Gosch et al v. Sergeant Bluff-Luton Community School District et al
OPINION and Order granting in part and denying in part 29 Motion for Summary Judgment (See Order text). Signed by Judge Mark W Bennett on 3/23/2017. (des)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
K.G., a minor, by and through his
parents and next friends, SUZANNE
GOSCH and KEVIN GOSCH,
No. C 15-4242-MWB
COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT,
MIRANDA RIEDIGER, KELLY
ADAMS, and DOES 1-30,
OPINION AND ORDER
REGARDING THE DEFENDANTS’
MOTION FOR SUMMARY
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Factual Background ............................................................... 3
The parties ................................................................... 3
KG’s education and behavioral plans at school ...................... 4
The incident ................................................................. 5
The aftermath ............................................................... 7
Procedural Background ........................................................... 7
Administrative proceedings ............................................... 7
Judicial proceedings ....................................................... 8
The pleadings ....................................................... 8
Subsequent proceedings .......................................... 9
LEGAL ANALYSIS ........................................................................ 9
Standards For Summary Judgment ........................................... 10
Failure To Exhaust Claims ..................................................... 11
Arguments of the parties ................................................ 11
Analysis .................................................................... 12
The test established in Fry ..................................... 12
The Circuit’s application of Fry .............................. 20
Application of Fry here ......................................... 23
The § 1983 Claims................................................................ 28
Arguments of the parties ................................................ 28
Analysis .................................................................... 30
The Fourth Amendment “seizure” claim .................... 30
The Fourteenth Amendment “substantive due
process” claim .................................................... 33
Qualified immunity .............................................. 35
The Disability Discrimination Claims......................................... 37
The Common-Law Claims ...................................................... 38
The negligence claim .................................................... 38
The battery claim ......................................................... 40
The “intentional infliction of emotional distress”
claim ........................................................................ 41
CONCLUSION ............................................................................ 41
This litigation arises from an incident in which a special education teacher
allegedly “dragged” a seven-year-old autistic child across a classroom floor causing him
serious carpet burns. The parties dispute not only the reasonableness of the teacher’s
conduct in the circumstances, but whether the parents’ claims on the child’s behalf are
merely repackaged versions of unexhausted claims under the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) or viable claims of violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA), § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and state common-law. Thus, one of the
key issues is the proper application of the United States Supreme Court’s recent
clarification, in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, No. 15-497, 2017 WL 685533 (S.
Ct. Feb. 22, 2017), of the test to determine when ostensibly non-IDEA claims require
exhaustion of administrative remedies under the IDEA.
This statement of the factual background does not necessarily set out all the parties’
factual allegations in support of and resistance to the defendants’ Motion For Summary
Judgment. Rather, it focuses on the key facts to put the parties’ disputes in context. To
that end, I have also supplemented this factual statement with some facts drawn from the
Complaint and Answer, where I deemed it appropriate to do so. Unless otherwise
indicated, the following facts are undisputed.
Plaintiffs Kevin and Suzie Gosch were married in 1999 and have three children:
Lexie (age 17), Ella (a fourth-grader), and KG (born November 5, 2006). KG was placed
with Kevin and Suzie Gosch as foster parents to adopt. KG had health issues from birth
and, as he progressed into a toddler, he showed signs of autism. Ella and KG were in
the same classroom in Mapleton, Iowa, for pre-school and kindergarten. At some point,
the Gosches moved to Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, to take advantage of available services. Ella
and KG were in the same classroom, again, for the first semester of first grade in Sergeant
The defendants are the Sergeant Bluff-Luton Community School District (the
District), Miranda Riediger, who was a special education teacher at the District’s Primary
School during the 2013-2014 school year, and Kelly Adams, who was the Principal at
the District’s Primary School during the 2013-2014 school year. The parties agree that
Riediger has special training and certification to teach special education classes, but the
Gosches deny that she had all necessary training. Specifically, the Gosches point out that
Riediger did not have “Mandt training” relating to handling of problem behaviors until
after the incident giving rise to their claims.
KG’s education and behavioral plans at school
The Gosches contend that KG had few problems in school in Mapleton, although
they admit that there were times when he would just lay down on the floor and cry. The
Gosches also allege that, prior to moving to Sergeant Bluff, no one at home or at school
had ever held KG down or forced him to move when he was displaying behavioral
problems. The defendants admit only that this is the Gosches’ testimony. The Gosches
contend that, at the Sergeant Bluff Primary School, KG liked his first semester teacher
and classroom, but hated being pulled out for the last ten minutes of the day to go to the
special education room with defendant Riediger, because he said that she was “mean” to
him. The defendants deny this allegation. The Gosches contend that there were three
instances, prior to the incident giving rise to their claims, during which a
paraprofessional, a school resource officer, and Principal Adams, respectively, had
allegedly grabbed, dragged, or held down KG, but the defendants dispute the facts
concerning these incidents.
