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Ayanna Blue v. District of Columbia

March 8, 2012

AYANNA BLUE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Ayanna Blue was an 18-year-old student at the Transition Academy at Shadd, a school within the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) for emotionally disturbed students, when she became involved in a sexual relationship with her teacher, Robert Weismiller. That relationship forms the basis of Plaintiff's current suit, in which she brings myriad federal and state causes of action against Weismiller as well as the District of Columbia, DCPS, and former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee. The last three, collectively referred to as the "District Defendants," have now filed a Motion to Dismiss. As Plaintiff's federal claims are all legally deficient, and as her state-law claims are barred by her failure to provide timely notice to the District, the Court will grant the Motion. The case may proceed against Weismiller alone.

I.Background

In her Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that while she was a student in his class, Weismiller, then a DCPS teacher, initiated and engaged in a sexual relationship with her from November 2008 to April 2009. Sec. Am. Compl., ¶¶ 19-20. During this time, Plaintiff became pregnant and in late 2009 gave birth to Weismiller's daughter. Id., ¶ 21. In May 2009, DCPS officials learned of Plaintiff's pregnancy and conducted an investigation into her relationship with Weismiller. Id., ¶ 29. Weismiller denied having had a sexual relationship with Plaintiff, and while other DCPS teachers and staff members reported frequently seeing Plaintiff and Weismiller alone in his classroom, sometimes with the lights off, no one reported observing any inappropriate physical contact between them. See id., ¶¶ 30-36. Following this investigation, DCPS concluded that there was no "definitive proof" Weismiller had engaged in any wrongdoing. Id., ¶¶ 38-39. He was nevertheless fired the following October as part of a system-wide reduction in force. Id., ¶ 14.

Plaintiff also alleges that she was not the first student with whom Weismiller initiated a sexual relationship. Beginning in 1976, she pleads, while teaching high school in Prince George's County, Maryland, Weismiller initiated sexual relationships with two of his students. Id., ¶ 24. In 1984, while teaching middle school in Prince William County, Virginia, Plaintiff alleges Weismiller sexually assaulted two eighth grade students, which resulted in a lawsuit against him and the school board and his subsequent termination. Id., ¶ 26. Prior to hiring Weismiller, Plaintiff asserts, Defendants in the present case "knew or should have known that Weismiller had engaged in inappropriate sexual relationships with students in the past." Id., ¶ 61. With respect to the Transition Academy at Shadd, Plaintiff alleges that it is "a failure, where students are inadequately supervised and subject to injury." Id., ¶ 46.

On September 7, 2010, Plaintiff brought this action against the District of Columbia, DCPS, and Rhee, in her capacity as former Chancellor of DCPS, and against Weismiller, alleging negligent supervision, negligent hiring and retention, and a violation of 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. against the District Defendants, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duty, and a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants. Plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint on September 21, 2010, and her Second Amended Complaint on May 11, 2011. Now before the Court is the District Defendants' Motion to Dismiss; Defendant Weismiller has not moved to dismiss the claims against him. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the District Defendants' Motion.

II.Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In evaluating Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court must "treat the complaint's factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff 'the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'" Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (internal citation omitted); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The notice pleading rules are "not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff," Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005), and she must thus be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 584 (2007).

Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, id. at 555, "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, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Plaintiff must put forth "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."

Id. The Court need not accept as true "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Though a plaintiff may survive a 12(b)(6) motion even if "recovery is very remote and unlikely," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)), the facts alleged in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.

III.Analysis

The District Defendants first contend that Plaintiff improperly names DCPS and former Chancellor Rhee as defendants in this action. Next they challenge Plaintiff's federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 20 U.S.C. § 1681 on the ground that she has failed to sufficiently plead the required elements. Finally, they maintain that Plaintiff's state-common-law claims must be dismissed because she failed to comply with the notice requirements of D.C. Code § 12-309. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

A. DCPS and Chancellor Rhee

1. DCPS

The District Defendants first move to dismiss DCPS as a defendant in this suit on the ground that "DCPS is a subordinate governmental agency within the District of Columbia government and as a result is non sui juris." Mot. at 5 (citing Hinson ex rel. N.H. v. Merritt Educational Center, 521 F. Supp. 2d 22, 34 (D.C. 2007)). Plaintiff responds that DCPS is a proper defendant in cases alleging municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). See Opp. at 27-28. Plaintiff cites Monell for the proposition that "school entities, such as a school board or school system, are 'persons' subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Id. at 28 (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 690, 697-99). This is the sole authority she cites in support of her position that DCPS is a proper party to this suit.

