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K.D. ex rel. Duncan v. White Plains School Dist.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 5, 2013

K.D., by and through Kerry Kelly DUNCAN, individually and as Mother of K.D., a disabled child, Plaintiffs,
v.
WHITE PLAINS SCHOOL DISTRICT; Mrs. Agnieszka Blazkiewicz, Teacher; Ted O'Donnell, Social Worker; and John Does 1-10 (their true names and identities presently unknown), acting in both their official and unofficial capacities as Representatives of White Plains School District, Defendants.

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Patsy Bonanno, Pat Bonanno & Associates, P.C., White Plains, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Lewis R. Silverman, Adam Christopher Guzik, Rutherford & Christie, LLP, New York, N.Y. for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

RAMOS, District Judge.

Defendants White Plains School District (" WPSD" ), Agnieszka Blazkiewicz (" Blazkiewicz" ), Ted O'Donnell (" O'Donnell" ), and John Does 1-10 (the " WPSD Does" ) (the " Individual Defendants" ) bring this Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Doc. 8. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED in full.

I. Background

Plaintiffs K.D. and Kerry Kelly Duncan (" Duncan" ), individually and as the mother of K.D., who is described in the caption as a " disabled child," commenced this action by filing a Summons with Notice in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Westchester, on August 8, 2011. Compl. Ex. A. [1] Defendants removed the action to this Court on September 27, 2011, Doc. 1, and Plaintiffs filed the operative complaint on November 3, 2011. Doc. 4.

The Complaint alleges eight causes of action: (1) conspiracy to violate Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Defendants collectively (" Count I" ), Compl. ¶¶ 43-47; (2) supervisory liability and failure to intercede to prevent the violation of

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K.D.'s and Duncan's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights,[2] respectively, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the WPSD and the WPSD Does (" Count II" ), id. ¶¶ 48-51; (3) deprivation of Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment right to Due Process, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against all Defendants (" Count III" ), id. ¶¶ 52-55; (4) conspiracy to interfere with Plaintiffs' civil rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985, against the Individual Defendants (" Count IV" ), id. ¶¶ 56-58; (5) gross negligence and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress against all Defendants (" Count V" ), id. ¶¶ 59-62; (6) respondeat superior against WPSD (" Count VI" ), id. ¶¶ 63-66; (7) prima facie tort against the WPSD Does (" Count VII" ), id. ¶¶ 67-69; and (8) negligent hiring and supervision against the WPSD (" Count VIII" ). Id. ¶¶ 70-83. Additionally, in connection with the instant motion, the parties have offered arguments relating to violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments that are not otherwise designated as independent causes of action in the Complaint.

A. Factual Background

The following facts are based on the allegations in the Complaint, which the Court accepts as true for purposes of this motion. Famous Horse Inc. v. 5th Ave. Photo Inc., 624 F.3d 106, 108 (2d Cir.2010).

At all times relevant to the allegations in the Complaint, Plaintiff K.D. was a nineteen-year-old student at White Plains High School (the " High School" ). Compl. Ex. A, at 20. K.D. is a developmentally disabled individual and has been classified as Autistic since elementary school. Compl. Ex. C, at 35; Pls.' Mem. Law Opp. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss (" Pls.' Mem." ) 9, Doc. 11. Duncan is K.D.'s mother, but she was not K.D.'s legal guardian at the time of the incidents alleged in the Complaint. See Pls.' Mem. 10; Compl. Ex. C, at 35.

The incident giving rise to Plaintiffs' claims occurred on February 28, 2011, beginning at approximately 2:05 pm, while K.D. was attending class with Blazkiewicz. Compl. ¶¶ 27-29, Ex. A, at 20, 25. At some point during class, Blazkiewicz asked K.D. why there was a mark on K.D.'s face. Compl. Ex. A, at 25. K.D. told Blazkiewicz that her brother had thrown something at her the day before, resulting in the injury. Id. Blazkiewicz immediately sent K.D. to speak with O'Donnell, the school social worker, for the purpose of reporting the alleged assault to him. Id. at 20, 25. O'Donnell and/or one of the WPSD Does then notified the White Plains Police Department (" WPPD" ) of the allegation, and an officer from the WPPD responded to the High School and took a statement from K.D. Id.

In her statement to the WPPD, K.D. accused her brother, Byron Duncan, of assault. Id. at 25. Byron Duncan was subsequently summoned to the WPPD to provide his statement. Id. At some point thereafter, he was arrested and charged with Assault in the Third Degree. Id. The charges against Byron Duncan were ultimately dismissed. Id. Duncan learned of the interrogation of K.D. from her son, after he was summoned to the WPPD. Id. at 20.