KG had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in place concerning special
He also had a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), which
identified behaviors of concern, including crying, hitting, kicking, and screaming. KG
also had a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) after he began to act out in the Sergeant Bluff
school, but the defendants deny the Gosches’ contention that the BIP was put in place as
a result of KG acting out because he did not like going to Riediger’s room. The first BIP
was put in place in the middle of the first semester of KG’s first year at Sergeant Bluff,
on October 21, 2013, and was written by Riediger. The BIP stated, in part, that the
“special education teacher/general education teacher/paraeducator” will be responsible
to implement the BIP’s “Safety Plan.” The “Safety Plan” stated, in part, that, when
KG’s behaviors escalated, “. . . students will be removed and furniture will be
repositioned to keep [KG] and others safe.”
The incident giving rise to the Gosches’ claims occurred on January 30, 2014,
when KG was in the second semester of first grade. Three adults were present in the
classroom at the time:
Riediger and paraprofessionals Sandra Vondrak and Luann
Johnson. When it was time for KG to switch from drawing to writing sentences, KG did
not want to, so he got down on the floor. Riediger first tried a technique called the
“Incredible Five Point Scale,” where she told KG that he was at a “3” and asked him
what he could do to get back to a “1.” KG did not respond, so Riediger got down to his
level and tried to talk to him. Again, KG did not respond, so Riediger tried to use his
“first/then” cards, explaining that if he did his writing first, then he could move to a
preferred activity. That also did not work. The Gosches contend that KG’s behavior,
consisting of flailing around and whining, was consistent the whole time he was on the
floor. The defendants agree that KG was flailing and whining, but contend that KG’s
behavior then “escalated.” The parties agree that, at some point, KG was also kicking.
Riediger stepped away from KG in the hope that he would begin to “de-escalate”
on his own, but he did not. Vondrak, and at some point Riediger, stood between KG
and other students to keep KG from potentially making physical contact with any of them.
The parties dispute at what point the other children should have been removed from the
classroom, but do not dispute that they never were removed during this incident. KG’s
shirt rode up more than once during the incident, and Riediger pulled it back down,
although the parties dispute whether she did so to cover his body or to keep him safe. At
some point, Riediger also tried to return to the “Incredible Five Point Scale” to try to deescalate KG’s behavior, but, again, without success. The parties dispute precisely how
much KG moved from his original location on the floor, but apparently agree that any
movement was gradual. They also dispute how close KG was getting to the teacher’s
heavy desk, but do no dispute that Riediger did not believe that she could move the desk
out of the way. The incident continued in this manner for ten minutes.
Riediger says that she became concerned that KG was moving closer to the heavy
desk, so she stepped behind him and tried to slide her arms under his armpits, hoping to
walk him into an open area of the classroom (or to an area sometimes described as a
“chill out zone”). KG responded by throwing his head back, flailing his arms and
continuing to kick. Riediger then went around KG and grabbed his legs, planning to
move him to an open area. The defendants contend that Riediger took no more than two
steps backward, moving KG approximately four feet, but the Gosches contend that, based
on Riediger’s height, Riediger “dragged” KG for a distance that could have been more
than four feet. The parties agree that KG yelled something like, “ow, my back,” and
Riediger stopped moving him. KG had not complained about his back or any pain prior
to that time.
KG was taken to the school nurse. Eventually, school officials were able to contact
Kevin Gosch, and he picked up KG from school.1
Based on the Complaint and Answer, the parties dispute what attempts were
made to contact KG’s parents, and what occurred when Kevin Gosch got to the school,
including what statements were made by Riediger and Adams. The parties did not
address these matters in their respective statements of material facts, however. I have
included in the body only the additional facts, drawn from the Complaint and Answer,
that the parties agree that Kevin Gosch was contacted and picked KG up from school
after KG had been taken to the school nurse, to complete the context of the incident.
The Gosches took photographs of KG’s back at home, either the evening after the
incident or the next morning. Medical professionals at Mercy Medical Center examined
KG the day after the incident. One medical professional opined,
[T]hese injuries are consistent with inflicted forceful dragging
[and] are consistent with partial thickness skin burns from
excessive force in dragging the child on a carpeted surface.
It would be my opinion that these injuries are significant and
indicative of inflicted injuries beyond what is considered
normal care and discipline of a 7-year-old child.
The defendants do not dispute that this is what the medical opinion states, but dispute that
any injury was “inflicted” on KG.
Principal Adams agreed with the statement that KG was a “pretty high functional
autistic kid” when he started with the District. Although the defendants admit that their
own expert has stated that KG’s misbehaviors increased in intensity, duration, and
frequency after the incident, the defendants dispute that the incident was the cause of
The defendants also deny that the incident was the cause of KG’s
behavioral changes described by his family members, including being depressed,
withdrawn, fearful, angry, violent, and flinching when they mention school.
Gosches have offered expert opinions that KG now suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress
Disorder (PTSD) and other psychological and behavioral issues as a result of the incident.
The Gosches have enrolled KG in a different school district.
The defendants described the administrative proceedings in their statement of
material facts, but the Gosches contend that it is improper to include the findings from
the administrative proceedings as part of the factual background on claims being litigated
As will become clear, in the legal analysis to follow, the fact of the
administrative proceedings and the nature of the claims asserted therein are of some
relevance to the defendants’ argument that the Gosches failed to exhaust administrative
remedies as to their claims.
