Thomas v. Town of Chelmsford, Civil Action No. 16–11689–PBS

Decision Date25 July 2017
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 16–11689–PBS
Citation267 F.Supp.3d 279
Parties Matthew A. THOMAS, Jr., Kristine Thomas, and Matthew A. Thomas, Plaintiffs, v. TOWN OF CHELMSFORD, Chelmsford School Committee, Frank Tiano, Scott Moreau, Bruce Rich, Charles Caliri, Jeffery Doherty, Anthony Siragusa, Michelle Kender, Benjamin Cole, and Michael Moes 1–4, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts

Brian W. Leahey, Law Office of Brian Leahey, P.C., Tyngsborough, MA, for Plaintiffs.

John J. Davis, Michael D. Leedberg, Pierce Davis & Perritano LLP, Boston, MA, for Defendants.


Patti B. Saris, Chief United States District Judge

This suit alleges that the Chelmsford public school system and its employees failed to take sufficient steps to protect a student from a sexual assault at a school-sponsored varsity football camp and from subsequent bullying and harassment by teachers and other students at Chelmsford High School ("CHS"). The individual defendants and the municipal defendants move separately to dismiss.

The Court ALLOWS in part and DENIES in part the motions to dismiss (Docket Nos. 28, 30).

I. Parties

The plaintiffs are Matthew A. Thomas, Jr. ("Matthew"), his father ("Mr. Thomas"), and his mother ("Mrs. Thomas").

The municipal defendants are the Town of Chelmsford ("Town") and the Chelmsford School Committee ("CSC"). The individual defendants are Frank Tiano, the former Superintendent of Chelmsford Public Schools ("CPS"); Charles Caliri, the former Principal of CHS; Jeffery Doherty, the former Dean of CHS; Scott Moreau, the athletic director ("A.D.") of CHS; Bruce Rich, the former head coach of the football team at CHS; and Anthony Siragusa, Michelle Kender, and Benjamin Cole, teachers at CHS.

II. Factual Allegations

With all reasonable inferences are drawn in the plaintiffs' favor, the complaint alleges the following facts, many of which are disputed.

A. The Sports Culture

For years, CHS embraced a sports culture that put winning ahead of everything else and encouraged bullying and harassment of student-athletes to make them "tough enough" to win championships. First Amended Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 17. The Town, the CSC, and Superintendent Tiano knew about and condoned this "winning" sports culture, in which ordinary rules did not apply to star athletes. Id.

In September 2012, Matthew enrolled as a freshman at CHS. Id. ¶ 30. Matthew was a special-needs student with an Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). Id. In October 2012, during freshman football, three students—K.M., G.C., and E.S.—forced another student to urinate in Matthew's cleats. Id. ¶ 32. The Thomas family reported the incident to A.D. Moreau, and the three students were suspended for one game. Id. ¶ 34.

B. The Rape at Football Camp

From August 21 to 24, 2013, CHS held its annual football camp at Camp Robindel in Moultonborough, New Hampshire. Id. ¶ 39. The students stayed in bunkhouses with no regular adult supervision, despite CHS having knowledge of hazing and bullying that took place at past football camps. Id. ¶¶ 19, 20, 24, 40. In the bunkhouse, Matthew was hit in the face with powder, and the video recording was posted to social media. Id. ¶ 42. Matthew had his food, iPod, and cellphone stolen. Id. ¶¶ 42, 44. Matthew was pelted with milk and repeatedly picked up by his underwear while others laughed. Id. ¶ 42.

Matthew reported the stolen iPod to Coach Rich, who took no action. Id. ¶ 43. Matthew reported the stolen cellphone to a coach, who came into the bunkroom and demanded, "Who took the phone?" Id. ¶ 44. K.M. returned the cellphone and was not disciplined. Id.

On August 23, 2013, Matthew was on his bunk when Z.D. came over to him, held him down, and started twisting his nipples. Id. ¶ 46. K.M. joined in and lifted Matthew's feet so that he could not move. Id. G.C. grabbed Matthew by his arms and legs, and they dragged him into the shower area. Id. G.C. and Z.D. held Matthew down while K.M. tried to insert the end of a broomstick into Matthew's anus. Id. Matthew screamed and resisted, but nobody came to his assistance. Id. Then, K.M. and Z.D. held down Matthew while G.C. inserted the end of the broomstick into Matthew's anus. Id. ¶ 47. No adult was nearby during this approximately twenty-minute episode. Id. ¶ 49.

Later that day, another student threw Matthew's cellphone to K.M., who rubbed the cellphone on his testicles and threw it back to Matthew. Id. ¶ 50. K.M. then came over to Matthew, placed his knee on Matthew's chest, exposed his genitalia, and rubbed his testicles on Matthew's chin. Id.

