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Rosenstein v. Clark County School District

United States District Court, D. Nevada

July 2, 2014

AUDREY ROSENSTEIN, et al., Plaintiff(s),
v.
CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendant(s)

ORDER

JAMES C. MAHAN, District Judge.

Presently before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss (doc. #49). The plaintiffs filed a response (doc. #50), and defendants filed a reply (doc. #51).

I. Background

Plaintiffs are parents and bring the complaint on behalf of their child, N.R. N.R. is a minor with special educational needs who attended first grade at Steve Cozine Elementary School ("Cozine") during the period giving rise to this lawsuit. (Doc. #41 at 3). Cozine is a member institution of the Clark County School District ("CCSD"). Id.

The complaint alleges that defendants "M[axwell] and/or H[oye] intentionally grabbed and/or pinned... [N.R.], in an overly aggressive manner, resulting in physical marks and bruises upon his person...." Id. at 4. The complaint avers scenarios where the asserted act of violence could be a direct result of contact with either defendant Brittany Maxwell or with defendant Ashley Hoye, both of whom are stated in the complaint to be "special needs teacher[s]/aides[s]/assistant[s] at Cozine." Id. at 3.

The administrative defendants in this suit are Dwight Jones, Pedro Martinez, Samuel Rado, and Leigh Moser. Dwight Jones is the CCSD superintendent of schools. Id. Martinez is the deputy superintendent for the CCSD. Id. Rado is the principal of Cozine, and Moser is the assistant principal at that institution. Id. The plaintiffs also assert claims against CCSD itself. Id.

As a result of this alleged incident, the plaintiffs bring the following nine causes of action: (1) that defendants Jones, Martinez, Rado, Moser, Maxwell, and Hoye violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983, infringing upon N.R.'s civil rights; (2) that defendant CCSD also violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983, infringing upon civil rights; (3) that CCSD, Jones, Martinez, Rado, and Moser were negligent; (4) that CCSD, Jones, Martinez, Rado, and Moser were negligent in their hiring, training, and supervisory practices; (5) that Maxwell and Hoye were negligent in their care of N.R.; (6) that Maxwell assaulted and battered N.R.; (7) that Maxwell and Hoye intentionally inflicted emotional distress; (8) that Jones, Martinez, Rado, Moser, Maxwell, and Hoye are responsible for the negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (9) that CCSD is liable by theory of respondeat superior. (Doc. #41 at 2-15).

II. Legal Standard

A court may dismiss a plaintiff's complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A properly pled complaint must provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). While Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, it demands more than "labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action...." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted) (internal quotations omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted).

In Iqbal, the Supreme Court clarified the two-step approach district courts are to apply when considering motions to dismiss. First, the court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint; however, legal conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. Mere recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id. Second, the court must consider whether the factual allegations in the complaint allege a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 679. A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff's complaint alleges facts that allow the court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Id. at 678.

Where the complaint does not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has "alleged - but not shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. at 679 (internal quotations omitted). When the allegations in a complaint have not shifted from conceivable to plausible, plaintiff's claim must be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

III. Discussion

A. Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983

I. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Allegations

The first and second causes of action assert that the defendant educators, administrators, and CCSD violated Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a cause of action for the "deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of State law." Long v. Cnty. of L.A., 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006).

First, the Ninth Circuit has adopted the view "that excess force by a [school official] against a student violate[s] the student's constitutional rights." Preschooler II v. Clark Cnty. Sch. Bd. of Trs., 479 F.3d 1175, 1180 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting P.B. v. Koch, 96 F.3d 1298, 1302-03 (9th Cir. 1996)) (affirming the denial of qualified immunity for allegations of the violation of § 1983). Moreover, it is permissible for a plaintiff to allege a § 1983 claim asserting an educator's use of excessive force as violating the Fourteenth Amendment. See id. The plaintiffs have done so in paragraphs thirty-nine and fifty-five of the amended complaint. (Doc. #41 at 6, 9). Thus, the first requirement of an acceptable § 1983 claim has been established in both the first and second causes of action.

Next, "a defendant in a § 1983 suit acts under color of state law when he abuses the position given to him by the state." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 50 (1988). There is no dispute that Maxwell and Hoye were acting under color of state law in their positions as public educators. Thus, the second requirement of an acceptable § 1983 claim is met.

ii. Qualified Immunity

A government official or employee is entitled to qualified immunity against claims for "civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).

The two-part test for determining whether a government official is entitled to qualified immunity is: (1) whether the facts that a plaintiff alleges demonstrate a violation of a constitutional right; and (2) whether the right at issue was "clearly established" at the time ...


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