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Ammirante v. Ohio County Board of Education

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

October 18, 2019

LINDSAY AMMIRANTE, AUTUMN TROULLOS and RACHEL MILLER, Plaintiffs,
v.
OHIO COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, JOE KOLB, Principal, in his individual and official capacities, KIMBERLY S. MILLER, Superintendent, in her individual and official capacities and RICK JONES, Assistant Superintendent, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT MILLER AND JONES' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS, GRANTING DEFENDANT OHIO COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND DENYING JOINT MOTION FOR EXTENSION OF TIME TO FILE EXPERT WITNESS INFORMATION AS MOOT

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Background

         The plaintiffs, Lindsay Ammirante (“Ammirante”), Autumn Troullos (“Troullos”), and Rachel Miller (“Miller”), filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Ohio County, West Virginia. ECF No. 1-1. The defendants, the Ohio County Board of Education (“OCBOE”), Kimberly S. Miller (“Miller”), and Rick Jones (“Jones”), removed this civil action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia on February 1, 2019. ECF No. 1. The complaint alleges that the defendants were deliberately indifferent in responding to a “sexual predator, ” defendant Joe Kolb (“Kolb”), vice principal or principal at Bridge Street Middle School, on school premises. ECF No. 1-1 at 1-5. The plaintiffs, female teachers working in that school, contend that such conduct denied them access to educational activities and employment. Id. Specifically, the plaintiffs state that one teacher had to take a leave of absence, another transferred to a different school, and one is actively seeking employment elsewhere. Id. at 5. The plaintiffs contend that: (1) defendants OCBOE, Miller, and Jones were negligent (Counts I and II); (2) defendants OCBOE, Miller, and Jones conspired to commit plaintiffs' alleged violations (Count III); (3) defendant Kolb intentionally inflicted mental, physical, and emotional distress upon plaintiffs (Count IV); (4) defendant OCBOE violated Title IX (Counts V and VI); (5) defendants OCBOE, Kolb, Miller, and Jones violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts VII and VIII); and (6) defendants OCBOE, Kolb, Miller, and Jones violated the West Virginia Human Rights Act (“WVHRA”) (Count IX). Id. at 5-26. The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 26-27. The plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief requiring defendant OCBOE to: (1) take effective steps to prevent sex-based discrimination and harassment in its education programs; (2) fully investigate conduct that may constitute sex-based harassment; (3) appropriately respond to all conduct that may constitute sex-based harassment; and (4) mitigate the effects of harassment. Id. at 27. Lastly, the plaintiffs seek statutory interest, costs, and reasonable attorneys' fees. Id. at 27.

         Defendant Kolb filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ECF No. 6. After full briefing, this Court entered a memorandum opinion and order granting defendant Kolb's motion to dismiss. ECF No. 33. The remaining defendants in this action are defendants OCBOE, Miller, and Jones. In the memorandum opinion and order as to defendant Kolb, this Court first found that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead their claims against defendant Kolb pursuant to § 1983 based on a hostile or abusive work environment, or retaliation. Id. at 9-23. Second, this Court found that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead their claims against defendant Kolb based on the WVHRA. Id. at 24-26. Third, this Court held that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead their claims against defendant Kolb for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id. at 26-28.

         On July 29, 2019, defendants Miller and Jones filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). ECF No. 35. In their memorandum in support of their motion, defendants Miller and Jones state that because this Court determined that the plaintiffs' claims against defendant Kolb must be dismissed, the same claims against them, specifically Counts VII and VIII, should be dismissed. ECF No. 36 at 3. Moreover, defendants Miller and Jones assert that the remaining claims (Counts I, II, and III) should be dismissed since the Court found that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead any claims against defendant Kolb. Id. at 6. Specifically, defendants Miller and Jones contend that since there is no underlying injury, they cannot be held liable for negligent supervision, training or investigation of that harassment (Counts I and II). Id. Similarly, defendants Miller and Jones state that since there is no underlying tort, there can be no civil conspiracy; therefore, Count III should be dismissed. Id. at 6-7. Further, defendants Miller and Jones state that Counts I, II, and III should be dismissed since they are immune from liability based on the Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act. Id. at 7-10. Lastly, defendants Miller and Jones state that they are immune from liability for all remaining causes of action since they are entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 10-11.

