Williams-Preston v. South Bend Community School Corporation
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING 8 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim by Defendant South Bend Community School Corporation. Signed by Chief Judge Jon E DeGuilio on 11/18/2020. (bas)
USDC IN/ND case 3:20-cv-00773-JD-MGG document 12 filed 11/18/20 page 1 of 6
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
SOUTH BEND COMMUNITY
Case No. 3:20-cv-773
OPINION AND ORDER
Regina Williams-Preston is an employee of South Bend Community School Corporation
(“SBCSC”) as part of the school district’s special education support team. She alleges that
SBCSC violated her rights under the First Amendment by retaliating against her after she spoke
out against racial disparities in school discipline and attempts to circumvent special education
law requirements within the district. SBCSC moved to dismiss the case without prejudice,
arguing that Ms. Williams-Preston fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the
following reasons, the Court denies the motion to dismiss.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Regina Williams-Preston is a longtime employee of SBCSC and an advocate for racial
justice in the South Bend community. She is affiliated with numerous community groups
working to address racial disparities in school discipline among other concerns. Ms. WilliamsPreston alleges that she has observed these disparities during her work with SBCSC and has
repeatedly attempted to voice her concerns with the school district’s administration. Ms.
Williams-Preston claims to have spoken out publicly about these concerns at local functions, in
public interviews, speeches, and on social media, both as a private citizen and in her role as
USDC IN/ND case 3:20-cv-00773-JD-MGG document 12 filed 11/18/20 page 2 of 6
Second District Councilwoman on the South Bend Common Council from 2016-2019. In Ms.
Williams-Preston’s estimation, the School Board and Superintendent of SBCSC have been
“complacent and indifferent with respect to the racial disparity in the discipline of students,
faculty, and staff.” [DE 4 ¶ 10].
In addition to concerns about racial disparities, Ms. Williams-Preston has also raised
concerns about SBCSC’s compliance with special education laws. In particular, she alleges she
reported Clay High School Assistant Principal Robert Smith for “singling out black students for
discipline, verbally abusing, threatening, and bullying students, and violating students’ rights to a
public education by utilizing ‘shadow suspensions.’” 1 Id. at ¶ 24. She also claims to have
reported then-Clay High School Principal Mansour Eid for his failure to address Mr. Smith’s
conduct and collaborated with other local activists to raise public awareness about this failure.
Following Ms. Williams-Preston’s reports, Mr. Eid was promoted to Director of High
Schools. In this role, he had decision-making power over non-termination employment decisions
pertaining to high school personnel. Along with Matthew Johns, SBCSC’s Director of Special
Education, Mr. Eid made the decision to transfer Ms. Williams-Preston from her position at Clay
High School to a position at Adams High School, simultaneously moving the staff member who
had previously filled the role at Adams into Ms. Williams-Preston’s position at Clay. Ms.
Williams-Preston alleges that the staff member from Adams specializes in supporting students
with autism and she does not. Ms. Williams-Preston claims that this transfer was made in
retaliation for her efforts to call attention to the problems she observed. While SBCSC told her
that the reason for the transfer was to better serve the students, Ms. Williams-Preston contends
In her complaint, Ms. Williams-Preston describes a “shadow suspension” as an informal encouragement to keep a
student at home, recorded as an absence rather than a suspension in order to avoid special education laws restricting
the suspension of students with individualized education plans.
USDC IN/ND case 3:20-cv-00773-JD-MGG document 12 filed 11/18/20 page 3 of 6
that there was no legitimate reason for the transfer. Instead, she claims the reassignment harms
rather than benefits the students of both Adams and Clay High Schools: students at Clay were
deprived of ongoing relationships with Ms. Williams-Preston, while the large number of students
at Adams who benefited from the other staff member’s particular expertise in autism no longer
have that resource. Ms. Williams-Preston alleges she voiced her concerns about the transfer to
Mr. Eid, Mr. Johns, and SBCSC general counsel Brian Kubicki, who promised to investigate.
Ms. Williams-Preston asserts she later received word that SBCSC had determined that no further
action was required. She also claims that SBCSC passed over her for multiple promotion
opportunities as further retaliation for her advocacy.
As a result of these events, Ms. Williams-Preston filed suit in the St. Joseph County
Superior Court on August 14, 2020, alleging that SBCSC’s decisions to transfer her and pass
over her for promotions were retaliatory and therefore violated her First Amendment rights.
