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Leser v. Indianapolis Public Schools

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

August 8, 2018

DEBORAH L. LESER, Plaintiff,
INDIANAPOLIS PUBLIC SCHOOLS, BOARD OF SCHOOL COMMISSIONERS FOR THE CITY OF INDIANAPOLIS, MARY 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, DIANE ARNOLD, individually and in her official capacity, LEWIS D. FEREBEE, WANDA LEGRAND, LE BOLER, SHALON DABNEY, and LELA TINA HESTER, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Indianapolis Public School (“IPS”), Board of School Commissioners for the City of Indianapolis (“the Board”), Mary Ann Sullivan (“Sullivan”), Sam Odle (“Odle”), Lanier Echols (“Echols”), Michael O'Connor (“O'Connor”), Gayle Cosby (“Cosby”), Kelly Bentley (“Bentley”), Diane Arnold (“Arnold”), Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee (“Dr. Ferebee”), Le Boler (“Boler”), Dr. Wanda Legrand (“ Dr. Legrand”), Shalon Dabney (“Dabney”), and Lela Tina Hester's (“Hester”) (collectively, “Defendants”) Rule 72(a) Objection to Order on Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint. (Filing No. 109.) Plaintiff Deborah L. Leser (“Leser”) seeks the Court's leave to add additional Defendants, Dr. Ferebee, Dr. Legrand, Dabney, Hester, and Boler, (collectively, “Newly Added Defendants”), to her Complaint.[1] Also before the Court is Defendants Motion for Extension of Time to Respond to Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, (Filing No. 110). For the reasons that follow, the Court overrules in part and sustains in part Defendants' Objection to the Magistrate Judge's decision.


         A district court may refer for decision a non-dispositive pretrial motion to a magistrate judge under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a). Rule 72(a) provides:

When a pretrial matter not dispositive of a party's claim or defense is referred to a magistrate judge to hear and decide, the magistrate judge must promptly conduct the required proceedings and, when appropriate, issue a written order stating the decision. A party may serve and file objections to the order within 14 days after being served with a copy. A party may not assign as error a defect in the order not timely objected to. The district judge in the case must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.

         After reviewing objections to a magistrate judge's order, the district court will modify or set aside the order only if it is clearly erroneous or contrary to law. The clear error standard is highly deferential, permitting reversal only when the district court “is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co., Ltd., 126 F.3d 926, 943 (7th Cir. 1997).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1) allows a party to amend its pleading once as a matter of course within twenty-one days after serving it, or “if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b).” After a responsive pleading has been filed and twenty-one days have passed, “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 15(a)(2). The rule, however, “do[es] not mandate that leave be granted in every case. In particular, a district court may deny a plaintiff leave to amend his complaint if there is undue delay, bad faith[, ] or dilatory motive . . . [, or] undue prejudice . . ., [or] futility of amendment.” Park v. City of Chicago, 297 F.3d 606, 612 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). A proposed amendment is futile if it “fails to cure the deficiencies in the original pleading, or could not survive a [] motion to dismiss.” Perkins v. Silverstein, 939 F.2d 463, 472 (7th Cir. 1991). “Whether to grant or deny leave to amend is within the district court's discretion.” Campbell v. Ingersoll Milling Machine Co., 893 F.2d 925, 927 (7th Cir. 1990).


         Leser instituted this lawsuit following her termination from IPS, alleging violations of procedural and substantive due process rights under both federal and state law. (Filing No. 1.) Leser began working for IPS in 1995. During her tenure with IPS, she held several positions, including: teacher, counselor, vice principal, and principal. Leser's most recent IPS title was Director of Student Services. As Director of Student Services, she 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 (“the Taylor Relationship”) between a student and a Longfellow employee named Shana Taylor (“Taylor”). Leser directed Jensen to contact Hester, the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. Id. at 9. The very same day, Dr. Ferebee, the Superintendent of IPS, also learned of at least an inappropriate relationship between Taylor and the student. Id. at 10. Hester advised Jensen not to contact the police, and assigned Dabney to investigate.

         Meanwhile, Leser made several calls to other IPS employees, including: Dr. Legrand; Human Resources officer Sandra Bombic; and IPS Chief Strategist 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 Dr. Ferebee. None of the employees contacted the police.

         On February 23, 2016, Dabney told Mark Cosand (“Cosand”) to report the relationship to Child Protective Services (“CPS”), which Cosand reported the very same day. Id. at 10. On March 2, 2016, the “Shana Taylor story” became public. Thereafter, IPS attorney David Given (“Given”) interviewed Leser, as well as others including: Jensen, Cosand, Dabney and Hester. Given explained that his goal was to gather facts regarding the complaint made against Taylor. Dr. Ferebee also conducted interviews. Leser was suspended on March 15, 2016. Id. at 19. Hester and Dabney were criminally charged with failure to make a report on April 12, 2016. Hester and Dabney were permitted to resign from their employment on June 30, 2016. 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. Id. at 19-20. 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 insubordination and neglect of duty.

         Leser initiated this action on July 29, 2016 alleging the Defendants denied her due process. Specifically, Leser alleges: 1) Count I-Defendants failed to provide proper notice regarding the hearing; 2) Count II-Attorney Given and Dr. Ferebee failed to advise her of her Garrity rights prior to interviewing her; 3) Count III-Defendants' decision to terminate her was arbitrary and capricious; and 5) Count IV-the Court should review the decision to terminate Leser and grant her relief pursuant to Indiana Code § 4-21.5-5-14. (Filing No. 1.) On July 28, 2017, this Court dismissed Count II of Leser's Complaint, regarding deprivation of her Garrity rights. (Filing No. 49.) The Court further determined that, at this early stage in the litigation, Defendants' qualified immunity claim was not yet ripe, due to a lack of information before the Court.[2] On December 28, 2017, the deadline by which to amend the pleadings and/or join additional parties, Leser filed a Motion to Amend/Correct the Complaint, on the basis of newly discovered information that implicated the proposed Newly Added Defendants. (Filing No. 66 at 2.) Leser's Motion to Amend her initial Complaint sought to add Jonathan Mayes (“Mayes”), Given, Dr. Ferebee, Boler, Dr. Legrand, Hester, and Dabney. On June 4, 2018, Magistrate Judge Doris L. Pryor (“the Magistrate Judge”) granted that Motion as to Defendants Boler, Dr. Legrand, Hester, Dabney, and Dr. Ferebee. Although Leser's Motion to Amend sought to add the Newly Added Defendants to multiple Counts, the Magistrate Judge granted the Motion to add Defendants Boler, Dr. Legrand, Hester, Dabney, and Dr. Ferebee to only Counts III and IV of Complaint; counts that allege under federal and state law that the Defendants arbitrarily and capriciously made the decision to terminate her teaching and administrative assignments. (Filing No. 104 at 7, 9; Filing No. 105 at 23-25.) On June 18, 2018, Defendants filed their objection to the Magistrate Judge's Order. (Filing No. 109.)


         A. The Magistrate ...

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