         On July 29, 2019, defendant OCBOE also filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. ECF No. 37. In its memorandum in support of its motion, defendant OCBOE stated that since this Court already determined that the plaintiffs' allegations are insufficient to sustain a claim for sexual harassment or retaliation against defendant Kolb, the plaintiffs' claims must be dismissed. ECF No. 38 at 2-4. With respect to the plaintiffs' claims under Title IX, more specifically Counts V and VI, defendant OCBOE asserts that since the plaintiffs' claims fail under Title VII and the WVHRA, their claims also fail under Title IX due to their failure to plead the necessary elements of a sexual harassment or retaliation claim. Id. at 4-6. Moreover, defendant OCBOE states that the plaintiffs' claims for common law negligence must be dismissed because they are duplicative of the plaintiffs' other sexual harassment claims and are thus preempted by statute. Id. at 6-7. Defendant OCBOE asserts that even if the claims are not preempted, in light of this Court's determination that defendant Kolb's actions as alleged in the complaint did not constitute sexual harassment, it is entitled to immunity under the West Virginia Governmental Tort Claims Act. Id. at 8. Also, defendant OCBOE asserts that because the OCBOE did not breach any duty owed to them, it cannot be held liable for negligence. Id. at 8-9. Lastly, defendant OCBOE contends that the plaintiffs' claims for conspiracy should be dismissed, because the Court has not found an underlying tort supporting that claim. Id. at 9-10.

         The plaintiffs then filed a response in opposition to the motions for judgment on the pleadings of defendant OCBOE, and defendants Miller and Jones. ECF No. 40. In their response, the plaintiffs first state that the Court should deny defendant OCBOE's motion to dismiss as to Counts I, II, and V because defendant OCBOE was negligent and deliberately indifferent to the plaintiffs' report of sexual harassment. Id. at 8-16. The plaintiffs concede that since defendant Kolb's actions as alleged in the complaint were determined by this Court not sufficiently severe or pervasive, judgment on the pleadings is warranted for the plaintiffs' claims for conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, Title IX-Retaliation, § 1983, and violations of the WVHRA. Id. at 16. The plaintiffs also indicate that they have no objection to dismissal of defendants Miller and Jones as individual defendants. Id. at 16-17.

         Defendant OCBOE then filed a reply. ECF No. 41. In its reply, defendant OCBOE contends that since the Court found that the plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged the underlying claims, the Court must find that the claims against it must be dismissed, citing Klemencic v. Ohio State Univ., 263 F.3d 504, 511 (6th Cir. 2001), and Webber v. Mefford, 43 F.3d 1340 (10th Cir. 1994). Id. at 2-4. Moreover, defendant OCBOE states that the plaintiffs have not presented any reason why the Court should revisit its rulings regarding defendant Kolb's alleged actions. Id. at 5.

         Defendants Miller and Jones also filed a reply. ECF No. 42. In their reply, the defendants indicate that the plaintiffs do not object to their dismissal as individual defendants, referencing the plaintiffs' memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss of defendants Miller and Jones. Id. at 1.

         II. Applicable Law

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings is permitted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Such a motion is intended as an avenue by which parties may dispose of a case on the basis of the underlying substantive merit of the parties' claims as they are revealed in the formal pleadings “after pleadings are closed, but early enough not to delay trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c); 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure Civil 3d § 1367 (2007). When considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c), a court should apply the same standard as when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Burbach Broadcasting Co. of Del. v. Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d I401, 405-06 (4th Cir. 2002).

         In assessing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must accept all well-pled facts contained in the complaint as true. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc, 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). However, “legal 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.” Id. (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). This Court also declines 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).

         It has often been said that the purpose of a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the formal sufficiency of the statement of the claim for relief; it is not a procedure for resolving a contest about the facts or the merits of the case. 5B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (3d ed. 1998). The Rule 12(b)(6) motion also must be distinguished from a motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, which goes to the merits of the claim and is designed to test whether there is a genuine issue of material fact. Id. For purposes of the motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and essentially the court's inquiry is directed to whether the allegations constitute a statement of a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Id. § 1357.

         A complaint should be dismissed “if it does not allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (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.'” Nemet Chevrolet, 591 F.3d at 256 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but the facts alleged must be sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Counts III, IV, VI, VII, VIII, and IX of the plaintiffs' complaint are dismissed as to all defendants, including defendant OCBOE, based on the plaintiffs' concession. All counts of the plaintiffs' complaint are dismissed as they relate to defendants Miller and Jones as individual defendants based on the plaintiffs' concession.

         The plaintiffs concede that given the Court's ruling in its memorandum opinion and order granting defendant Kolb's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 33), judgment on the pleadings is warranted for the plaintiffs' claims for conspiracy (Count III), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV), Title IX-Retaliation (Counts VI), § 1983 liability (Counts VII and VIII), and violations of the WVHRA (Count IX).[1] ECF No. 40 at 16.

         Accordingly, this Court dismisses Counts III, IV, VI, VII, VIII, and IX of the plaintiffs' complaint as to all defendants, including defendant OCBOE.

         Moreover, the plaintiffs state that they have no objection to dismissal of defendants Miller and Jones as individual parties. ECF No. 40 at 17.

         Accordingly, this Court dismisses all counts of the plaintiffs' complaint as they relate to ...


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