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In re Doe

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 25, 2018

In the Matter of John Doe, by and through his parents, James Doe and Jane Doe, Plaintiff,
v.
Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, Defendant.

          Margaret O'Sullivan Kane, Esq., Kane Education Law, LLC, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Christian R. Shafer, Esq., and Timothy A. Sullivan, Esq., Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, PA, counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss brought by Defendant Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts (“SPCPA”). (Doc. No. 16.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         SPCPA is a public charter school. (Doc. No. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 7-8.) Through its own policies, SPCPA prohibits harassment or violence on the basis of sex. (Compl. ¶ 30; Pl's Ex. 3 at 25.)[1] SPCPA policy imposes a 5-day suspension for a first offense and expulsion for a second offense with respect to the following behavior:

Participating in or conspiring with others to engage in acts that injure, degrade, intimidate or disgrace other individuals, including indecent exposure, displaying pornography and words or actions that negatively impact and [sic] individual or group based on their racial, cultural or religious background, their sex, their sexual orientation, any disabilities, creed, national origin, marital status, status with regard to public assistance or age.

         (Id. at 29.)

         At all relevant times, Plaintiff John Doe, by and through his parents, James Doe and Jane Doe (“Plaintiff”), was a student enrolled at SPCPA. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 6.) On or before October 9, 2017, three female students informed Dean Ilah Raleigh that Plaintiff had engaged in behavior that included: “[I]nappropriate touch: sitting too close, touching without permission, grabbing a student's leg near the crotch, licking a student's hand, grabbing a student from behind and groping.” (Pl's Ex. 8 (Notice of Suspension).) According to the Notice of Suspension, the students verbally and non-verbally indicated that they wanted Plaintiff to stop, and in each case, Plaintiff allegedly escalated the behavior. (Id.)

         Dean Raleigh interviewed Plaintiff in her office. (Pl's Ex. 7 (Dean Raleigh Notes).) Dean Raleigh shared the details of the students' statements regarding Plaintiff's alleged inappropriate behavior with Plaintiff. (Id.) Specifically, Dean Raleigh read portions of the students' written reports and asked for Plaintiff's response. (Id.) Plaintiff initially denied the allegations. (Compl. ¶ 12.) Dean Raleigh noted that Plaintiff became upset and eventually acknowledged that he had contact with several girls, but that Plaintiff maintained that he was not aware that his behavior had bothered the students and that he thought he and the other students had been flirting. (Dean Raleigh Notes.) According to Dean Raleigh, Plaintiff admitted to “touching multiple female students” but denied other aspects of the students' allegations. (Id.) Dean Raleigh called Plaintiff's parents and told them Plaintiff was being disciplined for sexual harassment and that he had been suspended. (Compl. ¶ 15.) While Plaintiff was waiting for his parents to arrive, he spoke with his English teacher, Emily Johnson. (Compl. ¶ 14.) According to Johnson, Plaintiff stated that some students had accused him of sexual harassment and that he had been suspended. (Pl's Ex. 1.) According to Johnson, Plaintiff denied some of the allegations, but admitted to others and that he engaged in conduct that “made other students feel uncomfortable.” (Id.)

         Later on October 9, 2017, Dean Raleigh and Principal Delaney met with Plaintiff and his parents. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Dean Raleigh told Plaintiff's parents that Plaintiff had admitted to the conduct in question, but that she “subsequently learned from Plaintiff that he denied the allegations.” (Id. ¶ 17.) Principal Delaney informed Plaintiff's parents that Plaintiff would be suspended for three days. (Id. ¶ 15.) Also on October 9, 2017, Dean Raleigh sent Plaintiff's parents a written notice of the suspension, which included a factual basis for the suspension, plan for readmission, alternative educational services available during the suspension, and a copy of the Minnesota Pupil Fair Dismissal Act. (Compl. ¶ 29; Notice of Suspension.) Plaintiff was allowed to return to school on October 12, 2017. (Id.) Plaintiff's parents allege that they received the notice on October 12, 2017. (Id.) Plaintiff's parents kept him home from school until October 16, 2017. (Compl. ¶¶ 24, 27.) On that date, SPCPA met with Plaintiff and his parents to discuss his readmission. (Id. ¶¶ 24-26.) Plaintiff “was permitted to join his next class at the end of the meeting” on October 16, 2017. (Id. ¶ 26.)

         Plaintiff denies that he engaged in inappropriate behavior. Plaintiff also asserts that he was not accorded minimal due process prior to his suspension and that his suspension “affirmed by acquiescence” the stigmatizing allegations of sexual harassment. Plaintiff maintains that he had the right to prior written notice of the allegations and an opportunity to be heard and understand the testimony that might be brought against him before being suspended. Plaintiff further asserts that after he was suspended, students from SPCPA took to social media repeating the allegations against him, writing open letters to him, and even threatening physical assault. (Compl. ¶ 21.) In addition, Plaintiff asserts that the students at SPCPA protested Plaintiff's return to school, and when he did return, he was subjected to isolation and scorn and was stigmatized and ostracized. (Id.) On October 25, 2017, Plaintiff was confronted by both student and adult protesters in front of the school, and Plaintiff asserts that no one from SPCPA contacted Plaintiff or his parents regarding the protests or assisted him while at school. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         Plaintiff filed the present action, asserting three causes of action: (1) Education and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) Liberty Interest in Reputation and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (3) Invasion of Privacy/Intrusion on Seclusion. (Compl.) Plaintiff previously moved for a preliminary injunction. (Doc. No. 28.) ...


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