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Cox v. South Sanpete School District

United States District Court, D. Utah

May 30, 2019

MISTY COX, as mother and guardian of Child Doe, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTH SANPETE SCHOOL DISTRICT, and KENT LARSEN, TREVOR POWELL, RHETT JACKSON, and JARED ANDERSON, in their official and individual capacities, Defendants.

          Paul Kohler Magistrate Judge.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' [22] AND [25] MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          David Nuffer United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Misty Cox (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint (“Complaint”)[1] on behalf of her son, Child Doe, arising out of his assault while a student at Gunnison Valley High School. She asserts three causes of action: (1) violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §1681, et seq. (“Title IX”) against South Sanpete School District (“District”); (2) sexual harassment under 42 USC § 1983 in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against Kent Larsen, Trevor Powell, Rhett Jackson, and Jared Anderson (collectively “Individual Defendants); and (3) a Section 1983 claim against the District for violation of the Equal Protection Clause for unconstitutional policies and practices.

         Defendant Jared Anderson filed a Motion to Dismiss, [2] and the District and remaining Individual Defendants filed a separate Motion to Dismiss.[3] Plaintiff opposed both motions.[4] The defendants replied in support of their respective motions.[5] On February 8, 2019, the parties presented argument on the Motions.[6]

         As discussed below, although the assault of Child Doe by fellow students was horrific and would likely give rise to claims under state law, the Complaint fails to adequately allege cognizable Title IX and Section 1983 claims against the District and the Individual Defendants. The two Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND ............................................................................................................................ 3

         STANDARD OF REVIEW ............................................................................................................ 3

         DISCUSSION ................................................................................................................................. 4

         I. The Complaint Fails to State a Claim Under Title IX. . ....................................................... 4

         A. Actual knowledge is not sufficiently pleaded ............................................................... 5

         B. Deliberate indifference is not sufficiently pleaded. . ..................................................... 5

         C. Pervasiveness is not sufficiently pleaded. . ................................................................... 7

         D. Denial of access to educational benefits or opportunities is insufficiently pleaded. .... 7

         II. The Individual Defendants Are Entitled to Qualified Immunity. . ................................... 8

         III. The Complaint Fails to Adequately Allege an Equal Protection Violation by the District. . ..................................................................................................................................... 10

         ORDER ......................................................................................................................................... 12

         BACKGROUND

         Child Doe is a Freshman at Gunnison Valley High School (“GVHS”) within the District. Child Doe began attending GVHS in August 2018 and was a member of the GVHS football team. On Monday, September 17, 2018, just before the start of football practice, two students pinned Child Doe to the ground while a third student pulled his pants down and rubbed his genitals and buttocks in Child Doe's face.

         This incident (“Incident”) and the actions of the three students (“Students”) were reported to the school resource officer the next day. The school resource officer began an investigation. On Wednesday, September 19, 2018, the Students were suspended from school for three days. After the Incident, at least fifteen other students came forward to the school resource officer with their own accounts of similar assaults by the Students.

         Defendant Larsen is the superintendent for the District. Defendant Powell is the Principal and Defendant Jackson is the Assistant Principal of GVHS. Defendant Anderson is the Athletic Director for GVHS and the father of two of the Students that assaulted Child Doe.

         Plaintiff's central assertion in the Complaint in support of the Title IX and Section 1983 causes of action is that the Individual Defendants and the District must have known about these other assaults prior to the Incident and the school resource officer's investigation. This is because the prior assaults occurred in a small town and Defendant Larsen, Defendant Jackson and Defendant Powell were friends with Defendant Anderson, who is the father of two the Students.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move for dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”[7] Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate when the complaint, standing alone, is legally insufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.[8]

         On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), [9] courts accept the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.[10] When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the thrust of all well-pleaded facts in the complaint is presumed, but conclusory allegations, legal conclusions, and opinions need not be considered or accepted, even if they are couched as facts.[11] “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”[12] Even under this favorable standard, the Complaint fails to state a claim-because of the law governing these claims against these governmental defendants.

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Complaint Fails to State a Claim Under Title IX.

         Title IX provides that “[n]o person ... shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”[13] To state a valid claim against a school district under Title IX, a plaintiff must allege facts supporting four elements: the school district “(1) had actual knowledge of and (2) was deliberately indifferent to (3) harassment that is so severe, pervasive ...


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