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Mandy v. Independent School District No. 1 of Delaware County

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

June 27, 2017

(1) MANDY and (2) JAKE CALLIHAN, individually and as parents and next friends of CNC, a minor, Plaintiffs,
v.
(1) INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 OF DELAWARE COUNTY, OKLAHOMA, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES H. PAYNE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are the Motion for Summary Judgment with Combined Brief in Support of the Defendant, Independent School District No. 1 of Delaware County, Oklahoma (the “School District”) [Doc. No. 35], Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 59], the School District's Reply [Doc. No. 76], as well as Plaintiffs' Supplemental Response [Doc. No. 86], and the School District's Reply to Plaintiff's Supplemental Response [Doc. No. 90]. After review of the briefs, and for the reasons stated below, the School District's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On August 9, 2016, the Plaintiffs, Mandy and Jake Callihan, individually and as parents and next friends of C. N.C., a minor, brought this action against the School District. The Plaintiffs alleged a claim for violation of 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688 (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972). The Plaintiffs also asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of C. N.C. 's Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection, substantive due process, and procedural due process.

         B. Factual Background

         In the summer of 2013, the School District hired Cory Henton as a teacher and girls' basketball coach. A School District representative was told by Henton's prior employer that Henton was not eligible for rehire. However, the School District representative was also told that Henton's ineligibility for rehire was not the result of a conflict with children.

         During the 2013-14 school year, Henton's first year of employment with the School District, C. N.C. was 13 years old and a student in the eighth grade at the School District's middle school. Henton coached C. N.C. 's eighth grade basketball team, and he was also the assistant coach for her cross country and track team. Henton did not have any inappropriate contact with C. N.C. during the 2013-14 school year.

         In September of 2013, Tammy Cornell, a teacher employed by the School District, was notified by another teacher that Cornell's daughter, who was a sophomore in high school and a member of the basketball team, had asked to be excused from class to go to the gym to shoot hoops with Henton. Cornell declined to approve her daughter's request, and she and her daughter met with the teacher, Henton, and James Bryant, the high school principal and athletic director for the School District. During this meeting, it was revealed that Henton and Cornell's daughter had been texting each other about going to the gym to shoot hoops. Bryant told Henton not to send text messages to individual players and to send only group texts to the entire team.

         During the 2013-14 school year, Michelle and Greg Wilson's daughter was a junior on the basketball team. In November of 2013, the Wilsons learned that Henton had told their daughter that she could not attend the first scrimmage of basketball season. The Wilsons and their daughter went to the high school and met with Bryant. During this meeting, the Wilsons' daughter told Bryant that Henton sent text messages to individual players and talked about the girls' butts during basketball practice.

         Bryant investigated these allegations and interviewed four (4) members of the girls' basketball team. The players reported that Henton sometimes sent text messages to individual players, but they stated that the messages always related to basketball. The players told Bryant that during basketball practices, Henton sometimes talked about girls using their butts to block out other players or get position for rebounds.

         Bryant then met with Charles Thomas, the Superintendent of the School District, and informed him of what he had learned. Thomas and Bryant met with Henton and questioned him. At the end of this meeting, Bryant gave Henton a verbal reprimand not to send text messages to any individual students.

         Tammy Cornell and Michelle Wilson are close friends. They did not like Henton because of the way he treated their daughters. As a result, they watched everything that Henton did and made sure their daughters told them everything Henton did or said.

         In December of 2013, Tammy Cornell was at a basketball practice and observed other players picking on Michelle Wilson's daughter. Cornell went to Thomas's office and told him that she was concerned about the way Henton was running the basketball team. Cornell subsequently sent Thomas an email identifying all of her concerns. Cornell believed that Henton displayed favoritism and did not treat all of the players the same. Cornell also complained that Henton had been critical that some of the clothing her daughter wore in public was immodest. Finally, she complained that Henton had made a comment to her daughter indicating that he believed a scratch on her neck was a “hickey.” Cornell believed Henton was insinuating that her daughter was sexually promiscuous.