On or about February 17, 2014, Gosches filed an administrative complaint with
the Iowa Department of Education, (IDOE), in which they alleged that the District had
violated the requirements of Part B of the federal IDEA with respect to the January 30,
2014, incident involving KG. In their administrative complaint, the Gosches alleged the
1. [O]n January 30, 2014, K.G.’s special education teacher
drug K.G. by his feet across the carpeted classroom floor
to stop him from possible [sic] causing injury to another
2. K.G.’s special education teacher did not follow K.G.’s
Behavior Intervention Plan (“BIP”) in regard to removing
other students from the classroom as outlined in the Safety
Plan section of his BIP[;] and
3. [S]chool officials failed to contact either parent or an
emergency contact following the incident.
Defendants’ Appendix at 43 (Decision, State Complaint 14-04, p. 2). The Gosches also
alleged that KG “was thereby denied a free appropriate public education (‘FAPE’)[,]”
and they claimed that their son’s procedural safeguards were violated. The IDOE denied
their administrative complaint on July 7, 2014. Neither party sought judicial review.
On December 1, 2015, the Gosches filed their Complaint in these proceedings,
asserting six claims arising from the incident on January 30, 2014. Those claims are the
following: (1) a claim for excessive use of force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against
Riediger and Adams; (2) a claim for discrimination in violation of Title II of the ADA,
42 U.S.C. § 12131, against the District; (3) a claim for violation of § 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, against the District; (4) an Iowa commonlaw claim of “general negligence” against Riediger, Adams, and the District; (5) an Iowa
common-law claim for the intentional tort of battery against Riediger; and (6) an Iowa
common-law claim for intentional infliction of severe emotional distress against Riediger,
Adams, and the District. The defendants jointly filed an Answer on December 23, 2015,
denying the Gosches’ claims and asserting affirmative defenses, including failure to
exhaust administrative remedies, immunity of the individual defendants to suit, and
immunity of the District to the plaintiffs’ common-law claims.
This matter is currently set for trial to begin on May 30, 2017.
The defendants filed a Motion For Summary Judgment on December 23, 2016,
and a Corrected Motion For Summary Judgment on January 20, 2017. The defendants
identified the grounds for their motion, at least generally, as the Gosches’ failure to
exhaust remedies available under the IDEA; the lack of factual support for a claim of
excessive force; the qualified immunity of the individual defendants; the Gosches’ failure
to demonstrate the denial of any benefit based on disability as required on the disability
claims; and the insufficiency of the Gosches’ common-law tort claims for various reasons.
The Gosches filed their Resistance on February 10, 2017, and the defendants filed a
Reply on February 17, 2017.
The defendants’ Motion For Summary Judgment addresses all of the Gosches’
claims. I will address the claims, in turn. First, however, I will summarize the standards
for summary judgment, then consider the defendants’ over-arching contention that the
Gosches failed to exhaust their administrative claims pursuant to the IDEA, so that they
cannot now pursue any of those claims in court.
Standards For Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is only appropriate when “the pleadings, depositions, answers
to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there
is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as
a matter of law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c) (emphasis added); see Woods v. DaimlerChrysler
Corp., 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005) (“Summary judgment is appropriate if viewing
the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there are no genuine issues
of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”); see
generally Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thus, “[t]he movant
‘bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion,’
and must identify ‘those portions of [the record] . . . which it believes demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.’” Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d
1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). In response,
“[t]he nonmovant ‘must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt
as to the material facts,’ and must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there
is a genuine issue for trial.’” Id. (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586–87 (1986)).
When the parties have met their burdens, the district judge’s task is as follows:
“On a motion for summary judgment, ‘facts must be viewed
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if
there is a genuine dispute as to those facts.’” Ricci v.
DeStefano, ––– U.S. ––––, 129 S. Ct. 2658, 2677, 174 L.
Ed. 2d 490 (2009) quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372,
380, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 (2007) (internal
quotations omitted). “Credibility determinations, the weigh10
ing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences
from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.”
Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133,
150, 120 S. Ct. 2097, 147 L. Ed. 2d 105 (2000), quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.
Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). . . . . “‘Where the record
taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find
for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.’”
Ricci, 129 S. Ct. at 2677, quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at
587, 106 S. Ct. 1348.
Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042-43.
“Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Ryan v. Capital Contractors, Inc., 679
F.3d 772, 776 (8th Cir. 2012). However, summary judgment is particularly appropriate
when only questions of law are involved, rather than factual issues that may or may not
be subject to genuine dispute. See, e.g., Cremona v. R.S. Bacon Veneer Co., 433 F.3d
617, 620 (8th Cir. 2006).
With these standards in mind, I turn to the issues raised in the defendants’ Motion
For Summary Judgment.
Failure To Exhaust Claims
The defendants’ first contention is that the Gosches cannot pursue their claims,
because they did not exhaust administrative remedies under the IDEA. The Gosches
Arguments of the parties
The defendants argue that the Gosches’ ostensibly non-IDEA claims seek the
functional equivalent of remedies that were available to them under the IDEA. The
defendants contend that, this being so, the Gosches were required to exhaust
administrative remedies on those claims pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(l). Because the
Gosches did not do so, the defendants contend, they cannot now pursue judicial remedies.
