United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DAN THOMASTON, AS NATURAL FATHER AND NEXT FRIEND OF M.T., a minor, Plaintiff,
BALDWIN COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendants Eddie Tyler, Baldwin
County Board of Education, Cecil Christenberry, Shannon
Cauley, and David Cox's motions to dismiss and supporting
memorandums (Docs. 6-9). The motions, which have been fully
briefed, have been referred to the undersigned Magistrate
Judge for entry of a report and recommendation pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and S.D. Ala. CivLR 72(a)(2)(S).
Upon consideration of all matters presented, the undersigned
RECOMMENDS, for the reasons stated herein, that
Defendants' motions be GRANTED.
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Dan Thomaston, as “father and next friend of M.T., a
female minor child” (“Plaintiff”),
commenced this action on August 28, 2018. (Doc. 1). In his
complaint, Plaintiff asserts a Title IX claim for
student-on-student sexual harassment against Defendants
Baldwin County Board of Education (“Board of
Education”); Eddie Tyler (“Tyler”), the
Superintendent of the Board of Education; Kyle Nobles
(“Nobles”), the former principal of Bay Minette
Middle School; Cecil Christenberry
(“Christenberry”), the President of the Board of
Education; Shannon Cauley (“Cauley”), the Vice
President of the Board of Education; David Cox
(“Cox”), a member of the Board of Education; and
Lisa Kreps (“Kreps”), assistant principal at Bay
Minette Middle School. (Id.).
to Plaintiff, M.T. had just turned thirteen years old and was
starting her eighth-grade year at Bay Minette Middle School
in 2016. (Id. at ¶10). On August 28, 2016, a
male student made up a rumor that M.T. “had
‘fucked' five different boys” and spread this
rumor throughout the school, including involving other
students and having them “participate in false
malicious gossip.” (Id. at ¶11). M.T.
heard the rumor and became very upset. (Id.). That
day, Kreps, the school's assistant principal, called
M.T.'s mother and advised her of the incident.
(Id. at ¶12). M.T.'s mother immediately
went to the school and met with Nobles, the principal, who
told her he would “take care of it.”
questioned the male student, who “openly admitted that
he did it” and stated that he spread the rumor because
M.T. “‘deserved it,' even thought [sic] it
wasn't true.” (Id. at ¶13). Despite
his assurances that he would “take care of it, ”
Nobles “took no corrective action” to stop or
refute the false rumor. (Id. at ¶14). The male
student was not disciplined, his parents were not notified of
his actions, no efforts were made to rehabilitate M.T.'s
reputation, and no “protective efforts, or otherwise
corrective statements or announcements were made regarding
the falsity of the rumors[.]” (Id.).
September 5, 2016, “it was discovered” that the
male student was falsely telling other students that M.T. had
sent naked pictures of herself to male classmates.
(Id. at ¶15). This was reported to Nobles, who
again took no corrective action. (Id.). “After
Christmas break, ” the male student “started the
rumors back up about M.T.” by telling other students
that she was having sex with someone, and the rumors
“escalated into a fight between two boys.”
(Id. at ¶16). Again, the school took no
corrective action. (Id.). According to Plaintiff,
the “bullying continued with one boy falsely telling
others that he was beaten up because he slept with
M.T.” (Id. at ¶17). No. school official
“made any effort to stop the well-known
alleges that as a result of “the relentless and
unchecked bullying[, ]” M.T. suffered
“devastating public humiliation” and
“extreme emotional and psychological distress”
with accompanying “physical manifestations[.]”
(Id.). According to Plaintiff, M.T. is a special
education student who, prior to the bullying, “was a
normal, confident, well-rounded child” who was
academically successful and participated in a number of
sports and other extracurricular activities. (Id. at
¶18). However, “the bullying has destroyed her
life with severe physical/medical manifestations.”
(Id. at ¶19). M.T. withdrew from school and
became a home school student. (Id.).
alleges that the “‘student on student' or
peer” harassment of M.T. “was so severe,
pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively
barred her access to her right to an education.”
(Id. at ¶20). In the sole count of the
complaint, Plaintiff asserts “that the Defendants,
including the principal and other staff members, were guilty
of deliberate indifference to the sexual bullying” of
M.T. by other students, which “created an intimidating,
hostile, offensive and abusive school environment” in
violation of Title IX. (Id. at ¶21). Plaintiff
seeks compensatory and punitive damages, declaratory and
injunctive relief, and costs and attorney's fees.
(Id. at p. 5).
seek the dismissal of Plaintiff's Title IX claims
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim.
(Docs. 6-9). The motions have been fully briefed and are now
ready for resolution.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a
motion to dismiss an action on the ground that the
allegations in the complaint fail to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted. On such a motion, the “issue is
not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether
the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the
claims.” Little v. City of N. Miami, 805 F.2d
962, 965 (11th Cir. 1986) (quoting Scheuer v.
Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). “When
considering a motion to dismiss, all facts set forth in the
plaintiff's complaint ‘are to be accepted as true
and the court limits its consideration to the pleadings and
exhibits attached thereto.'” Grossman v.
Nationsbank, N.A., 225 F.3d 1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000)
(quoting GSW, Inc. v. Long Cnty., 999 F.2d 1508,
1510 (11th Cir. 1993)). The court must draw “all
reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.”
St. George v. Pinellas Cnty., 285 F.3d 1334, 1337
(11th Cir. 2002).
the court is not required to accept a plaintiff's legal
conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009). The U.S. Supreme Court has suggested that courts
adopt a “two-pronged approach” when considering
motions to dismiss: “1) eliminate any allegations in
the complaint that are merely legal conclusions; and 2) where
there are well-pleaded factual allegations, ‘assume
their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give
rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Am. Dental
Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir.
2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664). Importantly,
“courts may infer from the factual allegations in the
complaint ‘obvious alternative explanation[s],'
which suggest lawful conduct rather than the unlawful conduct
the plaintiff would ask the court to infer.”
Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 682).
12(b)(6) is read in consideration of Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8(a)(2), which requires “‘a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief,' in order to ‘give the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.'” See Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting
Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Although
Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, it does
demand “more than an unadorned,
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. To survive a motion to
dismiss, a complaint must state on its face a plausible claim
for relief, and “[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. Unless a
plaintiff has “nudged [his] claims across the line from
conceivable to plausible, ” the complaint “must
be dismissed.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
“The plausibility standard is not akin to a
‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more
than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S at 556).
IX is a federal statute that prohibits gender discrimination
in education. It provides: “No person in the United
States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from
participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected
to discrimination under any education program or activity
receiving Federal financial assistance . . . .” 20
U.S.C. § 1681(a). Sexual harassment is a form of gender
discrimination under Title IX. Williams v. Bd. of Regents
of Univ. Sys. of Ga., 477 F.3d 1282, 1293 (llth Cir.
2007). The Supreme Court has recognized that a plaintiff may
bring a private cause of action under Title IX based upon a
school's deliberate indifference to student-on-student
gender-based harassment. See Davis v. Monroe Cnty. Bd. of
Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 646-47 (1999). A plaintiff ...