Doe v. Berkeley Cnty. Sch. Dist.

Decision Date30 November 2015
Docket NumberC.A. No.: 2:13-cv-3529-PMD
CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
PartiesMother Doe, on behalf of Jane Doe, Plaintiff, v. Berkeley County School District; Berkeley County School Board; Berkeley Middle School; and Michael Wilkerson, Michelle Spina, Blake Culbertson, Dorothy Ard, Annette Addison, Shanae Brown, Anthony LeRoy Chester, and Jovita Smith, in their respective individual capacities, Defendants.

This matter is before the Court on two motions for summary judgment: one filed by Defendant Shanae Brown (ECF No. 64), and another filed jointly by the other defendants—Berkeley County School District, Berkeley County School Board, Berkeley Middle School, Michael Wilkerson, Michelle Spina, Blake Culbertson, Dorothy Ard, Annette Addison, Anthony Chester, and Jovita Smith (ECF No. 76). For the reasons stated herein, Brown's motion is granted, and the remaining defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Jane Doe was born with Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder. People with Williams Syndrome tend to be extraordinarily outgoing, have poor understandings of appropriate levels of physical contact with others (e.g., hugging new acquaintances instead of shaking hands), and lack the ability to make inferences about the intentions and behaviors of those with whom they so freely interact. Consequently, they tend to be at risk of exploitation and can require an elevated degree of supervision. Jane has been documented as possessing many of the characteristics typical of people with Williams Syndrome.

In 2012, Jane began attending Berkeley Middle School ("School") in the Berkeley County School District ("District"). Due to her condition, Jane was entitled to receive special education and other services from the School under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §1400, et seq. Upon enrollment, Jane, her Mother, and School officials developed an individualized education program ("IEP") for Jane, pursuant to the IDEA. See 20 U.S.C. §1414(d). Jane's IEP provided, inter alia, that Jane would spend the majority of her school days in a self-contained classroom with other special education students, but would be allowed to attend certain classes, such as health and physical education, with non-disabled students. At the meeting to develop the IEP, Mother was assured that students at the School "are always accompanied by an adult." (2nd Am. Compl., Ex. B, Meeting Notes, ECF No. 37-2, at 1.) In accordance with the IEP, Jane was placed in a special education class for students with mild intellectual disabilities, taught by Katherine Perry.

Perry's was not the only special education class at the School. For example, a Mr. Tabor taught a class of autistic children. Three special education assistants worked in Tabor's class: Defendants Dorothy Ard, Annette Addison, and Shanae Brown. Ard and Addison assisted all the students in Tabor's class. However, Brown was assigned to assist and supervise only one particular impaired student for the entire school day.

Defendant Jovita Smith worked as a special education paraprofessional in Perry's class. Smith's duties included assisting Jane and other students in the classroom and escorting them around campus. For example, when it was time for Jane to attend health and physical education class, Smith escorted her from Perry's classroom to the girls' locker room. Smith would watchJane go into the locker room but would not follow her into it. According to Smith, once Jane entered the locker room, it became the health and physical education teacher's responsibility to supervise her.

Physical education classes at the School are single-sex. Defendant Michelle Spina taught the female students, and Defendants Anthony Chester and Blake Culbertson taught the male students. Every two weeks, health and physical education classes alternated time between the School's gym and a classroom connected to it; girls had physical education in the gym while boys were in the classroom learning health, and vice versa. In addition, special education classes containing students of both sexes would use the gym alongside the single-sex physical education classes. For example, Tabor's class used the gym during seventh period, which was the same period Jane spent in Spina's class. When Tabor's class used the gym, Addison and Ard supervised their students, while Brown attended to her one assigned student.

At the beginning of the health and physical education period, Spina would meet her students in the locker room. Spina expected her students to report to the locker room at the beginning of the class period and then, in accordance with the rotating schedule discussed above, proceed either to the gym for physical education or to the adjacent classroom for health instruction. Spina took attendance each day and, according to her, she reported absences and would also report students who she caught skipping class.

A video camera was mounted in the gym. Footage from the camera shows that on several days in January and February of 2013, Jane did not report to the health classroom on days when Spina was teaching health. Instead, Jane stayed in the gym. In some of the footage, Jane can be seen wandering around the gym with no adults present. Other footage shows Jane in the gym while Chester and Culbertson were conducting the boys' physical education class and whileTabor's students were present with Addison, Ard, and Brown. Spina noted Jane's absences on some of those days. On others, however, Spina marked Jane as present even though Jane was in the gym. In addition, Spina never required Jane to make up any missed assignments and, in fact, gave her a grade of 100% in health.

Spina was aware that Jane was a special-needs student but did not specifically know that Jane had Williams Syndrome. Spina does not recall being advised that Jane specifically needed constant adult supervision, and Spina did not feel it was necessary that she keep an eye on Jane at all times. Spina denies that she ever allowed Jane to skip her class. However, according to Addison, Spina asked her to watch Jane in the gym on one occasion. On that day, and on others, Addison and Ard would supervise Jane in the gym.

C.K. was a male student who had health and physical education class at the same time as Jane. Thus, when C.K. was taking physical education in the gym, Jane should have been in the health classroom, and vice versa. As discussed above, however, there were several days when Jane was in the gym with C.K. and other boys. Indeed, the video footage appears to show Jane and C.K. interacting on at least one of those days.

On one of the days that Jane was in the gym with C.K., the two of them talked while they stood in front of bleachers. During that conversation, C.K. put his hands down Jane's pants and touched her inappropriately. Jane did not consent and told him to stop. Eventually, he did, and she walked away. Despite the presence of several adults—Addison, Ard, Brown, Chester, and Culbertson—and many other students in the gym, no one saw the incident. The abuse cannot be seen from the security camera's footage.

Jane initially kept the abuse to herself but eventually revealed it to her Mother. Jane and her parents went to the police and then to Defendant Michael Wilkerson, the School's principal.Wilkerson investigated the matter but, believing evidence of the assault was lacking, took no disciplinary action against C.K.


Acting on behalf of Jane, Mother sued Defendants for Jane's abuse. Mother asserts two causes of action against the District, the Board, and the School: Disability discrimination under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq., and Disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"). She also asserts claims of denial of substantive due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the District, the Board, and the individual defendants. Finally, Mother asserts a gross negligence claim against the District.1 Mother seeks damages, attorneys' fees, costs, and mandatory injunctive relief.

While the discovery period was still open, on July 7, 2015, Brown moved for summary judgment. Mother filed a Response in opposition on July 17. Brown filed a Reply on July 27. After the discovery period closed, on October 15, the other defendants filed their joint motion for summary judgment. Mother filed a Response in opposition on November 2. Both motions are now ripe for consideration.


The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Mother's federal-law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), the Court has jurisdiction over Mother's relatedstate-law claim because it is so related to the federal-law claims that it forms part of the same case and controversy.


To grant a motion for summary judgment, a court must find that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The court is not to weigh the evidence but rather must determine if there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). All evidence should be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 124 (4th Cir. 1990). "[I]t is ultimately the nonmovant's burden to persuade [the court] that there is indeed a dispute of material fact. It must provide more than a scintilla of evidence—and not merely conclusory allegations or speculation—upon which a jury could properly find in its favor." CoreTel Va., LLC v. Verizon Va., LLC, 752 F.3d 364, 370 (4th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). "[W]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, disposition by summary judgment is appropriate." Teamsters Joint Council No. 83 v. Centra, Inc., 947 F.2d 115, 119 (4th Cir. 1991). Summary...

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