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A.M. v. Bridges Public Charter School

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 1, 2019

A.M. et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BRIDGES PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Royce C. Lamberth United States District Judge.

         This is the second lawsuit Melissa and Matthew McCall have brought alleging Bridges Public Charter School teachers physically abused their disabled daughter A.M. The first, a claim under the Individuals with Disability Education Act, ended when this Court granted Bridges summary judgment. See Order, A.M. v. Bridges Pub. Charter Sch., No. 17-2333 (D.D.C. Mar. 29, 2019), ECF No. 27.

         Here, the McCalls bring seven other claims: Three for discrimination-under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the District of Columbia's Human Rights Act (DCHRA), respectively. And four more for torts-battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), gross negligence, and gross negligent supervision.[1] See 2d Am. Compl., ECF No. 10.

         Bridges again seeks summary judgment. But this time, it falls short. In arguing over the McCalls' discrimination claims, neither side followed the familiar footwork from McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Yet the Court holds that case's burden-shifting scheme keeps the McCalls' discrimination claims alive. And given the facts surrounding the McCalls' tort claims, the Court finds summary judgment premature there, too. So the Court will deny Bridges's motion.

         I. Background

         A.M. suffers from severe developmental disabilities. Throughout her early childhood, D.C. Public Schools' early intervention programs administered support and services, eventually steering A.M. to Bridges Public Charter School, a school well-versed in special education.

         But the McCalls were unsatisfied with Bridges. Specifically, Melissa was troubled by reports that A.M. was not napping, and by signs that A.M.'s bibs and diapers were not changed frequently enough. While visiting Bridges, Melissa also noticed teachers frequently using their cell phones and yelling at students for minor or involuntary transgressions. See Melissa McCall Dep. Tr. 80:7-81:3, ECF No. 42-2; see also ECF No. 44-3 at 21-22.

         A new teacher named Donald Wallace shared similar concerns. Amid escalating interpersonal difficulties with his Bridges colleagues, Wallace reported teachers jokingly threatening nonverbal students with sayings like "I'm going to punch you in the face" (sometimes including an expletive), "lifting" students-including A.M.-"by their shoulders," and forcing a sobbing A.M. to lay on her cot during naptime by pinning her legs under a beanbag and "putting [their] feet up" on the beanbag for added resistance. ECF No. 44-3 at 26-29. But faced with mounting concerns about his job performance, and presented with a choice between teaching under a probationary arrangement or taking a $13, 767 severance package, Wallace resigned after just two months. See ECF No. 44-3 at 30.

         The rest of the record paints a more measured picture. To be sure, one Bridges teacher acknowledged that communication "barriers" made the classroom "[v]ery chaotic" and that intrafaculty fighting contributed to a "toxic" environment. Shantelle Fuller Dep. Tr. 39:16-40:15, 49:7-18, ECF No. 44-4. And the use of the beanbag restraint was confirmed. See Kristen Williams Dep, Tr. 33:17-39:19, ECF No. 44-6. Yet Wallace himself walked back his accusations, testifying at his deposition that Bridges teachers "all seemed to be taking extraordinarily good custodial care in a way that would be perfectly, absolutely, one hundred percent acceptable in, say, a day care environment," if not a full-service "special education classroom." See Donald Wallace Dep. Tr. 103:3-16, ECF No. 44-9. For their part, the McCalls admit they never saw Bridges employees mistreat A.M. See Melissa McCall Dep. Tr. 81:8-15; Matthew McCall Dep. Tr. 54:5-13, ECF No. 42-3. And Bridges's internal investigation concluded Wallace's abuse allegations "were unfounded." Melissa McCall Dep. Tr. 114:20-115:5. What's more, a police investigation triggered by Wallace's report also led to no criminal charges, see Id. at 153:1-8, but it did reveal that Wallace made similarly unfounded abuse allegations against other former colleagues at different schools. See Donald Wallace Dep. Tr. 59:7-60:5.

         Even still, the McCalls filed this lawsuit. Their disability claims allege Bridges employees verbally and physically mistreated A.M. because she was nonverbal. Their battery claim concerns teachers restraining A.M. with the beanbag and their bodyweight. Their IIED claim argues the beanbag restraint was "extreme and outrageous beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." 2d Am. Comp. ¶ 69. Their gross negligence claim argues Bridges teachers gravely breached the standard of care owed by special-needs teachers. And their gross negligent supervision claim seeks to hold Bridges liable for allegedly failing to supervise A.M.'s teachers.

         II. Jurisdiction

         Because the McCalls sue under two federal statutes-the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701-797-this Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. And because their tort claims "derive from a common nucleus of operative fact," this Court has supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966). D.C. common law governs these claims. See McGaughey v. District of Columbia, 684 F.3d 1355, 1357 (D.C. Cir. 2012).

         III. Legal Standard

         Rule 56(c) compels summary judgment if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and "the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." In assessing whether genuine factual issues exist, the Court must "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party" without "mak[ing] credibility determinations or weigh[ing] the evidence"- indeed, the Court "must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000). Thus a nonmovant can outlast summary judgment with evidence "allowing a reasonable jury [to] return a verdict" in its favor. Chenari v. George Washington Univ.,847 F.3d 740, 744 (D.C. Cir. 2017); see also First Nat 7 Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co.,391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968) ("[A]ll that is required [to defeat summary judgment] is ...


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