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Wagnon v. Rocklin Unified School District

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 21, 2019

ALICIA WAGON in her individual capacity and as conservator for SULLIVAN R. FROM, Plaintiffs,


          Troy L. Nunkgy, United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Rocklin Unified School District, Placer County Office of Education, and David Hawkins' (“Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 6.) Plaintiff Alicia Wagon (“Plaintiff”) opposes Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 9.) Defendants filed a reply. (ECF No. 10.) For the reasons below, the Court hereby DENIES Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 6.)

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[1]

         Plaintiff Alicia Wagon (“Plaintiff”) alleges that Defendant David Hawkins (“Hawkins”), a bus driver for Defendant Rocklin Unified School District (“RUSD”), subjected her son, Sullivan R. From (“S.R.F.”), to repeated verbal, physical, psychological, and emotional abuse. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 15.)

         S.R.F. is a nonverbal individual living with Cerebral Palsy. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 9.) S.R.F. resides within RUSD (ECF No. 1 at 1) and receives special education services through the Placer County Office of Education (“PCOE”) (ECF No. 1 ¶ 10). Pursuant to his Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) provided by PCOE, S.R.F. received transportation to his placement at Del Oro High School via RUSD's buses on Transportation Route 32. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 12.) School staff were required to assist S.R.F. when ambulating through use of a gait belt to ensure his safety. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 9.) On the bus, the gait belt completely harnessed S.R.F. to his bus seat so that he could not fall or otherwise get out of his seat on his own. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 9.)

         On September 28, 2016, Plaintiff was notified by S.R.F.'s teacher that S.R.F. had a bruise on his thigh. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 11.) Concerned that S.R.F.'s injury occurred while riding the bus, Plaintiff asked to review the recordings from the cameras on the bus from September 26, 27, and 28, 2016. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 14.) Upon viewing the bus recordings at the RUSD Transportation Office, Plaintiff observed several instances of disturbing behavior by Hawkins. (See ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 14, 15.)

         Plaintiff observed Hawkins yell at close range in S.R.F.'s face, make derogatory comments to others about S.R.F. while in his presence, talk about S.R.F. while in his presence as if “he was not a sensitive and perceptive human being”, use inappropriate, degrading, and intimidating voice tones, facial expressions, body language, and gestures toward S.R.F., and, make statements such as: “oh he's a pisser this morning;” “you almost look like you know what you're doing;” “we're not going to be friends anymore if you keep being bad;” “he's a brat;” “quit being such a brat, you know better;” “you're just being a brat;” and “take him please!” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 17.) Plaintiff alleges that Hawkins directed disability-related epithets and derogatory comments toward S.R.F. when he urinated while on the bus, or engaged in repetitive movements or in touching, lifting, or moving items as a result of his disability. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 48.)

         Additionally, Plaintiff observed in the recordings an instance of Hawkins forcefully shoving S.R.F. back in his seat when S.R.F. leaned forward, even though he was fully harnessed and incapable of getting out of his seat. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 18.) Plaintiff also observed an incident where Hawkins got off the bus during a stop and yelled “bye!” to his bus full of students with severe cognitive and physical disabilities, leaving them alone and unsupervised on the bus for several minutes. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 19.) Plaintiff further alleges that Hawkins played the radio at an excessively loud volume, causing students with various disabilities, like S.R.F., to become anxious and agitated, and experience sensory overload. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 20.)

         S.R.F., as a nonverbal dependent adult with significant disabilities, was unable to communicate Hawkins' behavior to his mother. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 22.) S.R.F. exhibited changes in behavior during this time, regressing in several areas that he had previously made progress or mastered. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 24.) S.R.F. also showed signs of distress at the end of his school day as the time approached to load the bus; S.R.F.'s teacher documented these signs and communicated them to Plaintiff. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 24.)

         On information and belief, Plaintiff alleges PCOE and RUSD administrators had access to the bus videos and audio recordings of RUSD Transportation Route 32, and failed to monitor Hawkins and/or prevent his further abuse of S.R.F. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 25.) On information and belief, Plaintiff alleges that RUSD is responsible for Hawkins' actions, as they were taken during the course and scope of his employment with RUSD. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 26.)

         On August 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit against RUSD, PCOE, Hawkins, and Does 1-30 (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging the following causes of action: (1) Violation of Fourth Amendment Rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Hawkins; (2) Discrimination in Violation of Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) against RUSD and PCOE; (3) Violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 against RUSD and PCOE; (4) Battery against Hawkins; (5) Negligence against Hawkins and RUSD; (6) Negligent Supervision against RUSD; (7) Violation of Unruh Civil Rights Act against RUSD; and (8) Violation of California Civil Code §52.1 against Hawkins and RUSD. (See ECF No. 1.) Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff's first, second, third, seventh and eighth claims. (See ECF No. 6.)

         II. Standard of Law

          A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a pleading contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). Under notice pleading in federal court, the complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim . . . is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations omitted). “This simplified notice pleading standard relies on liberal discovery rules and summary judgment motions to define disputed facts and issues and to dispose of unmeritorious claims.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002).

         On a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). A court is bound to give plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the “well-pleaded” allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int'l Ass'n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963). A plaintiff need not allege “‘specific facts' beyond those necessary to state his claim and the grounds showing entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).

         Nevertheless, a court “need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.” United States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986). While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading is insufficient if it offers mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). Moreover, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff “can prove facts that it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged.” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

         Ultimately, a court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff has alleged “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 697 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Only where a plaintiff has failed to “nudge[] [his or her] claims . . . across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” is the complaint properly dismissed. Id. at 680. While the plausibility requirement is not akin to a probability requirement, it demands more than “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678. This ...

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