Doe v. D'Agostino

Decision Date25 April 2005
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 02-11194-JLT.
PartiesJane DOE, ppa Mother Doe, Mother Doe, and Father Doe, Plaintiffs, v. Leilanie D'AGOSTINO, Nicole Carey, Robert Penta, individually and in his official capacity as Principal of the Brackett School, Kathleen Donovan, individually and in her official capacity as Superintendent of the Arlington School District, Joani Lamachia, Barbara Goodman, David W. Mckenna, Denis Sullivan, Paul Schlichtman, Suzanne Owayda, Martin Thrope, individually and in their official capacities as Arlington School Committee Members, the Arlington School Committee, and the Town of Arlington, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts

Kay H. Hodge, Stoneham, Chandler & Miller LLP, Boston, for Arlington School Committee, Town of Arlington, Barbara C. Goodman, David W. McKenna, Denis J. Sullivan, Joani LaMachia, Kathleen F. Donovan, LeiLanie D'Agostino, Martin J. Thrope, Nicole E. Carrie, Paul Schlichtman, Robert Penta, Suzanne Owayda, Defendants.

Harold Jacobi, III, Jacobi & Associates PA, Lexington, for Father Doe, Mother Doe, Counter Defendants.

Nancy Sue Keller, Jacobi & Associates, Lexington, for Father Doe, Mother Doe, Counter Defendants.

Maria A. Luise, Melrose, for LeiLanie D'Agostino, Counter Claimant.

Frank Mondano, Balliro & Mondano, Boston, for LeiLanie D'Agostino, Counter Claimant.

John M. Simon, Stoneman, Chandler & Miller, LLP, Boston, for Arlington School Committee, Town of Arlington, Barbara C. Goodman, David W. McKenna, Denis J. Sullivan, Joani LaMachia, Kathleen F. Donovan, LeiLanie D'Agostino, Martin J. Thrope, Nicole E. Carrie, Paul Schlichtman, Robert Penta, Suzanne Owayda, Defendants.


TAURO, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Mother Doe and Father Doe (collectively "Plaintiffs") bring this action on their own behalf and on behalf of their minor child, Jane Doe (hereinafter "Minor Plaintiff"). Plaintiffs allege that Defendant LeiLanie D'Agostino ("D'Agostino"), Minor Plaintiff's fifth-grade teacher, sexually, physically, and emotionally abused Minor Plaintiff at the Brackett School in Arlington, Massachusetts. Plaintiffs assert claims against D'Agostino under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 along with various state law claims.

Plaintiffs have also filed suit against: (1) Nicole Carey ("Carey"), the teacher's aide assigned to D'Agostino's fifth-grade classroom; (2) Robert Penta ("Penta"), the principal of the Brackett School; (3) Kathleen Donovan ("Donovan"), the superintendent of the Arlington School District; (4) Joani LaMachia, Barbara Goodman, David W. McKenna, Denis Sullivan, Paul Schlichtman, Suzanne Owayda, and Martin Thrope, the members of the Arlington School Committee; (5) the Arlington School Committee; and (6) the Town of Arlington (collectively "Arlington Defendants"). Plaintiffs advance § 1983 claims and state law claims against Carey, Penta, Donovan, and the members of the Arlington School Committee. Plaintiffs also allege the Town of Arlington violated 20 U.S.C. § 1681 ("Title IX") and assert state law claims against the Arlington School Committee and the Town.

D'Agostino and the Arlington Defendants have moved for summary judgment. Plaintiffs oppose D'Agostino's and the Arlington Defendants' motions for summary judgment and have, themselves, moved for summary judgment.


During the 2000-2001 school year, Minor Plaintiff was a student in D'Agostino's fifth-grade class at the Brackett School in Arlington, Massachusetts.1 Throughout the school year, Plaintiffs claim that D'Agostino repeatedly harassed, abused, and sexually abused Minor Plaintiff.2 D'Agostino allegedly conducted an unwanted ringworm examination of Minor Plaintiff.3 During this examination, D'Agostino purportedly pulled down Minor Plaintiff's pants to expose her lower abdomen and touched Minor Plaintiff's abdomen.4 D'Agostino then proceeded to teach a lesson on ringworm and stated that a student in the class had ringworm.5

On multiple occasions, when Minor Plaintiff asked to go to the bathroom, D'Agostino allegedly pressed Minor Plaintiff's abdomen in an attempt to force her to urinate and asked Minor Plaintiff how it felt.6 In front of the class, D'Agostino asked Minor Plaintiff if she had "piddled" on the floor and stated that Minor Plaintiff smelled like urine and vinegar and bathed once a week.7

