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Charles Patrick Pratt; and A.E.P, Through Her Parents and Next Friends v. Indian River Cent. Sch. Dist.; James Kettrick

March 28, 2011

CHARLES PATRICK PRATT; AND A.E.P, THROUGH HER PARENTS AND NEXT FRIENDS BOBBI LYNN PETRANCHUK AND TODD EDWARD PETRANCHUK, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
INDIAN RIVER CENT. SCH. DIST.; JAMES KETTRICK, SUPERINTENDENT OF INDIAN RIVER CENT. SCH. DIST.; TROY DECKER, PRINCIPAL OF INDIAN RIVER HIGH SCHOOL; JAY BROWN; JOHN DAVIS; KENDA GRAY; AMABLE TURNER; PATRICIA HENDERSON; AND BRIAN MOORE, DEFENDANTS, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AMICUS.



MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court--in this civil rights action filed by Charles Patrick Pratt and A.E.P., through her parents and next friends Bobbi Lynn Petranchuk and Todd Edward Petranchuk ("Plaintiffs") against Indian River Central School District, the Indian River Central School District Board of Education, and the eight above-captioned individual Defendants ("Defendants")--are the following two motions: (1) Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 30); and (2) Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 56). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiffs' Claims

On April 8, 2009, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in this action. (Dkt. No. 1.) On February 18, 2010, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 47.) Generally, Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint asserts the following nine civil rights claims against Defendants arising from their treatment of Plaintiff Pratt as a homosexual student at Indian River Central School:

(1) the Indian River Central School District ("the District"), the Indian River Central School District Board of Education ("the Board"), and Defendant Kettrick (in his official and individual capacities) violated 20 U.S.C. § 4071 et seq., the Equal Access Act ("EAA"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, by maintaining a limited open forum, and denying equal access to that forum on the basis of impermissible content and viewpoint based discrimination; (2) the District, the Board, and Defendant Kettrick (in his official and individual capacities) violated Plaintiff Pratt's rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; (3) the District, the Board, Defendants Kettrick and Decker (in their official and individual capacities), and Defendants Davis, Turner, Moore, and Gray (in their individual capacities) denied Plaintiff Pratt equal protection on the basis of his sexual orientation, in violation of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; (4) the District, the Board, Defendants Kettrick and Decker (in their official and individual capacities), and Defendants Davis, Turner, Moore, and Gray (in their individual capacities) denied Plaintiff Pratt equal protection on the basis of his sex, in violation of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; (5) the District and the Board discriminated against Plaintiff Pratt on the basis of sex, in violation of his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. ("Title IX"); (6) Defendants Turner, Gray, Henderson, and Davis (in their individual capacities) permitted harassment against Plaintiff Pratt based on his sexual orientation, in violation of New York Human Rights Law ("NYHRL") § 296(6); (7) Defendants Turner, Gray, Henderson, and Davis (in their individual capacities) permitted harassment against Plaintiff Pratt based on his sex, in violation of NYHRL § 296(6); (8) Defendants Turner, Gray, Henderson, and Davis (in their individual capacities) subjected Plaintiff Pratt to discrimination based on his sexual orientation, in violation of his civil rights under New York Civil Rights Law ("NYCRL") §§ 40-c and 40-d; and (9) Defendants Turner, Gray, Henderson, Moore, and Davis (in their individual capacities) subjected Plaintiff Pratt to discrimination based on his sex, in violation of his civil rights under NYCRL §§ 40-c and 40-d. (Dkt. No. 47.)

In addition, Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint asserts the following five civil rights claims against Defendants arising from their treatment of Plaintiff A.E.P. as the younger sister of Plaintiff Pratt, and a student in the District: (1) the District, the Board, Defendants Kettrick and Decker (in their official and individual capacities), and Defendant Brown (in his individual capacity) violated the EAA, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, by maintaining a limited open forum, and denying equal access to that forum on the basis of impermissible content and viewpoint based discrimination; (2) the District, the Board, Defendants Kettrick and Decker (in their official and individual capacities), and Defendant Brown (in his individual capacity) violated Plaintiff A.E.P.'s rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; (3) the District, the Board, Defendants Kettrick and Decker (in their official and individual capacities), and Defendant Brown (in his individual capacity) violated Plaintiff A.E.P.'s right to free speech under Article 1 § 8 of the New York State Constitution; (4) the District, the Board, Defendants Kettrick and Decker (in their official and individual capacities), and Defendant Brown (in his individual capacity) violated and continue to violate A.E.P.'s right to use District facilities based on perceived sexual orientation and/or antigay animus, in violation of NYHRL § 296; and (5) the District, the Board, Defendants Kettrick and Decker (in their official and individual capacities), and Defendant Brown (in his individual capacity) violated and continue to violate A.E.P.'s civil rights based on perceived sexual orientation and/or antigay animus, in violation of NYCRL § 40-c. (Dkt. No. 47.)

