United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
M.C., a minor, by and through his father and next friend, TYRONE CAMPBELL, and TYRONE CAMPBELL, Plaintiffs,
HOLLIS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 66 OF HARMON COUNTY, OKLAHOMA a/k/a HOLLIS PUBLIC SCHOOLS, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. CAUTHRON United States District Judge
filed the present action asserting claims against Hollis
Independent School District No. 66 of Harmon County, Oklahoma
(“District”), Hollis Public School Board of
Education (“Board”) (collectively, the
“School”), Superintendent Jennifer McQueen,
Principal Marty Webb, and a former teacher, Jennifer Caswell.
Plaintiffs allege the District violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C.
§ 1681(a), and assert a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for
violations of a minor's Fourteenth Amendment rights
against the District, Board, McQueen, and Webb. Plaintiffs
assert a negligence per se claim against McQueen and Webb.
Plaintiffs also allege claims of enticement in violation of
76 Okla. Stat. § 8, battery, intentional infliction of
emotional distress (“IIED”), and a § 1983
violation against Defendant Caswell.
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 55) and
Plaintiffs have responded. Plaintiffs filed a Motion for
Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 56) against Defendant Caswell.
Although the time to respond has passed, Defendant Caswell
has neither filed a response nor sought additional time to
respond. Both motions are now at issue and will be addressed
the 2013-14 school year, Defendant Jennifer
Caswell entered into a sexual relationship with
M.C., a minor and eighth grade student. Caswell was a teacher
employed by the School. On March 11, 2014, a parent informed
Principal Marty Webb that he had information regarding a
sexual relationship between Caswell and M.C. According to the
parent, M.C. admitted to having a sexual encounter with
Caswell. Principal Webb and Assistant Principal Jared
Robinson interviewed M.C. the same day. M.C. denied the
allegations. M.C. repeated the denial after M.C.'s
father, Plaintiff Tyrone Campbell, arrived at the school.
Principal Webb and Assistant Principal Robinson interviewed
other students who had supposedly also heard rumors of the
relationship. It is disputed whether the parties concluded
the rumors were false.
the interviews, M.C. was removed from Caswell's class and
spent the class period in the “in-school
detention” room. M.C. returned to Caswell's
classroom after about one week. On March 28, 2014, students
reported to District officials that M.C. was spending time in
Caswell's classroom outside of his assigned class time
and the pair were whispering and giggling together. Caswell
and M.C. denied these allegations when interviewed and the
District issued Caswell a written reprimand regarding the
April 4, 2014, M.C. was participating in an after-school
event when supervisors noticed he was not at his assigned
post. The supervisor found M.C. and Caswell in her dark
classroom. District officials were contacted the same day and
after surveillance video confirmed the allegations, District
Superintendent Jennifer McQueen was prepared to place Caswell
on administrative leave while the School conducted an
investigation. Rather than take leave, Caswell resigned on
April 7, 2014. Beginning April 7, Hollis police conducted an
investigation where both Caswell and M.C. continued to deny
the sexual relationship.
April 10, 2014, Principal Webb received reports that M.C. and
Caswell were seen driving together around town in the
evenings and Caswell bought M.C. chewing tobacco from a
liquor store. Principal Webb informed Campbell of this fact
and Campbell was aware Caswell had been visiting M.C. at his
house. After the conclusion of the school year in May, M.C.
went to his mother's home in Mississippi where Caswell
was later arrested after she traveled to Mississippi and took
M.C. to a motel.
DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Standard of Review
moved for summary judgment on the Title IX, § 1983,
negligence, and negligence per se claims. The standard for
summary judgment is well established. Summary judgment may
only be granted if the evidence of record shows “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). The movant bears the initial burden of
demonstrating the absence of material fact requiring judgment
as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A fact is material if it is
essential to the proper disposition of the claim.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). If the movant carries this initial burden, the
nonmovant must then set forth specific facts outside the
pleadings and admissible into evidence which would convince a
rational trier of fact to find for the nonmovant.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). All facts and reasonable inferences
therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
District argues for favorable judgment because Plaintiffs
cannot prove a claim for relief under Title IX. Title IX, or
20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), provides that “[n]o person .
. . 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.” Id.
To be successful with the claim, Plaintiffs must show the
District “(1) had actual knowledge of, and (2) was
deliberately indifferent to (3) harassment that was so
severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it (4)
deprived the victim of access to the educational benefits or
opportunities provided by the school.” Murrell v.
Sch. Dist. No. 1, Denver, Colo., 186 F.3d 1238, 1246
(10th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted).
actual knowledge element has been described by the Tenth
Circuit as requiring the school to have “actual
knowledge of a substantial risk of abuse to students
based on prior complaints by other students.” Escue
v. N. Okla. Coll., 450 F.3d 1146, 1154 (10th Cir. 2006)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The prior
complaints do not need to be “clearly credible”
because the school official will come to know “that a
school employee is a substantial risk to sexually abuse
children.” Id. (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). For example, one complaint of a
teacher making inappropriate comments is “plainly
insufficient” to provide notice of a sexual
relationship between a teacher and student. Id.
(citation omitted). However, knowledge is likely achieved
some time before the school district “receives a
clearly credible report of sexual abuse.” Id.
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
March 11, a parent who spent substantial amounts of time with
M.C. reported to District officials that M.C. admitted to
having a sexual relationship with Caswell. The parent stated
he was concerned and thought M.C. was telling the truth. When
questioned by District officials, M.C. denied any
inappropriate contact with Caswell. Even if District
officials concluded the rumors were false on March 11, their
suspicion should have been heightened at the time the second
report of misconduct was received. Certainly one report from
a parent who questioned M.C., received an admission, and
thought it was truthful, and an additional report from
students that M.C. was spending time outside of class with
Caswell and the pair were whispering and giggling is beyond a
“plainly insufficient” report and approaching a
“clearly credible report of sexual abuse.”
the two reports cumulatively, the Court finds there is a
dispute of material fact regarding what knowledge the
District officials obtained, and when. In resolving the
disputed facts, a reasonable jury could conclude the District
had actual knowledge of a substantial risk that Caswell was
sexually abusing M.C. See J.M. ex rel. Morris v. Hilldale
Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 1-29, 397 F. App'x 445, 452-53
(10th Cir. 2010) (concluding a reasonable jury could find a
student report of inappropriate conduct gave the school
district actual knowledge) (unpublished); Roof v.
Newcastle Pub. Sch. Dist., No. 1- 1 of McClain
Cty., No. CIV-14-1123-HE, 2016 WL 502076, at *4 (W.D.
Okla. Feb. 8, 2016) (finding that a second allegation of
inappropriate sexual conduct between student and teacher gave
the district arguable actual notice). Defendants' Motion
fails concerning the first element, and thus the Motion is
denied on the Title IX claim.
assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, stating the
District, the Board, McQueen, and Webb violated M.C.'s
Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process and equal
protection rights. Defendants argue summary judgment should
be granted because Plaintiffs failed to show the School
violated either constitutionally protected right.
violating M.C.'s substantive due process rights,
Plaintiffs argue the Defendants should be liable under the
danger creation theory. Generally, § 1983 provides that
state entities may be liable only for their own acts, and the
acts of third parties are excluded. See Robbins v.
Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1251 (10th Cir. 2008) (citation
omitted). An exception to the general rule allows a plaintiff
to prevail “only when a state actor affirmatively acts
to create, or increases a plaintiff's vulnerability to,
or danger from ...