Williams v. Fulton Cnty. Sch. Dist.

Decision Date31 March 2016
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 1:14-CV-0296-AT
Citation181 F.Supp.3d 1089
Parties Alexander Williams, by and through his Guardian, Conservator, and Next Friends, Douglas Williams and Lisa Williams; Douglas Williams; and Lisa Williams, Plaintiffs, v. Fulton County School District, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia

Chris E. Vance, Office of Chris E. Vance, P.C., Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiffs.

Brandon Moulard, Charles T. Huddleston, Neeru Gupta, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Mary Anne Ackourey, William H. Buechner, Jr., Freeman Mathis & Gary, Lawrence Brannen Domenico, Mozley, Finlayson & Loggins, LLP, Atlanta, GA, Barbara M. Heyne, John D. Wales, Law Offices of John D. Wales, Marietta, GA, for Defendants.

ORDER

Amy Totenberg, United States District Judge

Alex Williams is a young man with disabilities who was born with hydrocephalus, hemiparesis, cerebral palsy, moderate to severe intellectual disabilities, motor and language impairment, and who has a history of seizures. (Compl. ¶ 1.)1 Alex allegedly suffered horrific abuse at the hands of his special education teacher, Melanie Pickens, while enrolled at Hopewell Middle School during the 20062007 school year. Alex's counsel filed a 176–page Complaint with 23 counts against the Fulton County School District ("FCSD") and 28 individuals, including Pickens.2 With his parents (together, "Plaintiffs"), he brings claims under the United States and Georgia constitutions and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq .,Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (" Section 504"), 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq ., and under a variety of state law tort theories.

This case is frustrating and saddening for the Court for a number of reasons. The pleadings allege a series of shocking abuses visited upon Alex and other disabled students at Hopewell's "G–Hall," where classrooms for disabled students were located. Alex also alleges a pattern of institutional neglect and indifference to Pickens' alleged abuse that, if substantiated in discovery, would be terrible in its own right. And so this case presents important issues for all parties. For Alex, he has a strong interest in attempting to obtain some remedy for the alleged constant victimization that he suffered for an entire school year. For the Defendants, they have an obvious interest in trying to clear their names. Under any circumstances, the resolution of the issues posed by this case would be difficult. The presentation of this matter—in the form of a massive Complaint that pleads substantial factual material but in a scattershot fashion—has made that task even more difficult.

As a final preliminary note, every lawyer must help his or her client weigh the proper balance between, on the one hand, fully vindicating the client's rights, and on the other, reaching an expeditious resolution of a matter. As will be discussed below, the Court is declining to dismiss a significant number of individual Defendants at this stage, because it is constrained to do so. The Federal Rules permit a generous pleading standard, and the applicable law suggests that Plaintiffs have, with respect to many of the Defendants, met that standard. But this by no means suggests that all of the claims that survive this Order will necessarily survive summary judgment too. For example, the case law makes plain that while it is not particularly difficult to allege a Monell claim against a school district, it is often difficult to prove it. The same holds true for individuals who are being sued in their supervisory capacity or under a conspiracy theory of liability. Plaintiffs can prosecute their case how they like. But in the Court's view, this case would benefit greatly from some self-editing. Plaintiffs may decline to do so—but if that is the case, then they may wait a very long time for a resolution to this undoubtedly painful matter. That would be a disservice to all involved.

I. SUMMARY OF THE ORDER

Pending before the Court are three motions. The Fulton County School District and all individual Defendants except Ms. Boyd and Ms. Pickens (hereinafter referred to as the "Individual Defendants") filed a Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint [Doc. 87] ("FCSD's Motion"). Ms. Boyd also filed a separate Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 101], and Ms. Pickens filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 104]. Plaintiffs have indicated that they have reached a settlement with Pickens. The Court therefore DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE Pickens' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 104], and addresses the remaining motions in the following order:

The Court addresses the issues raised in the remaining motions in the following order: (1) FCSD's motion as to the issue of municipal liability; (2) Boyd's motion as to the issues of supervisory liability and qualified immunity; (3) the individual substantive claims; (4) official immunity as to the Individual Defendants and Boyd; (5) the § 1983 conspiracy claims; and (6) supervisory liability and negligent hiring and supervision claims against the Individual Defendants.

