Feucht v. Triad Local Sch. Bd. of Educ.

Decision Date02 December 2019
Docket NumberCase No. 3:18-cv-345
Citation425 F.Supp.3d 914
Parties Wendy Pyfrin FEUCHT, Individually and as the Co-Administrator of the Estate of Bethany Thompson, et al., Plaintiffs, v. TRIAD LOCAL SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio

425 F.Supp.3d 914

Wendy Pyfrin FEUCHT, Individually and as the Co-Administrator of the Estate of Bethany Thompson, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TRIAD LOCAL SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 3:18-cv-345

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, at Dayton.

Signed December 2, 2019


425 F.Supp.3d 917

Donald J Kral, Columbus, OH, John J Reagan, Akron, OH 44333, Natasha Wells-Niklas, Kisling, Nestico & Redick, LLC, Akron, Oh, for Plaintiffs.

Cara Michelle Wright, Douglas Paul Holthus, Stacy Virginia Pollock, Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder Co., L.P.A., Columbus, OH, for Defendants.

ENTRY AND ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' AMENDED COMPLAINT, AND DECLINING TO EXERCISE SUPPLEMENTAL JURISDICTION OVER THE REMAINING CLAIMS AND THEREFORE DISMISSING THE REMAINING CLAIMS WITHOUT PREJUDICE TO REFILING IN STATE COURT

THOMAS M. ROSE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Pending before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Doc. 17) (the "Motion"), filed by Defendants

425 F.Supp.3d 918

Triad Local Schools Board of Education (the "Board"), Duane Caudill ("Caudill"), Christopher Piper ("Piper"), and Jessica Gronas ("Gronas") (collectively, the "Defendants"), pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs Wendy Pyfrin Feucht and Paul Thompson (collectively, "Plaintiffs")1 filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the Motion. (Doc. 25.) Defendants filed a Reply in support of the Motion. (Doc. 27.) The Motion is fully briefed and ripe for review.2 (Docs. 17, 25, 27.)

For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS the Motion with respect to the federal law claims alleged in the Amended Complaint (i.e., Counts 1, 2, and 3). Those claims are dismissed. The Court also dismisses certain claims, as set forth below, that Plaintiffs conceded should be dismissed. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3), the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' remaining state law and relief claims. Those claims are dismissed without prejudice to refiling in state court. In essence, the Court merely finds that the Amended Complaint does not state a facially plausible claim for relief under federal law.

I. BACKGROUND

This case involves the tragic death of 11-year old Bethany Thompson ("Bethany"), who took her own life on October 19, 2016. To say that the circumstances alleged are disheartening is a considerable understatement. The remainder of this Background section consists of allegations taken from Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint (the "Complaint") (Doc. 14); none of the allegations have been proven given that the case is still in the pleadings stage.

Plaintiffs, Wendy Pyfrin Feucht ("Wendy") and Paul Thompson ("Paul"), are Bethany's mother and father and the co-administrators of her estate. At all relevant times, Piper served as the Superintendent of Trial Local School District, Caudill served as the Principal at Triad Middle School, and Gronas served as the Guidance Counselor at Triad Middle School. Bethany and her parents tried to stop the bullying Bethany faced at school and repeatedly pleaded with certain defendants for help. Defendants failed to stop the bullying, and it continued. Consequently, Bethany suffered severe anguish, distress, and depression, and she ultimately committed suicide. On October 19, 2016, after years of pervasive bullying, harassment, assault and discrimination as a student in the Trial Local School District, Bethany, aged 11 and a sixth grader at Triad Middle School, killed herself with a gunshot to her head.

From a very early age, Bethany suffered from a visible, permanent deformity on the right side of her face. For many years, and particularly as a student at Triad Middle School, Bethany endured harassment and bullying at school at the hands of numerous students, some of whom are yet to be identified. It took the form of name-calling, verbal and physical harassment, sexual harassment, and physical pushing, shoving and elbowing in the school halls, during class, at recess, and on the bus.