The Gosches argue that their non-IDEA claims do not require exhaustion under existing
law, but even if they do, they have fulfilled the requirement by submitting a state
complaint to the district.
The parties’ briefs on the issue of administrative exhaustion requirements under
the IDEA were filed before the Supreme Court’s decision in Fry v. Napoleon Community
Schools, No. 15-497, 2017 WL 685533 (S. Ct. Feb. 22, 2017). Therefore, I will not
look at authorities superseded—even if not specifically overruled—by Fry, but will focus
on the impact of Fry on exhaustion of the Gosches’ claims.
In Fry, the Supreme Court clarified the appropriate test for determining when the
IDEA’s exhaustion requirement applies to claims brought under other laws. The Eighth
Circuit Court of Appeals has so far applied Fry only once, without specifically addressing
whether it overrules any IDEA exhaustion test previously applied in this Circuit, in J.M.
v. Francis Howell Sch. Dist., No. 16-1756, ___ F.3d ___, 2017 WL 894460 (8th Cir.
March 7, 2017). In J.M., the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals also reached a question
that the Supreme Court did not in Fry. Thus, I will examine the test established in Fry,
the application of that test by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in J.M., as well as that
court’s holding on an additional question, and then turn to application of the Fry test in
The test established in Fry
In Fry, the Court unanimously agreed on the formulation of the test for when
IDEA exhaustion is required. Justice Kagan wrote an opinion joined by five other
justices, while Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the
judgment, in which Justice Thomas joined.
As Justice Kagan explained,
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA
or Act), 84 Stat. 175, as amended, 20 U. S. C. §1400 et seq.,
ensures that children with disabilities receive needed special
education services. One of its provisions, §1415(l), addresses
the Act’s relationship with other laws protecting those
children. Section 1415(l) makes clear that nothing in the
IDEA ‘restrict[s] or limit[s] the rights [or] remedies’ that
other federal laws, including antidiscrimination statutes,
confer on children with disabilities. At the same time, the
section states that if a suit brought under such a law ‘seek[s]
relief that is also available under’ the IDEA, the plaintiff must
first exhaust the IDEA’s administrative procedures.
Fry, 2017 WL 685533 at *3. In Fry, the Court “consider[ed] the scope of that exhaustion
requirement,” and held “that exhaustion is not necessary when the gravamen of the
plaintiff’s suit is something other than the denial of the IDEA’s core guarantee—what the
Act calls a ‘free appropriate public education [(FAPE)].’ §1412(a)(1)(A).” Id.
In reaching this conclusion, Justice Kagan began with the language of the
“exhaustion” provision of the IDEA, which states, as follows:
Nothing in [the IDEA] shall be construed to restrict or limit
the rights, procedures, and remedies available under the
Constitution, the [ADA], title V of the Rehabilitation Act
[including §504], or other Federal laws protecting the rights
of children with disabilities, except that before the filing of a
civil action under such laws seeking relief that is also available
under [the IDEA], the [IDEA’s administrative procedures]
shall be exhausted to the same extent as would be required
had the action been brought under [the IDEA].
20 U.S.C. § 1415(l) (emphasis added). Justice Kagan explained,
The first half of § 1415(l) (up until ‘except that’)
‘reaffirm[s] the viability’ of federal statutes like the ADA or
Rehabilitation Act ‘as separate vehicles,’ no less integral than
the IDEA, ‘for ensuring the rights of handicapped children.’
H. R. Rep. No. 99-296, p. 4 (1985); see id., at 6. According
to that opening phrase, the IDEA does not prevent a plaintiff
from asserting claims under such laws even if, as in Smith [v.
Robinson, 468 U. S. 99 (1984),] itself, those claims allege the
denial of an appropriate public education (much as an IDEA
claim would). But the second half of §1415(l) (from ‘except
that’ onward) imposes a limit on that ‘anything goes’ regime,
in the form of an exhaustion provision. According to that
closing phrase, a plaintiff bringing suit under the ADA, the
Rehabilitation Act, or similar laws must in certain
circumstances—that is, when ‘seeking relief that is also
available under’ the IDEA—first exhaust the IDEA’s
Fry, 2017 WL 685533 at *6. As in Fry, “[t]he reach of that requirement is the issue in
this case.” Id.
In Fry, a child with a severe form of cerebral palsy that significantly limited her
motor skills was denied permission to bring her trained service dog, Wonder, with her
into her kindergarten classroom, on the ground that her needs were being met through
services, including human assistants, to which the school had already agreed. As a result,
the child’s parents removed her from the school and began homeschooling her. Id. at
The Frys filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of
Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) charging that the school’s exclusion of the
service animal violated the child’s rights under Title II of the ADA and § 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act. Id. at *7. The OCR agreed, “even if [the school’s] use of a human
aide satisfied the FAPE standard.” Id. In response, the school agreed to let Wonder join
the child at school, but the Frys found a different public school, in a different district,
for their child to attend, out of fear that the school administration would “resent” the
child and make her return difficult. Id.