B. Relevant Procedural History

On June 12, 2009, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 30.) Briefing on Defendants' motion was stayed for approximately one year pending the filing, and decision on, Plaintiffs' motion for leave to file an Amended Complaint. On February 9, 2010, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion for leave to file an Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 44). On February 18, 2010, Plaintiffs filed that Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 47.)

On June 11, 2010, Defendants filed a second motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment--this one challenging any additional claims asserted by Plaintiffs in their Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 56.) On June 28, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to Defendants' motions to dismiss or, in the alternative, motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 58.) On July 13, 2010, after being granted an extension of time in which to do so, Defendants filed their reply. (Dkt. No. 62.)

On July 28, 2010, Defendants filed a motion requesting permission to amend their Answer to Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (which Answer had been filed on March 5, 2010). (Dkt. No. 64.) On August 11, 2010, Defendants submitted a stipulation, indicating that the parties agreed to permit Defendants to amend their Answer. (Dkt. No. 65.) Two days later, the United States moved for leave to participate as amicus curiae in this matter in order to address the proper legal standards for discrimination on the basis of sex under (1) Title IX, and (2) the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. On December 6, 2010, the Court issued a Decision and Order granting the United States's motion for leave to participate as amicus curiae. (Dkt. No. 72.)

C. Undisputed Material Facts

The following is a general summary of material facts that are undisputed by the parties.(Compare Dkt. No. 25, Part 18 [Defs.' Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 27, Part 6 [Plf.'s Rule 7.1 Response].)

Plaintiff Pratt was born on August 16, 1988. He attended kindergarten, primary school (grades 1-4), and middle school (grades 5-8) in the District. In the fall of 2002, he entered ninth grade at the Indian River High School ("High School"), which he attended through May 2003. The summer vacation period in the District for the summer immediately following the 2002-03 school year started immediately after the High School's graduation ceremony on June 27, 2003, and lasted until September 3, 2003. Plaintiff Pratt attended, but did not complete, summer school in the District during the 2003 summer vacation period.

In the fall of 2003, Plaintiff Pratt entered ninth grade at the High School for the second time. His last day of attending the High School during the 2003-04 school year was January 4, 2004. The summer vacation period in the District for the summer immediately following the 2003-04 school year started immediately after the High School's graduation ceremony on June 25, 2004, and lasted until September 7, 2004. Plaintiff Pratt did not attend summer school during the 2004 summer vacation period. Rather, he next attended the High School for approximately three weeks, starting in September of 2004.*fn1 After the fall of 2004, Plaintiff Pratt never returned to the District.

A "Gay Straight Alliance" ("GSA") club of the type referenced in the Amended Complaint currently exists in the High School. However, Defendants do not grant equal access and benefits to the student GSA at the High School. For example, the District and the High School still do not list the student GSA with the more than twenty other student groups on the District's main web page, although it has been more than one year since the GSA's formation.

Familiarity with the remaining undisputed material facts of this action, as well as the disputed material facts, as set forth in the parties' Rule 7.1 Statement and Rule 7.1 Response, is assumed in this Decision and Order, which (again) is intended primarily for the review of the parties. (Id.)

