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Doe v. Butte Valley Unified School Dist.

August 5, 2009



Plaintiff John Doe brought this action through his guardian ad litem, Nicolasa Gonzales, because two students at Picard Day School allegedly sexually molested and harassed him. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6),*fn1 defendants Edward Traverso and Grayce Kelly now move to dismiss the civil rights claim alleged in plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint ("FAC") for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

I. Factual and Procedural Background Plaintiff is a minor and a student at Picard Day

School, which is part of the Butte Valley Unified School District ("Butte Valley"). (FAC ¶ 3.) At all times relevant to plaintiff's claims, Kelly was plaintiff's teacher at Picard Day School, and Traverso was the superintendent of Butte Valley. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) While plaintiff was attending school, two other minor students ("Moes 1 and 2") allegedly sexually molested and harassed plaintiff "over a period of weeks in February and March 2008," which included forced oral copulation and other sex acts. (Id. ¶ 7(d).)

Prior to the alleged sexual molestation and harassment of plaintiff, Moes 1 and 2 allegedly sexually molested other students on a school bus and on school property. (Id. ¶ 6.) After filing a claim with Butte Valley pursuant to the Government Tort Claims Act, plaintiff initiated this action to hold Butte Valley, Traverso, and Kelly liable for the alleged conduct of Moes 1 and 2.

Plaintiff filed his original Complaint on January 27, 2009, and amended it as a matter of course the following day. After receiving leave from the court, plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint and a Third Amended Complaint ("TAC") on January 30, 2009, and February 24, 2009, respectively. Defendants subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the TAC on March 12, 2009, which the court granted in part and denied in part.

Plaintiff filed his FAC on May 22, 2009, alleging a civil rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Traverso and Kelly, a sexual discrimination claim pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a) against Butte Valley, and a state law negligence claim against defendants Traverso and Kelly. Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendants Traverso and Kelly now move to dismiss plaintiff's § 1983 claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.*fn2

II. Discussion

On a motion to dismiss, the court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff needs to plead "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). This "plausibility standard," however, "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully," and where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57).

Although § 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights, it provides a cause of action against any person who, under color of state law, deprives an individual of federal constitutional or statutory rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989). Here, the federal rights that plaintiff seeks to vindicate stem from the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A. Due Process "The substantive component of the Due Process Clause

forbids the government from depriving a person of life, liberty, or property in such a way that... interferes with rights implicit in the concept of ordered liberty." Engquist v. Or. Dep't of Agric., 478 F.3d 985, 996 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Squaw Valley Dev. Co. v. Goldberg, 375 F.3d 936, 948 (9th Cir. 2004)). "It is well established," moreover, that substantive due process "protects a citizen's liberty interest in her own bodily security." Kennedy v. City of Ridgefield, 439 F.3d 1055, 1061 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 673-74 (1977); Wood v. Ostrander, 879 F.2d 583, 589 (9th Cir. 1989)).

In this case, defendants cite DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189 (1989), to argue that the "failure to protect an individual from harm at the hands of a private party generally does not constitute a violation of the due process clause." (Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 2:19-20.) While acknowledging DeShaney's central holding, the Ninth Circuit has also recognized that "[t]his general rule is modified by two exceptions: (1) the 'special relationship' exception; and (2) the 'danger creation' exception." L.W. v. Grubbs, 974 F.2d 119, 121 (9th Cir. 1992). The former instructs that "[a]fter the state has created a special relationship with a person, as in the case of custody or involuntary hospitalization," courts may "impose[] liability under a due process theory, premised on an abuse of that special relationship," id. (citing Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 314-325 (1982)), while the latter exception provides for liability "where state action creates or exposes an individual to a danger which he or she would not have otherwise faced." Kennedy, 439 F.3d at 1061 (citing DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 197; Wood, 879 F.2d at 589-90).

In his FAC, plaintiff alleges that "[a]t all material times... JOHN DOE[] was a student in KELLY[']s class and had a special relationship with the defendants, and each of them." (FAC ¶ 5.) Aside from this legal conclusion, the only facts supporting any "special relationship" in this case are those which indicate that defendants Kelly and Traverso were plaintiff's teacher and school-district superintendent, respectively. (See FAC ¶ 3.) Plaintiff, however, has cited no cases--and the court is aware of none--that accord any "special" status to these relationships for purposes of DeShaney's special relationship exception. In contrast, defendants have cited several cases from other circuits that expressly reject this proposition. See, e.g., Walton v. Alexander, 44 F.3d 1297, 1304-05 (5th Cir. 1995); Dorothy J. v. Little Rock Sch. Dist., 7 F.3d 729, 732 (8th Cir. 1993); D.R. by L.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Vocational Technical Sch., 972 F.2d 1364, 1371 (3d Cir. 1992). These cases focus their analysis on whether "the state, through its affirmative acts, held [the plaintiff] at [school] involuntarily," Walton, 44 F.3d at 1297, and conclude that "compulsory attendance laws [do] not liken school children to prisoners and the involuntarily committed." Middle Bucks, 972 F.2d at 1372.

In his opposition, plaintiff attempts to distinguish these cases by emphasizing that the site of his alleged molestation is a "community day school" created pursuant to California statute in order to "serve mandatory and other expelled students, students referred by a School Attendance Review Board, and other high-risk youths." (Opp'n 2:1-3) (quoting Cal. Dep't of Ed., Community Day Schools, Specifically, plaintiff asserts that, pursuant to the California statute governing community day schools, plaintiff came to attend Picard Day School through an "involuntary transfer". (Id. at 2:16-18 (quoting Cal. Educ. Code ยง 48662(a)) (emphasis added).) Plaintiff contends, ...

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