C.C. v. Harrison Cnty. Bd. of Educ., No. 20-0171

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtJenkins, Chief Justice
Citation859 S.E.2d 762
Parties C.C. and J.C., as Next Friends of the Minor Child M.C., Plaintiffs Below, Petitioners v. HARRISON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant Below, Respondent
Decision Date17 June 2021
Docket NumberNo. 20-0171

859 S.E.2d 762

C.C. and J.C., as Next Friends of the Minor Child M.C., Plaintiffs Below, Petitioners
v.
HARRISON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant Below, Respondent

No. 20-0171

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted: April 20, 2021
Filed: June 17, 2021


Teresa C. Toriseva, Joshua D. Miller, Jacob J. Polverini, TORISEVA LAW, Wheeling, West Virginia, Loree Stark, American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorneys for the Petitioners.

Susan Llewellyn Deniker, Jeffrey M. Cropp, STEPTOE & JOHNSON PLLC, Bridgeport, West Virginia, Rodney L. Bean, STEPTOE & JOHNSON PLLC, Morgantown, West Virginia, Attorneys for the Respondent.

Jenkins, Chief Justice:

The petitioners herein and plaintiffs below, C.C. and J.C. ("the Petitioners"),1 as next

859 S.E.2d 766

friends of the minor child M.C. ("the child" or "the student"),2 appeal from the January 27, 2020 order entered by the Circuit Court of Harrison County. By that order, the circuit court granted the motion to dismiss filed by the respondent herein and defendant below, the Harrison County Board of Education ("the Board") and dismissed the Petitioners’ complaint. Before this Court, the Petitioners assign error to the circuit court's rulings and argue that their complaint asserted claims upon which relief could be granted. Upon a review of the parties’ briefs and arguments, the appendix record, and the pertinent authorities, we affirm the circuit court's order dismissing the Petitioners’ claims for negligent hiring and negligent supervision. We further affirm, in part, and reverse, in part, the circuit court's order dismissing the Petitioners’ claim for negligence per se, and we reverse the circuit court's order dismissing the Petitioners’ claim for negligent retention. Finally, we remand this case to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Petitioners are the parents of the minor child3 in this case, who is a student attending public high school in Harrison County, West Virginia. The student is transgender and identifies as male. Prior to the student's first year of high school, the Petitioners and officials from the public high school the student would be attending met, and the Petitioners informed the school officials of the student's identification as male and intention to use the boys’ restrooms at school.

In late November 2018, after the instructional day had ended, the student, who is in the high school band and was preparing for a band trip later that afternoon, checked a boys’ restroom at the school and, upon determining that it was empty, entered it. While the student was in a stall in the restroom, the school's Assistant Principal4 entered the restroom; demanded the student exit the stall, expose his genitalia, and use a urinal; and blocked the student's exit from the restroom. After the student escaped from the restroom, the Assistant Principal followed the student into the hallway and said, loudly, "You freak me out"; this exchange was overheard by the parent of another band member who consoled the student after this incident. The next day, the Petitioners met with school and Board officials about this encounter and received assurances that the student and the Assistant Principal would not share the same space at school.5

Following this incident, the Assistant Principal was suspended,6 but he was later reinstated. Approximately two weeks later, in December 2018, the student was scheduled to perform with the high school band at a basketball game, but stayed in the school's concession stand with his mother, C.C.,7 until performance time because they had observed the Assistant Principal to be in attendance at the game. Despite the "stay away" agreement, the Assistant Principal stayed in close proximity to the concession stand, repeatedly stared at the student, and then escorted the band into the gymnasium for their performance. Thereafter, the Assistant Principal continued to be present in the school cafeteria during the student's lunch period.

In March 2019, after the bathroom and concession stand incidents had occurred, the Board voted not to renew the Assistant Principal's

859 S.E.2d 767

contract for the following school year; eventually, though, the Board reversed its decision and voted to renew the Assistant Principal's contract. The Petitioners claim that the Assistant Principal's presence in the school cafeteria during the student's lunch period continued throughout the remainder of the school year. They further allege that the student has suffered emotional and physical illnesses, including anxiety, as a result of his interactions with the Assistant Principal but that his extracurricular activities require him to attend school in person rather than being homeschooled.8 Therefore, the student remains enrolled at the same public high school for which the Board renewed the Assistant Principal's employment contract.

The Petitioners ultimately filed suit against the Board seeking damages for the student's injuries caused by the Assistant Principal's actions and the Board's response thereto.9 The Board moved to dismiss the Petitioners’ complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure,10 and the circuit court granted its motion. The Petitioners now appeal the circuit court's dismissal of their complaint against the Board to this Court.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

On appeal to this Court, the Petitioners assign error to the circuit court's order granting the Board's 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss their complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. "The purpose of a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure is to test the sufficiency of the complaint." Cantley v. Lincoln Cty. Comm'n , 221 W. Va. 468, 470, 655 S.E.2d 490, 492 (2007) (per curiam).

For purposes of the motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. The trial court's inquiry will be directed to whether the allegations constitute a statement of a claim under Rule 8(a). A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is viewed with disfavor, particularly in actions to recover for personal injuries.

Chapman v. Kane Transfer Co. , 160 W. Va. 530, 538, 236 S.E.2d 207, 212 (1977).