The Frys then filed this suit in federal court against the
local and regional school districts in which Ezra Eby [school]
is located, along with the school’s principal (collectively, the
school districts). The complaint alleged that the school
districts violated Title II of the ADA and §504 of the
Rehabilitation Act by ‘denying [E. F.] equal access’ to Ezra
Eby and its programs, ‘refus[ing] to reasonably
accommodate’ E. F.’s use of a service animal, and otherwise
‘discriminat[ing] against [E. F.] as a person with disabilities.’
According to the complaint, E. F. suffered harm as a result
of that discrimination, including ‘emotional distress and pain,
embarrassment, [and] mental anguish.’ In their prayer for
relief, the Frys sought a declaration that the school districts
had violated Title II and § 504, along with money damages to
compensate for E. F.’s injuries.
Fry, 2017 WL 685533 at *7 (citations omitted). After dismissal by the district court for
failure to exhaust claims pursuant to the IDEA and affirmance by the Sixth Circuit Court
of Appeals, the Supreme Court granted certiorari “to address confusion in the courts of
appeals as to the scope of § 1415(l)’s exhaustion requirement.” Id. at *8.
At the outset of her analysis, Justice Kagan summarized the Court’s conclusion,
Section 1415(l) requires that a plaintiff exhaust the
IDEA’s procedures before filing an action under the ADA,
the Rehabilitation Act, or similar laws when (but only when)
her suit ‘seek[s] relief that is also available’ under the IDEA.
We first hold that to meet that statutory standard, a suit must
seek relief for the denial of a FAPE, because that is the only
‘relief’ the IDEA makes ‘available.’ We next conclude that in
determining whether a suit indeed ‘seeks’ relief for such a
denial, a court should look to the substance, or gravamen, of
the plaintiff’s complaint.
Fry, 2017 WL 685533 at *8 (emphasis added; footnote omitted).
As to the first holding, Justice Kagain explained that the Court “agree[d] with the
parties’ shared view: The only relief that an IDEA officer can give—hence the thing a
plaintiff must seek in order to trigger § 1415(l)’s exhaustion rule—is relief for the denial
of a FAPE.” Id. More specifically, she explained,
For that reason, §1415(l)’s exhaustion rule hinges on
whether a lawsuit seeks relief for the denial of a free
appropriate public education. If a lawsuit charges such a
denial, the plaintiff cannot escape §1415(l) merely by bringing
her suit under a statute other than the IDEA--as when, for
example, the plaintiffs in Smith claimed that a school’s failure
to provide a FAPE also violated the Rehabilitation Act.
Rather, that plaintiff must first submit her case to an IDEA
hearing officer, experienced in addressing exactly the issues
she raises. But if, in a suit brought under a different statute,
the remedy sought is not for the denial of a FAPE, then
exhaustion of the IDEA’s procedures is not required. After
all, the plaintiff could not get any relief from those
procedures: A hearing officer, as just explained, would have
to send her away empty-handed. And that is true even when
the suit arises directly from a school’s treatment of a child
with a disability—and so could be said to relate in some way
to her education. A school’s conduct toward such a child—
say, some refusal to make an accommodation—might injure
her in ways unrelated to a FAPE, which are addressed in
statutes other than the IDEA. A complaint seeking redress for
those other harms, independent of any FAPE denial, is not
subject to §1415(l)’s exhaustion rule because, once again, the
only ‘relief’ the IDEA makes ‘available’ is relief for the denial
of a FAPE.
Fry, 2017 WL 685533 at *10 (emphasis added).
Justice Kagan noted that an “important question remains: How is a court to tell
when a plaintiff ‘seeks’ relief for the denial of a FAPE and when she does not?” Id.
Again, the Court agreed with the parties that “[w]hat matters is the crux—or, in legal16
speak, the gravamen—of the plaintiff’s complaint, setting aside any attempts at artful
pleading.” Id. “That inquiry makes central the plaintiff’s own claims, as § 1415(l)
explicitly requires,” because it focuses on the statutory language “‘seeks’ relief available
under the IDEA,” not a stricter exhaustion requirement based on “‘could have sought’
relief available under the IDEA.” Id. Thus, “[a] court deciding whether §1415(l) applies
must . . . examine whether a plaintiff’s complaint—the principal instrument by which she
describes her case—seeks relief for the denial of an appropriate education.” Id. “But
that examination should consider substance not surface,” because a complaint seeking
relief under a statute other than the IDEA would not use the IDEA’s distinctive language,
such as FAPE or IEP, “[a]nd still more critically, a ‘magic words’ approach would make
§ 1415(l)’s exhaustion rule too easy to bypass.” This is so, because “Section 1415(l) is
not merely a pleading hurdle. It requires exhaustion when the gravamen of a complaint
seeks redress for a school’s failure to provide a FAPE, even if not phrased or framed in
precisely that way.” Id. at *11. Consequently, “a court should attend to the diverse
means and ends of the statutes covering persons with disabilities,” including the IDEA,
the ADA, and the Rehabilitation Act, where “the IDEA guarantees individually tailored
educational services, while Title II and § 504 promise nondiscriminatory access to public
institutions.” Id. 2
The Court set out a more detailed discussion of the differences between these
three statutes, as follows:
The IDEA, of course, protects only ‘children’ (well, really,
adolescents too) and concerns only their schooling.
