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Marshall v. Frederick

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

August 12, 2019

CAMERON MARSHALL, Plaintiff,
v.
SUE FREDERICK, individually and as an employee of the Wake County Board of Education; TERESA CROWTHER, individually and as an employee of the Wake County Board of Education; SANDY ORMEROD, individually and as an employee of the Wake County Board of Education; WAKE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION; and MARY CASTLEBERRY, individually and as Principal of Wendell Middle School; Defendants.

          ORDER

          TERRENCE W. BOYLE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on defendants' motions to dismiss. [DE 23, 25, 31]. The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions to dismiss [DE 23, 25, 31] are granted and plaintiffs complaint is dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2012, plaintiff, then approximately 11 or 12 years old, was sexually abused by Ronald Olson, then a 24-year-old teacher at Wendell Middle School in Wake County, North Carolina. [DE 1, ¶¶ 1-2]. Mr. Olson was plaintiffs sixth-grade language arts teacher. Id. ¶ 47. Mr. Olson used his position as plaintiffs teacher to "repeatedly separate, isolate, and confine Plaintiff during school hours to sexually abuse, video or photograph, and otherwise feloniously engage in sex acts with the minor Plaintiff." Id. ¶ 48. This continued until Mr. Olson was arrested in October 2012. Id. ¶ 70. In March 2013, Mr. Olson pleaded guilty to three felony sex offenses and is currently serving a custodial sentence with the North Carolina Department of Corrections. Id. ¶ 1.

         Plaintiff initiated this action in February 2019, within one year of attaining the age of majority. Id. Plaintiff asserts claims against three defendants-Sue Frederick, Teresa Crowther, and Sandy Ormerod-who were employed by the Wake County Board of Education ("Board of Education") as teachers at Wendell Middle School in 2012, against the Board of Education, and against Mary Castleberry, who was the principal at Wendell Middle School in 2012. Id. ¶¶ 18; 42-45. Plaintiff brings claims against the individual defendants in both their individual and their official capacities.

         Plaintiff alleges that defendants "permitted Mr. Olson to be alone, unmonitored, and unsupervised with Plaintiff during and outside of standard school hours," "allowed Mr. Olson to provide Plaintiff with an iPod touch as an enticement for Plaintiff to continue to engage in sexual activity with Mr. Olson and as a way to communicate directly with Plaintiff without Plaintiffs parents having access to such communications," and "forced Plaintiff on at least two occasions to subject himself to unsupervised isolation with [Mr.] Olson against Plaintiffs wishes." Id. ¶¶ 49-52. Plaintiff further alleges that defendants "failed to provide training or education" to help teachers "protect[] students from sexual abuse, identify[] signs of child sexual abuse, identify[] grooming behaviors of sexual predators," and so on. Id. ¶ 57. Plaintiff claims that defendants "knew or should have known of Mr. Olson's egregious conduct, and failed to take action to save Plaintiff from Mr. Olson's felonious conduct. Id. ¶ 62. Plaintiff alleges that the Board of Education, "by its actions and inactions, created a climate whereby sexual misconduct was not only possible, but was tolerated." Id. ¶ 67.

         Plaintiffs alleges that (1) the Board of Education violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681, et seq.; (2) the Board of Education violated Title IX following Mr. Olson's arrest in October 2012; (3) the Board of Education and Ms. Castleberry violated plaintiffs constitutional rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, by failing to train Wendell Middle School's teachers; (4) Ms. Castleberry violated plaintiffs constitutional rights, pursuant to § 1983, by failing to properly supervise the teachers; (5) Ms. Castleberry, Ms. Crowther, Ms. Frederick, and Ms. Ormerod all violated plaintiffs constitutional rights, pursuant to § 1983, by perpetuating a practice that enabled teachers like Mr. Olson to remove students from school activities and spend time alone with them; (6) defendants all violated plaintiffs constitutional rights, pursuant to § 1983, by adopting a "practice and de facto policy [that] directly created the danger of improper conduct" and imposed a "state-created danger"; (7) Ms. Castleberry, Ms. Crowther, Ms. Frederick, and Ms. Ormerod were all grossly negligent, and the Board of Education is vicariously liable for their negligence; (8) the Board of Education is vicariously liable for Mr. Olson's assaults; (9) the Board of Education is vicariously liable for Mr. Olson's batteries; (10) Ms. Castleberry, Ms. Crowther, Ms. Frederick, and Ms. Ormerod intentionally inflicted emotional distress on plaintiff; and (11) defendants negligently inflicted emotional distress on plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 76-248.

