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K.C. v. Laporte Community School Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

September 26, 2019

K.C., a child, by her parents and next friends, CHARLES AND HEATHER C., Plaintiffs
v.
LAPORTE COMMUNITY SCHOOL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge

         K.C. and her parents brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and Indiana law against the LaPorte Community School Corporation, South LaPorte County Special Education Cooperative, and various individuals associated with those entities after K.C. (who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder) was allegedly seized and restrained in a chair by employees of the Kingsford Heights Elementary School. The defendants’ motion for partial dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is before the court. For the following reasons, the court grants the motion.

         Detailed factual allegations aren’t required to meet the notice pleading requirements of Rule 8(a). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b), the factual allegations in the complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face” – one that "raise[s] a right to relief above the speculative level", “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged", and gives the defendant fair notice of the claims being asserted and the grounds upon which they rest. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’ ”Ashcroft v. Igbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. v, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In determining whether the claims asserted are plausible, the court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Anicich v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 852 F.3d 643, 648 (7th Cir. 2017).

         The defendants seek dismissal of the federal claims asserted against five of the eight individual defendants (Paula Nichols, Rebecca Jeffers, Marcia Alexander, Natasha Henry and Terry Malstaff) and the ADA and Rehabiliation claims asserted against the LaPorte Community School Corporation and the South LaPorte County Special Education Cooperative.[1] The plaintiffs limited their response to the claims against Ms. Nichols, Ms. Jeffers, Ms. Alexander (whom they collectively refer to as “school district administration”) and the public entities, and didn’t address the alleged deficiencies with respect to the claims asserted against Natasha Henry, an administrative assistant at the school, and Terry Malstaff, who allegedly constructed the chair, effectively abandoning those claims. See Alioto v. Town of Lisbon, 651 F.3d 715, 721 (7th Cir. 2011); Lekas v. Briley, 405 F.3d 602, 614 (7th Cir. 2005); Farnham v. Windle, 918 F.2d 47, 51 (7th Cir. 1990).

         The plaintiffs concede in their response that the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims against Ms. Nichols, Ms. Jeffers, and Ms. Alexander should be dismissed, see Brewer v. Wis. Bd. of Bar Examiners, 270 Fed.Appx. 418, 421 (7th Cir. 2008), but maintain that the facts alleged in the complaint – specifically paragraphs 8, 72, 75-76, and 100 – state a cause of action against them under § 1983.

         The complaint identifies Paula Nichols and Rebecca Jeffers as the Director and Supervisor of the South LaPorte County Special Education Cooperative (which is responsible “for providing special education and related services to participating schools and school districts”) and alleges that they were “responsible for hiring, supervising, and training staff, carrying out the policies of the District and the State of Indiana’s Department of Education, and ensuring compliance with federal and state law, ” and “took a direct role in making decisions regarding the delivery of special education services to K.C..” (Cmplt. ¶¶ 20-22). Marcia Alexander was the Principal of Kingsford Heights Elementary School, and shared the same responsibilities as Ms. Nichols and Ms. Jeffers. (Cmplt. ¶ 23).

         The plaintiffs alleges that K.C.’s teacher, Jennifer Oberle, and paraprofessionals Teresa Vinson and Katrina Magill, “regularly seized K.C. and forcibly confined her in the restraint chair...for extended periods of time over a period of at least five days”; that her father discovered the chair “on or about September 21, 2017; and that “the District [identified in the complaint as the LaPorte Community School Corporation] actively conspired to conceal its use of the restraint chair by preventing K.C.’s father from entering the classroom before that. (Cmplt. ¶¶ 6-9). They also contend that:

8. K.C.’s restraint and confinement were not simply the actions of rogue employees. Rather, the administration of the school–whose office was directly across form K.C.’s classroom–approved of the abuse and took an active role in its furtherance by permitting the chair to be brought into the classroom and used.
* * *
72. The use of the [chair] was approved by...Defendants Alexander, Oberle, Jeffers, Vinson and Magill.
* * *
75. After the restraint [chair] was discovered, K.C.’s parents asked the School to hold an emergency meeting. A meeting between the parents and School staff, including Defendants Oberle, Jeffers, Nichols, and Alexander was held at the School on or about September 29, 2017.
76. At the meeting, K.C.’s father asked why he and his spouse were not told about the restraint desk. Defendant Nichols stated that she had spoken with the District’s attorney and “they had not done anything wrong.” She also stated that Defendant Oberle’s ...

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