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Neil v. Dan Park

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 29, 2019





         This action arises out of Doneshia Neal's suicide following disciplinary proceedings resulting in suspensions and an alleged expulsion from two public high schools in Stanislaus County.[1] Neal, through her mother and successor in interest Latisha Cyprian ("Plaintiff or "Cyprian"), filed a third amended complaint ("TAC") in this action on November 6, 2017, against Fred Beyer High School ("Beyer") Principal Dan Park; Beyer Assistant Principal Nadene Galas; Beyer Campus Supervisor Gary Carvalho; Thomas Downey High School ("Downey") Principal Richard Baum; and Downey Assistant Principal Christopher Chilles. The TAC alleges a single cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of Neal's civil rights, including her right to equal protection, her right to procedural due process, and her right to substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

         Plaintiff filed three prior complaints in this action, each with varying Defendants and causes of action.[2] After multiple motions to dismiss and amendments to the complaint by Plaintiff, the Defendants that remain include Defendants Park and Galas, Principal and Vice Principal at Beyer High School; and Defendants Baum and Chilles, Principal and Vice Principal at Downey High School. See ECF Nos. 30, 39, 47 and ECF Nos. 10, 31, 40.[3] The substantive due process claim was dismissed in the Court's prior order on the motion to dismiss the TAC. ECF No. 47 at 12-15. The remaining claims under § 1983 are an equal protection claim against Galas and procedural due claims against all remaining Defendants - Park, Galas, Baum and Chilles. Id. at 7-12.

         Defendants Park, Galas, Baum, and Chilles ("Defendants") filed motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 76, 78. Defendants also concurrently filed a motion to bifurcate the trial. ECF No. 77. Plaintiff filed oppositions to each of the motions. ECF Nos. 8l-83.[4] Defendants replied. ECF Nos. 85-87. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343 and venue is proper in this court. Defendants' motions are now ripe for review and are suitable for disposition without oral argument. See Local Rule 230(g); ECF No. 91. Having carefully considered the record in this case, the parties' briefing, and the relevant law, the Court grants Defendants' motions for summary judgment on the basis that this action is barred by the statute of limitations.


         In the fall of 2014, Neal, an African-American female, was enrolled as a high school freshman at Beyer High School in Modesto, CA. TAC ¶ 20. Neal was an honor roll student and an active participant in several Beyer High School sports teams. Id. In the months before Neal's death, she was having difficulties with a student and in December 2014, a no contact contract was instituted where Neal agreed not to have any contact with the student, G.B., and was warned that she would be punished by a five-day suspension if the contract was broken. UMF 40. On January 12, 2015, Neal was involved in an altercation with G.B., the details of which are disputed. UMF 41-49. At least two other students were involved in the incident. Id. While the TAC alleged that Neal and an another African-American student were suspended while two of the Caucasian students were not, after discovery it appears that Neal, an African-American student, and one of the Caucasian students involved were all suspended after the incident. Compare TAC ¶¶ 22-24 with UMF 48.[6] G.B. advised Galas that Neal had pushed her during the altercation and Neal was given the opportunity to provide a written statement in response which Neal and Galas discussed in a conference. UMF 4l-43.[7] Plaintiff disputes that Neal ever pushed G.B. PDF 19-20. Neal was suspended for five days. UMF 46, 53. On January 21, 2015, Defendant Galas contacted Plaintiff to inform her that Neal could not return to school because Galas heard that Neal had sent a threatening text message to the Caucasian student and that she made sexually harassing statements towards the Caucasian student. UMF 59-60. Galas concluded that the text messages were an expellable offense since they occurred after the suspension. Id[8]After speaking with Park, Galas spoke with Plaintiff and offered that Neal be sent to an inferior alternative school, called Turnaround Opportunity School ("TOPS") instead of initiating expulsion proceedings. UMF 60. Plaintiff submits that Galas left a voicemail indicating that Neal could not return to Beyer. PSF 61. On January 26, 2015, Galas called Plaintiff and stated that she was aware that Neal's friend said Neal talked about killing herself in the previous week. PSF 84; PDF 66-67. Plaintiff was reluctant to withdraw Neal from Beyer but ultimately agreed to transfer her to Downey because Galas told her she would get Neal counseling at Downey. PSF 64.

         On January 27, 2015, Cyprian enrolled Neal at Downey High School and she started school the next day. UMF 66. Shortly after transferring to Downey High School, Neal was accused of videotaping and instigating a fight on February 4, 2015, somewhere near the school campus. UMF 69. Defendant Chilles met with Neal in his office about the incident and asked her to provide a statement about her version of events and showed her a copy of a video he received which he believed showed her recording and instigating the fight. UMF 72-73. Neal denied videotaping the fight. PSF 74-75. Chilles indicated that Neal was most likely going to receive a three-day suspension for videotaping the fight and could potentially get a referral to TOPS. UMF 68, 76, 77. After cursing at Chilles, Neal left campus without permission and before Chilles could complete his investigation. UMF 77. On February 5, 2015, Chilles called Plaintiff leaving a message that Neal had been suspended, that he was recommending a TOPS program, and that he needed her to come down to campus to speak with him. UMF 78-80; PSF 78. Plaintiff called Chilles back but was unable to connect with him. PSF 78.

         At some time on February 6, 2015, Neal committed suicide by consuming a toxic, lethal dose of over-the-counter antihistamine medicine. UMF 1; TAC ¶ 40.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. At summary judgment, a court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., Ml U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. See Id. at 255; see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). But if the evidence of the nonmoving party is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, Inc., Ml U.S. at 249-50. A fact is "material" if its proof or disproof is essential to an element of a plaintiffs case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, Ml U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Liberty Lobby, Inc., Ml U.S. at 248. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal citation omitted).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis for its motion, and of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery responses that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Celotex, Ml U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets its initial burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and, by its own affidavits or discovery, set forth specific facts showing that there is some genuine issue for trial in order to defeat the motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Liberty Lobby, Inc., Ml U.S. at 250.


         The remaining § 1983 claims for disposition on summary judgment are an equal protection claim against Defendant Galas and procedural due process claims against Defendants Park, Galas, Baum, and Chilles. Defendants Park, Galas, Baum and Chilles move for summary judgment arguing first that the claims are barred by statute of limitations and that the doctrine of equitable tolling does not apply.[9] Because the Court finds that the action is barred by the statute of limitations, it declines to reach any of the other arguments made in the motions.

         1. Relevant Facts For Statute of Limitations

          Neal died on February 6, 2015. UMF 1. Plaintiff filed a complaint in California Superior Court for the County of Stanislaus on September 20, 2016, against Modesto City Schools and Does 1 to 10 alleging five causes of action concerning issues surrounding Neal's death including wrongful death; her excessive discipline; the failure to follow suspension/expulsion/transfer procedure; coercion; and failure to hold state mandatory suspension/expulsion hearings pursuant to procedures. Garcia Decl. at Ex. 3. In the allegations, the state court complaint mentioned "Galace" and "Gillis" as actors who participated in the wrongdoing, presumably referencing Defendants Galas and Chilles. Id. at 47-53. On December 5, 2016, Modesto City Schools filed a demurrer to the complaint, submitting that the facts failed to constitute a cause of action against Defendant because Plaintiff failed to comply with the California Tort Claim Act's claim presentation requirements of filing a timely petition pursuant to Government Code ยง 946.6, and also failed to allege a statutory basis for liability against the school ...

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