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Leser v. Indianapolis Public Schools

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

July 28, 2017

DEBORAH L LESER, Plaintiff,
v.
INDIANAPOLIS PUBLIC SCHOOLS; BOARD OF SCHOOL COMMISSIONERS FOR THE CITY OF INDIANAPOLIS; MARY ANN SULLIVAN, Individually and in her Official Capacity; SAM ODLE, Individually and in his Official Capacity; LANIER ECHOLS, Individually and in her Official Capacity; MICHAEL O'CONNOR, Individually and in his Official Capacity; GAYLE COSBY, Individually and in her Official Capacity; KELLY BENTLEY, Individually and in her Official Capacity; and DIANE ARNOLD, Individually and in her Official Capacity; Defendants.

          ENTRY ON MOTION TO DISMISS AND OTHER PENDING MOTIONS

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Indianapolis Public Schools (“IPS”), the Board of School Commissioners for the City of Indianapolis (“the Board”), as well as Mary Ann Sullivan, Sam Odle, Lanier Echols, Michael O'Connor, Gayle Cosby, Kelly Bentley, and Diane Arnold (collectively, “the Commissioners”), pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Filing No. 15.) On July 29, 2016, following her termination from IPS, Plaintiff Deborah L. Leser (“Leser”) filed a Complaint alleging Defendants[1]

         violated her rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Filing No. 1.) Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint, asserting lack of subject matter jurisdiction, qualified immunity, and failure to state a claim, among other things. Also pending is Leser's Motion for Leave to File Surreply (Filing No. 42), and Motion for Attorney's Fees. (Filing No. 43.) For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, denies Leser's Motion for Leave to File Surreply, and denies her Motion for Attorney's Fees.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as required when reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the Complaint, and draws all possible inferences in Leser's favor. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (“[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.”).

         Leser began working for IPS in 1995. During her tenure with IPS, she held several positions, including: teacher, counselor, vice principal, and principal. Her most recent IPS title was Director of Student Services. As Director of Student Services, Leser was tasked with supervising the principal of Longfellow Alternative School (“Longfellow”). On February 17, 2016, William Jensen (“Jensen”), then-principal of Longfellow, contacted Leser regarding a parent's report of an inappropriate sexual relationship between a student and a Longfellow employee named Shana Taylor (“Taylor”).

         Leser relied on IPS Procedure 3213.01 and directed Jensen to contact Tina Hester (“Hester”)-the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. Procedure 3213.01 provides:

What should you do if you can't figure out what to do?
Call the Title IX Coordinator at 226-3870 or the Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources at 226-4580, who are the primary resource persons in these matters.

(Filing No. 1 at 9). Jensen immediately contacted Hester, who informed Jensen not to involve the police. Hester decided, instead, to assign Title IX Coordinator Shalon Dabney (“Dabney”) to investigate the matter.

         Meanwhile, Leser made several calls to other IPS employees, including: the Deputy Superintendent for Academics, Dr. Wanda Legrand (“Dr. Legrand”); Human Resource officer Sandra Bombic; and Chief Strategist Le Boler (“Boler”). After informing each of them of the inappropriate relationship at Longfellow, Leser asked Dr. Legrand if there was anything else she needed to do. Dr. Legrand stated: “sounds like you have it handled.” Id. at 14. Boler also assured Leser that she would inform the Superintendent of IPS-Lewis D. Ferebee (“Dr. Ferebee”). None of the IPS employees contacted the police.

         Five days later, on February 22, 2016, Dabney-who was ordered by Hester to investigate the matter-told IPS employee Mark Cosand (“Cosand”) to report Taylor's inappropriate relationship to Child Protective Services (“CPS”). The following day, on February 23, 2016, Cosand reported the inappropriate relationship to CPS. On March 2, 2016, the “Shana Taylor story[2]” became public. Thereafter, IPS's attorney David Given (“Attorney Given”) interviewed Leser, as well as others including: Jensen, Cosand, Dabney and Hester. Attorney Given explained that his goal was to gather facts regarding the complaint made against Taylor. Dr. Ferebee also conducted interviews.

         The following month, on April 12, 2016, Hester and Dabney were criminally charged for failure to file a report with CPS upon learning about the inappropriate relationship. No criminal charges were filed against Leser. On June 1, 2016, however, Leser received a letter notifying her of a preliminary decision to cancel her employment contracts for failure to report the incident to CPS. On June 27, 2016, a hearing was held before the Board and, on June 30, 2016, the Board unanimously voted to cancel Leser's employment contracts based on neglect of duty.

         On November 18, 2016, Leser sought relief in this Court. She asserts that Defendants denied her due process. Specifically, she contends: 1) Defendants failed to provide proper notice of her alleged wrongdoing prior to the June 27, 2016 hearing before the Board; 2) Attorney Given and Dr. Ferebee failed to advise her of her Garrity rights prior to interviewing her; 3) Defendants' decision to terminate her was arbitrary and capricious; and 4) the Court should review the termination decision and grant her relief pursuant to Indiana Code § 4-21.5-5-14. (Filing No. 1.) Defendants move the Court to dismiss Leser's Complaint in its entirety, arguing among other things, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction; the Complaint fails to state a claim; and the Commissioners are entitled to qualified immunity. (Filing No. 15.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the court's subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). The burden of proof is on the plaintiff, the party asserting jurisdiction. United Phosphorus, Ltd. v. Angus Chem. Co., 322 F.3d 942, 946 (7th Cir. 2003), overruled on other grounds by Minn-Chem, Inc. v. Agrium, Inc., 683 F.3d 845 (7th Cir. 2012) (en banc). “The plaintiff has the burden of supporting the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint by competent proof.” Int'l Harvester Co. v. Deere & Co., 623 F.2d 1207, 1210 (7th Cir. 1980). “In deciding whether the plaintiff has carried this burden, the court must look to the state of affairs as of the filing of the complaint; a justiciable controversy must have existed at that time.” Id.

         “When ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the district court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Ezekiel v. Michel, 66 F.3d 894, 897 (7th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Furthermore, “[t]he district court may properly look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists.” Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint that has failed to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Bielanski v. County of Kane, 550 F.3d 632, 633 (7th Cir.2008). However, courts “are not obliged to accept as true legal conclusions or unsupported conclusions of fact.” Hickey v. O'Bannon, 287 F.3d 656, 658 (7th Cir. 2002).

         The complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court explained that the complaint must allege facts that are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, mere “labels, ” “conclusions, ” or “formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Id.; see also Bissessur v. Ind. Univ. Bd. of Trs., 581 F.3d 599, 603 (7th Cir. 2009) (“it is not enough to give a threadbare recitation of the elements of a claim without factual support”). The allegations must “give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, ” and the “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Stated differently, the complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir.2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). To be facially plausible, the complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In their briefing, Defendants ask the Court to dismiss Leser's Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, redundancy, failure to state a claim, and because the Commissioners are entitled to qualified immunity. They also argue that the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Leser's state law claim under Indiana Code § 4-21.5-5-14. Leser has also requested leave to file a surreply. The Court addresses each issue below.

         A. Motion for Leave to File ...


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