Other Triad students also suffered unrelenting bullying and discrimination. In 2012, another Triad Middle School student committed suicide, although it is unknown

425 F.Supp.3d 919

whether bullying was a precipitating cause of that child's death. The 2012 suicide should have put the school district on high alert as to the psychological and emotional needs of its students and should have prompted the school to adopt a zero-tolerance policy regarding aggressive and harassing behavior.

On December 11, 2014 (about two years before her death), Bethany wrote a letter to another student at recess stating that she was going to kill herself. Bethany's teacher reported the incident, per school rules, and also informed Bethany's mother. As a result of the suicidal statement, Bethany began receiving counseling at school. The Defendants knew or should have known of Bethany's 2014 suicidal threat.

On numerous occasions during the 2015-2016 school year and other years, Wendy informed the Defendants, including Principal Caudill and other school district employees, that Bethany was being harassed, bullied, and discriminated against. Each time the Defendants assured Wendy that they were aware of the issues and the situation was being handled. On March 21, 2016, in an email, Bethany told Witness No. 1 that Minor No. 1 had shoved her when exiting the art room and that the next time she saw him (Minor No. 1) she elbowed him and told him that she had enough. That same day, Minor No. 1 snuck up on Bethany on the way to the bus and elbowed her. Witness No. 1 emailed Bethany the next day: "I feel so bad because you put up with him, too. Minor No. 1 is mean to everybody, I mean he talks about everybody and he shoved me the other day ... I don't know what he will do next either."

During the 2016-2017 school year, Bethany and Witness No. 1 were again subjected to severe and pervasive bullying, verbal harassment, and discrimination by Minors No. 1-5, including threats that they would tie the girls up and rape them. Such threats and harassment were specifically premised upon Bethany and Witness No. 1's gender. Minors No. 1-5 discriminated against, harassed, and bullied Bethany in part because she was female and had a disability. Upon information and belief, no more than a cursory investigation was conducted by the Defendants and little to no disciplinary action was ever imposed on the perpetrators of the bullying. Additionally, the Defendants knowingly placed Bethany in the same class with Minor No. 1, who was the ringleader of the group of boys that incessantly bullied Bethany.

On September 8, 2016 (about a month-and-a-half before her suicide), Bethany informed Principal Caudill that she was being harassed by Minor No. 1, telling him that Minor No. 1 is calling her names and intentionally trying to annoy her both in the classrooms and the hallways. The next day, Bethany's mother (Wendy), called Principal Caudill to inform him that Minor No. 1 was harassing Bethany "again this year." During that conversation, Principal Caudill blamed Bethany for "instigating Minor No. 1," but promised action and to keep Bethany safe. Plaintiffs relied upon the misrepresentations made by Defendants that the bullying was being addressed and that Bethany was safe. However, the Defendants failed to address the bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

The next day, Wendy sent multiple teachers an email regarding the issues that Bethany was having with Minor No. 1 at school:

"I spoke to Mr. Caudill on Friday about Bethany having issues with Minor No. 1 again this year. Mr. Caudill mentioned something about Bethany instigating Minor No. 1. ... My child is not perfect, no child is. I understand that. Obviously, I don't get to see what you all get to see. All I see is my daughter bawling in her room because she is so worried about Minor No. 1 and what he will say
425 F.Supp.3d 920
at school, if it will get worse, or even physical like it did last year. There's only so much I can do for her here at home as her mother, with guidance, words of encouragement, and promises that authority figures in her school will look out for her. If she is part of the problem, by all means PLEASE let me know and we can have a meeting on what needs to be done. I have instructed her, as Mr. Caudill and I agreed, to completely ignore Minor No. 1. Not to speak or interact with him under any circumstance. That way she can in no way be held responsible for instigating or being part of the problem. I am asking for your help. Minor No. 1 nitpicking is becoming a ‘bullying issue’ with Bethany. She's upset during, after, and before school because of him. His actions/words are interfering with her weekends, her happiness, her worries ... her security. She's eleven [and] full of hormones, I get that. However, this is becoming something that is affecting her and turning the other cheek and ignoring the problem isn't resolving anything. I am requesting that she is not put anywhere near him in classes they share together and also that she's not partnered with him for any reason....."

On September 12, 2016, a...

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