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JG v. Card

September 16, 2009

JG & PG ON BEHALF OF THEIR MINOR CHILD, JGIII AND ON THEIR OWN BEHALVES, LA & GA ON BEHALF OF THEIR MINOR CHILD, FA, AND ON THEIR OWN BEHALVES, MS AND RS, ON THEIR OWN BEHAVES AND ON BEHALF OF THEIR MINOR CHILD, MAS, TS AND NS ON BEHALF OF THEIR MINOR CHILD VS AND ON THEIR OWN BEHALVES, LB ON BEHALF OF HIS MINOR CHILD RB AND ON HIS OWN BEHALF, TC AND TC, ON BEHALF OF THEIR MINOR SON, NC, AND ON THEIR OWN BEHALVES, RB ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR SON, NB AND ON HER OWN BEHALF. PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TAMMY CARD, JOYCE SPIEGEL, LORRIE REYNOLDS, JOSEPH LEVY, SHERRY STREITAS, CAROL DEALLEAUME, DR. ROBERT J. REIDY, MAHOPAC CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, parents of students at Mahopac Falls Elementary School ("Plaintiff-Parents"), bring this action on behalf of themselves and on behalf of their minor children, the students("Plaintiff-Children"), against two sets of defendants:

(1) Defendants Tammy Card, Joyce Spiegel, Lorrie Reynolds, Joseph Levy, Sherry Streitas, all of whom were teachers or teachers' aides at Mahopac Falls Elementary School (collectively, "Teacher-Defendants"); and (2) Defendants Carol DeAlleaume, Principal of Mahopac Falls Elementary School; Dr. Robert J. Reidy, the Superintendent of Mahopac Central School District; and the Mahopac Central School District (collectively, "Supervisor-Defendants").

Supervisor-Defendants move to dismiss all claims against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Plaintiffs allege that Supervisor-Defendants violated Plaintiff-Children's and Plaintiff-Parents' substantive due process rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983 Claim"). Plaintiffs have also asserted state law claims against Supervisor-Defendants for:

(1) negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress; (2) vicarious liability; and (3) unlawful discrimination in violation of section 296 of the New York Human Rights Law ("NYHLR § 296").*fn1 All claims are asserted on behalf of both Plaintiff-Parents and Plaintiff-Children.

For the reasons stated below, the Court (1) GRANTS Superintendent Reidy's and the Mahopac Falls School District's motion to dismiss all claims against them; (2) GRANTS Principal DeAlleaume's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims for vicarious liability and violation of NYHRL § 296, to dismiss Plaintiff-Parents' claims for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and for negligent infliction of emotional distress, and to dismiss all Plaintiff-Children's claims for negligence, except the claim of Plaintiff "FA"*fn2 ; (3) DENIES Principal Dealleaume's motion to dismiss Plaintiff-Children's claims for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and to dismiss Plaintiff FA's claim for negligence.

I. Background

A. Parties

1. Plaintiffs

Plaintiff-Parents have brought this action on behalf of themselves and on behalf of Plaintiff-Children. There are thus two sets of plaintiffs in this action: (1) Plaintiff-Parents, and (2) Plaintiff-Children (collectively, "Plaintiffs"). Plaintiff-Children are all school children between the ages of 5 and 7, who have been diagnosed with Autism and other developmental disorders. Each Plaintiff-Child was enrolled in the Bridge Program at Mahopac Falls Elementary School for some period during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years.

Plaintiff-Parents are the parents of Plaintiff-Children.

2. Defendants

a. Supervisor-Defendants

Mahopac Falls Elementary School is located in Mahopac Central School District ("Defendant-District"). Superintendent Reidy ("Defendant-Superintendent") was Superintendent of Defendant-District during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years. Principal DeAlleaume ("Defendant-Principal") was the interim principal of the Mahopac Falls Elementary School during the second semester of the 2006-07 school year. The Supervisor-Defendants were responsible for oversight and supervision of the School and its teachers and students. (Compl. ¶¶ 5, 8, 9.)

b. Teacher-Defendants

Defendant Tammy Card was the lead teacher assigned to the Bridge Program for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years. Defendants Lorrie Reynolds, Joseph Levy, and Sherry Streitas joined the Bridge Program as teachers' aides in the fall of 2006. Defendant Joyce Spiegel became the Bridge Program's speech pathologist in September 2005. Teacher-Defendants were directly responsible for educating and supervising Plaintiff-Children. Teacher-Defendants were removed from the Bridge Program in March 2007. (Compl. ¶¶ 65-66.)

B. Plaintiffs' Allegations

1. Teacher-Defendants' alleged abuse of Plaintiff- Children

Plaintiffs' claims against Supervisor-Defendants arise out of allegations that Teacher-Defendants physically and emotionally abused Plaintiff-Children while they were enrolled in the Bridge Program. The Complaint contains numerous allegations of abuse, including allegations that Teacher-Defendants: (1) locked Plaintiff-Children in closets or bathrooms for extended periods of time (Compl. ¶¶ 10, 127, 148); (2) used physical force to restrain and sometimes force feed Plaintiff-Children, causing vomiting and injury (Compl. ¶¶ 11, 68, 159-60); (3) engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct in front of Plaintiff-Children, including grabbing each others' breasts and bottoms, massaging each other, exposing themselves to the students, and carrying on sexually explicit conversations (Compl. ¶ 10); (4) photographed Plaintiff-Children's private parts (Compl. ¶ 130); (5) taunted Plaintiff-Children and called them degrading names, including "Sloth," "Drool Machine," and "Satan's Child" (Compl. ¶ 10); and (6) refused to change certain Plaintiff-Children's diapers (Compl. ¶ 124).

