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Schiffbauer v. Schmidt

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 24, 2015

KATHERINE SCHIFFBAUER et al.
v.
LAWRENCE E. SCHMIDT et al

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 848

For Katherine Schiffbauer, Next Friends of K.S., Craig Schiffbauer, Next Friends of K.S., Plaintiffs, ThirdParty Plaintiffs: James Charles Strouse, LEAD ATTORNEY, Strouse Legal Services, Columbia, MD.

For Lawrence E. Schmidt, Esq., President, Board of Education for Baltimore County, S. Dallas Dance, Ph.D., Superintendent, Baltimore County Public Schools, Rebecca Rider, Ms., Principal, Chatsworth Elementary School, David Mitchell, Mr., Support Person, Chatsworth Elementary School, Trish Redding, Nurse, Chatsworth Elementary School, Shirille Jones, Teacher, Chatsworth Elementary School, Defendants, ThirdParty Defendants: Adam E Konstas, Lisa Y Settles, Pessin Katz Law, P.A., Towson, MD.

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MEMORANDUM

William M. Nickerson, Senior United States District Judge.

Before the Court is a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Board of Education of Baltimore County (the Board)[1] and the following Individual Defendants: Lawrence E. Schmidt, S. Dallas Dance, Rebecca Rider, David Mitchell, Patricia Redding,[2] and Shirelle Jones.[3] ECF No. 22. The motion is ripe. Upon review of the filings and the applicable case law, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and that the motion will be granted.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Katherine and Craig Schiffbauer, through counsel, bring this action on behalf of themselves and on behalf of their son, K.S., for whom they are his Next Friends and Guardians. K.S. is currently ten years old and has been diagnosed with, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsession Compulsive Disorder, and a mood disorder (not otherwise specified). At all times relevant, K.S. was enrolled in a special education class at Chatsworth Elementary School in Baltimore County, Maryland. Defendant Shirelle Jones, who

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is African American, was his teacher. K.S. is Caucasian and was the only Caucasian student left in the special education class after the other Caucasian student left, allegedly after being bullied by an African American student, C.G. Am. Compl. ¶ 18. It is further alleged that K.S. was also bullied by C.G. on a continuing basis but Jones was always very protective of C.G. Id. ¶ 59. Plaintiffs also aver that Jones generally treated white students differently than African American students. Id. ¶ 58.

Defendant David Mitchell was the Support Person assigned to K.S.'s classroom and is also African American. On May 23, 2014, " C.G. was again attacking K.S. on the playground" and when K.S. " sought to retaliate," he was physically restrained by Defendant Mitchell and taken to the quiet room. Id. ¶ ¶ 24-25. While the procedural rules governing the restraint of students dictate that students are not to be restrained once they are in the quiet room, Plaintiffs assert that Mitchell continued to restrain K.S. even after he was placed there. K.S. states he was " slammed into a wall, and grabbed very hard causing bruises on his arms and back." Id. ¶ 29.

After K.S. " de-escalated," the school nurse, Defendant Patricia Redding, called Mrs. Schiffbauer saying she thought it would be a good idea for her to pick up K.S. early that day because K.S. was upset, was having a hard time breathing, and had some bruising. Id. ¶ ¶ 32, 34. When Mrs. Schiffbauer came to pick up K.S., she noticed multiple bruises on K.S. and took him immediately to their physician, Dr. Peter Ferra. Dr. Ferra examined K.S., observed the bruises, and had Mrs. Schiffbauer call the Department of Social Service (DSS) to report potential abuse. A representative of DSS called Nurse Redding and she reported that the bruises were the result of a struggle restraining K.S., and not the result of abuse. DSS did no further investigation at that time, although, at some point and at the insistence of Dr. Ferra, DSS did conduct some further investigation but found no liability or cause for child abuse. Id. ¶ 57. Mrs. Schiffbauer also contacted the police but the police declined to intervene, saying that this was a school matter. At some point, Plaintiffs also contacted the school in an attempt to obtain video surveillance tapes of the May 23rd incident but they were told that none existed, although Plaintiffs allege that there are many cameras in the special education rooms.

Mr. and Mrs. Schiffbauer kept K.S. at home for the next two school days but he returned to school, with his mother, on May 29th. Mrs. Schiffbauer spoke with the school Principal, Defendant Rebecca Rider, and the Assistant Principal and pleaded that K.S. be kept away from C.G. and Mr. Mitchell. Plaintiffs assert that request was ignored and K.S. was again placed in the special education class with Defendant Jones, C.G., and Defendant Mitchell. On June 3rd, K.S. had another incident involving C.G. and K.S. was again placed in support. Plaintiffs allege that throughout the remainder of the year, K.S. was afraid of school and begged his parents not to send him back.

Plaintiffs assert that, prior to the May 23, 2014, incident, Plaintiffs did not suspect or have reason to suspect that the Board was failing to provide K.S. with a safe and fair educational opportunity. Since that time, however, they have come to believe that Defendants Jones and Mitchell abused K.S. on other occasions as well. Id. ¶ 52. Plaintiffs further assert, on information and belief, that " school officials knew or should have known that Mr. Mitchell was abusing K.S. and other children in Special Education," id. ¶ 62; that Defendants Rider, Redding, and Jones " all

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knew or should have known of Mr. Mitchell's abuse of K.S. and other children" and " should have reported Mr. Mitchell to those in authority at [the Board], the DSS, and the police, but failed to do so." Id. ¶ 63. Also on information and belief, Plaintiffs assert that K.S. and other children in Defendant Jones' classroom " were subject to a hostile educational environment based on their disability" and " to verbal and other physical abuse, mainly from C.G.," causing " intense fear and other psychological damage which continues to the present." Id. ¶ 64. They conclude that Defendants Dance,[4] Rider, Redding, Jones, Mitchell and the Board were " malicious and in reckless disregard of Plaintiff's (sic) rights." Id. ¶ 66.

On the basis of these allegations, Plaintiffs bring the following claims: Violation of Constitutional Rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Count I; Discrimination in Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Count II; Violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act), Count III; and Violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), Count IV. Defendants have moved to dismiss all claims against all Defendants.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain " sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Such determination is a " context-specific task," Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, in which the factual allegations of the complaint must be examined to assess whether they are sufficient " to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. " [A] court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff in weighing the legal sufficiency of the complaint." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). Such deference, however, is not accorded to labels and legal conclusions, formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Section 1983 Claim

Section 1983 establishes a cause of action against any " person" who, acting under color of state law, " subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to state a legally cognizable claim under Section 1983, Plaintiffs " must establish three elements: (1) the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or a federal statute; (2) by a person; (3) acting under color of state law." Jenkins v. Medford, 119 F.3d 1156, 1159-60 (4th Cir. 1997).

Defendants move to dismiss the § 1983 claim against the Board on the ground that the Board is not a " person" within the meaning of § 1983. It is well established that county school boards in Maryland are considered state agencies

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and that, as state agencies, school boards are not considered " persons" under § 1983. Mayo v. Bd. of Educ. of Prince George's Cnty.,797 F.Supp.2d 685, 689 (D. Md. 2011). In opposing the motion, Plaintiffs acknowledge that § 1983 is limited to claims against " persons," but then makes no response to Defendants' argument. See Opp'n at 9. Instead, Plaintiffs cite a largely irrelevant provision in the Maryland Code that conditionally waives the defense of sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for certain claims up to $100,000 against Maryland school boards. Id. (citing Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. ยง 5-518(c)). While that provision may waive immunity for certain claims once those claims are established ...


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