United States District Court, N.D. New York
JOHN A. HARRINGTON. Plaintiff,
JAMESVILLE DEWITT CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT and BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE JAMESVILLE CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendants.
DECISION & ORDER
J. McAvoy, S.U.S.D.J.
the Court is Defendants' motion for judgment on the
pleadings in this case, that alleges violations of
Plaintiff's constitutional rights in school disciplinary
proceedings. See dkt. # 7. The parties have briefed
the issues and the Court has determined to decide the matter
without oral argument.
case arises out of discipline meted out against Plaintiff
John A. Harrington by Defendant Jamesville Dewitt Central
School District when Plaintiff was a high-school student in
2015. See Complaint (“Complt.”), dkt. #
1. Plaintiff alleges that at the time relevant to this
action, he was a student at Jamesville-DeWitt High School.
Id. at ¶ 7. He was a member of the National
Honor Society, an Honor student, and “well-regarded and
well-liked by his teachers and peers alike.”
Id. He had no history of academic discipline and
faced no allegations of academic dishonesty during his twelve
years in the School District. Id. at ¶ 8.
2013, Plaintiff received a medical diagnosis of severe
depression and anxiety. Id. at ¶ 9. He also
suffered from severe allergies and “other debilitating
medical conditions. Id. Plaintiff was required to
take several extended leaves of absence from school.
Id. In 2014, Plaintiff underwent hospitalization for
suicidal thoughts. Id. at ¶ 10. Plaintiff
alleges that he informed the District and his teachers of his
illnesses, including his emotional state. Id. The
District was also aware of the frequent absences he suffered
in 2014-2015 because of his symptoms. Id. The
District had also received updated medical information from
Plaintiff's physician. Id. at ¶ 11.
Plaintiff does not allege that he requested any
accommodations for his disability from the District or that
he used any programs available to disabled students at the
lawsuit arises out of Plaintiff's participation in a high
school course titled “Writing 105: Practices of
Academic Writing, ” which was a course offered through
Syracuse University's “Project Advance”
(“SUPA”) program. Id. at ¶ 12.
Students who enrolled in SUPA classes could gain both
high-school and college credit. Id. Their high
school teachers taught the classes. Id. Plaintiff
alleges that the District represented that Connie
Myers-Kelly, who taught the class in question, had been
trained and approved by Syracuse to teach the course.
Id. at ¶¶ 13-14. Course materials promised
that any writing assignments would involve extensive editing
and input form the instructor, and would involve several
submitted Myers-Kelly an essay on January 26, 2015.
Id. at ¶ 15. Plaintiff alleges that “[a]
portion of the paper contained quotations from an outside
source, which were clearly attributed in the paper to their
original speaker, but were not properly cited.”
Id. He contends that he turned the paper in
“without realizing that the required citations were
missing, but with no intention to claim the outside material
as his own work.” Id.
alleges that he had been experiencing a great deal of
school-related stress at this time, which exacerbated his
underlying health issues and made completing schoolwork more
difficult. Id. at ¶ 17. Plaintiff's anxiety
made him unable “to . . . complete [properly] the SUPA
assignment without constructive assistance from the course
instructor and the District.” Id. at ¶
19. Plaintiff's preparations to perform a lead role in
the school play was also occurring at this time. Id.
at ¶ 18. Participation in theater “provided him
with a significant and necessary therapeutic outlet for him
to cope with his condition.” Id.
turned in the essay. Id. at ¶ 20. His teacher,
Myers-Kelly, “accused Plaintiff of plagiarism and
reported it to the High School's administration.”
Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff alleges that Myers-Kelly
failed to confront him directly with her allegation.
Id. He had no knowledge that she had informed
administrators of her charge. Id. Plaintiff contends
that his essay did not violate the District's rules on
plagiarism in his assignment. Id. at ¶¶
21-22. He also contends that he “was also never given a
hearing or opportunity to respond to these allegations of
plagiarism or to clear his name or defend himself against
this false allegation.” Id. at ¶ 22. The
District, he insists, “basically found [him] guilty of
plagiarism, even before they had ever met with him or his
parents” without due process of law. Id. The
“false allegation” that Plaintiff had plagiarized
“went viral and spread throughout the school and local
community almost instantly.” Id.
alleges that on February 3, 2015, Assistant Principal David
Nylen summoned him to his office. Id. at ¶ 23.
Myers-Kelly was also there. Id. Myers-Kelly and
Nylen “summarily” informed Plaintiff that he was
being disciplined for intentional plagiarism. Id.
They had not spoken to Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff was
not provided any prior notification of this accusation, and
he had no chance to contest it. Id. at ¶ 24. No
one called Plaintiff's parents to inform them of the
accusation or disciplinary action. Id. The
punishment assigned to Plaintiff was an “F” grade
on the written assignment and two days of after-school
detention. Id. at ¶ 25. Administrators also
barred Plaintiff from participating in the school play.