§1412(a)(1)(A). And as earlier noted, the statute’s goal is to
provide each child with meaningful access to education by
offering individualized instruction and related services
appropriate to her ‘unique needs.’ §1401(29); see [Board of
(Footnote continued . . .
Justice Kagan then turned to indications of the “gravamen” of the complaint.
First, she observed,
One clue to whether the gravamen of a complaint
against a school concerns the denial of a FAPE, or instead
addresses disability-based discrimination, can come from
asking a pair of hypothetical questions. First, could the
plaintiff have brought essentially the same claim if the alleged
conduct had occurred at a public facility that was not a
school—say, a public theater or library? And second, could
an adult at the school—say, an employee or visitor—have
pressed essentially the same grievance? When the answer to
those questions is yes, a complaint that does not expressly
allege the denial of a FAPE is also unlikely to be truly about
that subject; after all, in those other situations there is no
FAPE obligation and yet the same basic suit could go
forward. But when the answer is no, then the complaint
probably does concern a FAPE, even if it does not explicitly
say so; for the FAPE requirement is all that explains why only
a child in the school setting (not an adult in that setting or a
child in some other) has a viable claim.
Fry, 2017 WL 685533 at *12 (emphasis added).
Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester
Cty. v.] Rowley, 458 U. S. [176,] 192, 198 [(1982)]; supra,
at 11. By contrast, Title II of the ADA and §504 of the
Rehabilitation Act cover people with disabilities of all ages,
and do so both inside and outside schools. And those statutes
aim to root out disability-based discrimination, enabling each
covered person (sometimes by means of reasonable
accommodations) to participate equally to all others in public
facilities and federally funded programs.
Fry, 2017 WL 685533 at *11.
Next, Justice Kagain wrote, “A further sign that the gravamen of a suit is the
denial of a FAPE can emerge from the history of the proceedings.” Id. at *13. She
In particular, a court may consider that a plaintiff has
previously invoked the IDEA’s formal procedures to handle
the dispute—thus starting to exhaust the Act’s remedies before
switching midstream. Recall that a parent dissatisfied with her
child’s education initiates those administrative procedures by
filing a complaint, which triggers a preliminary meeting (or
possibly mediation) and then a due process hearing. See
supra, at 2-3. A plaintiff’s initial choice to pursue that process
may suggest that she is indeed seeking relief for the denial of
a FAPE—with the shift to judicial proceedings prior to full
exhaustion reflecting only strategic calculations about how to
maximize the prospects of such a remedy. Whether that is so
depends on the facts; a court may conclude, for example, that
the move to a courtroom came from a late-acquired awareness
that the school had fulfilled its FAPE obligation and that the
grievance involves something else entirely. But prior pursuit
of the IDEA’s administrative remedies will often provide
strong evidence that the substance of a plaintiff’s claim
concerns the denial of a FAPE, even if the complaint never
explicitly uses that term.
Fry, 2017 WL 685533 at *13 (emphasis added).
The Court concluded that the decisions below had not undertaken the analysis set
forth in its opinion and that the Court lacked some important information. Consequently,
the Court remanded that issue to the court below. Id.
In a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Thomas, Justice Alito concurred in all
but the two “clues” that Justice Kagan offered to assist the lower courts, because, in his
view, those clues “may have the opposite effect” and be “likely to confuse and lead courts
astray.” His concern with the two hypothetical questions posed by Justice Kagan was
that they “make sense only if there is no overlap between the relief available under the
following two sets of claims,” that is, IDEA claims on the one hand, and claims under
other federal laws, on the other. Id. at *15 (Alito, J., concurring). He described the
second clue, suggesting that the lower courts take into account whether parents began
then abandoned IDEA procedures, as a “false” one, for the following reasons:
This clue also seems to me to be ill-advised. It is easy to
imagine circumstances under which parents might start down
the IDEA road and then change course and file an action
under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act that seeks relief that
the IDEA cannot provide. The parents might be advised by
their attorney that the relief they were seeking under the IDEA
is not available under that law but is available under another.
Or the parents might change their minds about the relief that
they want, give up on the relief that the IDEA can provide,
and turn to another statute.
Fry, 2017 WL 685533 at *15 (Alito, J., concurring).
While the concurring justices were concerned that the “clues” offered by Justice
Kagan may be confusing or misleading, my concern is that courts (and parties) will
improperly view them as bright line tests, rather than “clues.” As a consequence, they
may not undertake a careful examination of the “substance not surface” of a plaintiff’s
claims to reach the “gravamen” of those claims, see id. at *11 (opinion by Kagan, J.),
and may not make a careful review of the facts to determine whether commencement then
abandonment of IDEA proceedings was a strategic move or was motivated by recognition
that their grievance involves something other than denial of a FAPE, id. at *13.
The Circuit’s application of Fry
As mentioned, above, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has addressed Fry only
once, so far, in J.M. v. Francis Howell Sch. Dist., No. 16-1756, ___ F.3d ___, 2017
WL 894460 (8th Cir. March 7, 2017). In J.M., a parent alleged that, between January
2012 and September 2014, her disabled child was repeatedly placed in physical restraints
and isolation without her knowledge. Id. at *1. She brought suit in federal court,
originally asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, and state common-law,
as well as the IDEA; then amended her complaint to add claims under the ADA and the
Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA); then amended, again, to remove the IDEA and
common-law tort claims; and, ultimately, asserted “claims under the Equal Protection
Clause, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of
1973, and the MHRA.” Id. Applying the standard in Fry, the Eighth Circuit Court of
Appeals concluded that the district court had not erred in finding that the plaintiff’s
complaint sought relief for denial of a FAPE under the IDEA. Id. at *3.
