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Meekins v. Cleveland County Board of Education

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

May 5, 2018

LOANN MEEKINS, as lawful guardian ad litem of T.W., Plaintiff,
v.
CLEVELAND COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION

          Dennis L. Howell, United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. [# 7]. On September 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Complaint asserting claims of failure to provide a free appropriate public education, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 794, the Fourteenth Amendment, and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-107.2; excessive force; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and negligence. [# 1]. On December 20, 2017, Defendant filed its motion to dismiss, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (2), and (6). [# 7]. The District Court referred the motion to this Court. Accordingly, Defendant's motion is now before this Court for a Memorandum and Recommendation to the District Court. The Court will recommend the District Court grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. [# 7].

         I. Relevant Factual Background

         The facts in this case center on an alleged incident that occurred on September 19, 2014, when T.W. was fifteen years old[1] and enrolled in Kings Mountain High School's Supporting Academics and Independent Living (SAIL) program. [Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7]. Defendant is the board of education that oversees the Cleveland County School District wherein Kings Mountain High School (KMHS) is located. [Id. at ¶¶ 1, 6]. Plaintiff alleges Defendant “has purchased insurance to cover claims as outlined herein.” [Id. at ¶ 68].

         Prior to 2014, T.W. had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. [Id. at ¶ 7]. Autism is a developmental disorder marked by challenges with communication and social skills. [Id. at ¶ 7]. T.W. had also been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and narcolepsy. [Id. at ¶ 7].

         In May 2014, before starting the SAIL program, a special team convened and created T.W.'s individualized education plan (IEP). [Compl. ¶ 10]. The KMHS “exceptional children” teacher Rachel Bye was present and signed T.W.'s IEP. [Id. at ¶ 12]. T.W.'s IEP included a behavioral intervention plan (BIP). [Id. at ¶ 10]. The BIP outlined that if T.W. were to have a behavior issue, T.W.'s mother should be called “rather than retraining her.” [Id. at ¶ 10]. Further, the BIP stated the Police Department should be contacted only if T.W.'s safety were in danger. [Id. at ¶ 10]. If a situation were to arise where T.W. had to be restrained, T.W.'s BIP stated males were neither to be involved in the intervention nor to touch T.W.; this fact was communicated to KMHS staff. [Id. at ¶¶ 11, 13]. At some point before the incident, T.W.'s mother notified the school that T.W. is afraid of the police and would run away if the police were called. [Compl. ¶ 8]. To help familiarize T.W. before school started, T.W. met with KMHS administrators and staff. [Id. at ¶ 14].

         On September 19, 2014, T.W. was late to school. [Id. at ¶ 15]. T.W. had been sick and absent the prior two days. [Id. at ¶ 15]. That morning, T.W.'s mother told the school to call her if T.W. started to feel unwell. [Id. at ¶ 16]. A staff member escorted T.W. to the exceptional children classroom. [Id. at ¶ 17]. The exceptional children classroom has an adjoining door with Ms. Blanton's classroom. [Compl. ¶ 21].

         For the day's lesson, T.W. needed the use of her computer tablet, but T.W. had issues unlocking the tablet's passcode. [Id. at ¶ 18]. Then, T.W. quarreled with the classroom's ‘applied behavior analysis tech' about the tablet. [Id. at ¶ 19]. T.W. acquiesced and returned the tablet. [Id. at ¶ 19]. Afterward, T.W. told Rachel Bye she wanted to go to the front office and call her mother because she was not feeling well. [Id. at ¶ 20]. T.W. had not memorized her mother's phone number. [Id. at ¶ 20]. T.W. thought the office would help her. [Compl. ¶ 20]. Rachel Bye denied T.W.'s request. [Id. at ¶ 21]. Bye told T.W. “she must first memorize her mother's number, and then she could either make the phone call in Ms. Bye's classroom or the adjoining classroom, Ms. Blanton's room.” [Id. at ¶ 21].

         Unsatisfied, T.W. made moves to exit the exceptional children classroom through the main classroom door. [Id. at ¶ 22]. Bye blocked T.W.'s attempt. [Id. at ¶ 22]. Then, T.W. tried to go out through the main classroom door of Ms. Blanton's classroom. [Id. at ¶ 22]. Mr. Green, a substitute teacher, blocked T.W's efforts. [Compl. ¶ 22]. At that moment, assistant principal Jeremy Shields called Ms. Blanton's classroom on an unrelated matter. [Id. at¶ 23]. Ms. Blanton answered and told Shields there was a problem and Shields was needed in her classroom. [Id. at ¶ 23]. Shields recruited Officer Davis to assist him. [Id. at ¶ 24]. Officer Davis is a 41 year old Caucasian male. [Id. at ¶ 24]. When Shields and Davis arrived at Ms. Blanton's classroom, T.W. was still attempting to exit. [Id. at ¶ 24]. Officer Davis switched with Mr. Green and continued blocking T.W. from leaving Ms. Blanton's classroom. [Compl. ¶ 24]. T.W. told Officer Davis she had permission to call her mother. [Id. at ¶ 25].