The Court provides the following summary to aid the Parties' understanding of the Order's determination of the various issues raised by Defendants in response to Plaintiffs' Complaint:

1. Melanie Pickens' Motion [Doc. 104] is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE as MOOT .
2. Frances Boyd's Motion [Doc. 101] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Plaintiffs' ADA and Section 504 claims under the Rehabilitation Act, and their Fourth Amendment and cruel and unusual punishment claims, and their negligent hiring claims are all DISMISSED . Thus, the following claims remain pending against Boyd:
the § 1983 claims for substantive and procedural due process and equal protection violations (under supervisory liability);
• the § 1983 conspiracy claims for substantive and procedural due process and equal protection violation;
• the Georgia constitutional claims for substantive and procedural due process and equal protection violations (under supervisory or conspiracy liability); and
• and the state law conspiracy claims to commit the torts identified in Counts 2 through 10, and the state law negligent supervision claim.
3. FCSD's Motion [Doc. 87] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment and cruel and unusual punishment claims against FCSD are all DISMISSED . The following claims remain pending against FCSD:
the § 1983 claims for substantive and procedural due process and equal protection violations;
• the § 1983 conspiracy claims for substantive and procedural due process and equal protection violations;
• the Georgia constitutional claims for substantive and procedural due process and equal protection violations;
• the ADA and Section 504 claims; and
• the attorneys' fees claim.
4. The Individual Defendants' Motion [Doc. 87] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as follows:
• All claims against Defendants Etris, Butler, Averett, White, McGee, and Sosebee are DISMISSED .
• All claims against McConnell, Pettes, Shelley, Faulkner, Wadel, and Ware except Plaintiffs' claims under § 1983 for supervisory liability for violations of Plaintiffs' substantive and procedural due process and equal protection rights are DISMISSED .
• All claims against Beasley, Schuette, Wilson, Weinmann, Kanner, and Wade except Plaintiffs' § 1983 conspiracy claims to violate Plaintiffs' substantive and procedural due process and equal protection rights are DISMISSED .
• All claims against Merritt, Denmark, Lynch, Thompson, Shaffer, Vanairsdale, Reece, and Young except Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim for supervisory liability and conspiracy liability for violations of Plaintiffs' substantive and procedural due process and equal protection rights are DISMISSED .
5. In sum, the following claims remain pending against the specified Defendants:
a. § 1983 substantive and procedural due process and equal protection claims via municipal liability: FCSD;
b. § 1983 substantive and procedural due process and equal protection claims via supervisory liability: Boyd, Merritt, Denmark, Lynch, Thompson, McConnell, Wadel, Shaffer, Vanairsdale, Reece, Young, Pettes, Shelley, Faulkner, and Ware;
c. § 1983 substantive and procedural due process and equal protection claims via conspiracy liability:
Boyd, Kanner, Weinmann, Beasley, Schuette, Wilson, Wade, Merritt, Denmark, Lynch, Thompson, Shaffer, Vanairsdale, Reece, Young, and FCSD;
d. Substantive and procedural due process and equal protection claims under the Georgia constitution: FCSD and Boyd;
e. State law tort claims: Boyd (under a conspiracy theory of liability);
f. State law negligent supervision claim: Boyd;
g. ADA and Section 504 claims: FCSD; and
h. Attorneys' fees under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"): FCSD.
II. Legal Standards

This Court may dismiss a pleading for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A pleading fails to state a claim if it does not contain allegations that support recovery under any recognizable legal theory. 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1216 (3d ed.2002) ; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 677–78, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court construes the pleading in the non-movant's favor and accepts the well-pleaded factual allegations therein as true. See Duke v. Cleland , 5 F.3d 1399, 1402 (11th Cir.1993). The plaintiff need not have provided "detailed factual allegations" to survive dismissal, but the "obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). In essence, the pleading "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is...

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