United States District Court, Southern District of New York
July 30, 2003
CHRISTOPHER JOHN GONZALEZ, PLAINTIFF, AGAINST JUDITH ESPARZA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A FORMER TEACHER OF THE COMPREHENSIVE MODEL SCHOOL PROJECT, MATTHEW ANGRISANI, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PRINCIPAL OF COMPREHENSIVE MODEL SCHOOL PROJECT, JOHN DOE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SUPERINTENDENT OF MANHATTAN HIGH SCHOOLS, HAROLD LEVY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS CHANCELLOR OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, AND THE CITY OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shirley Kram, Senior District Judge
OPINION & ORDER
Defendants Matthew Angrisani ("Angrisani"), Harold Levy ("Levy"), the Board of Education of the City of New York (the "Board," and together with Angrisani and Levy, the "Board Defendants"), and the City of New York (the "City"), jointly move for dismissal of this action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted.
Plaintiff Christopher John Gonzalez brings this action against Judith Esparza ("Esparza"), Angrisani, Levy,*fn1 the Board, and the City arising out of his sexual relationship with Esparza while he was a student at the Comprehensive Model School Project ("CMSP")
Plaintiff, now over the age of 18, was a student at CMSP from September 1995 through his graduation from high school in June 2001. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 10. In or about May 1999, while plaintiff was a high school sophomore, he met Esparza, then a teacher at CMSP. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 13. Plaintiff and Esparza began having contact of a sexual nature in June 1999, both on and off school grounds. Compl. ¶¶ 14-15, 18. During the summer of 1999, plaintiff and Esparza saw each socially on approximately three occasions, and on each occasion, they had contact of a sexual nature. Compl. ¶¶ 19-22. Plaintiff discontinued his relationship with Esparza shortly thereafter. Compl. ¶ 23.
Plaintiff and Esparza again had contact of a sexual nature in October 1999, after he sought her help with a school project. Compl. ¶ 24. Plaintiff asserts that Esparza again contacted plaintiff and expressed a desire to resume their relationship in or about December 1999. Compl. ¶ 25. During the Spring 2000 school term, Esparza accused plaintiff of misconduct in connection with his extra-curricular school activities, and in response, plaintiff cursed at Esparza. Compl. ¶ 27. Plaintiff was then summoned to the Assistant Principal's office and questioned about the incident. Compl. ¶ 28. As a result, plaintiff was removed from his position on the Committee on Student Activities. Id.
On June 6, 2001, plaintiff was summoned to Principal Angrisani's office and was questioned regarding the nature of his relationship with Esparza. Compl. ¶ 31. Plaintiff admitted to having such a relationship, and the next day, was contacted by detectives from the New York City Police Department and representatives from the New York County District Attorney's Office. Compl. ¶¶ 31-32. Esparza was subsequently charged with, among other things, rape, third degree, due to her sexual contact with plaintiff. Compl. ¶ 32.
A. STANDARD OF REVIEW
On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept as true the factual allegations contained in the complaint, and view the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Bolt Elec, Inc. v. City of N.Y., 53 F.3d 465, 469 (2d Cir. 1995); see also Walker v. City of N.Y., 974 F.2d 293, 298 (2d Cir. 1992). Dismissal is warranted only if "it appears beyond doubt that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Walker, 974 F.2d at 298 (quoting Ricciuti v. N.Y. City Transit Auth., 941 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1991)).
B. PLAINTIFF's CLAIMS AGAINST THE CITY OF NEW YORK
Plaintiff's claims against the City must be dismissed, "since the Board of Education is an entity separate from the City itself." Linder v. City of N.Y., ___ F. Supp.2d ___, No. 01 Civ. 8245, 2003 WL 21079216, *2 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 13, 2003); see also Campbell v. City of N.Y., 203 A.D.2d 504, 611 N.Y.S.2d 248, 249 (2d Dep't 1994). Therefore, the City is not liable for torts committed by the Board. Titusville Iron Co. v. City of N.Y., 207 N.Y. 203, 100 N.E. 806 (1912); see also Linder, supra.
Although plaintiff argues that recent changes in the structure of the Board and the control by the mayor's office over the position of Chancellor have blurred the division between the two entities, the Board continues "for all purposes, [to] be the government or public employer of all persons appointed or assigned by the city board or the community districts[.]" N.Y. Educ. Law. § 2590-g(2) (McKinney 2003). The Court agrees with the Corporation Counsel for the City that changes in the statutory scheme regarding the interplay between the Board and the City can be best described as "political," with the Board continuing to exist as a separate and distinct legal entity from the City. As a result, the City cannot be held liable for the alleged torts committed by the Board, and plaintiff's claims against the City are dismissed.
