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Brown v. Elk Grove Unified School District

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 20, 2018

ISAIAH BROWN, Plaintiff,


         Plaintiff, a recent high school graduate, sues Elk Grove School District for denying him access to play on several Varsity basketball teams because of his behavioral disability. The District moves to dismiss the first amended complaint, arguing plaintiff cannot show discriminatory animus nor show he was otherwise qualified for these high-level, selective teams. Mot., ECF No. 9; District Mem., ECF No. 9-1. Alternatively, the District moves to strike certain allegations as irrelevant. Id. Plaintiff opposes. ECF No. 17. The court heard the matter on November 3, 2017. ECF No. 21. As explained below, the court DENIES the District's motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Isaiah Brown, who had previously played on Franklin High School's traveling basketball teams, was praised as one of the school's best Junior Varsity basketball players. First Am. Compl. (“FAC”), ECF No. 7, ¶¶ 5, 7. Yet he was the only Junior Varsity player not invited to the school's summer 2014 basketball program, an unofficial prerequisite to joining the Varsity team. Id. ¶ 9. Soon afterwards, the Varsity coach denied plaintiff a spot on the team's roster. Id. Although the coach claimed he cut plaintiff for lacking “defensive awareness, ” plaintiff alleges this reason was pretext, noting the coach told others he was “not going to deal” with plaintiff because “all he does is get upset” and “emotional” so he would not be a good fit. Id.

         Plaintiff's volatility derives from his “emotional disturbance” disability, for which he received special education services under an Individual Educational Program (“IEP”). Id. ¶ 8 (listing disability's manifestations as including emotional outbursts, anger, defiance, yelling and swearing). In November 2014, one month after the Varsity coach cut plaintiff, plaintiff's mother complained to the District that the exclusion was discriminatory. Id. ¶ 10. In December 2014, the District denied her complaint. Id.

         Determined to play Varsity basketball, plaintiff transferred within the District to Consumnes Oaks High School for his senior year, 2015 to 2016. Id. ¶¶ 5, 11. He was a starter in that school's 2015 summer league, a good indicator he would play Varsity. Id. ¶ 11. The Varsity team's assistant coach initially praised plaintiff as a “very strong” player who would “make a big impact.” Id. Yet, after tryouts, plaintiff was the only consistent summer league player who did not make the Varsity team. Id. ¶ 13. The head coach told plaintiff, “I'm not sure you're going to fit in my roster, ” but not “because of your talent[, ]” it is because “you're just a player with a lot of energy and [you] get very emotional.” Id. ¶¶ 13-14. Soon after, one of plaintiff's former coaches e-mailed the head coach warning him plaintiff was qualified and should not be excluded because of his disability. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff's mother filed a second discrimination complaint and requested an intra-District school transfer. Id. ¶ 17.

         Plaintiff immediately transferred to Pleasant Grove High School. Id. ¶¶ 5, 18. The District's athletic director said plaintiff would be “allowed to try-out for the varsity basketball team at his new school.” Id. ¶ 17. In December 2015, even though the Varsity team needed qualified players and promoted Junior Varsity players to meet the team's needs, plaintiff was not allowed to try out. Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff alleges “on information and belief” the school's Varsity coach was told plaintiff had a “bad attitude” and would be “trouble.” Id.

         These multiple transfers and rejections affected plaintiff's academic performance and emotional health. Id. ¶ 20. For instance, in a January 2016 IEP team meeting, plaintiff's mother explained the importance of basketball to plaintiff's academic progress, offering documentation. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. The IEP team agreed with the correlation, but deemed basketball an “extracurricular” activity; the District ignored plaintiff's repeated requests to practice with the team. Id. ¶¶ 21-22. Although plaintiff had previously received an academic scholarship to play college basketball in Wyoming, it was rescinded for his lack of Varsity experience. Id. ¶ 25. He now attends Sacramento City College without a basketball scholarship and as a “red-shirt freshman.” Id. ¶ 26.

         Plaintiff brings three claims against the District: (1) Disability discrimination under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (2) disability discrimination under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; and (3) failure to implement § 504's implementing regulations. See generally FAC. Plaintiff initially brought two negligence claims as well, but has since dismissed them. See Stipulation, ECF No. 8.


         The District moves to dismiss all three operative claims, arguing it did not exclude plaintiff because of his disability; and that he simply was not Varsity material given his emotional state. See District Mem. at 15-16. The District explains plaintiff was given an equal opportunity to participate on a Varsity basketball team, but when shaping their teams the coaches could not ignore his blatant behavioral issues. Id. As explained below, plaintiff has alleged enough to withstand dismissal at this stage of litigation.

         A. Legal Standard

         A party may move to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The court may grant the motion only if the complaint lacks a “cognizable legal theory” or if its factual allegations do not support a cognizable legal theory. Hartmann v. Cal. Dep't of Corr. & Rehab., 707 F.3d 1114, 1122 (9th Cir. 2013). A complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), though it need not include “detailed factual allegations, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). But “sufficient factual matter” must make the claim at least plausible. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Conclusory or formulaic recitations of elements do not alone suffice. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In a Rule 12(b)(6) analysis, the court must accept well-pled factual allegations as true and construe the complaint in plaintiff's favor. Id.; Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007).

         B. Claims One and Two: Disability Discrimination

         To establish a disability discrimination claim under Title II of the ADA or under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, plaintiff must allege (1) he has a qualified disability; (2) he was entitled to participate in a public entity's services, program, or activities; (3) he was excluded from such services, programs or activities; (4) either partially (under Title II) or solely (under § 504) based on his disability. Lovell v. Chandler, 303 F.3d 1039, 1052 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted) (listing Title II elements); Smith v. Barton, 914 F.2d 1330, 1338 (9th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted) (listing § 504 elements); see also Vinson v. Thomas, 288 F.3d 1145, 1152 n.7 (9th Cir. 2002) (“We examine cases construing claims under the ADA, as well as section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, because there is no significant difference in the analysis of rights and obligations created by the two Acts.”) (citation omitted). Because he seeks damages, plaintiff must also plead (5) the District's deliberate indifference, which ...

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