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Moone v. City of Warwick

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

August 5, 2019

JESSICA and GUY MOONE, on behalf of their minor daughter, S.M. Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF WARWICK; WARWICK PUBLIC SCHOOLS; DAVID TESTA, EUGENE A. NADEAU, M. TERRI MEDEIROS, KAREN BACHUS, and BETHANY A. FURTADO, in their official capacities as members of the Warwick School Committee; PHILIP THORNTON, Superintendent, in his official and individual capacities; LYNN DAMBRUCH, Director of Elementary Education, in her official and individual capacities; JOHN GANNNON, Principal, in his official and individual capacities; and BRIAN SILVA, in his official capacity as Treasurer of the City of Warwick, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN J. MCCONNELL, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiffs Jessica and Guy Moone, filed this suit on behalf of their minor daughter, S.M. ECF No. 1-1 at 2. S.M. formerly resided in Warwick, Rhode Island and attended Warwick Public Schools from the 2013-14 school year until late in the 2015-16 school year. ECF No. 14 at 1-2.

         As a second grader during the 2013-2014 school year, a classmate subjected S.M. to inappropriate sexual language by a classmate. ECF No. 1-1 at 5. Specifically, A.R., a second grader with developmental disabilities, sang a song about his penis to S.M. in the school lunch line. ECF No. 14 at 2. The principal called S.M.'s parents to inform them of the incident and resolved the matter to their satisfaction. Id. There were no further incidents between S.M. and A.R. through the rest of the 2013-14 school year and the entirety of the 2014-2015 school year. Id.

         In March 2016, when S.M. and A.R. were both fourth graders, A.R. touched S.M. inappropriately during recess by grabbing her between the legs and on the buttocks. ECF No. 14 at 3. S.M. reported the incident to her teacher, who then reported it to the principal. Id. The next day, the principal held a meeting to discuss the incident with the Moones, the Director of Elementary Education, and an officer with the Warwick Police Department. Id. During the meeting, the school presented a safety plan to the Moones designed to keep S.M. and A.R. separated while at school. Id. Additionally, the school investigated the incident. Id. Even so, the Moones were unsatisfied by the scope of the investigation, specifically with the fact that the school did not interview A.R. ECF No. 18-1 at 4.

         S.M. missed several days of school following the incident, but returned with the safety plan implemented to prevent any more interaction with A.R. ECF No.1-1 at 5. However, less than a week after S.M. returned to school, S.M. and A.R. were seated near each other at a school assembly. ECF No. 14 at 3. This event was upsetting to the point that S.M. no longer felt comfortable attending the school. ECF No. 1-1 at 5. She transferred to another Warwick public school a few weeks later. Id. The Moones eventually moved to another town, where S.M. now attends school. Id. at 6.

         The Moones sued the City of Warwick, Warwick Public Schools, and various city officials. Id. at 2. The suit alleges that Warwick Public Schools knowingly allowed a sexually hostile school environment to exist for S.M. that constituted sex discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., as well as R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-38-1.1, which prohibits sex discrimination in the state's public schools. Id. at 6-8. The Moones also bring claims against Warwick Public Schools, the Warwick School Committee, and its employees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a deprivation of S.M.'s right to personal security and bodily integrity as well as a violation of her Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. Id. at 8-9. The Moones also bring claims against Warwick Public Schools and the Warwick School Committee for negligent hiring and supervision of employees. Id. at 11.

         The Defendants (collectively "Warwick") move for summary judgment on all counts. The Moones do not object to the Motion for Summary Judgment for the claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as the claims for negligent hiring and supervision of employees. ECF No. 18-1 at 14. Thus, the only claims for the Court to analyze are for sex discrimination under Title IX and R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-38-1.1.[2]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is granted if the moving party 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). "A dispute is 'genuine' if 'the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party.'" Sanchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996) (quoting Rivera-Muriente v. Agosto-Alicea, 959 F.2d 349, 352 (1st Cir. 1992)). A fact is considered material if it "carries with it the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law." Nereida-Gonzalez v. Tirado-Delgado, 990 F.2d 701, 703 (1st Cir. 1993). The Court reads the record "in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing reasonable inferences in his favor." Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX") states that "[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).

         Under Title IX, an educational institution receiving federal funding may be liable for damages because of student-on-student sexual harassment when the institution's "deliberate indifference 'subjects' its students to harassment," Davis v. Monroe Cty. Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 644 (1999). See also Porto v. Town of Tewksbury, 488 F.3d 67, 72-73 (1st Cir. 2007). To establish that an institution was deliberately indifferent to student-on-student sexual harassment in a Title IX case, a plaintiff must show that

(1) he or she was subject to "severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive" sexual harassment by a ...

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