Sharon F. v. Martin, 21-cv-02756

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
Writing for the CourtGary Feinerman Judge
Docket Number21-cv-02756
PartiesSHARON F., Plaintiff, v. CYNTHIA MARTIN, LAKE FOREST COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 115, and LAKE FOREST HIGH SCHOOL, Defendants.
Decision Date24 March 2022

SHARON F., Plaintiff,
v.

CYNTHIA MARTIN, LAKE FOREST COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 115, and LAKE FOREST HIGH SCHOOL, Defendants.

No. 21-cv-02756

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 24, 2022


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Gary Feinerman Judge

Sharon F. brings this suit against Cynthia Martin, her former teacher and coach at Lake Forest High School, and Lake Forest Community High School District 115, alleging state law torts and violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), and the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause arising from sexual abuse allegedly inflicted on her as a student. Doc. 1. Martin and the District each move under Civil Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint. Docs. 21, 40. The motions are granted in part and denied in part.

Background

In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes the truth of the operative complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations, though not its legal conclusions. See Zahn v. N. Am. Power & Gas, LLC, 815 F.3d 1082, 1087 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must also consider additional facts set forth in Sharon's briefs opposing dismissal, so long as those additional facts “are consistent with the pleadings.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1020 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). The facts are set forth as favorably to Sharon as those materials allow. See Pierce v. Zoetis, Inc., 818 F.3d 274, 277 (7th Cir. 2016). In setting

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forth the facts at the pleading stage, the court does not vouch for their accuracy. See Goldberg v. United States, 881 F.3d 529, 531 (7th Cir. 2018).

Martin was Sharon's teacher and coach at Lake Forest High School during her junior and senior years, when she was between 16 and 18 years old. Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 20-23, 25. During that time, Martin sexually abused Sharon and other female students. Id. at ¶¶ 13, 15, 25, 27-28, 54-57. The abuse occurred at the District's facilities, during travel to and from school and athletic events, in Martin's home, and in the homes of other Lake Forest High School teachers. Id. at ¶¶ 14-16, 23, 27. Although the abuse occurred from 1986 through 1988, Sharon suppressed her memories such that “she did not discover” until July 2019 that the abuse had occurred and injured her. Id. at ¶¶ 19, 30, 40.

The District-including its faculty, administrators, and school board members-knew about Martin's grooming and abuse of female students from both personal observations and reports. Id. at ¶¶ 11, 17-18, 31-35. Despite its knowledge, the District ignored complaints about Martin, failed to document or investigate those complaints, allowed and encouraged her to have access to students as a teacher and coach, and ultimately arranged for her a job in another school district. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18, 34, 36-39.

Discussion

I. Statute of Limitations

Defendants argue that Sharon's claims are barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. Doc. 22 at 2-5; Doc. 41 at 3-6. Under Civil Rule 8(a), “a plaintiff need not anticipate or overcome affirmative defenses such as those based on the statute of limitations, ” making dismissal appropriate only “if a plaintiff alleges facts sufficient to establish a statute of limitations defense.” O'Gorman v. City of Chicago, 777 F.3d 885, 889 (7th Cir. 2015); see also Chi. Bldg. Design, P.C. v. Mongolian House, Inc., 770 F.3d 610, 613 (7th Cir. 2014) (“When a

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defendant charges noncompliance with the statute of limitations, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is irregular, for the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense.”) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). “As long as there is a conceivable set of facts, consistent with the complaint, that would defeat a statute-of-limitations defense, questions of timeliness are left for summary judgment (or ultimately trial), at which point the district court may determine compliance with the statute of limitations based on a more complete factual record.” Sidney Hillman Health Ctr. of Rochester v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 782 F.3d 922, 928 (7th Cir. 2015). Those pleading standards apply to both federal and state law claims. See Windy City Metal Fabricators & Supply, Inc. v. CIT Tech. Fin. Servs., Inc., 536 F.3d 663, 670 (7th Cir. 2008).

