should accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan Laboratories, Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 474, 474 (4th Cir. 1997).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a pleading, the cases of Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), provide guidance. When reviewing a motion to dismiss, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, a court must determine whether the factual allegations contained in the complaint “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, ” and, when accepted as true, “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957); 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 (3d ed. 2004)). “[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563. As the Fourth Circuit has explained, “to withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         According to Iqbal and the interpretation given it by our appeals court,

[L]egal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement fail to constitute well-pled facts for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes. See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. We also decline to consider “unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Wahi v. Charleston Area Med. Ctr., Inc., 562 F.3d 599, 615 n. 26 (4th Cir. 2009); see also Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1951-52.
Ultimately, a complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Facial plausibility is established once the factual content of a complaint “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. In other words, the complaint's factual allegations must produce an inference of liability strong enough to nudge the plaintiff's claims “‘across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Id. at 1952 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).
Satisfying this “context-specific” test does not require “detailed factual allegations.” Id. at 1949-50 (quotations omitted). The complaint must, however, plead sufficient facts to allow a court, drawing on “judicial experience and common sense, ” to infer “more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 1950. Without such “heft, ” id. at 1947, the plaintiff's claims cannot establish a valid entitlement to relief, as facts that are “merely consistent with a defendant's liability, ” id. at 1949, fail to nudge claims “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 1951.

Nemet Chevrolet, LTD v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255-56 (4th Cir. 2009). When considering a 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all of the complaint's factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. See Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep't, Inc. v. Montgomery Cnty., Md., 684 F.3d 462, 467 (4th Cir. 2012).

         III. Analysis

Section 1983 imposes liability on state actors who cause the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.” Under established precedent, these constitutional rights include a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process right against state actor conduct that deprives an individual of bodily integrity. See, e.g., Hall v. Tawney, 621 F.2d 607, 612-13 (4th Cir. 1980)). Accordingly, state actions that result in sexual abuse of children can be actionable under § 1983. See Doe v. Taylor Indep. Sch. Dist., 15 F.3d 443, 454 (5th Cir. 1994) (addressing a “student's constitutional right to bodily integrity in physical sexual abuse cases”); Stoneking v. Bradford Area Sch. Dist., 882 F.2d 720, 724-25 (3rd Cir. 1989) (recognizing ยง 1983 liability for ...

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