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Jones v. Cherokee County Board of Education

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

October 10, 2017

ROSELLA JONES, as Guardian and next friend of her minor son, I.J., Plaintiff,
v.
CHEROKEE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION and JEFFERY LANE CRANE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a civil action filed by the Plaintiff, Rosella Jones, as guardian and next friend of her minor son, I.J., [1] against the Defendants, the Cherokee County Board of Education (the “Board”) and Jeffrey Lane Crane.[2] Originally filed in the Circuit Court of Cherokee County, Alabama, the action was removed to this Court on July 19, 2017. (Doc. 1). Against the Board, the First Amended Complaint sets out the following Alabama state law claims: “Premise[s] Liability” (Count One); “Failure To Train” (Count Four); and “Negligence” (Count Five). Against Crane, the first Amended Complaint sets out the following Alabama state law claims: “Assault” (Count Two), and “Battery” (Count Three). Finally, the First Amended Complaint alleges that the Board “is liable to the Plaintiff . . . pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” (Count Six).[3]

         The case comes before the Court on the Board's Motion To Dismiss filed pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 4). For the reasons stated herein, the Motion will be GRANTED as to Count Six, the Section 1983 claim. That claim will be DISMISSED, and this case will be REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Cherokee County, Alabama.

         I. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         A. Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Rule 12 (b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of an action where the court finds that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction. Rule 12 (b)(6) provides for dismissal for failure of a party to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Where “a Rule 12 (b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should consider the Rule 12 (b)(1) jurisdiction attack before addressing any attack on the merits.” Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Hitt v. City of Pasadena, 561 F.2d 606, 608 (5th Cir. 1977).

         A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction should be granted “only if it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle plaintiff to relief.” Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161. Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be found through an examination of: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts. See id. The burden of proof on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is on the party asserting jurisdiction. Here, that party is the Board, as it removed this action from state court. See Evans v. Walter Indus., Inc., 449 F.3d 1159, 1164 (11th Cir. 2006) (noting “the traditional rule that the party seeking to remove the case to federal court bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction”).

         B. Failure To State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted

         If the court determines that subject matter jurisdiction exists, it must then address the Rule 12 (b)(6) motion. Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161 (citing Hitt, 561 F.2d at 608). Pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6), a district court cannot dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted “unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Blackburn v. City of Marshal, 42 F.3d 925, 931 (5th Cir. 1995). The court will not look beyond the factual allegations in the complaint to determine whether relief should be granted. See Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). In assessing a claim, a court must accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and liberally construe all factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Spivey, 197 F.3d at 774; Lowrey v. Tex. A & M Univ. Sys., 117 F.3d 242, 247 (5th Cir. 1997). “However, ‘[i]n order to avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff must plead specific facts, not mere conclusory allegations.'” Guidry v. Bank of LaPlace, 954 F.2d 278, 281 (5th Cir. 1992) (quoting Elliott v. Foufas, 867 F.2d 877, 881 (5th Cir. 1989)) (alteration in original).

         The “complaint must contain either direct allegations on every material point necessary to sustain a recovery or contain allegations from which an inference fairly may be drawn that evidence on these material points will be introduced at trial.” Campbell v. City of San Antonio, 43 F.3d 973, 975 (5th Cir. 1995). A plaintiff “is merely required to provide, in his complaint, a ‘short and plain statement of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds on which it rests.'” Lewis v. Fed. Reserve Bank of Atlanta-New Orleans Branch, No. Civ.A. 04-1452, 2004 WL 2035006, at *3 (E.D. La. Sept. 10, 2004) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47, 78 S.Ct. at 103). Still, a complaint must allege sufficient facts for an inference to be drawn that the elements of the claim exist. Walker v. South Cent. Bell Tel. Co., 904 F.2d 275, 277 (5th Cir. 1990).

         II. ALLEGATIONS IN THE FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT

         The First Amended Complaint sets out the following allegations:

7. On October 12th, 2016, Plaintiff Jones's minor son I.J. (“I.J.”) was a student at Cedar Bluff High School, located in Cedar Bluff, Alabama.
8. On October 12th, 2016, I.J. was a member of the Cedar Bluff High School football team.
9. On October 12th, 2016, while a member of Cedar Bluff High School football team, I.J. was participating in mandatory practices for the football team on the football practice field at Cedar Bluff High School.
10. On October 12th, 2016, Defendant Crane was present on the campus of Cedar Bluff High School at the same time at which I.J. was present and participating in school activities at all times relevant.
11. On October 12th, 2016, I.J. and Defendant Crane's stepson, who was also a member of Cedar Bluff High School's football team engaged in “after the whistle” behavior common in football practices in the deep south.
12. Defendant Crane was present with the full knowledge [of] agents and/or employees of the Defendant Board, namely assistant football coaches of Cedar Bluff High School who, at all time relevant were employees and/or agents of the Defendant Board.
13. Defendant Crane, at the time of, or shortly after the afore-described “after the whistle” behavior, entered onto the practice field at Cedar Bluff High School on October 12th, 2016 where I.J. and other minor students under the care and control of agents and/or employees of the Defendant Board were present.
14. Upon entering the football field at Cedar Bluff High School on October 12th, 2016, Defendant Crane confronted the minor child I.J.; and assaulted and battered the minor I.J.
15. No agent and/or employee of the Defendant Board attempted to stop or arrest Defendant Crane's behavior.
16. Defendant Crane completed his assault and battery upon the minor I.J; and left the practice field at Cedar Bluff High School, yet was allowed to remain at Cedar Bluff High School for the duration of football practice.
17. Plaintiff Jones did not learn of the assault by Defendant Crane upon the person of I.J. until later on the night of October 12th, 2016 ...

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