Dismissal is not warranted here. As noted, the alleged abuse occurred between 1986 and 1988, when Sharon was between 16 and 18 years old. Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 19-20. At that time, Illinois law provided a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims beginning when a plaintiff turned 18 years old, under which the limitations period for Sharon's claims would have expired sometime in 1990. See Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 110, ¶¶ 13-202, -211 (1991). A subsequent extension of the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims, see 735 ILCS 5/13-202.2, enacted in 1991, is immaterial here because, if Sharon's claims had become time barred in 1990, the new statute could not revive them. See Clay v. Kuhl, 727 N.E.2d 217, 221 (Ill. 2000) (“[I]f [the plaintiff's] action was already barred … prior to the enactment of section 13-202.2, then the new statute could not have revived it … .”).

To avoid dismissal on limitations grounds, Sharon invokes “the Illinois discovery rule, which tolls the statute of limitations until a plaintiff knows or should know that he has been injured and that his injury was wrongful.” Indep. Tr. Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 935 (7th Cir. 2012); see Doe v. Hastert, 133 N.E.3d 1249, 1255 (Ill. App. 2019). In

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childhood sexual abuse cases, the discovery rule applies when a plaintiff “allege[s] that she repressed the memories” of the abuse. Parks v. Kownacki, 737 N.E.2d 287, 294 (Ill. 2000); see Horn v. Goodman, 60 N.E.3d 922, 929 (Ill. App. 2016) (holding that allegations “that [the plaintiff] repressed and suppressed memories of the abuse” were “sufficient to invoke the discovery rule”). At the motion hearing, Doc. 35, the parties agreed that the Illinois discovery rule-like the two-year statute of limitations-applies not only to Sharon's state law claims, but also her due process claims (brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983) and Title IX claim. See Devbrow v. Kalu, 705 F.3d 765, 767 (7th Cir. 2013) (“For claims brought under § 1983, we borrow the limitations period and tolling rules applicable to personal-injury claims under state law.”); Doe v. Howe Mil. Sch., 227 F.3d 981, 988-89 (7th Cir. 2000) (assuming that Title IX borrows the state statute of limitations for personal injuries).

Sharon's claims fall within the discovery rule, at least at the pleading stage. The complaint alleges that Sharon “suppressed the memories of the abuse she suffered as a minor until recently when she discovered that she had been suppressing the memories of her abuse, discovered her injuries, and became aware of her causes of action, ” Doc. 1 at ¶ 40, and places the date of discovery in July 2019 “at the earliest, ” id. at ¶ 30. July 2019 is less than two years before Sharon filed this suit in May 2021.

Defendants contend that Sharon does not properly invoke the discovery rule because she fails to explicitly allege that a psychological condition caused her to repress her memories of abuse or what event caused her recollection to return in 2019. Doc. 22 at 3-4 (citing Clay v. Kuhl, 696 N.E.2d 1245, 1250-52 (Ill. App. 1998)); Doc. 42 (Martin's counsel arguing, at the hearing on her motion, that Sharon was required to allege an event triggering her recollection). But federal pleading standards do not demand such allegations, as “a plaintiff ordinarily need not

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anticipate and attempt to plead around affirmative defenses.” Hyson USA, Inc. v. Hyson 2U, Ltd., 821 F.3d 935, 939 (7th Cir. 2016). Even if repressed memories trigger the discovery rule only when a psychological condition caused the repression-an issue the court need not decide at this juncture-the mere omission of allegations regarding a psychological condition or triggering event does not prevent a plaintiff from benefitting from the discovery rule in opposing a motion to dismiss. See Hollander v. Brown, 457 F.3d 688, 691 n.1 (7th Cir. 2006) (“[A] federal complaint does not fail to state a claim simply because it omits facts that would defeat a statute of limitations defense.”). Put another way, because the complaint does not foreclose the possibility that a psychological condition caused her repressed memories, Sharon has not “affirmatively plead[ed] [her]self out of court” by alleging facts that “plainly reveal that the action is untimely.” Chi. Bldg. Design, 770 F.3d at 614 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

Accordingly, Sharon's claims survive dismissal on timeliness grounds. Defendants may reprise their limitations defense on summary judgment...

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