399 F.3d 1279 (11th Cir. 2005), 03-16267, Sauls v. Pierce County School Dist.

Docket Nº:03-16267.
Citation:399 F.3d 1279
Party Name:Bobby E. SAULS, Terri L. Sauls, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. PIERCE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Pierce County High School, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:February 09, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1279

399 F.3d 1279 (11th Cir. 2005)

Bobby E. SAULS, Terri L. Sauls, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

PIERCE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Pierce County High School, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 03-16267.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

Feb. 9, 2005

Page 1280

Brent J. Savage, C. Dorian Britt, Savage, Turner, Pinson & Karsman, Savannah, GA, David McCrea, Law Office of David McCrea, Alma, GA, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Phillip Leroy Hartley, Martha M. Pearson, Daniel R. Murphy, Harben & Hartley, LLP, Gainesville, GA, Martha F. Dekle, Brunswick, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

Before ANDERSON, DUBINA and BLACK, Circuit Judges.

BLACK, Circuit Judge:

This appeal involves teacher-on-student sexual harassment. Appellants Bobby and Terri Sauls allege their son, Appellant Dustin Sauls, was sexually harassed by Beth Blythe, a former teacher at Pierce County High School. Appellants claim Pierce County School District (PCSD) violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 (Title IX), by ignoring the sexual relationship that allegedly developed between Dustin and Blythe. Appellants also seek to recover damages against PCSD under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing PCSD is liable for Dustin's injuries based on its custom of ignoring Blythe's discriminatory practices. Appellants argue the district court erred when it granted summary judgment for PCSD on both counts. We affirm the district court. 1

Page 1281

I. BACKGROUND

In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we are required to view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Davis v. Dekalb County Sch. Dist., 233 F.3d 1367, 1371 (11th Cir.2000). We, therefore, set forth the facts of this case in the light most favorable to Appellants.

Dustin began attending Pierce County High School in the fall of 1998. In general, Dustin performed poorly in school. During his sophomore year, Dustin failed several classes and missed a total of 81 days of school. In addition, Dustin had disciplinary problems involving alcohol and marijuana use.

Dustin first encountered Blythe in the first term of his freshman year, when he was taking a course taught next door to Blythe's classroom. During the fall of 1999, the first term of his sophomore year, Dustin had Blythe as a science teacher--a class which he failed. At the time, Dustin and Blythe had nothing more than a teacher/student relationship.

In the summer and early fall of 2000, their relationship became more personal. Dustin's younger sister, Ashley, was starting high school and began participating in Flag Corps, an activity which Blythe was running at the time. Also, Blythe's son, Ben, was starting the second grade, and Dustin's mother was his teacher at Patterson Elementary School. Blythe started visiting the Sauls' home on a regular basis to speak with Dustin's mother about Ben and to drive Ashley home from Flag Corps practice. Blythe would socialize with the Sauls family during these visits, and she soon became friends with Dustin's mother. Blythe and Dustin's mother would discuss their personal and marital lives. Moreover, Dustin's mother agreed to look after Ben at the elementary school, and Blythe promised to look after Dustin and Ashley in high school.

The sexual relationship between Dustin and Blythe allegedly began around the end of 2000--about halfway through Dustin's junior year. Dustin was 16 years old at the time, and under Georgia law, he had the legal capacity to consent to sex. See Ga.Code Ann. § 16-6-3(a) (defining statutory rape as sex with someone under 16 years of age). Most of their alleged sexual encounters occurred on school grounds. Blythe would write notes to other teachers requesting that Dustin be allowed to come to her room for various reasons. Dustin primarily missed his Biology class to meet with Blythe, although he missed other classes as well.

In addition to their encounters on school grounds, Dustin would stay at Blythe's home when her husband went on fishing trips, and they once met in a hotel room. During their relationship, Blythe allegedly provided Dustin with prescription drugs and pain pills. She also paid Dustin's speeding tickets, and gave him money, clothes, and a cell phone. While the purported sexual relationship was ongoing, Dustin's academic performance improved--he passed all his classes during the 2000/2001 school year.

On March 24, 2001, Dr. Joy Williams, who was then the assistant superintendent of the Pierce County School System, received an anonymous email alleging Blythe had inappropriate relationships with specific students. The named students had either graduated or dropped out of school. Dustin was not mentioned in the email.

Page 1282

In response to the allegation, Dr. Williams conducted an investigation. She asked Lowell Williamson, the principal of Pierce County High School at the time, and Don Spence, the superintendent at the time, whether they knew any relevant information concerning Blythe. Williamson explained he had received a complaint in October 1998 about a potentially inappropriate relationship between Blythe and a student named Brandon Davis. Williamson investigated the allegation at that time. He spoke with Davis's mother, who complained Blythe had been removing Davis from some of his classes. Williamson interviewed Davis, who vehemently denied having any inappropriate relationship with Blythe. Williamson also interviewed Blythe, who similarly denied the allegation. Williamson found their denials credible, and he did not uncover any evidence supporting the validity of the allegation. 2 He warned Blythe to always keep her conduct with students beyond reproach and to avoid any situation that could be viewed as inappropriate. After interviewing Davis and Blythe, Williamson informed Superintendent Spence of the allegation and the results of his investigation. During his discussion with Dr. Williams in the spring of 2001, Williamson indicated he had not observed any inappropriate conduct by Blythe, and he had not received any other accusations against her. He provided Dr. Williams with a copy of his notes from the 1998 investigation.

After discussing the 1998 allegation, Williamson and Dr. Williams interviewed Blythe about the March 2001 email. Once again, Blythe strongly denied any misconduct. Dr. Williams warned Blythe, orally and in writing, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in her dealings with students. Dr. Williams told Blythe to avoid any potentially suspect situations where she would be alone with male students at school or other social functions.

In July 2001, Dr. Williams--who, by that time, had been promoted to...

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