         In May, the Board of Education and defendants Castleberry, Frederick, and Ormerod moved to dismiss plaintiffs claims against them under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [DE 23, 25]. The following month, defendant Crowther moved to dismiss plaintiffs claims against her under Rule 12(b)(6). [DE 31]. Plaintiff has responded in opposition to the motions to dismiss. [DE 33, 34, 37].

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants have all moved to dismiss plaintiffs claims against them for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "the court should accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). A complaint must state a claim for relief that is facially plausible. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Facial plausibility means that the court can "draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged," as merely reciting the elements of a cause of action with the support of conclusory statements does not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court need not accept the plaintiffs legal conclusions drawn from the facts, nor need it accept unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments. Philips v. Pitt County Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).

         1. Plaintiffs claims against the Wake County Board of Education are dismissed.

         The Board of Education's motion to dismiss plaintiffs claims must be granted. First, plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to state a Title IX claim against the Board of Education upon which relief can be granted. Sexual harassment and sexual abuse of a student by a teacher can constitute discrimination on the basis of sex under Title IX. See Franklin v. Gwinnett Cty. Pub. Sch, 503 U.S. 60, 75 (1992) (sexual harassment that qualifies as sex discrimination under Title VII also qualifies under Title IX). "An institution can be held liable for a Title IX violation only if 'an official who . . . has authority to address the alleged discrimination and to institute corrective measures . . . has actual knowledge of discrimination in the [institution's] programs and fails adequately to respond' or displays 'deliberate indifference' to discrimination." Jennings v. Univ. of N. Carolina, 482 F.3d 686, 700 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Gebser v. Lago Vista Indep. Sch. Dist., 524 U.S. 274, 290 (1998)) (alterations in original). That is, institutions like the Board of Education can only be held liable for Title IX violations if an official with authority to remedy the discrimination has actual knowledge that discrimination is occurring or is deliberately indifferent to discrimination.

         Here, plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts, even drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor, to plausibly suggest that the Board of Education had actual knowledge of Mr. Olson's conduct or was deliberately indifferent to that conduct. First, Ms. Castleberry, as principal of Wendell Middle School, was not an official with authority to remedy the discrimination that plaintiff complains of. Despite plaintiffs suggestion that this Court ignore Fourth Circuit precedent, Baynard v. Malone, 268 F.3d 228 (4th Cir. 2001), is controlling. In Baynard, the Fourth Circuit determined that whether "a supervisory employee may be viewed as the proxy of the school district depends upon whether the district has delegated to that employee the traditional powers of an employer." 268 F.3d at 239. Baynard held that a school principal was not the "functional equivalent" of the public school district, given that state law reserved for the school board "the power to hire, fire, transfer, or suspend teachers." Id. Similarly, North Carolina does not confer upon its public school principals the powers of an employer, reserving those powers to the school board instead. See generally N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 115C-276(j), 115C-288, 115C-299, 115C-325. If Ms. Castleberry is not a proxy for the Board of Education such that her actual knowledge could be imputed to the Board, then neither are the teacher defendants.

         Additionally, to the extent that plaintiff attempts to state a Title IX claim for events that occurred following Mr. Olson's arrest, plaintiff has failed to allege that the Board of Education took any action that discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of his sex. Plaintiff alleges that the Board of Education "acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs right to a safe and secure education environment," failed to provide him with counseling and academic support, and failed to terminate or discipline other employees. [DE 1, ¶ 89]. But, even taking plaintiffs allegations as true, plaintiff has not established that any of the Board of ...


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