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D.B. v. Hargett

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 21, 2014

D.B., a minor, by and through his mother and natural guardian, A.T., Plaintiff,
v.
NICKOLAS HARGETT, in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as an employee of Independent School District 31; and INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT 31, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

LEO I. BRISBOIS, Magistrate Judge.

This matter came before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge upon Defendant School District's Motion to Dismiss. [Docket No. 8]. The motion has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation, (see Order of Referral [Docket No. 16]), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 72.1. The Court held a hearing on the Motion on January 15, 2014. (Minute Entry [Docket No. 23]). For reasons outlined below, the Court recommends that Defendant School District's Motion to Dismiss, [Docket No. 8], be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

D.B. ("Plaintiff") is a 7-year-old boy whose mother and natural guardian, A.T., initiated this action on October 8, 2013, by filing a Complaint, [Docket No. 1], which names as defendants Independent School District 31, (the "Defendant School District"); and Nickolas Hargett, (Defendant Hargett"), a bus driver for Defendant School District, in both his individual and official capacities. Plaintiff generally alleges that on February 20, 2013, in response to Plaintiff's throwing a tantrum on the bus, Defendant Hargett prevented Plaintiff from exiting the bus at his driveway and instead dropped him at another stop 0.14 miles away. (Id.)

On October 29, 2013, Defendant School District, representing itself and Defendant Hargett in his official capacity, made their Motion to Dismiss, [Docket No. 8], [1] and filed their Memorandum in Support thereof, [Docket No. 10]. The case was originally assigned to the Hon. Ann D. Montgomery, who recused on November 1, 2013, resulting in reassignment to the Hon. Michael J. Davis. (Order [Docket No. 15]). Subsequently, on November 5, 2013, Chief Judge Davis referred the School Defendants' Motion to Dismiss to this Court for report and recommendation. (Order [Docket No. 16]). On November 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed his Memorandum, [Docket No. 18], and supporting materials, [Docket Nos. 19, 19-1, 19-2]; and the School Defendants filed their Reply, [Docket No. 20], on November 27, 2013, at which time the Motion was fully briefed. The Court heard argument on the Motion on January 15, 2014. (Minute Entry [Docket No. 23]).

II. DEFENDANT SCHOOL DISTRICT'S and DEFENDANT HARGETT'S OFFICIAL CAPACITY MOTION TO DISMISS [Docket No. 8]

Defendant School District and Defendant Hargett in his individual capacity move to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

A. Facts[2]

The incident that gave rise to this lawsuit occurred on February 20, 2013, when Plaintiff was 6 years old. (Compl. [Docket No. 1], at ¶14). Plaintiff lived with his mother, father, and older brother in Wilton, Minnesota, and he and his older brother attended Central Elementary School, which is managed and administered by Defendant School District. (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 16, 19). In 2012, Plaintiff was diagnosed with emotional behavior disorder and attention deficithyperactivity disorder. (Id. at ¶¶17-18). Since his diagnosis of emotional behavior disorder in Spring 2012, Defendant School District has classified Plaintiff as a "special education" student, and has developed an Individualized Education Program that mainstreamed him for most classes, but provided interventions to support his social, emotional, and behavioral needs. (Id. at ¶ 17).

Defendant School District provides bus service for elementary school students who live more than a mile from their school. (Id. at ¶ 20). Plaintiff and his brother regularly ride the bus to school, but they ride the bus home infrequently because they regularly participate in afterschool activities that provide alternative transportation. (Id. at ¶ 21). When they do ride the bus home, their regular stop is a group of mail boxes approximately 0.14 miles from their home. (Id. at ¶ 22). However, on February 18, 2013, two days before the incident that gave rise to this lawsuit, Defendant School District determined that Plaintiff and his brother should be dropped off at their driveway, instead of their regular stop, because an accumulation of snow at the regular stop made it difficult for the bus to maneuver. (Id. at ¶ 22). On the day before the incident, February 19, 2013, Plaintiff and his brother rode home on the bus without incident. (Id. at ¶ 23).

On February 20, 2013, Defendant Hargett drove the bus, and an additional Defendant School District employee was on the bus as Bus Monitor. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26). Plaintiff and his brother sat across the aisle from one another. (Id. at ¶ 24). During the bus ride, several students were in and out of their seats while the bus was moving, including Plaintiff, who crossed the aisle to hit and/or kick his older brother. (Id. at ¶27). Defendant Hargett took no action with regard to any of the other students; however, both he and the Bus Monitor instructed Plaintiff to remain in his seat. (Id. at ¶¶ 26, 28, 44).