         Shields suggested to T.W. that they should move to another room for privacy. [Id. at ¶ 26]. T.W. stated she did not want privacy but only to call her mother. [Id. at ¶ 26]. Then, Officer Davis grabbed at T.W. [Id. at ¶ 27]. T.W. pulled away. [Id. at ¶27]. Davis shoved T.W. into another room. [Compl. ¶ 27]. T.W. fell to the floor. [Id. at ¶ 27]. As T.W. attempted to get back up, Davis pushed her back down. [Id. at ¶ 28]. Davis got on top of T.W. and attempted to handcuff her. [Id. at ¶ 28]. T.W. resisted and struggled to get away. [Id. at ¶ 28]. Officer Davis punched T.W.'s face. [Id. at ¶ 28]. Officer Davis then “placed his hand on [T.W.'s] neck and proceeded to punch her again and again.” [Compl. ¶ 28]. T.W. could not breathe. [Id. at ¶ 29]. Officer Davis continued to punch T.W., and at one point Davis gathered T.W.'s hair, pulled her head back, and again hit T.W. across the side of her face. [Id. at ¶ 30].

         In an effort to escape further harm, T.W. bit Davis' hand. [Id. at ¶ 31]. Davis responded by administering pepper spray on T.W. and punched her again. [Id. at ¶ 31]. At that moment, the pepper spray effects were so strong T.W. was nearly blind. [Id. at ¶ 31]. Rachel Bye witnessed Davis pepper spraying T.W. [Compl. ¶ 31]. Bye then felt she “had to walk away.” [Id. at ¶ 31]. No one tried to stop the attack. [Id. at ¶ 33].

         Next, assistant principal Shields ordered T.W. to stand up. [Id at ¶ 34]. T.W. complied. [Id at ¶ 34]. Then, Officer Davis grabbed T.W.'s hair and slung her across the room. [Id at ¶ 34]. As T.W. lay on the ground, Davis pepper sprayed her a second time. [Compl. ¶ 34]. Davis continued attacking T.W. until he heard sirens approaching. [Id. at ¶ 35]. T.W. asked Shields for napkins and water. [Id at ¶ 36]. Shields retrieved some napkins and threw them on the ground near T.W. [Id at ¶ 36]. Shields did not get T.W. water. [Id. at ¶ 36].

         Paramedics arrived and found T.W. on the floor-bloodied and hysterical. [Id at ¶ 37]. T.W.'s nose and lip were bleeding. [Compl. ¶ 37]. There was blood on the floor in front of where T.W. sat handcuffed. [Id at ¶ 37]. T.W. was hyperventilating. [Id at ¶ 37]. T.W. repeated she could not see and she only wanted to call her mother. [Id at ¶ 38]. EMS reported as soon as T.W. was laid down on a stretcher, an officer handcuffed her to the stretcher. [Id at ¶ 39]. Then, a different officer boarded the ambulance with T.W. for transport. [Id at ¶ 39].

         The entire incident occurred during the time T.W.'s mother drove back home. [Compl. ¶ 40]. Rachel Bye called T.W.'s mother and told her there had been an altercation between T.W. and Officer Davis. [Id at ¶ 40]. T.W.'s mother asked Bye to speak with her daughter. [Id at ¶ 39]. Bye stated T.W. could not speak at that time. [Id at ¶ 40]. T.W.'s mother then asked to speak with Officer Davis. [Id at ¶ 40]. Bye told T.W.'s mother she could not speak with him. [Id at ¶ 40]. Bye told T.W.'s mother to return to the school. [Compl. ¶ 41]. T.W.'s mother asked for clarification of what exactly happened. [Id at ¶ 41]. Bye stated she did not know and hung up. [Id at ¶ 41].

         The weekend following the attack, Officer Davis was notified he was going to be taken out of KMHS for unspecified reasons. [Id. at ¶ 46]. Less than a month later, Davis was reinstated as a school resource officer at KMHS. [Id. at ¶ 46].

         T.W.'s physical injuries included contusions of the eyelid, acid chemical burns, acute headaches, and bald spots on her head where her hair had been ripped out. [Id. at ¶ 42]. T.W.'s emotional injuries, which are ongoing, include: “increased tearfulness, disrupted sleep due to nightmares, irritability, fatigue, a sixty-pound weight gain, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthless [sic], decreased concentration, an exaggerated startle reflex, auditory and visual hallucinations, increased anxiety, panic attacks, depression, isolation, difficulty being in groups of people, restlessness, tension, worry, racing thoughts, re-experiencing the trauma, and suicidal thoughts.” [Compl. ¶ 43]. T.W. has been ...


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