Decossas v. St. Tammany Parish Sch. Bd.

Decision Date10 August 2017
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION CASE NO. 16-3786 SECTION: "G" (5)
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana

This litigation arises out of the suspension of M.D.,1 a minor child who attended a public high school in St. Tammany Parish.2 Pending before the Court is Defendant Bryan Gerchow's ("Deputy Gerchow") "Motion for Summary Judgment."3 Deputy Gerchow was a school resource officer at M.D.'s school and an employee of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office.4 Having considered the motion, the memoranda in support and in opposition and reply, and the applicable law, the Court will grant the pending motion to the extent that it requests summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims against Deputy Gerchow under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in both his personal and official capacities and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any remaining state law claims against Deputy Gerchow.

I. Background
A. Factual Background

In this litigation, M.D., a former student of Fontainebleau High School in Mandeville, Louisiana ("FHS"), alleges that he was unconstitutionally coerced by FHS personnel into unlocking his father's cellphone on January 8, 2016, when he was still a student at the school.5 M.D. claims that the contents of the cellphone were perused by FHS personnel.6 M.D. further alleges that FHS personnel used the results of their review of the cellphone's contents, along with a statement given by another student but allegedly contrived by FHS personnel, to wear M.D. down until he signed an "untrue" statement related to school drug violations.7 M.D. alleges that the "fruits" of the allegedly unconstitutional search of his father's phone were utilized by FHS personnel and ultimately, the St. Tammany Parish School Board to impose and affirm his expulsion from FHS.8 M.D. and his parents each seek relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and appear to bring claims under state law as well.9

Plaintiffs name as Defendants the St. Tammany Parish School Board, as well as the following individuals: Deputy Gerchow, a St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Deputy and school resource officer at M.D.'s school; Kevin Darouse ("Darouse"), a supervisor of administration forthe School Board; W.L. "Trey" Folse ("Folse"), supervisor of the School Board; Leonard Tridico ("Tridico"), chief disciplinarian at M.D.'s high school; Neal Hennegan ("Hennegan"), an elected member of the School Board; Peter Jabbia ("Jabbia"), assistant supervisor for the School Board; and Michael Astugue ("Astugue"), assistant principal at M.D.'s high school.10

B. Procedural Background

On April 29, 2016, Plaintiffs filed the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging federal constitutional violations and seeking expungement of all relevant records, reversal of the suspension, and general and punitive damages against all Defendants.11 On July 15, 2016, Deputy Gerchow filed an answer to the complaint.12 On July 18, 2016, Defendants St. Tammany Parish School Board, Darouse, Folse, Tridico, Hennegan, Jabbia, and Astugue (collectively "School Board Defendants") filed a "Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for a More Definite Statement Pursuant to FRCP Rule 12(e)."13 On March 27, 2017, the Court granted the motion in part to the extent that it requested a more definite statement and granted Plaintiffs 21 days to amend the complaint to provide a more definite statement of: "(1) their federal and state law claims against the School Board; (2) their claims against the individual Movants for relief under Section 1983, including a non-conclusory statement of the specific conduct in which individual Movants engaged to violate their rights and whether they are suing the individualMovants in their personal or official capacities; and (3) their claims for relief against the individual Movants under state law."14 On April 17, 2017, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint.15

Deputy Gerchow filed the instant motion for summary judgment on July 17, 2017.16 Plaintiffs filed an opposition on July 25, 2017.17 With leave of Court, Deputy Gerchow filed a reply on July 31, 2017.18

II. Parties' Arguments
A. Deputy Gerchow's Arguments in Support of the Motion for Summary Judgment

In support of the motion, Deputy Gerchow argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.19 According to Deputy Gerchow, Plaintiffs cannot establish that Deputy Gerchow was actually involved in the actions giving rise to their complaint.20 According to Deputy Gerchow, the undisputed facts in the record establish that Deputy Gerchow: (1) never searched M.D.'s phone; (2) never threatened M.D.; and (3) never "took any part in M.D. giving any written statement, whether used against him in school proceedings by FHS personnel or otherwise."21 Deputy Gerchow avers that to establish personal liability under Section 1983, a claimant must demonstrate that a defendant was personally involved in the deprivation of a rightor that the defendant's wrongful acts were causally connected to the deprivation.22 Here, Deputy Gerchow avers that he cannot be liable, because he had no personal involvement in the search of M.D.'s phone; never threatened M.D.; and did not secure any written statement from M.D.23 According to Deputy Gerchow, there "simply was no personal involvement by Deputy Gerchow in this matter which can be construed as a deprivation of rights or that was causally connected to a deprivation of rights."24 Alternatively, Deputy Gerchow asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiffs' claims against him under Section 1983 in his individual capacity.25