Plaintiff did not comply, and at some point, Defendant Hargett pulled over, stopped the bus, and ordered Plaintiff to move to a seat at the front of the bus. (Id. at ¶¶ 28-29). Plaintiff again did not comply, and the bus remained stopped for approximately 12 minutes. (Id. at ¶¶ 29-30). After that time, Defendant Hargett walked back to Plaintiff and pulled him by his wrists into a standing position, whereupon Plaintiff went limp, and Defendant Hargett lowered Plaintiff to the floor. (Id. at ¶ 30). Defendant Hargett continued driving his route and reached Plaintiff's residence, near the end of the route, approximately 20 minutes later. (Id. at ¶ 33).

As the bus approached Plaintiff's residence, Plaintiff walked to the front of the bus holding his coat, but Defendant Hargett told Plaintiff to "go back and sit down." (Id. at ¶ 35). When the bus reached Plaintiff's residence, Defendant Hargett allowed Plaintiff's older brother to exit, but closed the bus doors while Plaintiff was still standing in the stairwell. (Id. at ¶¶ 36-39). Defendant Hargett proceeded to drive to the bus's regular stop, at the mail boxes, approximately 0.14 miles from Plaintiff's residence, where he allowed Plaintiff to exit the bus. (Id. at ¶¶ 39-41). At that time, the temperature outside was approximately 10 degrees Fahrenheit, with a wind chill of -2 degrees. (Id. at ¶ 45).

It took Plaintiff approximately 5-10 minutes to walk home from the mailboxes, and when he arrived home, he was crying. (Id. at ¶ 46). Plaintiff later told his father that when Defendant Hargett dropped off his older brother and began to drive away, he worried that he would never see his family again. (Id. at ¶ 40). Afterward, Plaintiff generally refused to discuss the incident, and alleges that he has suffered "significant psychological and emotional trauma"; that "[h]e is angry, fearful, and... finds it difficult to trust adults." (Id. at ¶¶ 49, 52, 71-72). During a subsequent interview, Defendant Hargett said that he dropped Plaintiff at the mailboxes instead of at his residence to "give a healthy and immediate consequence for his actions on the bus." (Id. at ¶¶ 43, 54).

Plaintiff's mother later confronted various Defendant School District employees and administrators, who first promised to look into the incident, and who later discussed aspects of their investigation with her. (Id. at ¶¶ 47-48, 51, 54, 57-59, 61, 63). However, Defendant School District has not allowed Plaintiff's mother to review recorded video of the incident, and generally refused to discuss the contents of the video. (Id. at ¶¶ 55-58, 61-63). Defendant Hargett resigned his position as a bus driver for Defendant School District on February 25, 2013, upon which Defendant School District declared the incident closed. (Id. at ¶¶ 60-61).

On February 25, 2013, Plaintiff's mother filed a mistreatment complaint with the Minnesota Department of Education (the "DOE"), which reported the matter to the Bemidji, Minnesota, Police Department, which ultimately decided not to bring criminal charges against Defendant Hargett. (Id. at ¶¶ 64, 67). The DOE later determined that Defendant Hargett had neglected D.B., which constituted maltreatment under Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 2(f), but that Plaintiff "did not suffer any physical consequences." (Id. at ¶ 69 (quoting DOE Report)). Also in late February 2013, Plaintiff's mother spoke about the incident with the various civil rights organizations and with local media. (Id. at ¶ 65). As the result of the publicity, she was contacted by B.L., the grandmother of another Central Elementary School student, who said that her grandson reported that children were "scared" of Defendant Hargett because of unspecified "prior incidents." (Id. at ¶ 66).

In his Complaint, [Docket No. 1], Plaintiff's Count I alleges a 42 U.S.C § 1983 claim against Defendant Hargett, without distinguishing whether the Defendant Hargett is named in his individual or official capacity, or both. (Id. at ¶¶ 74-77). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Hargett (a) violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and from excessive force; (b) violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; and (c) violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of procedural due process not to be punished without first being given notice of his alleged offense and a hearing at which he is represented by counsel and allowed to present evidence and cross-examine opposing witnesses. (Id.). Additionally, Plaintiff's Count II seeks punitive damages against Defendant Hargett with respect to the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim.[3] (Id. at ¶¶ 78-79). Plaintiff also alleges various Minnesota state law claims against Defendant Hargett in his individual capacity only.[4]

Additionally, Plaintiff's Complaint, [Docket No. 1], alleges the following claims against ...


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