Id. The play was scheduled to open on February
parents spoke with Principal Paul Gasparini. Id. at
¶ 26. Gasparini claimed “he understood the
magnitude of the situation.” Id. He recognized
the “consequences that could occur from the humiliation
and embarrassment that Plaintiff suffered.”
Id. Gasparini nevertheless “affirmed”
the punishment Plaintiff was to receive. Id.
Plaintiff further alleges that Gasparini's statement that
“‘[n]o one will remember this in two weeks”
demonstrates his deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's
February 3, 2015, shortly after learning of his punishment,
Plaintiff went to his chorale class. Id. at ¶
27. There, Ms. Quackenbush, who taught the class and
“was in charge of” the play,
“escorted” Plaintiff from the class. Id.
Quackenbush “compelled” Plaintiff to give up his
role in the play because of the plagiarism accusation.
Id. Plaintiff's fellow students and others in
the community became aware of Plaintiff's removal from
the play on that day. Id. at ¶ 28. Two days
later, when the play opened, audience members could be heard
discussing the plagiarism charges against Plaintiff; the
“accusation of academic dishonesty and punishment had
quickly spread from the school throughout the local community
and amongst Plaintiff's peers.” Id.
alleges that this damage to his reputation continued even
after high-school graduation in the spring of 2015.
Id. at ¶ 29. On September 15, 2015, a teacher
at the school, Joe DeChick, used Plaintiff's experience
as an example of the consequences of plagiarism. Id.
DeChick did not use Plaintiff's name, but Plaintiff
alleges that “there was no question in the minds of the
students that these comments referred to Plaintiff[.]”
Id. Many students, after all, “had been made
aware by District personnel that Plaintiff was accused of and
disciplined for plagiarism earlier that year.”
Id. Plaintiff alleges that DeChick told the class
that “last year someone got caught! It was pretty
messy. People were relying on him for the play but he
couldn't participate! Now there are lawyers involved.
Don't plagiarize kids. We thought he was a reliable
student.” Id. at ¶ 30.
contends that his treatment by the school district resulted
in “embarrassment, humiliation, and severe emotional
distress.” Id at ¶ 32. The District's
conduct “exacerbated” Plaintiff's depression
and anxiety, and he was forced to obtain additional medical
care, medication and counseling. Id. at ¶ 33.
Plaintiff's physician recommended that he be excused from
school for 60 days. Id. at ¶ 34. When his
condition did not improve during that time, Plaintiff did not
return to school for the remainder of his senior year.
Id. Plaintiff does not allege that the District
ordered his absence from school at that time as punishment.
filed the instant Complaint on January 18, 2017. The
Complaint contains seven causes of action under New York and
federal law. Count One, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, alleges a violation of Plaintiff's 14th
Amendment due process rights. Count Two raises a Section 1983
equal protection claim under a “stigma plus”
theory. Count Three raises the same claim under the New York
Constitution. Count Four is a procedural due process claim
under the New York Constitution. Count Five alleges that
Defendants committed a Federal constitutional due process
violation by discriminating against Plaintiff on the basis of
his disability. Count Six asserts that Defendant violated
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by
discriminating against Plaintiff because of a disability.
Count Seven alleges that Defendant violated the New York
State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), Executive Law
answered the Complaint and then filed the instant motion for
judgment on the pleadings. The parties then briefed the
issue, bringing the case to its present posture.
move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(c). “Judgment on the pleadings is
appropriate where material facts are undisputed and where on
the judgment on the merits is possible by considering the
contents of the pleadings.” Selters v M.C. Floor
Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988). Courts
“employ the same standard applicable to Rule 12(b)(6)
motions to dismiss[.]” Vega v. Hempstead Union Free
School Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 78 (2d Cir. 2015). Under that
standard, “‘a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.'” Fink v. Time
Warner Cable, 714 F.3d 739, 741 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2007)). In
evaluating a 12(c) motion, “the court considers
‘the complaint, the answer, any written documents
attached to them, and any matter of which the court can take
judicial notice for the factual background of the
case.'” L-7 Designs, Inc. v. Old Navy,
LLC, 647 F.3d 419, 422 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting
Roberts v. Babkiewicz, 582 F.3d 418, 419 (2d Cir.
2009)). The Complaint also includes “‘any written
instrument attached to it as an exhibit, materials
incorporated in it by reference, and documents that, although
not incorporated by reference, are ‘integral' to
the complaint.'” Id. (quoting Sira v.
Morton, 380 F.3d 57, 67 (2d Cir. 2004)).