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S.G. v. Rockford Board of Education

November 24, 2008

S.G. AND S.G., AS PARENTS AND GUARDIANS OF L.G., A MINOR, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROCKFORD BOARD OF EDUCATION AND KENNETH HELD, IN HIS CAPACITY AS PRINCIPAL OF ROLLING GREEN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frederick J. Kapala District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

FREDERICK J. KAPALA, District Judge

I. BACKGROUND

On March 12, 2008, plaintiffs, S.G. and S.G., as parents and guardians of L.G., filed a four-count complaint against defendants, Rockford Board of Education and Kenneth Held, in his capacity as principal of Rolling Green Elementary School. Plaintiffs' claims arise out of a series of incidents at Rolling Green Elementary School during which L.G., a first-grade student, was allegedly sexually harassed by another first-grade student.

Plaintiffs make the following allegations. During the 2006-2007 school year a new first-grade student transferred to Rolling Green because of his past history of behavioral problems, sexual misconduct, and other discipline problems with another school district. A significant portion of the student's history of sexual misconduct or harassment was disclosed to Rolling Green Principal Held or to other school personnel through transferred school records or by the child's guardian. Upon receiving this information, defendants did not warn other school personnel of the student's previous problems.

Plaintiffs further allege that in January 2007, plaintiffs informed Held at least twice of the "harassing nature and strange sexual requests of the problem student to their daughter, L.G.," another first-grade student in the same classroom. In response, Held informed plaintiffs of the student's behavioral and sexual misconduct issues, and told them they should not be worried. L.G.'s teacher remained unaware of the issues. According to plaintiffs, the sexual harassment continued the rest of the school year, and included incidents in which the student touched L.G. inappropriately. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that on March 14, 2007, without the knowledge of their teacher, the student followed L.G. out of the classroom, took her into a janitor's closet, and "proceeded to sexually batter, harass and abuse her, physically and emotionally, in an aberrant sexual manner." The children were discovered by a passing aid, who had heard L.G.'s cries from the closet. Plaintiffs were eventually contacted by Held, and later that night contacted police.

Plaintiffs allege that after the March 2007 incident no significant action was taken to protect L.G.. The student continued to have access to L.G., telling her she was "hot," directing sexual innuendoes towards her, and following and stalking her on the playground and at other locations at Rolling Green. As a result of the emotional and physical trauma caused by the student, L.G. has been in counseling from March 14, 2007, and continues to have emotional and psychological issues. Plaintiffs moved L.G. to a private school for the 2007-2008 school year because Rolling Green "refused to move, control, or supervise" the problem student.

As a result of these incidents, plaintiffs now assert claims against defendants pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts I and II). Plaintiffs also bring supplemental state law claims of willful and wanton misconduct (Count III) and negligence (Count IV).

II. DISCUSSION

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss Count IV, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and a motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the remaining counts, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). In evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must look to whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A dismissal is proper only if taking all the facts alleged in the complaint to be true and construing all inferences in her favor, a plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Horwitz v. Bd. of Educ. of Avoca Sch. Dist. No. 37, 260 F.3d 602, 618 (7th Cir. 2001). A motion to dismiss should be granted if the plaintiff fails to proffer enough facts to state a claim for relief "that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). A motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c), made once the parties have filed a complaint and answer, will be granted "only when it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts to support a claim for relief and the moving party demonstrates that there are no material issues of fact to be resolved." Supreme Laundry Serv., L.L.C. v. Hartford Cas. Ins. Co., 521 F.3d 743, 746 (7th Cir. 2008) (alteration and quotation marks omitted). As such, "[w]hen material issues of fact are raised by the answer and defendant seeks judgment on the pleadings on the basis of this matter, his motion cannot be granted." Crudup v. Barton, No. 98 C 1498, 2002 WL 276285, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 27, 2002) (quotation marks omitted).

A. Count I- Title IX

Title IX provides that,"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). The United States Supreme Court has found that, pursuant to Title IX, in limited circumstances, individuals who suffer student-on-student sexual harassment have a private right of action against recipients of federal education funding. Davis ex rel. LaShonda D. v. Monroe County Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 643 (1999). Specifically, the Court has held that such recipients can be liable for subjecting students to discrimination by other students where recipients are "deliberately indifferent to sexual harassment, of which they have actual knowledge, that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school." Id. at 650. "[R]ecipients are deemed 'deliberately indifferent' to acts of student-on-student harassment only where the recipient's response to the harassment or lack thereof is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances." Id. at 648. Thus, in order to be liable for student-on-student harassment, defendants must (1) have had actual knowledge of sexual harassment towards L.G., (2) the harassment must have been so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive to deprive L.G. of access to educational opportunities, and (3) their response must have been clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.

Defendants argue that plaintiffs have failed to state a cause of action pursuant to Title IX because plaintiffs have failed to allege that L.G. was subjected to severe, pervasive, and offensive conduct that caused a concrete, negative effect on L.G.'s education, and that defendants' responsive actions were "clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances." Neither party disputes that by March 2007 defendants had ...


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