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T.B. v. Chico Unified School District

August 13, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. United States District Judge


Defendants move under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6) for dismissal of certain claims from Plaintiff's complaint. The complaint alleges state and federal claims arising from several encounters between Plaintiff, who has a developmental disorder, and employees of Defendant Chico Unified School District ("the District") including Defendants Chet Francisco ("Francisco"), Maureen Dietz ("Dietz"), Dale Durniak ("Durniak"), Dave Scott ("Scott"), Cheri McGuire ("McGuire"), Eric Snedeker ("Snedeker"), and Joyce Burdette ("Burdette") (collectively, the "individual Defendants"). Specifically, Defendants seek dismissal of: Plaintiff's substantive due process claim; Plaintiff's state law claims against the District; Plaintiff's state law claims against Defendants Francisco, Scott, Snedeker and Burdette; and Plaintiff's negligent infliction of emotional distress ("NIED") claim. The District also moves to strike Plaintiff's request for punitive damages against it. Plaintiff opposes the motions.


Plaintiff was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, which makes him "highly sensitive to sounds and touch," and causes him to "misread social cues and ha[ve] [] difficulties coping with transitions." (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 22-23.) In the Fall of 2005, Plaintiff was enrolled in a "full inclusion" first grade class at a school within the District. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 25.)

On October 13, 2005, Plaintiff refused to return a paint brush to a teacher at the end of class time. (Id. ¶ 31.) The teacher forcibly took the paint brush away, which caused Plaintiff to become upset and push his desk. (Id. ¶ 32.) In response, District employees "physically seized [Plaintiff] by grabbing [him] by the shoulders" and "shoved [him] into the hallway." (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.) While in the hallway, Defendant McGuire, the school principal, "pinn[ed] [Plaintiff] to the wall by forcing him into a seated position while pushing him down." (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff freed himself, but "[f]urther down the hallway he was forcefully seized again . . . ." (Id. ¶ 37.) District employees "seized [Plaintiff] by grabbing [his] wrists and pulling [his] arms over his head." (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff alleges that at this point, Defendant Dietz, a District employee, "seized [Plaintiff] by grabbing [him] by his shirt and dragged him into a small room against his will." (Id. ¶ 40.) Dietz then "used her full body weight to immobilize [Plaintiff]." (Id. ¶ 41.) The school called Plaintiff's mother, and when she arrived, she "witnessed [] Deitz pinning [Plaintiff] between a table and chair with her full body weight, while choking [Plaintiff] on the shoulders and neck." (Id. ¶ 43.)

Plaintiff alleges that District employees also seized him by "grabbing" him and "holding" him on January 31, 2006, February 1, 2006 and February 28, 2006. (Id. ¶¶ 59-62.)

Plaintiff also alleges that on May 19, 2006, a District employee "seized [Plaintiff] by grabbing his wrist and held him inappropriately." (Id. ¶ 63.) Following this incident, the District employee "informed other teachers of [Plaintiff's] disabilities so the other teachers would keep children away from [Plaintiff,] depriving him of the right to fully benefit from his education." (Id. ¶ 64.)

Plaintiff further alleges that on June 19, 2006, while at school, he "became upset and asked to call [his] mother. However, [a District employee] . . . did not allow [Plaintiff] to call his mother." (Id. ¶¶ 65-66.) When Plaintiff left the classroom in an attempt to find his mother, Defendant Durniak "aggressively seized [Plaintiff] by grabbing his wrist . . . then hit [Plaintiff] on the nose." (Id. ¶¶ 67-68.)

Plaintiff alleges substantive due process, equal protection, Fourth Amendment, and California Education Code section 49001 claims against the individual Defendants. Plaintiff also alleges Rehabilitation Act, Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and California Civil Code section 51(b) claims against the District. Finally, Plaintiff alleges state law claims for assault, battery, negligence, false imprisonment, NIED, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against all Defendants.


I. Substantive Due Process Claim

The individual Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff's substantive due process claim, arguing that Plaintiff's allegations of excessive force should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment, rather than the substantive due process theory of liability. (Mot. at 5:9-19 (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1998)).)

"'[E]xcess force by a [school official] against a student violate[s] the student's constitutional rights.'" Preschooler II v. Clark County Sch. Bd. of Trustees, 479 F.3d 1175, 1180 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting P.B. v. Koch, 96 F.3d 1298, 1302-03 (9th Cir. 1996)). Under Graham v. Connor, courts must "analyze claims of excessive force under a more specific constitutional provision, if one applies, rather than the general notion of substantive due process." Doe ex rel. Doe v. State of Haw. Dep't of Educ., 334 F.3d 906, 908 (9th Cir. 2003). "The consequences of a teacher's force against a student at school are generally analyzed under . . . the Fourth Amendment, although historically courts applied substantive due process analysis . . . ." Preschooler II, 479 F.3d at 1180.

Plaintiff counters that the Doe court held "it may be possible for a school official to use excessive force against a student without seizing or searching the student," and under those circumstances, the claim "might be more appropriately analyzed under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment than under the Fourth Amendment." Doe, 334 F.3d at 909. Plaintiff argues he "asserts many injurious facts which are not exclusive to search and seizure" and therefore are properly analyzed as a substantive due process claim. (Opp'n at 3:20-21.) Plaintiff alleges he was shoved, dragged, choked, hit, restrained, seized, grabbed, pinned down, pushed and held. (See Compl. ΒΆΒΆ 32-68.) But the individual Defendants have shown that these allegations are properly analyzed as seizures under the Fourth Amendment, not as substantive due process violations. See Preschooler II, 479 F.3d at ...

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