United States District Court, District of Columbia
S. CHUTKAN United States District Judge.
are Vaughn Jones and Antonio Pixley, two former basketball
coaches at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School in Washington,
D.C., Justin Route, a former student and basketball player at
Coolidge, and Jennifer Route, Justin's mother. Plaintiffs
challenge D.C. Public Schools' (“DCPS”)
investigation into Justin Route's eligibility to play
basketball, as well its subsequent determination that he was
ineligible and that Jones and Pixley should be terminated due
to their involvement in falsifying Justin's student
records. Plaintiffs allege that the District violated the Due
Process Clause and engaged in fraud, breach of fiduciary
duty, and intentional infliction of emotional
distress. The District moved to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6). (ECF No. 34). Upon consideration of the motion and
Plaintiffs' Opposition, and for the reasons stated
herein, the District's motion is GRANTED.
the factual and procedural history of this case was described
in this court's April 14, 2016 Opinion, see 177
F.Supp.3d at 544, the court will briefly discuss the relevant
facts here. In the summer of 2015, DCPS began to investigate
whether Justin Route was eligible to play basketball during
the 2015-2016 school year. (Third Am. Compl.
(“Compl.”) ¶ 88 (ECF No. 33)). Because
students may only play basketball for four years during high
school, school officials believed Justin was ineligible to
play an additional year due to his having played as a ninth
grader at his previous school. (Id. ¶¶ 85,
88). In August 2015, Jennifer Route provided DCPS with
transcripts she had received in 2013 from Justin's
previous school, showing that he attended for three years and
that he had completed the eighth grade. (Id. ¶
92; Compl. Ex. M). That same month, DCPS officials obtained
their own copies of Justin's past transcripts, which they
provided to Jennifer Route and which showed that he had
actually completed ninth grade at his previous school.
(Compl. ¶¶ 103-08; Compl. Ex. P). The following
month, a DCPS investigator interviewed Justin, who reported
that he had repeated eighth grade at his previous school and
entered Coolidge as a freshman. (Compl. ¶¶ 95-96;
Compl. Ex. F). Following this investigation, DCPS concluded
that Justin was ineligible, that his school records had been
altered, and that Jones and Pixley should be terminated from
their coaching positions due to their involvement in altering
Justin's records. (Compl. Ex. B).
allege that the transcript DCPS obtained and used to support
its determination that Justin was ineligible and that Jones
and Pixley should be terminated was inaccurate or falsified.
(Compl. ¶¶ 106-08). They claim that Jones was
targeted by the District due to Plaintiffs' vocal
complaints of mismanagement, and that the terminations at
issue here were just one part of ongoing retaliation for
Jones' public criticism. (Id. ¶¶
150-51, 157-63). Plaintiffs first filed this suit in D.C.
Superior Court, and in December 2015 that court issued a
temporary restraining order, ordering that Jones and Pixley
be restored to their coaching positions and prohibiting the
District from removing them from those positions pending the
outcome of the litigation. 177 F.Supp.3d at 544. The case was
subsequently removed to U.S. District Court, and the District
moved to dissolve the Superior Court's TRO. In April
2016, this court granted the District's motion based on
Plaintiffs' failure to demonstrate irreparable harm
sufficient to support a continued TRO or preliminary
injunction. Id. at 546-48. In July 2016, Plaintiffs
filed a Third Amended Complaint, adding Justin and Jennifer
Route as plaintiffs, and the District has now moved to
dismiss under Federal Rule 12(b)(6). (ECF Nos. 33, 34).
motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to
state a claim tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint.
See Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C.
Cir. 2002). “To survive a motion to dismiss, 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, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the factual
content allows the court to “draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Id. Thus, although a plaintiff may
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion even where “recovery is
very remote and unlikely, ” the facts alleged in the
complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Evaluating a 12(b)(6) motion is a
“context-specific task that requires the reviewing
court to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
Due Process Claim (Count I)
Jones and Pixley first allege that they were not afforded due
process by the District in its investigation and ultimate
decision to terminate their coaching positions. In order to
state a due process claim, Plaintiffs must first establish
that they had a property interest in continued employment.
See Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S.
532, 538 (1985) (citing Board of Regents v. Roth,
408 U.S. 564, 576-578 (1972)). The Constitution does not
itself create property interests; instead, they are
“created and their dimensions are defined by existing
rules or understandings that stem from an independent source
such as state law.” Id. (quoting
Roth, 408 U.S. at 577); Ralls Corp. v. Comm. on
Foreign Inv. in U.S., 758 F.3d 296, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2014)
(“[P]roperty interests ‘attain . . .
constitutional status by virtue of the fact that they have
been initially recognized and protected by state
law.'” (quoting Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S.