D. Defendants' Motions

Generally, in support of their two motions to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment, Defendants argue as follows: (1) Plaintiffs' state law claims should be dismissed because (a) Plaintiffs failed to plead facts plausibly suggesting that they complied with General Municipal Law §§ 50-e and 50-i, as well as Education Law §§ 50-e and 50-i and Education Law § 3818, all of which required that a Notice of Claim be filed, and that such Notice be pled in the Complaint, and (b) these claims are barred by the one-year statute of limitations proscribed by Education Law § 3813, as well as the one-year-and-ninety-day statute of limitations proscribed by the General Municipal Law; (2) Plaintiffs' NYHRL claims should be dismissed because a school district is not an "education corporation or association" within the contemplation of NYHRL; (3) Plaintiffs' NYCRL claims should be dismissed because Plaintiffs failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that any Defendant engaged in any act that placed any person in reasonable fear of physical injury; (4) Plaintiffs' Title IX claims should be dismissed because Plaintiffs failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that Plaintiff Pratt was (a) discriminated against because of his sex, (b) subjected to a hostile educational environment of which Defendants were made aware, or (c) treated less favorably than similarly situated individuals who did not share a protected status with him; (5) Plaintiffs' equal protection claims should be dismissed because (a) the Supreme Court does not consider classifications based on sexual orientation to be part of a suspect class, (b) Plaintiffs failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that the District enacted a classification based on sexual orientation, and (c) Plaintiffs failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting the existence of a hostile educational environment; (6) Plaintiffs' claims against the individual Defendants should alternatively be dismissed because these Defendants are immune from liability as a matter of law by the doctrine of qualified immunity; (7) Plaintiffs' claims against the Board should be dismissed on the alternative ground that, where a person is seeking damages against a school district in New York State, the school district, rather than the board of education of that district, is the properly designated party; (8) Plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages against the District should be dismissed because punitive damages may not be imposed against a school district; and (9) Plaintiffs' claims under Article 1 § 8 of the New York State Constitution, the First Amendment and EAA should be dismissed because a GSA Club of the type referenced in the Amended Complaint is currently operating in the District, and therefore these claims are moot, and (10) Plaintiffs' First Amendment claim should be dismissed for the alternative reason that Plaintiffs have failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting a claim upon which relief can be granted. (See generally Dkt. No. 30, Attach. 6, and Dkt. No. 56, Attach. 18 [Defs.' Memos. of Law].)

In Plaintiffs' response to Defendants' motions, they argue as follows: (1) their claims do not require notices of claim; (2) Plaintiff Pratt's state law claims are timely; (3) Defendants are not exempt from NYHRL; (4) Plaintiffs have alleged facts plausibly suggesting claims for violations of NYCRL §§ 40-c and 40-d; (5) Plaintiffs have alleged facts plausibly suggesting that Defendants violated Title IX; (6) Plaintiffs have alleged facts plausibly suggesting that Plaintiff Pratt was denied equal protection based on his sex and sexual orientation; (7) the individual Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity from liability for their failure to protect Plaintiff Pratt from harassment by students; (8) the Board is a proper party to this action; and (9) Plaintiffs' claims under Article 1 § 8 of the New York State Constitution, the First Amendment and EAA are not mooted by the existence of a GSA Club within the District. (See generally Dkt. No. 58 [Plfs.' Response Memo. of Law].)

In their reply, Defendants essentially reiterate previously advanced arguments. (See generally Dkt. No. 62, Attach. 1 [Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law].)

E. The United States's Amicus Brief

In its amicus brief, the United States argues that it has a significant interest in the proper development of the law regarding Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. (Dkt. No. 76.) In an effort to further this interest, the United States makes the following points in its brief: (1) harassment based on nonconformity with sex stereotypes is a legally cognizable claim under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause; (2) allegations of harassment based on sexual orientation do not defeat a gender-stereotyping harassment claim; and (3) a hostile environment claim may span transitions between classrooms, grades and schools. (Id.) The United States argues that Defendants' arguments to the contrary should be rejected. (Id.)

In response, Defendants argue that the United States's arguments are inconsequential because, even assuming that a cause of action generally exists under Title IX for gender-stereotyping claims, Plaintiffs have failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that their Title IX claim is, indeed, based upon gender stereotyping rather than sexual orientation. Defendants further argue that, because a cause of action under Title IX for discrimination based on sexual orientation cannot exist, Plaintiffs' "bootstrapped" Title IX claim should be dismissed. (Dkt. No. 75.)

II. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARDS

Before discussing the relevant legal standards governing this action, the Court pauses to note that, although Defendants' motions are captioned as motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim or, in the alternative, motions for summary judgment, Defendants' motions are based primarily, if not exclusively, on a failure-to-state-a-claim analysis. For example, only portions of six of Defendants' thirteen legal arguments rely on record evidence, and specifically the affidavit of James Kettrick (Dkt. No. 30, Attach. 5): (1) a portion of Defendants' notice-of-claim argument; (2) a portion of Defendants' statute-of-limitations argument; (3) a portion of Defendants' argument regarding Plaintiffs' Title IX sexual-harassment claim; (4) a portion of Defendants' argument regarding Plaintiffs' Title IX hostile-environment claim; (5) a portion of Defendants' argument regarding Plaintiffs' Equal ...


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