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Stinson v. Montgomery County Board of Education

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

February 5, 2019

ARVILLA STINSON, as next friend of K.R., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION; TRAMENE MAYE, in his individual and official capacities; and RAFIQ VAUGHN, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. . . . In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.

         Chief Justice Earl Warren penned those words in 1954. Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954). They remain true in 2019. So year after year, for those reasons and more, parents across Alabama send their children to public school.

         When parents send their children to school, they essentially delegate some of their parental authority to teachers and school administrators. There is a Latin phrase for that concept: “in loco parentis, ” which translates “in the place of a parent.” Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 654-56 (1995); Smith v. Smith, 922 So.2d 94, 98 (Ala. 2005); 1 William Blackstone, Commentaries *453. But the power to act in the place of a parent comes with solemn responsibilities. Educators must educate students. They must also protect students.

         At least that is how things should be. If the allegations in this case are true, Southlawn Middle School in Montgomery, Alabama, is a place where rape is not taken seriously.

         K.R. was a student at Southlawn Middle when her fellow students allegedly gang-raped her. K.R.'s mother, Arvilla Stinson, filed this suit on K.R.'s behalf. According to Stinson's complaint, Assistant Principal Tramene Maye saw three boys drag K.R. into an abandoned building. The boys then raped K.R. But Maye ignored the incident and told K.R.'s stepsister to “go on about her business.” When Principal Rafiq Vaughn learned about the rape later that day, he was allegedly more worried about bad press than he was about K.R. He also told K.R. to “love her body” and remarked that she looked like his girlfriend. K.R. eventually changed schools, but the three boys stayed at Southlawn Middle. They were never punished.

         In her lawsuit, Stinson claims the Montgomery County Board of Education is liable under Title IX because it was deliberately indifferent to sexual harassment. Stinson also claims that Principal Vaughn and Assistant Principal Maye committed common-law torts. All three Defendants moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint (Doc. # 33) for failure to state a claim (Docs. # 34, 36).

         For the reasons below, the Board's motion to dismiss Stinson's Title IX claim is due to be granted. Title IX imposes a “rigorous and hard to meet” standard, Hill v. Cundiff, 797 F.3d 948, 975 (11th Cir. 2015), and despite the appalling allegations in Stinson's complaint, that standard is not met here. That leaves Stinson with her tort claims against Principal Vaughn and Assistant Principal Maye. Because those claims are based entirely on Alabama common law, the court determines that Stinson should pursue them in state court. This case is therefore due to be dismissed.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The court has federal-question subject-matter jurisdiction over Stinson's Title IX claim. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(a). The court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her common-law claims. Id. § 1367(c). The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).[1] “A claim has facial plausibility 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.

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., 693 F.3d 1317, 1321-22 (11th Cir. 2012). But a court need not accept mere legal conclusions as true. Id. at 1325.

         III. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Southlawn Middle School is a public school in Montgomery, Alabama, under the control of the Montgomery County Board of Education. At all material times, Rafiq Vaughn was Southlawn Middle's principal, making him the highest-ranking on-campus official. Tramene Maye was the school's assistant principal.

         One day after school, K.R. and her stepsister were walking off the Southlawn Middle campus when three boys grabbed K.R. and dragged her into an abandoned building. The court infers from the Second Amended Complaint that the boys were three of K.R.'s fellow Southlawn Middle students. (See Doc. # 33, at 11.) Stinson does not specify whether the abandoned building was on school property; she simply alleges it was “on the perimeter of the school property.” (Doc. # 33, at 8.) But construing the allegations in the light most favorable to Stinson, the court assumes that the building was on campus - inside, not outside, the perimeter. K.R.'s age is not alleged.

         K.R.'s stepsister told Assistant Principal Maye what the boys were doing to K.R., and Maye had witnessed the boys grab and drag K.R. According to Stinson, what Maye observed met the Board's definition of bullying and harassment. But Maye did not intervene. Nor did he report the incident to Principal Vaughn. Instead, Maye told K.R.'s stepsister to “go on about her business.” (Doc. # 33, at 8.) Two of the boys then gang-raped K.R. while the third boy kept a lookout.

         Stinson happened to be on campus at the time. She soon learned about K.R.'s rape and immediately went to discuss it with Principal Vaughn. But Vaughn showed “little concern for K.R.” He “pleaded” with Stinson not to call the media. Vaughn also told K.R. that she needed to “love her body, ” and he remarked that K.R.'s adult figure was like his ...


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