Plaintiffs allege that K.D. was told by unidentified WPSD personnel that she had to speak with the police officer, that O'Donnell permitted the officer " unrestricted access" to K.D., and that K.D. was not provided with an opportunity to speak with her mother or an attorney prior to

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the alleged interrogation by the WPPD officer, which took place in a private office at the school. Id. at 20, 26. Plaintiffs further allege that Defendants never notified Duncan of the interrogation, and that it was conducted without her consent. Id. at 20, 25.

As a result of the foregoing, Plaintiffs allege that O'Donnell conspired with the WPSD Does to violate K.D.'s Fourth Amendment rights by seizing K.D. and directing the WPPD to interrogate her without a warrant, probable cause or parental consent. Id. ¶¶ 27, 29. Plaintiffs further allege that O'Donnell conspired with the WPSD Does to violate Duncan's familial rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by questioning K.D. without Duncan's consent. Id. ¶ 28. Plaintiffs claim that O'Donnell knew or should have known that allowing K.D. to be questioned by the WPPD was a violation of the mandated reporting protocols set forth by the OCFS regarding instances of suspected child abuse and/or maltreatment. Id. 11 30, 39, 45, Ex. A, at 20, Ex. B.

II. Rule 12(b)(6) Motions to Dismiss

A. General Legal Standard

When ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Famous Horse Inc., 624 F.3d at 108. However, the court is not required to credit " mere conclusory statements" or " threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)); see also id. at 681, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 551, 127 S.Ct. 1955). " To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter ... to ‘ state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Id. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955). A claim is facially plausible " when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). More specifically, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to show " more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 " marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937. If the plaintiff has not " nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

III. Section 1983 Claims against the WPSD

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' claims against the WPSD must be dismissed because, even assuming arguendo that Plaintiffs have alleged a violation of their constitutional rights, they have not alleged the existence of any municipal custom or policy that was the moving force behind the purported constitutional violations. Defs.' Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Dismiss (" Defs.' Mem." ) 18-19, Doc. 9. In their opposition papers, Plaintiffs concede that they have not identified, and cannot currently identify, a WPSD custom or policy that is responsible for their alleged constitutional injuries. Pls.' Mem. 20-21. Plaintiffs argue that Defendants' motion to dismiss the claims against the WPSD should be denied

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to permit them to conduct discovery for the purpose of identifying the WPSD policy for the questioning of students by police officers in connection with child abuse investigations. Id.

A. Municipal Liability under Section 1983

A municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a theory of respondeat superior. Monell v. N.Y. City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). A section 1983 claim can only be brought against a municipality if the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional was the result of an official policy or custom. Id. at 691, 694-95, 98 S.Ct. 2018. Thus, a plaintiff must allege that such a municipal policy or custom is responsible for his injury. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403-04, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997); see also Connick v. Thompson, __ U.S. __, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359, 179 L.Ed.2d 417 (2011) (" A municipality or other local government may be liable under [§ 1983] if the governmental body itself ‘ subjects' a person to a deprivation of rights or ‘ causes' a person ‘ to be subjected’ to such deprivation." (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 692, 98 S.Ct. 2018)).

The Second Circuit has established a two prong test for § 1983 claims brought against a municipality. " First, a plaintiff must ‘ prove the existence of a municipal policy or custom in order to show that the municipality took some action that caused his injuries beyond merely employing the misbehaving officer.’ " Johnson v. City of New York, No. 06 Civ. 9426(GBD), 2011 WL 666161, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 15, 2011) (quoting Vippolis v. Vill. of Haverstraw, 768 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir.1985)). Second, the plaintiff must establish a causal connection between the policy or custom and the alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights. Id. (citing Brandon v. City of New York, 705 F.Supp.2d 261, 276-77 (S.D.N.Y.2010)).

To satisfy the first prong of the test on a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege the existence of:

(1) a formal policy which is officially endorsed by the municipality; (2) actions taken or decisions made by government officials responsible for establishing municipal policies which caused the alleged violation of the plaintiff's civil rights; (3) a practice so persistent and widespread that it constitutes a custom or usage and implies the constructive knowledge of policy-making officials; or (4) a failure by official policy-makers to properly train or supervise subordinates to such an extent that it amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of those with whom municipal employees will come into contact.

Moray v. City of Yonkers, 924 F.Supp. 8, 12 (S.D.N.Y.1996) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); see also Brandon, 705 F.Supp.2d at 276-77 (quoting ...


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