Courts in this District have held on numerous recent occasions that DCPS is non sui juris -- that is, non-suable as an entity separate from the District of Columbia. See, e.g., U.S. ex rel. Davis v. District of Columbia, 591 F. Supp. 2d 30, 40 (D.D.C. 2008) (DCPS may not be sued as separate entity); Hinson, 521 F. Supp. 2d at 34 ("a number of courts addressing this very issue have concluded that DCPS is not a suable entity under the D.C.Code") (collecting cases); Bowers v. Janey, 468 F. Supp. 2d 102, 105 n.3 (D.D.C. 2006) ("case law has indicated that the DCPS 'is not a suable entity'").

In another case from this District, Winder v. Erste, No. 03-2623, 2005 WL 736639 (D.D.C., Mar. 31, 2005), Judge John Bates considered and rejected an argument similar to the argument Plaintiff makes here -- to wit, that Monell "stands for the broad proposition that school systems are directly subject to liability as 'persons' under § 1983." Id. at *3. Judge Bates clarified that the Supreme Court's decision in Monell does not indicate that municipal liability must attach to school boards directly, where another municipal entity is the entity legally responsible for the school board's liabilities. Thus, where, as here, municipal liability may attach simply by suing the proper municipal defendant -- the District of Columbia or one of its officials, as opposed to DCPS -- Monell does not mandate that § 1983 actions must lie against school boards.

Id. at *4. He thus concluded: "Because DCPS is not a suable entity under the D.C. Code, and federal law does not require DCPS to be the named municipal defendant, the Court grants DCPS's motion to dismiss." Id.

As this Court concurs with these decisions, all of Plaintiff's claims against DCPS must be dismissed. See Hobby v. District of Columbia, No. 07-1061, 2007 WL 4233627, at *1 n.1 (D.D.C. Nov. 29, 2007) ("Because bodies within the District of Columbia government are not suable as separate entities . . . DCPS is dismissed from this case.") (internal citations omitted). The proper party against whom Plaintiff must bring her claims is the District of Columbia itself.

See Winder, 2005 WL 736639, at *4 ("the proper municipal defendant [is] the District of Columbia . . . as opposed to DCPS"); Bowers, 468 F. Supp. 2d at 105 n.3 ("The employer in this situation would be the District of Columbia rather than the DCPS, as case law has indicated that DCPS 'is not a suable entity.'").

2. Chancellor Rhee

The Court also grants the District Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's claims against Michelle Rhee in her official capacity as former Chancellor of DCPS. "A section 1983 suit for damages against municipal officials in their official capacities is . . . equivalent to a suit against the municipality itself." Atchinson v. District of Columbia, 73 F.3d 418, 424 (D.C. Cir. 1996). "'Based upon the understanding that it is duplicative to name both a government entity and the entity's employees in their official capacity[,]' courts routinely dismiss claims against the officials to conserve judicial resources when the entity itself is also sued." Trimble v. District of Columbia, 779 F. Supp. 2d 54, 58 n.3 (D.D.C. 2011) (quoting Robinson v. District of Columbia, 403 F. Supp. 2d 39, 49 (D.D.C. 2005)). While naming Chancellor Rhee as a defendant may thus not be legally improper, see DL v. District of Columbia, 450 F. Supp. 2d 21, 24 (D.D.C. 2006), the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's claims against her as redundant.

The Court now considers whether Plaintiff's Second Amendment Complaint successfully states claims against the District of Columbia.

B. Federal Claims

Plaintiff asserts causes of action against the District of Columbia under two federal statutes, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 20 U.S.C. § 1681 (Title IX). As this Court's subject matter jurisdiction derives from these federal claims, the Court will address them first. See Sec. Am. Compl., ¶ 10 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983; 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(a)(3), 1367(a)).

1. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Section 1983 provides for a cause of ...


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