That evening, Matthew told his parents about some of his problems at camp. Id. ¶ 51. Mr. Thomas started driving out to Camp Robindel, but Coach Rich called him and told him that he wanted the opportunity to handle the issues himself. Id. Mr. Thomas agreed. Id. When Coach Rich raised the issue with the students, K.M. yelled at Matthew and called him a "liar." Id. ¶ 52. Coach Rich told K.M. to just apologize, which K.M. did. Id.

On August 24, 2013, Coach Rich told Mr. Thomas that the issues were taken care of. Id. ¶ 53. Coach Rich also told Mr. Thomas that K.M. was one of his "special players" who needed to remain on the team because sports helped keep him out of trouble. Id.

That night, Matthew told his parents about the broomstick incident. Id. ¶ 55. On August 25, 2013, Mrs. Thomas emailed Coach Rich to demand that he investigate. Id. ¶ 57. In the email, Mrs. Thomas told Coach Rich that if the issue was not adequately resolved by noon the next day, she would report to the police, the CSC, and Superintendent Tiano. Id. Later that night, Mrs. Thomas spoke with Coach Rich, who apologized. Id. ¶ 58.

On the morning of August 26, 2013, Mrs. Thomas forwarded her previous day's email to A.D. Moreau and stated that she would report to the police, the CSC, and Superintendent Tiano if she did not hear from him or Coach Rich by noon. Id. ¶ 59. That morning, A.D. Moreau called Mrs. Thomas and stated that CHS would look into the incident but that he did not want it reported to the police. Id. ¶ 60. His words were: "Don't go to the police. You need to give us more time." Id. The Thomas family agreed. Id.

That afternoon, while the Thomas family was waiting for a meeting with A.D. Moreau, Coach Rich came by and told Matthew, "You will get through this. We will get through this. This is part of growing up." Id. ¶ 61. The Thomas family then met with CHS Deans Jeffery Doherty, Joshua Blagg, and Heather Galante. Id. ¶ 63. The Thomas family explained to the Deans what had happened to Matthew. Id. The Deans instructed the Thomas family not to speak to anyone about the matter. Id. The Deans did not explain how they would handle the situation other than to say the perpetrators would not be in any of Matthew's classes. Id. CHS did not report the incident to the police. Id. ¶ 64.

On August 27, 2013, the Thomas family reported the Camp Robindel incident to the police. Id. ¶ 66. The Middlesex District Attorney's Office contacted the Moultonborough Police Department and started an investigation. Id. ¶ 67.

On August 28, 2013, CPS took written statements from two of the students involved in the Camp Robindel incident. Id. ¶ 68. One of them wrote that Matthew was lying about everything. Id. The other admitted that he hit Matthew with a broomstick around "his butt/back of thigh" but he "didn't see that it had left a mark." Id. He wrote, "I am not proud of what I did, but I am also not sorry for what I did to Matt. Thinking back on it I was teaching him a lesson." Id.

On August 30, 2013, Deans Doherty, Blagg, and Galante produced a "Summary Report" on the school's internal investigation into the Camp Robindel incident. Id. ¶ 74. This report allegedly "whitewashed" the incident by failing to describe the details of the broomstick incident, how Matthew came to be lying prone on the floor of the bathroom, and why there was no adult supervision. Id. ¶ 75.

C. Post–Incident Bullying and Harassment

Around this time, other CHS students began to hear about the camp incident. Id. ¶ 71. Students began to make comments about how Matthew was lying and started to call him "Broomstick," in reference to the assault. Id. ¶¶ 71, 73. Comments on the Camp Robindel incident also began to appear on social media. E.g., id. ¶ 77 ("What's up with high school boys sticking stuff up each other's asses these days?")

On September 3, 2013, Mrs. Thomas contacted Principal Caliri to ask how Matthew would be protected at school. Id. ¶ 79. Principal Caliri did not provide any answers. Id.

On September 4, 2013, Matthew went to school and learned that K.M. was registered in two of his classes. Id. ¶ 80. Although K.M. was not in school, Matthew was present in both classes as K.M.'s name was called. Id. The Thomas family demanded that K.M. be transferred. Id.

Various students at school continued to make derogatory sexual comments to Matthew about the Camp Robindel incident, and social media postings about the incident continued. E.g., Id. ¶¶ 81 ("Hey Broomstick! How is your asshole? Did it hurt?"), 83 ("You are so annoying you got a pole shoved up your ass at football camp."), 88 ("Matt Thomas went to camp a tight end and came back a wide receiver."), 108 ("Hey look, is that the kid that got fucked by the broomstick?"), 120 (students said that they heard that Matthew was raped with a "big black dildo" and asked Matthew if he "liked it and if he wanted it again"). Much of the bullying came from lacrosse players, wrestlers, and football players. Id. ¶ 131. Students also made threats of violence against Matthew. Id. ¶¶ 151, 159. The Thomas family reported these incidents to Dean Doherty throughout the school year but each time, Dean Doherty took no action and did not follow up with the family. Id. ¶¶ 81, 82, 83, 104, 108, 120, 152, 160. On one occasion, Dean Doherty told Matthew that Matthew should report incidents to him, not to his mot...

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