SBCSC removed the case to federal court and filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court construes the complaint in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepts the factual allegations as true, and draws all
reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143,
1146 (7th Cir. 2010). A complaint must contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). That statement must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its
face, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), and raise a right to relief above the speculative
USDC IN/ND case 3:20-cv-00773-JD-MGG document 12 filed 11/18/20 page 4 of 6
level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). However, a plaintiff’s claim need
only be plausible, not probable. Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930,
935 (7th Cir. 2012). Evaluating whether a plaintiff’s claim is sufficiently plausible to survive a
motion to dismiss is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its
judicial experience and common sense.’” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th
Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
In her complaint, Ms. Williams-Preston asserts a claim against SBCSC for violating her
First Amendment right to speech regarding matters of public concern. SBCSC moves to dismiss
for failure to state a claim, arguing that Ms. Williams-Preston failed to comply with the written
notice requirement for lawsuits against public schools set out in the Claims Against Public
Schools Act (CAPSA). Ind. Code § 34-13-3.5; [DE 8]. CAPSA states that:
An individual or entity may not initiate a civil action or an administrative
proceeding against a public school, unless the individual or entity submits a written
notice to the public school and the governing body . . . that notifies the public school
and the governing body . . . of the alleged violation of law and indicates a proposed
Ind. Code. § 34-13-3.5-4. CAPSA requires notice of suit so that a public school may, within 15
days of receiving the notice, “[r]emedy the alleged violation or violations” or “[m]ake a written
offer to the individual or entity to resolve the dispute.” Ind. Code. § 34-13-3.5-6. The statute
further provides that if the individual “does not submit the notice described in section 4 of this
chapter to a public school before initiating a civil action . . ., a court . . . shall dismiss the action
without prejudice.” Ind. Code § 34-13-36.4-7. SBCSC contends that Ms. Williams-Preston’s
failure to comply with the writing requirement requires the Court to dismiss the action without
USDC IN/ND case 3:20-cv-00773-JD-MGG document 12 filed 11/18/20 page 5 of 6
Ms. Williams-Preston acknowledges she did not provide notice to the school district
before filing suit. [DE 10]. However, she contends that she was not required to give written
notice to SBCSC because of the federal nature of her claim. While Section 1 states that the
statute applies to actions brought against a public school under the laws of the United States or
Indiana, she highlights another pertinent part of the statute, which provides: “This chapter may
not be construed to restrict or limit the rights, procedures, or remedies available to an individual
or entity under (1) the federal or state Constitution; or (2) another federal law.” Ind. Code. § 3413-3.5-2. Because her claim arises under the First Amendment, Ms. Williams-Preston argues that
requiring her to provide written notice prior to filing would restrict or limit her constitutional
The plain language of the statute exempts federal suits from its scope. Had it not, federal
law would preempt restriction of a litigant’s right to file a federal suit. See Edge v. Bd. of Sch.
Trustees of Salem Cmty. Sch. Corp., 2019 WL 2744691, at *4 (S.D. Ind. July 1, 2019) (“The
Indiana General Assembly clearly understood that this statute would be preempted by federal
law if it attempted to restrict a litigant’s ability to file a federal suit.”). SBCSC asserts that there
are federal statutes that require some process before filing a § 1983, citing the administrative
procedure requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. SBCSC argues this establishes that
it cannot be that all pre-suit procedures are de facto unconstitutional. However, in Felder v.
Casey, 487 U.S. 131 (1988) and Patsy v. Board of Regents of Florida, 457 U.S. 496 (1982), the
Supreme Court addressed the applicability of state statutes requiring pre-suit notice and a waiting
period before suit could be filed, and rejected the applicability of such requirements on Section
1983 claims whether brought in state or federal court. Further, it was Congress who established
an exhaustion requirement for the specific class of § 1983 cases brought by prisoners. As the
USDC IN/ND case 3:20-cv-00773-JD-MGG document 12 filed 11/18/20 page 6 of 6
Supreme Court analyzed in Patsy, Congress expressly recognized a change in the law when
creating this requirement and therefore, the Supreme Court “refused to engraft an exhaustion
requirement onto another type of § 1983 action where Congress had not provided for one.”
Felder, 487 U.S. at 148–49 (citing Patsy, 457 U.S. at 508–12). Accordingly, SBCSC’s assertion
that Ms. Williams-Preston was required to provide notice before filing this action is erroneous.
For the reasons stated above, the Court DENIES SBCSC’s motion to dismiss. [DE 8].
ENTERED: November 18, 2020
/s/JON E. DEGUILIO
United States District Court
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?