West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) further directs that a court presented with such a motion may consider only the pleadings when deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss. See W. Va. R. Civ. P. 12(b) ("If, on a motion asserting the defense numbered (6) to dismiss for failure of the pleading to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be given reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56."). In other words, " ‘[w]hether a complaint states a claim upon which relief may be granted is to be determined solely from the provisions of such complaint[.]’ Syl. pt. 3, in part, Barker v. Traders Bank , 152 W. Va. 774, 166 S.E.2d 331 (1969)." Syl. pt. 2, Par Mar v. City of Parkersburg , 183 W. Va. 706, 398 S.E.2d 532 (1990). Accordingly, upon a motion to dismiss, "the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, and its allegations are to be taken as true." Lodge Distrib. Co., Inc. v. Texaco, Inc. , 161 W. Va. 603, 605, 245 S.E.2d 157, 158 (1978). Thus, "[d]ismissal for failure to state a claim is proper [only] where it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Murphy v. Smallridge , 196 W. Va. 35, 36, 468 S.E.2d 167, 168 (1996) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Finally,

859 S.E.2d 768

where, as here, the circuit court, after considering these factors, has dismissed a complaint for failure to state a claim, we accord such decision a plenary review. See Syl. pt. 2, State ex rel. McGraw v. Scott Runyan Pontiac-Buick, Inc. , 194 W. Va. 770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995) ("Appellate review of a circuit court's order granting a motion to dismiss a complaint is de novo. "). Guided by these principles, we proceed to consider the errors assigned by the Petitioners.

III.

DISCUSSION

Before this Court, the Petitioners contend that the circuit court erred by dismissing their complaint, in which they alleged eight claims for relief against the Board: "Count 1: False Imprisonment"; "Count 2: Assault"; "Count 3: Sexual Harassment"; "Count 4: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress"; "Count 5: Negligence Per Se"; "Count 6: Negligent Retention[,] Hiring[,] and Supervision"; "Count 7: Punitive Damages – Harrison County Board of Education"; and "Count 8: Injunctive Relief to Prevent [the Assistant Principal] from Interaction with [the Student]." Although the circuit court's order of dismissal applied to the entirety of...

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9 practice notes
  • Statee., Inc. v. Hammer ex rel. Situated, 21-0095
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 19, 2021
    ...that duty by allowing an employee to engage in negligent, reckless, or intentional tortious conduct. C.C. v. Harrison Cty. Bd. of Educ ., 859 S.E.2d 762, 786 (W. Va. 2021) (Hutchison, J., concurring, in part, and dissenting in part) (cleaned up). The evidence of record sets out sufficient f......
  • State ex rel. W.Va. Univ. Hosps. - E. v. Hammer, 21-0095
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • November 22, 2021
    ...that duty by allowing an employee to engage in negligent, reckless, or intentional tortious conduct. C.C. v. Harrison Cty. Bd. of Educ., 859 S.E.2d 762, 786 (W.Va. 2021) (Hutchison, J., concurring, in part, and dissenting in part) (cleaned up). The evidence of record sets out sufficient fac......
  • Jones v. W.Va. Div. of Corrs. & Rehab., Civil Action 2:21-cv-00645
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • April 5, 2022
    ...claim of negligence requires a showing of four basic elements: duty, breach, causation, damages. C.C. v. Harrison Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 859 S.E.2d 762, 771 (W.Va. 2021). --------- ...
  • Holcomb v. W.Va. Div. of Corrs. & Rehab., Civil Action 2:20-cv-00767
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • September 27, 2021
    ...or injury to co-workers or third parties that could result from the conduct of an unfit employee.'” C.C. v. Harrison Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 859 S.E.2d 762, 776 (W.Va. 2021) (quoting McCormick, 503 S.E.2d at 506). WVDOCR asserts that it is entitled to qualified immunity for this count. ECF No. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • Statee., Inc. v. Hammer ex rel. Situated, 21-0095
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 19, 2021
    ...that duty by allowing an employee to engage in negligent, reckless, or intentional tortious conduct. C.C. v. Harrison Cty. Bd. of Educ ., 859 S.E.2d 762, 786 (W. Va. 2021) (Hutchison, J., concurring, in part, and dissenting in part) (cleaned up). The evidence of record sets out sufficient f......
  • State ex rel. W.Va. Univ. Hosps. - E. v. Hammer, 21-0095
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • November 22, 2021
    ...that duty by allowing an employee to engage in negligent, reckless, or intentional tortious conduct. C.C. v. Harrison Cty. Bd. of Educ., 859 S.E.2d 762, 786 (W.Va. 2021) (Hutchison, J., concurring, in part, and dissenting in part) (cleaned up). The evidence of record sets out sufficient fac......
  • Jones v. W.Va. Div. of Corrs. & Rehab., Civil Action 2:21-cv-00645
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • April 5, 2022
    ...claim of negligence requires a showing of four basic elements: duty, breach, causation, damages. C.C. v. Harrison Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 859 S.E.2d 762, 771 (W.Va. 2021). --------- ...
  • Holcomb v. W.Va. Div. of Corrs. & Rehab., Civil Action 2:20-cv-00767
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • September 27, 2021
    ...or injury to co-workers or third parties that could result from the conduct of an unfit employee.'” C.C. v. Harrison Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 859 S.E.2d 762, 776 (W.Va. 2021) (quoting McCormick, 503 S.E.2d at 506). WVDOCR asserts that it is entitled to qualified immunity for this count. ECF No. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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