Next, Deputy Gerchow incorporates the arguments in his memoranda submitted in conjunction with the motion to dismiss that he filed on May 1, 2017.26 In that briefing, Deputy Gerchow avers that: (1) M.D.'s mother, individually, has failed to state a claim against Deputy Gerchow; (2) none of the plaintiffs have stated a cognizable claim against Deputy Gerchow, and regardless, Deputy Gerchow is entitled to qualified immunity in his individual capacity for both federal and state law claims; and (3) any allegations against Deputy Gerchow in his official capacity are in fact against the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office, Deputy Gerchow's alleged employer, and should be dismissed, as no allegations are made regarding a policy or custom of the Sheriff's Office that caused injury to Plaintiffs.27 Because, Deputy Gerchow argues, the uncontroverted evidence in the record indicates that no genuine issue of material fact exists as toDeputy Gerchow's involvement in the events at issue, Deputy Gerchow contends that he is entitled to summary judgment in his favor as to the claims against him in both his official and individual capacities.28

B. Plaintiffs' Arguments in Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment

In opposition, Plaintiffs argue that the case is "full of triable disputed facts."29 Plaintiffs aver that School Board employees and Deputy Gerchow attempted to "extend their non-existent authority" to investigate students beyond the school campus and hours.30 Plaintiffs argue that the School Board Defendants used Deputy Gerchow "as the muscle" to detain M.D. and intimidate M.D. "with threats of physical violence, arrest, or both."31 According to Plaintiffs, Defendants knowingly violated Plaintiffs' civil rights by threatening M.D. to unlock his father's cellphone from which "they illegally copied and printed constitutionally protected private data" in violation of the First Amendment and forced M.D. to become a witness against himself in violation of the Fifth Amendment.32 Plaintiffs argue that it is clear that Deputy Gerchow had access to the "illegally obtained data to personally interrogate M.D." and that the School Board and Deputy Gerchow used the data to intimidate M.D. into signing statements, "which they fabricated."33 According to Plaintiffs, Deputy Gerchow had M.D. draw maps to other places where drugs mightbe found, "regardless of whether it was school grounds or other times and places."34 Finally, Plaintiffs attach affidavits submitted by M.D. and M.D.'s mother, which Plaintiffs aver demonstrate that there are "multiple items of justiciable issues of triable facts."35

C. Deputy Gerchow's Reply in Further Support of the Motion for Summary Judgment

In reply, Deputy Gerchow argues that in responding to Deputy Gerchow's statement of uncontested facts, Plaintiffs deny statements taken from M.D.'s sworn testimony without reference to any materials in the record.36 Deputy Gerchow maintains that there is no dispute of material fact as to his liability under Section 1983.37 Based on M.D.'s sworn testimony, Deputy Gerchow argues that it is uncontested that M.D. has no knowledge of Deputy Gerchow ever holding or looking at the cellphone.38 Nonetheless, Deputy Gerchow asserts that in Plaintiffs' opposition, Plaintiffs deny M.D.'s own sworn statement without citing to any evidence in the record.39 According to Deputy Gerchow, Plaintiffs now claim that Deputy Gerchow had access to the phone and saw the phone but do not cite to any evidence to support this assertion.40 Deputy Gerchow further avers that it is undisputed that he never verbally or physically threatened M.D. based on M.D.'s testimony, but that Plaintiffs deny M.D.'s own deposition testimony in their oppositionwithout citing to any record evidence in support of that denial.41 Moreover, Deputy Gerchow asserts that based on M.D.'s sworn testimony, it is undisputed that he was not present in the room when M.D. provided written statements to school personnel and that he had no further involvement in any of M.D.'s dealings with FHS personnel after that time.42 However, Deputy Gerchow avers that Plaintiffs also deny this fact without citing to any record evidence.43 Finally, Deputy Gerchow argues that in an email produced by Plaintiffs, M.D.'s mother admitted that M.D. was completely...

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