The court explained,
The second amended complaint states, “At all times
mentioned above, [J.M.] was entitled to the educational
services and protections available under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act of 1975” and “at all times [J.M.
was] entitled to reasonable accommodations” for his
disabilities. It alleges that “[b]etween February 2014 and
September 5, 2014, J.M. was placed in physical restraints for
half of the time he actually spent at Defendant’s schools.” It
further states that J.M. was “denied ... because of his
disability, participation in and the benefits of a public
education.” These allegations show that the complaint was
based on the “denial of a FAPE” under the IDEA. See [Fry,
2017 WL 685533,] at *13 (determining the Fry’s complaint
“alleges only disability-based discrimination” and “contains
no allegation ... accus[ing] the school even in general terms
of refusing to provide the educational instruction and services
that E.F. needs”).
“As defined in the Act, a FAPE comprises ‘special
education and related services’—both ‘instruction’ tailored to
meet a child’s ‘unique needs’ and sufficient ‘supportive
services’ to permit the child to benefit from that instruction.”
Id., at *4, citing 20 U.S.C. §§ 1401(9), (26), (29). The ADA
and Section 504, on the other hand, forbid public entities and
federally funded programs or activities from discriminating
based on disability. Id., at *5. The complaint here is not based
on disability discrimination. Except for Count IV (the MHRA
claim), the complaint does not use the word “discrimination.”
Rather, the complaint is based on how the use of isolation and
physical restraints failed to provide proper “sufficient
‘supportive services’ to permit [J.M.] to benefit from ...
instruction,” id., at *4, and ultimately “denied [J.M.] ... the
benefits of public education.” Finally, although [the plaintiff]
did not “invoke[ ] the IDEA’s formal procedures to handle
the dispute,” “the history of the proceedings,” including her
initial complaint and first amended complaint contained
claims under the IDEA, which is “[a] further sign that the
gravamen of [the] suit is the denial of a FAPE.” See id., at
J.M., 2017 WL 894460 at *3. The court also noted that the plaintiff had voluntarily
removed common-law tort claims, as the foundation for non-educational injuries, and
that the child’s IEP was not used solely to show notice to the school of the conditions that
put the child at risk, but as a central dispute of the litigation, in part because the plaintiff
alleged that the defendants repeatedly violated the child’s rights by utilizing isolation and
restraint on the child, which were not permitted within his IEP. Id. at *4. In other
words, “[t]he claims [in J.M.] [we]re based on the failure to implement J.M.’s IEP,
specifically regarding discipline.” Id.
An issue that the Supreme Court did not address in Fry, because it concluded that
it was not necessary to resolve it at that time, was the following: “Is exhaustion required
when the plaintiff complains of the denial of a FAPE, but the specific remedy she
requests—here, money damages for emotional distress—is not one that an IDEA hearing
officer may award?” Fry, 2017 WL 685533 at *8 n.4. As to that issue, the Eighth
Circuit Court of Appeals observed, in J.M., that “this court has noted that ‘the IDEA’s
exhaustion requirement remains the general rule, regardless of whether the administrative
process offers the particular type of relief that is being sought.’” J.M., 2017 WL 894460
at *4 (quoting J.B. ex rel. Bailey v. Avilla R-XIII School Dist., 721 F.3d 588, 592 (8th
Cir. 2013), and citing decisions of other circuit courts of appeals so holding). Thus, the
parent’s “voluntary decision to remove J.M. from school, and seek only compensatory
and punitive damages rather than compensatory education services, d[id] not exempt her
from the exhaustion requirement.” Id.
Application of Fry here
Although the Fry test is not a “magic words” test, 2017 WL 685533 at *11, in
determining the “gravamen” of the Gosches’ Complaint, it is helpful to see what
references to the IDEA are found in the Complaint. See J.M., 2017 WL 894460 at *3
(surveying the allegations in the complaint to determine the gravamen of the claims). The
Gosches’ Complaint does allege that KG was “a special education student,” Complaint
at ¶ 7; indeed, it alleges that, “[a]s a result of his disability, K.G. was made eligible for
special education services and supports pursuant to the Individual with Disabilities
Education Act (‘IDEA’), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1401 et seq.,” id. at ¶ 14. It also alleges Riediger
was “a special education teacher,” whose responsibilities included “providing the
structure and consistency that would enable a child with emotional, cognitive and
developmental disabilities such as K.G. to access an appropriate education and progress
academically as well as emotionally and behaviorally,” id. at ¶ 9, and that Adams was
“responsible for the hiring, training and supervision of school staff and ensuring that all
students attending Primary School were afforded equal access to a public education,”
id. at 10. Thus, the Complaint identifies the parties in terms of needing or supplying
“special education services” and having a duty to ensure “equal access to a public
education.” Nevertheless, unlike the references to the IDEA in J.M., these are not
allegations about the “‘denial of a FAPE’” under the IDEA or allegations that are a
“central dispute of this litigation,” but allegations “show[ing] notice to the [defendants]
of the conditions that put [KG] at risk.” J.M., 2017 WL 894460 at *4.