693, 710 (1976))). Consideration of whether Plaintiffs have a
property interest in their continued coaching positions thus
requires a review of local law. See O'Donnell v.
Barry, 148 F.3d 1126, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (no property
interest in continued employment under D.C. Code §
4-104); Grant v. District of Columbia, 908 A.2d
1173, 1179 (D.C. 2006) (citing O'Donnell and
reviewing various other sections of the D.C. Code).
and Pixley were not full-time or career DCPS employees.
Instead, they were hired yearly as coaches under the D.C.
Interscholastic Athletic Association (“DCIAA”)
Coach Agreements (Am. Compl. ¶ 26; Compl. Ex. A). They
allege that they had a property interest in these positions
because the DCIAA Handbook provided assurances of some
available due process rights in connection with disciplinary
actions. (Compl. ¶¶ 164-74). Under the D.C.
Municipal Regulations governing interscholastic athletics,
“a coach . . . who knows, or should have known, that an
ineligible student is participating or has participated in an
interscholastic athletic program or contest, shall be subject
to disciplinary action pursuant to [DCPS] regulation or
policy.” 5A D.C.M.R. § 2702.7. Plaintiffs assert
that the policy in the DCIAA Handbook controls disciplinary
action here. The Handbook states that “disciplinary
actions shall be taken pursuant to applicable personnel
regulations” and, further, “[p]rogressive
discipline shall be utilized in accordance with applicable
personnel regulations.” (Handbook § 8.4.1(4)
(Compl. Ex. I)). The Handbook additionally provides that
“[a]ll employees shall have the right to grieve or
otherwise challenge any adverse action pursuant to DCPS
regulations.” (Id. § 8.4.2). Finally, the
Handbook contains a section called “Appeals
Procedure” that describes the process for bringing
grievances. (See Id. § 8.5.2). Additionally,
though not cited by Plaintiffs, the DCPS Report of
Investigation into Jones cited D.C. Municipal Regulation
§ 5-E1401.2 as the basis for its findings against him.
(Pl. Ex. 4). This section of the city's regulations
further provides for the right to an appeal, and some limited
process. 5-E14 D.C.M.R. §§ 1402, 1406.
District does not dispute that Plaintiffs may have had some
right to appeal their termination. In the court's view,
Plaintiffs Jones and Pixley have therefore satisfied their
burden at this stage to plausibly allege that they had a
property interest in their employment, entitling them to some
limited due process protection. Though it remains unclear
what process Jones and Pixley may have been entitled to, they
allege that they had no hearing and no opportunity to refute
specific allegations made against them. (Compl. ¶¶
176-77). Plaintiffs have thus plausibly stated a claim that
they had a property interest in their position, were entitled
to some due process protections, and failed to receive what
process was due.
District additionally argues, however, that even if
Plaintiffs can state a due process claim, their claim should
be still dismissed on the ground that the District of
Columbia may not be held liable as a municipality under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. The court agrees. A municipality may be
not be sued under § 1983 for the acts of its employees
on a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious
liability. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of
N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 691-92 (1978). Instead, a
municipality may only be sued as a “person” under
§ 1983 when the alleged constitutional injury was the
result of an “action [taken] pursuant to official
municipal policy.” Connick v. Thompson, 563
U.S. 51, 60 (2011) (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at
691). “Official municipal policy includes the decisions
of a government's lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking
officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to
practically have the force of law.” Id. at 61.
must also allege that some official policy caused the
deprivation of due process. Monell, 436 U.S. at 692.
In other words, Plaintiffs must allege that the
District's policy was the “moving force”
behind the constitutional violation. City of Canton, Ohio
v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 389 (1989). Plaintiffs may
establish causation “if, for instance, the municipality
or one of its policymakers explicitly adopted the policy that
was the moving force of the constitutional violation.”
Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 39
(D.C. Cir. 2004) (internal quotations omitted). To be
considered a policy maker, an individual must “speak
with final policymaking authority, ” Jett v. Dallas
Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 737 (1989), and
“typically must be at least an agency head or the
governing body of an agency, ” Coleman v. District
of Columbia, 828 F.Supp.2d 87, 91 (D.D.C. 2011) (finding
that an Assistant Chief in the D.C. Fire and Emergency
Medical Services Department was not a final policy maker).
Central to the court's analysis is not whether an
employee was simply in a leadership position, but whether
“the D.C. Code ...