C. TITLE IX
Plaintiff seeks to hold the Board Defendants accountable under 20 U.S.C. § 1681 (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972) for Esparza's alleged sexual harassment while he was a student at CMSP. Plaintiff alleges that the Board Defendants failed to adequately train and supervise Esparza regarding appropriate conduct with students. Plaintiff further alleges that defendants Levy and the Board failed to conduct adequate background investigations of teachers, failed to require psychological evaluations of teaching candidates, failed to supervise and monitor probationary teachers in New York City public schools, and failed to implement policies to protect students from sexual assault by teachers even after learning of such assaults in the past. By removing him from student government activities as a result of his verbal altercation with Esparza, plaintiff also alleges that defendants Esparza and Angrisani deprived plaintiff of associational rights with other students.
Title IX prohibits, with limited exceptions inapplicable to this case, discrimination against any student based on gender in educational programs receiving federal funding. 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. Discrimination on the basis of sex occurs where a teacher sexually harasses a student. Kraft v. Yeshiva University, No. 00 Civ. 4899, 2001 WL 1191003, *5 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 5, 2001) (citing Franklin v. Gwinnett County Pub. Schs., 503 U.S. 60, 75, 112 S.Ct. 1028 (1992)).
"Title IX allows a student to assert a private cause of action against the recipient of federal funding for denial of access to an education." Kraft, 2001 WL 1191003 at *5. The recipient of federal funding may be a school district, or a school itself. See, e.g., Gebser v. Lago Vista Indep. Sch. Dist., 524 U.S. 274, 118 So. Ct. 1989 (1998); Miles v. New York Univ., 979 F. Supp. 248 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). However, "[t]he overwhelming weight of authority holds that Title IX causes of action may not be successfully asserted . . . against individual faculty members or other employees of the recipient." Kraft, 2001 WL 1191003 at *5 (citing cases). In this matter, the only defendant that is a recipient of federal funding is the Board. Thus, plaintiff's Title IX claims against individual defendants Angrisani and Levy are dismissed.
The Supreme Court has narrowly defined the circumstances under which the recipient educational body, in this case the Board of Education of the City of New York, may be liable under Title IX:
[i]n cases like this one that do not involve official
policy of the recipient entity, we hold that a damages
remedy will not lie under Title IX unless an official who
at a minimum has authority to address to alleged
discrimination and to institute corrective measures on
the recipient's behalf has actual knowledge of
discrimination in the recipient's programs and fails
adequately to respond.
Gebser, 524 U.S. at 290. "Thus, Supreme Court precedent instructs that § 1681(a) bestows upon the student who has been sexually harassed by a teacher in a federally funded educational program an implied right of action where an official of the recipient adopts a stance of knowing indifference to the misconduct." Kraft 2001 WL 1191003 at *6.
In this action, plaintiff fails to allege that any official of the Board or, at the very least, any CMSP employee notice of the harassment by Esparza. The first time plaintiff notified anyone at the school of his relationship with Esparza was on June 6, 2001, when plaintiff was questioned by Angrisani regarding rumors about plaintiff's relationship with Esparza. Compl. ¶ 32. Esparza was arrested and charged shortly thereafter. Plaintiff argues that other, unspecified incidents of harassment by teachers against students at other schools adequately placed the Board Defendants on notice of the problem and they failed to implement necessary procedures to prevent such incidents from occurring. Although "Gebser does not require notice of every alleged incident of sexual harassment," the "institution at minimum must have possessed enough knowledge of the [harassment] that it reasonably could have responded with remedial measures to address [it]." Folks v. N.Y. College of Osteopathic Medicine, 214 F. Supp.2d 273, 283 (E.D.N.Y. 2002). Plaintiff has not alleged that any school or Board official with the authority to take corrective action was actually aware of his relationship with Esparza and was deliberately indifferent to that relationship. Nor has plaintiff alleged that the Board Defendants had enough knowledge of the harassment to respond with remedial measures designed to address the problem. Further, although plaintiff notes that Esparza was engaged in sexual conduct with another student at CMSP in 1998, Compl. ¶ 36, he fails to allege that the Board Defendants had any knowledge or notice of that relationship prior to June 6, 2001. Therefore, plaintiff's Title IX claims against the Board must be dismissed.
D. SUPPLEMENTAL JURISDICTION
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (c), the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims in the amended complaint. Therefore, plaintiff's state law claims to hold the Board Defendants responsible under the doctrine of respondent superior for Esparza's alleged harassment of plaintiff are dismissed and remanded to the appropriate state court forum.
For the reasons set forth above, Defendant City of New York's motion to dismiss all claims against it is granted. Defendants Matthew Angrisani, Harold Levy, and the Board of Education of the City of New York's motions to dismiss claims based upon Title IX are also granted. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's remaining state law claims and, therefore, those claims are dismissed and remanded to the appropriate state court forum.