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Spinka v. E.H.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 25, 2015

AUBRIE SPINKA, Plaintiff
v.
E.H., a minor, STEPHEN HAUSER, TARA HAUSER, JESSICA DRAKE, BENJAMIN HOWES, FREEBURG COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 77, O'FALLON TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 203 Defendants. And ILLINOIS HIGH SCHOOL, ASSOCIATION, respondent in discovery.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

DAVID R. HERNDON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Now before the Court are defendants O'Fallon Township High School District No. 203 (hereinafter "District 203") motion to dismiss Counts XI (Doc. 50), to which plaintiff timely filed a response (Doc. 60); Freeburg Community High School District No. 77's (hereinafter "District 77") motion to dismiss Counts XII and XVI (Docs. 55), to which plaintiff timely filed a response (Doc. 63); Benjamin Howes' motion to dismiss Counts X and XV (Doc. 56), to which plaintiff timely filed a response (Doc. 64); and Jessica Drake's motion to dismiss Counts IX of plaintiff's first amended complaint (Doc. 57), to which plaintiff also timely responded (Doc. 65). Naturally, plaintiff argues that each claim comport with the pleading requirements and state a claim upon which relief can be granted in its responses to each of the aforementioned motions. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS District 203's motion to dismiss, GRANTS the District 77's motion to dismiss, GRANTS in part Benjamin Howes' motion to dismiss, and GRANTS Jessica Drake's motions to dismiss while allowing plaintiff leave to amend her claims, if so desired.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's sixteen count complaint arises from an incident that took place on April 13, 2013, in which the plaintiff, a student of District 77, was sexually attacked by fellow District 77 student defendant E.H. in the girls' bathroom of District 203 during a regional music event hosted by District 203. After the attack, plaintiff alleges that she was prohibited by District 77 principal Benjamin Howes from attending events on campus, while E.H. was allowed to continue attending school.

At issue here are the plaintiff's claims of willful and wanton supervision against the two school districts for their failure to take measures to prevent the attack on the plaintiff from occurring. The plaintiff claims that, as a result of such a failure, she has been displaced from District 77 facilities and has suffered injury and incurred damages. Also at issue are plaintiff's claims against Benjamin Howes and District 77 on the basis that her treatment, subsequent to the attack, constituted sex-based discrimination in violation of her Fourteenth Amendment right to Equal Protection. The plaintiff claims that, as a result of her displacement from District 77, she has suffered injury and incurred damages.

As to Counts XI and XII, both school districts argue that plaintiff has pled insufficient facts to support a duty on their behalf and the common-law "public duty rule" bars them from owing any duty to the individual plaintiff. The plaintiff counters by claiming that she has adequately pled the existence of a duty and that the "public duty rule" does not apply in this case (Docs. 60, 63). The plaintiff further argues that, even if the rule is applicable here, she was owed a "special duty" as an exception to the public duty rule (Doc. 63). Duty aside, both school districts claim immunity from tort liability under the Illinois Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act ("Tort Immunity Act"), 745 ILL. COMP. STAT 10/1-101 et seq. (Docs. 50, 55-1). The plaintiff argues that her willful and wanton claim is sufficiently pled such that the Tort Immunity Act does not protect the defendants for their conduct (Docs. 60, 63). Given that the claims and the applicable law for Counts XI and XII are essentially identical, the Court will consider both counts together.

As to Counts IX and X, both defendants argue that plaintiff has pled insufficient facts to show that either of them engaged in willful and wanton conduct (Docs. 56, 57). Specifically, the defendants contend that the willful and wanton supervision claims against them are untenable because the plaintiff has not adequately established the existence of a duty owed to her pursuant to Illinois law, nor has she pled facts showing the application of a "special duty." Defendants further assert that they are immunized from tort liability under the Illinois Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act ("Tort Immunity Act"), 745 ILL. COMP. STAT 10/1-101 et seq. as well as Section 24-24 of the Illinois School Code, 1-5 ILL. COMP. STAT 5/24-24. The plaintiff counters that her willful and wanton claim is sufficiently pled such that the Tort Immunity Act and the Illinois school code do not protect the defendants for their conduct (Docs. 64, 65). Given that the claims and the applicable law for Counts IX and X are essentially identical, the Court will consider both counts together.

As to Counts XV and XVI, both defendants argue that the plaintiff has pled insufficient facts to show a violation of § 1983. Specifically, the defendants contend that the Equal Protection claims against them are untenable because the plaintiff has merely recited the elements of § 1983 and stated legal conclusions in her amended complaint (Docs. 55-1, 56-1). Given that the claims for Counts XV and XVI are directly related, the Court will address those counts together as well.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 8(a) requires that a complaint provide, "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) permits a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). The Supreme Court explained in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), that Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is warranted if the complaint fails to set forth "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."

Although federal pleading standards were retooled by Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), notice pleading remains all that is required in a complaint. "A plaintiff still must provide only enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests and, through his allegations, show that it is plausible, rather than merely speculative, that he is entitled to relief.'" Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).

The Seventh Circuit offers further guidance on what a complaint must do to withstand 12(b)(6) dismissal. The Court in Pugh v. Tribune Co., 521 F.3d 686, 699 (7th Cir. 2008), reiterated the standard: "surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion requires more than labels and conclusions;" the complaint's allegations must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." A plaintiff's claim "must be plausible on its face, " that is, "the complaint must establish a non-negligible probability that the claim is valid." With this in mind, the Court turns to plaintiff's complaint.

IV. ANALYSIS

a. Count XI and XII (Willful and Wanton Supervision Claims)

i. Duty of Care

Willful and wanton conduct is not considered an independent tort under Illinois law. Zirko v. Soo Line R.R. Co., 161 Ill.2d 267, 274, 204 Ill.Dec. 178, 641 N.E.2d 402, 406 (1994). Rather, it is considered an aggravated form of negligence. Sparks v. Starks, 367 Ill.App.3d 834, 837, 305 Ill.Dec. 770, 856 N.E.2d 575, 577 (2006). As such, a plaintiff seeking to recover for willful and wanton conduct must plead the basic elements of negligence, Krywin v. Chicago Transit Authority, 238 Ill.2d 215, 225, 345 Ill.Dec. 1, 938 N.E.2d 440, 446 (2010), plus an additional requirement that the defendant acted with a conscious disregard for the plaintiff's welfare. Doe v. Chicago Board of Education, 213 Ill.2d 19, 28, 289 Ill.Dec. 642, 820 N.E.2d 418, 423 (2004). Just as it is an essential element to a negligence claim, the existence of a duty is a prerequisite to any willful and wanton cause of action. Scarano v. Town of Ela, 166 Ill.App.3d 184, 187, 117 Ill.Dec. 72, 520 N.E.2d 62, 64 (1988). Thus, survival of a willful and wanton claim depends first and foremost on whether the complaint contains sufficient factual allegations to support a duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff. See Brooks v. McLean County Unit Dist. 5, 2014 IL App (4th), 380 I. Dec. 661, 8 N.E.3d 1203, 1208 (2004).

The question of whether a duty exists is a question of law, Krywin, 238 Ill.2d at 225, 345 Ill.Dec. 1, 938 N.E.2d 440 at 447, which defendants FCHS and OTHS argue is answered by the public-duty rule. They claim that the public-duty rule applies in this case, meaning that they owed no duty to protect individuals, such as plaintiff, from harm. Plaintiff naturally disagrees, claiming that her willful and wanton claim falls outside the scope of ...


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