Plaintiffs claim that the alleged abuse severely traumatized Plaintiff-Children. Plaintiffs allege that during their time in the Bridge Program, Plaintiff-Children became more aggressive; engaged in extremely sexualized behavior; developed fears of going to school, using the bathroom, or being left alone; and regressed in their language abilities and life-skill development.

(Compl. ¶¶ 28, 31, 33-35, 37, 45(a), 66, 84-85, 90-91.)*fn3

Psychologists who examined several Plaintiff-Children noted that they exhibited aberrant behavior consistent with physical and emotional abuse; one Plaintiff-Child was even diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Compl. ¶¶ 38, 39, 45, 75-77, 107, 152-54.)

2. Defendant-Supervisors'alleged role in abuse of

Plaintiff-Children

According to the Complaint, Defendant-Superintendent Reidy assigned Card to lead the Bridge Program, and Reidy was responsible for hiring, training, supervising, and disciplining staff. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 9.)

Defendant-Principal was allegedly responsible for the dayto-day supervision of Teacher-Defendants. (Compl. ¶ 5.)

Plaintiffs allege that the abuse of Plaintiff-Children began during the 2005-06 school year and continued during the following year. Plaintiffs claim that Supervisor-Defendants failed to adequately train and supervise Teacher-Defendants, thereby creating conditions for abuse. (Compl. ¶¶ 197, 200.)

On March 23, 2007, Defendant-Principal and Defendant-Superintendent held a meeting with Plaintiff-Parents. Plaintiffs allege that at this meeting Defendant-Superintendent informed Plaintiff-Parents that allegations had been made against teachers in the Bridge Program, and that Supervisor-Defendants were investigating the allegations, but refused to provide details about either the allegations or the investigation. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-14.)

According to the Complaint, sometime in March 2007, Teacher-Defendants were removed from the Bridge Program and new staff was assigned. (Compl. ¶¶ 65-66.)

On March 29, 2007, Defendant-Principal and Defendant-Superintendent held a second meeting with Plaintiff-Parents, at which Defendant-Superintendent allegedly told Plaintiff-Parents that certain children "had been involved" in the allegations made against Teacher-Defendants, but again refused to provide details. (Compl. ¶ 15.)

Beginning in late March, some Plaintiff-Parents received letters or reports from Supervisor-Defendants and investigators, regarding abuses that Teacher-Defendants had allegedly perpetrated against Plaintiff-Children. (Compl. ¶¶ 59, 68, 124, 189.) In early May, Teacher-Defendants were arrested for child endangerment. (Compl. ¶ 17.)

The Complaint alleges that two aides in the Bridge Program reported Teacher-Defendants' conduct to Defendant-Principal "well before" she and Defendant-Superintendent began investigating the Program, but that Defendant-Principal took no action at that time. (Compl. ¶¶ 188-89.) Plaintiffs also allege that one of the aides reported "misconduct" in the Bridge Program to "school administrators" at least a month before the March meetings. (Compl. ¶ 12.)

II. Procedural Posture

On June 24, 2008, Plaintiff-Parents filed this action, bringing, on behalf of Plaintiff-Children and Plaintiff-Parents, claims against Supervisor-Defendants for: (1) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (2) negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress, (3) vicarious liability for Teacher-Defendants' conduct, and (4) violation of NYHRL § 296.

Because Plaintiff-Parents have brought this action on their own behalf and on behalf of Plaintiff-Children, the court considers two sets of claims: (1) claims for violation of Plaintiff-Children's rights, and (2) claims for violation of Plaintiff-Parents' rights. Plaintiff-Children are minors and therefore cannot bring a lawsuit on their own behalf in federal court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(c). Because Plaintiff-Parents are the natural guardians of Plaintiff-Children, however, they can bring claims on behalf of Plaintiff-Children, asserting violations of Plaintiff-Children's rights. See id. Plaintiff-Parents can also bring claims on their own behalf, alleging violations of their own rights. See id. Plaintiff-Children's and Plaintiff-Parents' rights under federal and state law may differ. It is thus possible for one set of Plaintiffs to state a claim even if the other set of Plaintiffs has not stated a claim.

Supervisor-Defendants have moved to dismiss all Plaintiffs' claims under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

For the reasons stated below, the Court decides Supervisor-Defendants' motions as follows:

* Plaintiffs' § 1983 Claims: The Court (1) GRANTS

Supervisor-Defendants motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims; (2) GRANTS Defendant-District's and Defendant-Superintendent's motions to dismiss Plaintiff-Children's claim; and (3) DENIES Defendant-Principal's motion to dismiss Plaintiff-Children's claim.

* Negligence and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress: The Court (1) GRANTS Defendant-District's and Defendant-Superintendent's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims; (2) GRANTS Plaintiff-Principal's motion to dismiss Plaintiff-Parents' claims;(3) DENIES Plaintiff-Principal's motion to dismiss Plaintiff-Children's claim for ...


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