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Peters v. St. Charles Parish School District

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 5, 2017

CHEVELLE PETERS, Plaintiff
v.
ST. CHARLES PARISH SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL. Defendants

         SECTION “E” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(5) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[1] The motion is opposed.[2] For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         This action is brought by Chevelle Peters on behalf of her minor daughter, T.P. (“Plaintiff”). On December 9, 2014, the Plaintiff allegedly slipped and fell on a slippery substance on the floor of her seventh-grade classroom at Harry Hurst Middle School.[3] As a result of the accident, the Plaintiff alleges that she sustained injuries to her knee and leg.[4] Due to the extent of her injuries, the Plaintiff's treating physician restricted her from using the stairs and participating in physical education.[5] The school agreed to provide these accommodations.[6] Specifically, the school allowed the Plaintiff to use the elevator, and did not require her to participate in physical education.[7]

         The Plaintiff alleges the Defendants refused to provide her these accommodations on two occasions. First, the Plaintiff alleges Tiffany Hall, the Plaintiff's teacher, “refused to allow [the Plaintiff] to go to the office in order to make sure she would be able to use the elevators” and instead instructed the Plaintiff to “wait until [l]unch” to inquire about using the elevator.[8] As a result, the Plaintiff allegedly attempted to walk down the stairs, fell, and exacerbated her injuries.[9] Second, the Plaintiff alleges Michelle Rodriguez, the Plaintiff's physical education teacher, required her to do push-ups as punishment for not having her gym uniform.[10] According to the Plaintiff, both of these instances were a result of discrimination and retaliation because of her disability.

         The Plaintiff seeks recovery under Louisiana law for personal injury damages arising out of the slip and fall that occurred on December 9, 2014, and under federal laws for damages due to discrimination and retaliation based on her disability.

         B. Procedural History

         On December 8, 2015, the Plaintiff filed her original complaint.[11] On March 4, 2016, Plaintiff filed her first amended complaint.[12] On May 16, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and a motion to dismiss for lack of prosecution.[13] The Plaintiff filed her second amended complaint on August 17, 2016, [14] and the Defendants' motion to dismiss was dismissed without prejudice. On October 19, 2016, Defendants re-urged their motion to dismiss, [15] which is the basis of this Order.

         In her Second Amended Complaint, the Plaintiff brings claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, [16] 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1985, 42 U.S.C. § 1986, and Louisiana Civil Code articles 2315 and 2316.[17] The Second Amended Complaint names Harry Hurst Middle School and St. Charles Parish School District as defendants. The Plaintiff also names as defendants several St. Charles Parish School District employees in their individual and official capacities.[18]

         At the status conference held in the Court's chambers on January 23, 2017, the Plaintiff represented she is bringing claims against all defendants only for the following:

1. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973;
2. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”);
3. 42 U.S.C. § 1981;
4. 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
5. 42 U.S.C. § 1985; and
6. Louisiana Civil Code article 2315.[19]

         At the status conference, the Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed all claims against Monica Ayton, because she was never properly served.[20]

         Following the status conference held on January 23, 2017, the Court ordered the parties to file additional briefing with respect to the Plaintiff's remaining claims.[21] The Defendants filed a reply to the Plaintiff's opposition to the motion to dismiss on February 1, 2017.[22] On February 3, 2017, the Plaintiff filed a sur-reply in further opposition to the Defendants' motion to dismiss.[23]

         In her sur-reply to Defendants' reply in support of their motion to dismiss, the Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed all claims pursuant to the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act against the school employees.[24] The Plaintiff also voluntarily dismissed all claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986 against all defendants.[25] The Plaintiff further clarified that her claim under Civil Code article 2315 is inclusive of negligent hiring, supervision, and retention.[26]

         Accordingly, the remaining claims are those against the St. Charles Parish School District under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and against the St. Charles Parish School District and its employees in their official capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.[27] The Plaintiff also asserts state-law claims for negligence against all parties under Louisiana Civil Code article 2315. Defendants seek to dismiss these claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and Rule 12(b)(5).[28]

         STANDARD OF LAW

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court may dismiss a complaint, or any part of it, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if the plaintiff has not set forth factual allegations in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief.[29] “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”[30]“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”[31] However, the court does not accept as true legal conclusions or mere conclusory statements, [32] and “conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss.”[33] “[T]hreadbare recitals of elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements” or “naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement” are not sufficient.[34]

         In summary, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”[35] “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.”[36] “Dismissal is appropriate when the complaint ‘on its face show[s] a bar to relief.'”[37]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Rule 12(b)(5) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to Timely Serve

