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

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

March 26, 2018

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. Background

         At the time of the incidents alleged, M.T. was a student in Defendant Russ Exlos-Raber's choir class at Oak Harbor Middle School. M.T. is a bi-racial student and alleged in his complaint that the Defendant referred to him as “a brown dude” in front of the entire class on a day M.T. was absent. Exlos-Raber also referred to M.T. as “brown skinned” in an email to the superintendent and the principal of the school. When M.T. returned to school, he alleged Exlos-Raber singled him out, asking him to hold out his hands and say what color they were. Thereafter, M.T. was taken out of choir class and placed in a different class.

         Plaintiff initiated this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his civil rights against multiple parties including Exlos-Raber. (Doc. No. 1). On May 16, 2017, I granted judgment on the pleadings on all claims for the other Defendants1 and granted judgment to Exlos-Raber on the § 1983 Due Process Clause, Title VI, and negligent hiring, training, and supervision claims. (Doc. No. 14). I denied judgment on the § 1983 equal protection claims against Exlos-Raber. (Id.)

         This matter is now before me on Defendant Russ Exlos-Raber's unopposed motion for summary judgment. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For the reasons stated below, the Defendant's motion is granted.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant demonstrates there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). All evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, White v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 533 F.3d 381, 390 (6th Cir. 2008), and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the nonmovant's favor. Rose v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 766 F.3d 532, 535 (6th Cir. 2014). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could resolve the dispute and return a verdict in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A disputed fact is material only if its resolution might affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law. Rogers v. O'Donnell, 737 F.3d 1026, 1030 (6th Cir. 2013).

         III. Discussion

         The statement of facts presented by the Defendant (Doc. No. 20-1) are supported by affidavits. As Plaintiff does not challenge Defendant's statement of facts, they are adopted and incorporated by reference for purposes of this opinion. (Id. at pp. 2-7).

         The sole remaining claims are for equal protection challenges under the 14th Amendment. Defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis that the evidence does not establish an equal protection violation. Alternatively, even if an equal protection violation was established, the Defendant states he is entitled to qualified immunity.

         The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment states that “[n]o State shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. To that end, “[t]he Equal Protection Clause requires public institutions to “treat similarly situated individuals in a similar manner.” Buchanan v. City of Bolivar, Tenn., 99 F.3d 1352, 1360 (6th Cir. 1996).

         “To establish an equal-protection violation, a plaintiff must allege that the state made a distinction which “burden[ed] a fundamental right, target[ed] a suspect class, or intentionally treat[ed] one differently from others similarly situated without any rational basis for the difference.” Doe v. Miami University, 882 F.3d 579, 595 (6th Cir. 2018). “Direct or circumstantial evidence that a student's race motivated school officials' actions may establish an Equal Protection Clause violation.” Heyne v. Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, 655 F.3d 556, 571 (6th Cir. 2011).

         In this action, the Plaintiff has not presented evidence to support his claim the Defendant acted with discriminatory intent. The Defendant has presented facts which affirm that Exlos-Raber's conduct did not intend to denigrate M.T. but rather affirm M.T.'s way of self-identification. The record reflects that Exlos-Rabler's teaching methods and philosophy celebrate diversity. Upon M.T.'s return to class, the Defendant apologized for any perceived slight. M.T. responded positively to the apology.

         In a summary judgment motion, the moving party bears the initial responsibility of “informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by demonstrating the absence of evidence supporting one or more essential elements of the non-movant's claim. Id. at 323-25. Once the movant meets this burden, the opposing party “must set forth specific facts ...

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