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Ekblad v. Independent School District No. 625

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 25, 2017

John Ekblad, Plaintiff,
Independent School District No. 625, et al., Defendants.,

          Philip G. Villaume, Esq., Jeffrey D. Schiek, Esq. and Villaume & Schiek, P.A., counsel for plaintiff.

          Hannah G. Felix, Esq., Lawrence M. Rocheford, Esq. and Jardine Logan & O'Brien PLLP, counsel for defendants.


          David S. Doty, Judge

         This matter is before the court upon the motion for summary judgment by defendants Independent School District No. 625, school district superintendent Valeria Silva, and assistant superintendent Theresa Battle. After a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants the motion.


         This dispute arises out of the physical assault of plaintiff John Ekblad by a student at Central Senior High School (CSHS). Ekblad has been a physical science teacher at CSHS since approximately 2011. Ekblad Dep. at 60:8-21. At various times throughout his tenure, Ekblad served as a lunchroom supervisor and safety team member.[1] Id. at 115:22-116:6. He also coached various athletic teams and assisted with site supervision and security at athletic events. Id. at 118:12-15. Relevant here, Ekblad was a lunchroom supervisor for the 2014-15 school year, for which he received additional compensation. Id. at 133:22-134:16, 135:5-8. In that role, he monitored students and helped maintain order by, among other things, telling students not to fight and, occasionally, intervening to break up fights. Id. at 133:22-134:7, 231:16-232:8. The school district did not require Ekblad to intervene in fights, however, and it could not discipline him for failing to do so. Silva Dep. at 52:21-54:13; Mackabee Dep. at 32:22-34:15. But the school district instructs teachers to intervene to restore safety if they feel they can do so safely. Mackabee Dep. at 34:9-15; Battle Dep. at 122:13-123:14; Krois Dep. at 64:2-8.

         On December 4, 2015, a fight broke out between students -F.S.O. and F.L.O. - during the lunch period Ekblad was supervising. A support staff member called Ekblad over to intervene, and when he did so, he was seriously injured by F.S.O. Ekblad Dep. at 178:19-179:6; Villaume Aff. Ex. I, at 10-12. Ekblad concedes that he was “on the job, on the clock working” for the school district when he was assaulted. Ekblad Dep. at 194:9-16. During and after the incident, F.S.O. made aggressive comments, including that he “slamm[ed] that white-ass teacher.” Villaume Aff. Ex. E.

         Ekblad had no contact with F.S.O. - in or outside of school -before the incident. See Ekblad Dep. at 144:45 (“I don't recall ever knowing him. I couldn't pick him out of a lineup.”). He acknowledges that he was not specifically targeted in the incident and that there is no indication that F.S.O. personally bore him any ill will. Id. at 148:3-149:2, 151:23-152:3, 158:23-159:2; see also Krois Dep. at 51:22-23 (agreeing that it “could have happened to anyone”). There is no evidence in the record that F.S.O. had been violent at school prior to the incident.

         Ekblad has received workers' compensation benefits since the incident, including disability payments and vocational rehabilitation benefits. Polzin Decl. ¶¶ 3-4, 7. The school district has paid, and continues to pay, his medical bills. Id. ¶¶ 8-9.

         On March 1, 2016, Ekblad filed suit against defendants in Ramsey County District Court. Ekblad alleges negligence and negligent supervision by the school district and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Silva and Battle. Ekblad contends that defendants failed to protect him despite knowing that there were serious safety concerns at CSHS. Defendants timely removed to this court and now move for summary judgment.


         I. Standard of Review

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. See id. at 252.

         On a motion for summary judgment, the court views all evidence and inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 255. The nonmoving party, however, may not rest upon mere denials or allegations in the pleadings but must set forth specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. A party asserting that a genuine dispute exists - or cannot exist - about a material fact must cite “particular parts of materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). If a plaintiff cannot support each essential element of a claim, the court must grant ...

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