United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
DEBRINA SPRAGGINS, as parent and next friend of N.C., a minor, Plaintiff,
NIKITA BROWN and the CHICAGO BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case arises out of a physical altercation between fourth
grade student N.C. and school teacher Nikita Brown. Plaintiff
Debrina Spraggins, as parent and next friend of minor N.C.,
has sued the Chicago Board of Education (the Board) and
teacher Nikita Brown seeking compensation for alleged
violations of various constitutional and state law rights.
claims against Defendant Brown include a substantive due
process claim and an excessive force claim, both in violation
of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Against the Board, Plaintiff claims
willful and wanton failure to supervise under Illinois State
law, and indemnification. Both Defendant Brown and Defendant
Board have moved for summary judgment.
reasons stated below, Defendant Brown's motion for
summary judgment (Dkt. 154, 196) is denied, and Defendant
Board's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 157) is granted
in part and denied in part.
The March 2016 Incident
the parties dispute many of the specific details giving rise
to this suit, the following core narrative is undisputed. On
March 1, 2016, N.C. was a fourth grade, special needs student
at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School, and Defendant Brown
was his Special Education teacher. (Dkt. 153 at 2) Around
3:00pm that afternoon, N.C. 's cell phone went off. N.C.
was aware that it was against school policy to have an
audible cellphone in class, as he had violated this rule on
several other occasions. (Dkt. 153 at 4) After the phone went
off, Defendant Brown asked N.C. to relay his passcode so she
could shut off the ringer. (Dkt. 178, Exh. 1 at 20) N.C.
refused. (Id.) Brown held the power button to turn
off N.C. 's phone, prompting N.C. to swipe all the papers
off Brown's desk. (Id.) Brown then asked the
teaching aid to escort the other eight children out of the
parties acknowledge that after the other children exited the
classroom, N.C. threw a plastic trashcan across the room.
(Dkt. 178, Exh. 1 at 20) It did not hit Brown. (Id.)
In response, Brown grabbed N.C. around the neck, choked him
for about five or six seconds, and shoved him backwards
against a table. (Id. at 21) Brown then grabbed N.C.
by his hoodie and dragged him, headfirst, by the hood of his
hoodie out of the classroom and down two flights of stairs
towards the principal's office. (Id.) As Brown
approached the office, the assistant principal heard
"loud shriek[s]" and saw Brown holding N.C. 's
arm and one of N.C. 's shoes. (Id. at 22) N.C.
was on his feet at this point. (Id.) The assistant
principal proceeded to call 911. (Id.) Paramedics
arrived and treated N.C., who was upset and crying. (Dkt.
179, Exh. 2 at 7-8) A school security guard traveled with
N.C. in the ambulance. (Dkt. 178, Exh. 1 at 22) By the time
N.C. got to the hospital, he was calm and well behaved. (Dkt.
179, Exh. 2 at 8)
parties contest the extent of N.C. 's injuries. Plaintiff
claims that when N.C. arrived at the assistant
principal's office, he "was convulsing and frothing
at the mouth on the floor of [the] office, was struggling to
breath [sic]" and was barely conscious. (Dkt. 179, Exh.
2 at 7) The hospital records indicate marking and bruising on
N.C. 's neck as well as soreness and tenderness on other
parts of his body. (Id. at 8) Defendants claim that
N.C. 's injuries included mere "transient
soreness" and that he appeared fine when he got in the
ambulance. (Dkt. 154 at 6)
parties also contest N.C. 's history of violence and
behavioral issues, with Brown noting 55 documented incidents
of violent outbursts (Dkt. 153 at 2), and N.C. 's mother
claiming that he "never had any violent outbursts."
(Dkt. 179, Exh. 2 at 3) The parties further contest whether
N.C. had taken his psychotropic medication the day of the
incident. Plaintiff claims N.C. took his medication
(Id. at 3), while Brown claims it was clear he had
not. (Dkt. 154 at 3)
after the incident, the principal reported the encounter to
the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). (Dkt.
178, Exh. 1 at 24) The board first suspended Brown without
pay, and later approved her termination. (Id. at 25)
The board additionally placed a "do not hire" on
Brown's file. (Id.)
was arrested and charged with several counts of aggravated
battery in state court. (Dkt. 178, Exh. 1 at 25) Brown
eventually accepted a plea bargain for misdemeanor battery.
Brown's Prior Employment History
worked for the Board "off and on for twelve years."
(Dkt. 178, Exh. 1 at 6) She had been fired from two schools,
but apparently had no formal disciplinary problems other than
the incident with N.C. (Id.) Plaintiff's rely
heavily on another physical altercation involving Brown and
student, Q.S. Several months before the incident with N.C.,
another teacher observed Brown: "trying to get a
misbehaving student, Q.S., to meet classroom expectations
[…] Brown had Q.S.'s arm in her hands and it
appeared that Q.S. was wincing in pain because she was
twisting his arm." (Id. at 12-13) Once the
other teacher made eye contact with Brown, she released the
student. (Id.) The other teacher detailed the
encounter in an email to the principal. (Id.) That
teacher, however, did not report the altercation to DCFS.
(Id. at 15)
Brown had no other history of formal discipline, records show
that other teachers had difficulties "planning and
communicating" with Brown. (Dkt. 178, Exh. 1 at 7)
Several teachers complained that Brown was immature and
unprofessional, and Brown verbally threatened other teachers
in the past. (Id. at 8-13) Various email records
indicate that the principal and assistant principal tried to
address Brown's behavior through a series of emails and
meetings. (Id. at 9-12) The Board also reminds the
Court that in order to terminate Brown, it had to follow
procedures in the Chicago Teacher's Union collective
bargaining agreement. (Id. at 5) The Board
eventually did so, reassigning Brown immediately after the
incident and officially terminating Brown on May 3, 2016.
(Id. at 25)
Summary Judgment Standard
judgement is proper where there is "no dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute as
to any material fact exists if "the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking
summary judgment has the burden of establishing that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact. See Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In
determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists,
the Court must construe all facts and reasonable
interferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. See CTL ex rel. Tre-batoski v. Ashland Sch.
Dist., 743 F, 3d 524, 528 (7th Cir. 2014). On summary
judgment "the court has one task and one ...