         “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5) provides for dismissal of a claim if service of process was not timely made in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 or was not properly served in the appropriate manner.”[38] “In the absence of valid service of process, proceedings against a party are void.”[39] The party responsible for serving has the burden of showing that service was valid in the face of a 12(b)(5) challenge.[40]

         Rule 4(m) provides in part:

If a defendant is not served within 90 days after the complaint is filed, the court-on motion or on its own after notice to the plaintiff-must dismiss the action without prejudice against that defendant or order that service be made within a specified time. But if the plaintiff shows good cause for the failure, the court must extend the time for service for an appropriate period.[41]

         Thus, a Court faced with a defendant's Rule 12(b)(5) motion to dismiss for failure to timely serve must undertake a two part inquiry.[42] First, the Court must determine if the plaintiff can show “good cause” for its failure to timely serve. If good cause exists, the Court is required to extend the 90-day window for service of process.[43] “If good cause does not exist, the Court may, in its discretion, decide whether to dismiss the case without prejudice or extend time for service.”[44] “The district court enjoys a broad discretion in determining whether to dismiss an action for ineffective service of process.”[45]

         The Court does not need to address whether the Plaintiff has demonstrated “good cause” for her failure to properly serve the Defendants within the 90-day window provided by Rule 4(m). Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that “good cause” did not exist for the untimely service, the Court has broad discretion in determining whether dismissal for failure to timely serve is warranted, and also whether to extend time for service. Service has been perfected in this case-albeit late-and the Court does not find that dismissal is warranted for the now-repaired defect in service. The Court does not condone the actions of Plaintiff's counsel, but recognizes that the Plaintiff herself did not cause the delay in service, that the Defendants would not be prejudiced in any meaningful way by allowing this late service to stand, and that there is no indication that the failure to timely serve was intentional.[46] The Court will not dismiss the Plaintiff's complaint on the grounds that it was served outside of Rule 4(m)'s 90-day window.

         II. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion for Failure to State a Claim

         a. Plaintiff's Claims Under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

         The Plaintiff brings claims against the St. Charles Parish School District pursuant to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”).[47] Title II of the ADA protects against disability discrimination in the provision of public services, and provides:

[N]o qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.[48]

         Section 504, on the other hand, protects against disability discrimination by recipients of federal funding, and provides:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . . .[49]

         Both Title II of the ADA and Section 504 provide a plaintiff a private right of action.[50]

         The elements of a claim under Title II of the ADA are that: (1) the plaintiff is a qualified individual within the meaning of the ADA; (2) the plaintiff is being excluded from participation in, or being denied benefits of, services, programs, or activities for which the public entity is responsible, or is otherwise being discriminated against by a public entity; and (3) that such exclusion, denial of benefits, or discrimination is by reason of her disability.[51] “[A] cause of action is stated under § 504 when it is alleged that a school district has refused to provide reasonable accommodations for the handicapped plaintiff to receive the full benefits of the school program.”[52] Because Section 504 closely tracks the language of the ADA, courts analyze the claims together.[53]

         The Plaintiff must first allege that she has a “disability, ” thus making her a qualified individual under the ADA and Section 504. The ADA defines a “disability” as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”[54]“[M]ajor life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.”[55] The Plaintiff alleges she suffered injuries to her knee and leg, which “limit[] her ability to walk.”[56] The Plaintiff has therefore sufficiently alleged the first element of a claim under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

         With respect to the second and third elements of the ADA and Section 504, the Plaintiff alleges she was denied the benefits of the school program because she was not given access to the school's elevator and she was instructed to do push-ups as punishment in physical education class. To state a cause of action under Section 504 and the ADA, the Plaintiff must allege “that a school district has refused to provide reasonable accommodations for the handicapped plaintiff to receive the full benefits of the school program.”[57] The Plaintiff's allegations are inconsistent in this respect. The Plaintiff alleges her physician restricted her from “using the stairs” and “physical education.”[58] According to the Plaintiff, “the school stipulated that they would not only adhere to the doctor's restrictions but they would also [provide] additional accommodations[, ] such as [receiving] assistance to and from class[] [and] being dismissed [five] minutes early from class.”[59] The Plaintiff alleges she “was allowed to use the elevators” and did not “physically participate in physical education, ”[60] but the additional accommodations “were [not] actually consistently provided.”[61] Nowhere in her complaint does the Plaintiff allege the St. Charles Parish School District refused to provide reasonable accommodations so that ...


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