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M.T. v. Benton-Carrol-Salem Local School Distict

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division

May 16, 2017

M.T., by and through his parents, Plaintiff
Benton-Carrol-Salem Local School District, et al., Defendants


          Jeffrey J. Helmick United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Defendants collectively move for judgment on the pleadings on all counts asserted against them. (Doc. No. 12). Plaintiff does not oppose the motion. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. Background

         The case before me arises out of an incident involving a bi-racial student at Defendant Benton-Carrol-Salem Local School District, a predominantly Caucasian school. (Doc. No. 1 at 3). Specifically, Plaintiff claims that his teacher, Defendant Russ Exlos-Raber, referred to him as “a brown dude” to the class on a day Plaintiff was absent. Id. at 2. Though the exact wording is contested, Exlos-Raber admitted to referring to Plaintiff as “brown skinned” in an email to Defendants Guy Parmigian and Laramie Spurlock, superintendent and principal of the school, respectively. Id. at 2-3. Upon Plaintiff's return to school, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Exlos-Raber again singled Plaintiff out, asking him to hold out his hands and say what color they were. Id. At 3. Following the course of events, Plaintiff was taken out of the choir class and placed in a class he had already taken. Id.

         III. Standard

         The same pleading requirements apply to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and a motion for judgment under the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). Sensations, Inc. v. City of Grand Rapids, 526 F.3d 291, 295 (6th Cir. 2008). A complaint must state sufficient facts to, when accepted as true, state a claim that is not merely speculative but “plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v.Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556-57, 570 (2007)) (explaining that the plausibility standard “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully” and requires the complaint to allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct); see also Albrecht v. Treon, 617 F.3d 890, 893 (6th Cir. 2010). Conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual allegations will not suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “For purposes of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, all well-pleaded material allegations of the pleadings of the opposing party must be taken as true, and the motion may be granted only if the moving party is nevertheless clearly entitled to judgment.” S. Ohio Bank v. Merril Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 479 F.2d 478, 480 (6th Cir. 1973).

         IV. Discussion

         Plaintiff asserted claims of (1) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights violations; (2) Title VI Civil Rights Act of 1964 violations; (3) 14th Amendment equal protection violations; and (4) negligent hiring, training, and supervision of employees. (Doc. No. 1). Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings for all claims. (Doc. No. 12, 13). A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Violation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Rights “To succeed on [a] § 1983 claim, [the plaintiff] must prove: (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or federal laws; and (2) that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Toth v. City of Toledo, 480 F. App'x 827, 831-32 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981) (overruled on other grounds by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986)). By the language of the complaint, Plaintiff appears to be asserting deprivation of his rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

         The Due Process Clause is not confined by specific bounds, but is instead a more fluid concept. Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165, 170-72 (1952). Because of the vague nature, the Court has generally been reluctant to expand the bounds of substantive due process protection, reserving it to “matters relating to marriage, family, procreation, and the right to bodily integrity.” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 272 (1994); see also Collins v. City of Harker Heights, Tex., 503 U.S. 115, 125 (1992) (“The doctrine of judicial self-restraint requires us to exercise the utmost care whenever we are asked to break new ground in this field.”); Rochin, 342 U.S. at 172 (holding due process violations “do more than offend some fastidious squeamishness or private sentimentalism” but instead must “shock[ ] the conscience.”). When evaluating a claim of this nature, “[i]t is important…to focus on the allegations in the complaint to determine how petitioner describes the constitutional right at stake and what the [public official] allegedly did to deprive [the petitioner] of that right.” Collins, 503 U.S. at 125.

         Here, Plaintiff alleges that his life and liberty were deprived, but has failed to state any facts to support this allegation. While Exlos-Raber's comments were racially insensitive, they do not shock the conscience. Plaintiff was not subjected to continual racial harassment and was removed from the class soon after the incident. Though Plaintiff did not take choir after this time, he was not deprived of his right to attend school nor does he allege any other ramifications suffered as a result of the incident. Since Plaintiff has not stated any facts to state how any Defendant deprived him of his due process rights, the § 1983 Due Process Clause claim must fail as a matter of law.

         The remaining constitutional right asserted by Plaintiff falls under the Fourteenth Amendment's right to equal protection. “The Equal Protection Clause prevents states from making distinctions that (1) burden a fundamental right; (2) target a suspect class; or (3) intentionally treat one individual differently from others similarly situated without any rational basis.” Johnson v. Bredesen, 624 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2010). “[A] person bringing an action under the Equal Protection Clause must show intentional discrimination against him because of his membership in a particular class, not merely that he was treated unfairly as an individual.” Bass v. Robinson, 167 F.3d 1041, 1050 (6th Cir. 1999). Because of the integrated nature of the § 1983 claim based on the Equal Protection Clause and independent claim on the same, Defendants' respective liability for both is discussed in the subsections below.

         1. Defendant Benton-Carrol-Salem Local School District

         The doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to § 1983 actions against municipalities. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). A municipality is liable only when the tortfeasor has acted “pursuant to official municipal policy” that acted as the “moving force of the constitutional violation.” Id. at 691, 695. The unconstitutional policy need not be written, but may be “practices of state officials…so permanent and well settled as to constitute a ‘custom or usage' with the force of law.” Id. ...

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