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Miller v. St. Tammany Parish School Board

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 20, 2019


         SECTION “B” (3)


         Defendants St. Tammany Parish School Board and W.L. Trey Folse, III filed a motion to dismiss and for summary judgment. Rec. Doc. 31. Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition. Rec. Doc. 34. Defendants then sought, and were granted, leave to file a reply. Rec. Doc. 39. For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that the motion to dismiss is GRANTED and plaintiffs' federal claims against defendants are DISMISSED with prejudice, and plaintiffs' state law claims are DISMISSED without prejudice.


         This case arises out of the alleged physical assault and battery of QM, a 12-year-old minor, by Jonathon Johnson, an instructor and teacher at the Project Believe School program. Rec. Doc. 1 at 5. Plaintiffs assert that QM was repeatedly kicked, slapped, and punched by Jonathon Johnson after arriving at the Project Believe campus in January 2017, and suffered physical and mental damages as a result. Id. at 6. Plaintiffs claim that instructors and supervisors at Project Believe were aware of QM's assault but did not interfere or report it to the school board. Id. at 7. Plaintiffs allege that Quintrelle Miller made multiple calls to defendant Trey Folse, head of the St. Tammany Parish School Board, regarding the attacks on QM in March and April 2017. Id. at 8. Additionally, plaintiffs state that Quintrelle Miller's mother, Carol Miller, witnessed the attacks when picking QM up from school and was able to record a video, which was delivered to Folse. Id. at 9. Ultimately, Johnson was fired on April 24, 2017. Id. In June 2017 Johnson was arrested by the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office for, among other things, cruelty to a juvenile. Id. at 9.

         Plaintiffs filed this action on April 13, 2018 seeking damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 for constitutional violations as well as under Louisiana law for tort claims. Id. Plaintiffs assert that defendant Johnson's actions violated QM's constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments and that it was the policy or custom of the St. Tammany Parish School Board to inadequately supervise and train its personnel, thereby failing to discourage constitutional violations. Id. at 12. Therefore, plaintiffs assert that the St. Tammany Parish School board is liable for the assault and battery of QM and the financial and emotional damages. Id. at 13. Plaintiffs seek punitive damages from Johnson and the School Board for Johnson's conduct, alleging that the executives had actual knowledge of the attacks and did not stop them. Id. at 10. Plaintiffs also bring state law claim under LSA-RC CC Art 2315 for damages resulting from the tortious actions of defendant Johnson. Id. at 13-14.


         “A statute of limitations may support dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) where it is evident from the plaintiff's pleadings that the action is barred and the pleadings fail to raise some basis for tolling or the like.” Jones v. Alcoa, Inc., 339 F.3d 359, 366 (5th Cir. 2003)[1]

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff's complaint “must contain ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Varela v. Gonzalez, 773 F.3d 704, 707 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). When deciding whether a plaintiff has met his burden, a court “accept[s] all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and interpret[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, but ‘[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements' cannot establish facial plausibility.” Snow Ingredients, Inc. v. SnoWizard, Inc., 833 F.3d 512, 520 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) (some internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         A. One-Year Prescriptive Period for § 1983 Claims

         Plaintiffs' federal claims must be dismissed because the statute of limitations has run. “The statute of limitations for a suit brought under § 1983 is determined by the general statute of limitations governing personal injuries in the forum state.” Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 576 (5th Cir. 2001). Louisiana Civil Code Article 3492 provides a one-year prescriptive period for tort actions. See Jones v. Orleans Parish School Board, 688 F.2d 342 (5th Cir.1982). The Fifth Circuit has routinely applied this one-year prescriptive period to § 1983 claims brought in federal courts in Louisiana. See Heath v. Bd. of Supervisors for S. Univ. & Agric. & Mech. Coll., 850 F.3d 731, 739 (5th Cir. 2017); Smith v. Reg'l Transit Auth., 827 F.3d 412, 421 (5th Cir. 2016) Pittman v. Conerly, 405 Fed.Appx. 916, 918 (5th Cir. 2010).

         Although the statute of limitations is determined by state law, federal law determines when a cause of action accrues. Heath at 740. Under federal law, an action accrues “the moment the plaintiff becomes aware that he has suffered an injury or has sufficient information to know that he has been injured.” Piotrowski at 576 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiffs state in their complaint that “In March and April, Quintrelle Miller made multiple calls to Defendant, Trey Folse, head of the St. Tammany Parish School Board, and relayed to Folse Johnson.” Rec. Doc. 1 at 8-9. Therefore, from the face of plaintiffs' complaint, they knew of the injury that formed the basis of this action since at least March 2017. Plaintiffs filed their complaint on April 13, 2018, more than a year after the cause of action accrued. Defendants also provide an affidavit from Kevin Darouse, Senior Supervisor of Administration, that Carolyn Miller provided a written complaint to the School System Administration on April 3, 2017 concerning QM's treatment. Rec. Doc. 31-3 at 1. Defendants attach a copy of the letter as an exhibit to their motion, showing that it is dated April 3, 2017. Rec. Doc. 31-3 at 3. Therefore, defendants aver that the action accrued on at least April 3, 2017 and plaintiffs' filing on April 13, 2018 was too late. However, the Court does not need to consider this evidence in finding that this action is time-barred, because plaintiffs themselves state in their complaint that they were aware of the alleged assault in March 2017.

         Plaintiffs aver that Louisiana Civil Code Article 3496.1's three-year prescriptive period should apply rather than the one-year statute of limitations governing personal injury actions. However, the Supreme Court stated that:

In Wilson v. Garcia,471 U.S. 261 (1985), we held that courts entertaining claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 should borrow the statute of limitations for personal injury actions. This case raises the question of what limitations period should apply to a § 1983 action where a State has one or more statutes of limitations for certain enumerated intentional torts,and a residual statute for all other personal injury ...

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