United States District Court, E.D. New York
YVONNE DRAIN and RONALD DRAIN, individually and as parents and legal guardians of Plaintiff,
FREEPORT UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, FREEPORT HIGH SCHOOL, JOSEPH MILLE, individually and in his official capacity, PEGGY BECKETT, individually and in her official capacity, K.W., and KARRIEM WATSON and CHEE CHEE WATSON, as parents and legal guardians of K.W., EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK Defendants. J.D, Plaintiffs,
SANDRA J. FEUERSTEIN, District Judge.
Before the Court is Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson's Report and Recommendation ("Report") (DE 21) recommending that the District defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 12(b)(6) be granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs Yvonne and Ronald Drain, individually and as parents of J.D., ("plaintiffs") timely filed objections (DE 22), to which District defendants have responded (DE 23). For the following reasons, the Report is adopted in part and District defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.
I. Standard of Review
Objections to any portion of a report and recommendation on a dispositive matter must be specific, in writing and served and filed within fourteen (14) days after service of the Report. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). "The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). "To the extent, however, that the party makes only conclusory or general arguments, or simply reiterates the original arguments, the Court will review the Report strictly for clear error." IndyMac Bank, F.S.B. v. Nat'l Settlement Agency, Inc., No. 07 Civ. 6865, 2008 WL 4810043, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 3, 2008). "The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with further instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
Plaintiffs object to the Report's findings on the bases it: (1) erroneously decides material facts in favor of the district defendants instead of accepting the allegations as true; (2) misapplies the applicable law; (3) ignores controlling authority with respect to defendant Mille's conduct; and (4) improperly raises procedural objections, sua sponte, to the plaintiffs filing of the amended complaint.
A. Plaintiffs' Substantive Due Process Claims
The complaint alleges that the District defendants violated J.D.'s substantive due process rights, pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, by failure to: (1) supervise; (2) protect; and (3) adhere to established school policy.
The Report, upon consideration of the law applicable to substantive due process claims, i.e., the special relationship, state created danger and conscience shocking doctrines, recommends that plaintiffs' due process claims be dismissed.
"A substantive due process claim has two elements: (1) identification of the constitutional right at stake, and (2) consideration of whether the state action was arbitrary in a constitutional sense." Bryant v. City of New York, No. 99 Civ. 11237, 2003 WL 22861926, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 2, 2003) (citing Lowrance v. Achtyl, 20 F.3d 529, 537 (2d Cir. 1994)).
With respect to the special relationship doctrine,  "the weight of recent authority in [the Second] Circuit and others suggests that the duty to protect a student from the harassment of other students does not arise because of a special relationship between the State and the student while he or she attends public school." P.W. v. Fairport Cent. School Dist., 927 F.Supp.2d 76, 82 (W.D.N.Y. 2013). Rather, a "special relationship exists, for example, when a person is incarcerated in a state prison or mental institution." Id. (citing DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 198-200 (1989)). Accordingly, accepting the complaint's allegations as true, J.D. and the District defendants did not have a special relationship as a matter of law.
As to the state-created danger doctrine,  the Report states that the complaint's allegations do not demonstrate that defendants Mille or Beckett actively encouraged or facilitated defendant K.W.'s attack on plaintiff J.D. Rather, the allegations suggest that these defendants affirmatively acted to prevent harm to J.D. Thus, even if Mille failed to escort J.D. to the bus or failed to notify law enforcement about threats made to J.D. by K.W., there are no plausible allegations that Mille or Beckett encouraged or facilitated the alleged attack. Consequently, plaintiffs do not state a due process violation under these facts.
The Report also found that the District defendants' conduct does not, as a matter of law, rise to the level of conduct which shocks the conscience. To determine whether conduct is so shocking that it violates the due process clause, a court "must inquire into whether the conduct infringing on that constitutionally protected interest was unconstitutionally arbitrary... [which] requires that it shock [ ] the conscience and [be] so brutal and offensive that it d[oes] not comport with traditional ideas of fair play and decency.'" R.V. and J.V. v. Castellani, No. 14 Civ. 1757, 2015 WL 294253, at *1 (2d Cir. Jan. 23, 2015) (quoting Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 847 (1998)).
District defendants Mille and Beckett allegedly failed to contain, supervise, instruct, restrain, limit, secure or otherwise prevent K.W. from interacting with J.D. on May 21, 2013 and as a result, K.W. was able to intercept J.D. as she passed through the school's main lobby. K.W. began yelling and cursing at J.D. as defendant Beckett witnessed the scene from her post near the school's main doors. Beckett failed to restrain K.W. and instead, guided J.D. away from her. Because Beckett failed to remove the aggressor from the scene, K.W. was able to reach over Beckett's shoulder and slash J.D. across the face. A short while later, defendant Mille arrived at the scene and observed J.D.'s injuries, but refused to report the incident to local law enforcement despite the fact that K.W.'s behavior violated the school's code of conduct. Defendant Mille also failed to advise J.D.'s parents about the true extent of her injuries or what had occurred and ...