         On January 7, 2014, the Wilsons met with Thomas and complained that their daughter was being bullied by other players on the team. They said they believed their daughter was being “exiled” from team activities because they had complained to Bryant about Henton. They also believed that Henton was retaliating against their daughter by reducing her playing time in games.

         In response to the complaints he had received, Thomas met with Jan Fasano, the assistant high school principal, and directed her to make a random list of some of the students on the girls' basketball team. He specifically directed her to include Cornell's daughter and the Wilsons' daughter on the list. Thomas and Fasano then prepared a set of questions and individually questioned each girl on the list. They prepared a written summary of the girls' responses.

         On January 24, Thomas met with the Wilsons and gave them a five (5) page letter detailing the results of his investigation. Thomas noted that Bryant had done an investigation into the Wilsons' allegations in November, and Thomas pointed out that because the Wilsons were dissatisfied with the results of that investigation, he had then done his own investigation into their allegations. Thomas acknowledged that Henton had made some mistakes, but he found those mistakes to be innocent and minor. Thomas concluded that the Wilsons' allegations that their daughter was the target of retaliation and/or deliberate mistreatment were unfounded.

         The Wilsons' daughter ultimately quit the basketball team and transferred to another school district. She returned to the School District for the 2014-15 school year but did not play basketball.

         Neither Cornell's daughter nor the Wilsons' daughter ever accused Henton of any inappropriate touching. Neither Cornell nor the Wilsons ever suggested to anyone at the School District that Henton was trying to have an inappropriate relationship with any player or student.

         Tammy Cornell was aware that as a public school teacher, Oklahoma law required her to report any suspected sexual abuse of a child to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. Tammy Cornell did not make any report to DHS about Henton because she did not suspect that Henton was sexually abusing any child.

         Sheila Sturges was Henton's assistant coach during the 2013-14 school year. She requested to stop coaching with him because they had a personality conflict and had different coaching styles. Sturges never observed Henton say or do anything that caused her to suspect that he would have an inappropriate relationship with a student.

         During the 2014-15 school year, C. N.C. was a freshman at the School District. Henton was head coach of both the girls' freshman team and the girls' high school varsity team. Lindsi Crawford was Henton's assistant coach for both teams. C. N.C. was a starter on the freshman team and played some on the high school team.

         During Christmas break of the 2014-15 school year, Henton sent C. N.C. a friend request through a game called Trivia Crack. Trivia Crack allowed players to message each other similar to text messaging. Shortly after Henton and C. N.C. began communicating through Trivia Crack, Henton began to compliment C. N.C., telling her that she was pretty and had pretty eyes.

         C. N.C. 's parents had given C. N.C. permission to download the Trivia Crack game on her phone, but they had no idea Henton was using that game to communicate with C. N.C. C. N.C. did not tell her parents or anyone else that she was communicating with Henton. When classes resumed after Christmas break, Henton continued to communicate with C. N.C. through Trivia Crack. Except for basketball practice, which involved no inappropriate contact, Henton and C. N.C. did not interact with each other at school and communicated exclusively through Trivia Crack.

         In February of 2015, Henton suggested to C. N.C. that they communicate through a texting application called Cyber Dust, which would automatically erase their messages. C. N.C. did not ask her parents' permission before downloading Cyber Dust to her phone. C. N.C. did not tell anyone that she was using Cyber Dust to communicate with Henton because she knew it was inappropriate and she wanted to keep it secret.

         Henton's conversations with C. N.C. became more personal after they began using Cyber Dust. Henton told C. N.C. that he wanted to kiss her, and they kissed for the first time in March of 2015 at the gym following basketball practice after everyone else had left. After that, they began to hug, kiss, and hold hands when they were alone.

         On March 13, 2015, Henton took some of the players on the basketball team on an overnight trip to Oklahoma City to watch the girls' state high school basketball tournament. Henton and C. N.C. had discussed this trip on Cyber Dust, and they ...


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