In addition, D'Agostino purportedly "coerced" and "manipulated" Minor Plaintiff to kiss, hug, and sit on her lap.8 D'Agostino insisted on rolling a lint brush over Minor Plaintiff's chest.9 D'Agostino rubbed Minor Plaintiff's hands and had Minor Plaintiff "jump on her back" to erase the board.10 In front of other students, D'Agostino remarked that Minor Plaintiff's "private parts" were visible, that Minor Plaintiff's "underwear and undershirt were not matching," and that Minor Plaintiff was "wearing an undershirt not a bra."11 Using another student's e-mail account, D'Agostino allegedly sent Minor Plaintiff an e-mail stating, "in essence, `Heyya sexxa wanna date?'"'12 D'Agostino called Minor Plaintiff "Pip," "Little Prince," and "Slick Chick."13 D'Agostino brought Minor Plaintiff's crying to the class's attention, gave Minor Plaintiff "Good Day" certificates for not crying, and used Minor Plaintiff as an "exhibit" in lessons concerning science, health, and hygiene.14 Plaintiffs also claim that teacher's aide Carey was present and witnessed D'Agostino's alleged conduct on numerous occasions.15

In June of 2001, Mother Doe removed Minor Plaintiff from the Brackett School due to D'Agostino's alleged conduct.16 On June 19, 2001, Plaintiffs' counsel wrote Superintendent Donovan a letter stating that Minor Plaintiff would not be returning to D'Agostino's classroom and called for an immediate investigation into D'Agostino's behavior.17 In response, Donovan met with Principal Penta and D'Agostino and attempted to meet with Mother Doe and Minor Plaintiff.18 In addition, Penta determined that Minor Plaintiff had passed the fifth grade because she had "completed all substantive course work."19

On August 17, 2001, Plaintiffs' counsel sent Donovan a second letter, which explained in greater detail Plaintiffs' allegations concerning D'Agostino's conduct.20 In response to this letter, Donovan met with D'Agostino and Penta again, and arranged for the Arlington School's counsel to conduct an investigation.21 After reviewing the results of the investigation, Donovan determined the allegations were unsubstantiated and told D'Agostino not "to get too friendly with students or their families in the future."22

On April 24, 2002, a non-mandated reporter forwarded Mother Doe's letter outlining D'Agostino's alleged acts to the Massachusetts Department of Social Services ("DSS").23 Subsequently, DSS conducted an investigation. DSS found no "reasonable cause to believe that [Minor Plaintiff] ha[d] been abused or neglected by Ms. D'Agostino."24 Plaintiffs contend, however, that the Arlington Defendants and D'Agostino "failed to provide DSS with all the pertinent information."25

Plaintiffs claim that Minor Plaintiff found D'Agostino's alleged conduct to be emotionally abusive.26 D'Agostino's acts made Minor Plaintiff feel "uncomfortable," "weird," "sick to her stomach," and caused her to cry.27 Plaintiffs also assert that Minor Plaintiff did not learn anything in D'Agostino's class.28 And as a result of D'Agostino's alleged abuse, Minor Plaintiff's treating psychologist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.29


Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate only if the record reveals that there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party [has demonstrated an] entitle[ment] to a judgment as a matter of law."30 Pursuant to this standard, the "party seeking summary judgment [must] make a preliminary showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Once the movant has made this showing, the nonmovant must contradict the showing by pointing to specific facts demonstrating that there is, indeed, a trialworthy issue."31

In deciding whether to allow a motion for summary judgment, a court "`must view the entire record in the light most hospitable to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.'"32 But, a court "need not credit `conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.'"33

Of course, "[t]he happenstance that all parties seek summary judgment neither alters the yardstick nor empowers the trial court to resolve authentic disputes anent material facts."34 A court considering cross-motions for summary judgment "must evaluate each motion separately, being careful to draw inferences against each movant in turn."35 A motion for summary judgment is meant "to pierce the boilerplate of the pleadings and assay the parties' proof in order to determine whether trial is actually required."36

A. Title IX Claim against the Town of Arlington

To prevail on a Title IX claim, Plaintiffs must show that Minor Plaintiff "was a student, who was subjected to harassment based upon sex ... [that] was sufficiently severe and pervasive to create an abusive educational environment."37 Plaintiffs also must show that "a school official authorized to take corrective action had actual knowledge of the harassment, yet exhibited deliberate indifference to it."38 If the institution, though, "takes timely and reasonable measures to end the harassment, it is not liable under Title IX for prior harassment."39 Yet, if it learns the measures were inadequate, the institution "may be required to take further steps to avoid new liability."40

The Arlington Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' Title IX claim cannot succeed because no Arlington school official had "actual knowledge" of D'Agostino's alleged harassment of Minor Plaintiff.41 Plaintiffs insist that the Town of...

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