Furthermore, of the 29 paragraphs of general factual allegations in the Complaint,
only one paragraph relates to alleged violation of KG’s IEP or BIP under the IDEA.
Even that paragraph is just one of three in the general factual allegations alleging the way
in which conduct by Riediger was “wrongful,” as follows:
33. Defendant RIEDIGER lacked any legitimate or
lawful basis or cause to engage in the type of physical force
she used against K.G. on the morning of January 30, 2014.
34. At all relevant times herein, K.G. never
engaged in behavior that rose to the level of an emergency or
a serious or probable or imminent threat of harm to himself
or to others that would justify Defendant RIEDIGER’s actions
in grabbing and dragging him across the classroom floor. In
fact, Defendant RIEDIGER later admitted to police that K.G.
did not make contact with her or with any students in the
classroom prior to her use of physical force against him.
35. Moreover, Defendant RIEDIGER’s actions
were in violation of K.G.’s IEP, which did not provide for or
anticipate the use of physical force such as that used against
him on the morning of January 30, 2014. K.G.’s IEP contains
a Behavior Implementation Plan (“BIP”) which outlines the
appropriate steps a special education teacher or
paraprofessional should take when confronted with behaviors
of concern. In particular, the BIP provides that in regards to
“[a]ctions needed to ensure safety and the de-escalation of
student behaviors in emergency situations”, if K.G. is in a
classroom, then “the other students will be removed.”
Complaint at ¶¶ 33-35. Thus, the “gravamen” of the wrongfulness of Riediger’s conduct
in the Complaint’s general factual allegations is not that it violated the IDEA, but that it
involved unlawful and unreasonable use of physical force against KG. The allegation
that the use of force was contrary to the IEP and BIP is made as an indication of the
unreasonableness of the use of force, not as the gravamen of the wrongfulness of the
Moreover, violation of the IEP and BIP are not the central allegations of
wrongfulness of the conduct in any of the six claims for relief in the Complaint. Rather,
in the First Claim For Relief, the § 1983 claim, the allegations of wrongful conduct by
Riediger are that she “violated K.G.’s rights under the Fourth Amendment and
Fourteenth Amendment by using unjustified and unreasonable force against him.” Id. at
¶ 46; see also id. at ¶ 48 (alleging that Riediger’s conduct in “seizing and dragging K.G.
unlawfully subjected him to excessive, unreasonable, and unnecessary physical force”).
Although paragraph 47 alleges that Riediger’s conduct “was objectively unreasonable
under the circumstances and in light the educational objectives K.G. was trying to
achieve,” (emphasis added) that allegation, again, is to show the “unreasonableness” of
Riediger’s conduct, not the “gravamen” of her wrongful conduct, which is the use of
“unjustified and unreasonable force” against KG. Id. at ¶¶ 46, 48. Likewise, in the
§ 1983 claim, the allegation of the wrongfulness of Adams’s conduct is not that it violated
KG’s IEP or BIP, but that it involved “deliberate indifference to the risk of harm to KG”
from inadequate training and supervision of faculty and staff “in the use of force and
restraint when seizing special education students with disabilities.” Id. at ¶ 49.
The same is true of the other federal claims in the Second and Third Claims For
Relief, alleging violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, respectively. The
“gravamen” of the ADA claim is discrimination and creation of a hostile educational
environment toward KG because of his disabilities. See id. at ¶ 56 (“SBLCSD has failed
in its responsibilities under Title II to provide its services, programs and activities in a
full and equal manner to disabled persons as described hereinabove, including failing to
ensure that educational services are provided on an equal basis to children with
disabilities and free of hostility toward their disability.” (Emphasis added)); id. at ¶ 57
(“SBLCSD has further failed in its responsibilities under Title II to provide its services,
programs and activities in a full and equal manner to disabled persons as described
hereinabove by subjecting Plaintiff K.G. to a hostile educational environment.”
(Emphasis added)). The “gravamen” of the Gosches’ Rehabilitation Act claim is also
denial of equal access to services and creation of a hostile educational environment toward
KG because of his disability. See id. at ¶ 62 (“By its actions or inactions in denying
equal access to educational services and by subjecting Plaintiff K.G. to a hostile
educational environment, defendant has violated Plaintiff’s rights under § 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the regulations promulgated
Turning to the common-law claims, the “gravamen” of the negligence claim in the
Gosches’ Fourth Claim For Relief is violation of a duty of care by “subjecting him to
unwarranted and unnecessary physical force in disciplining him and/or seeking his
compliance,” see id. at ¶ 63, which is well beyond the scope of a FAPE. Even the
specifications of negligence, while in the school context, are allegations of negligent
supervision, investigation, failure to keep KG safe, failure to act reasonably, and
inflicting harm, all allegations unrelated to or beyond the scope of a FAPE. See id. at
¶ 64. Finally, the common-law claims of battery and intentional infliction of emotional
distress are based on allegations of threats of violence and physical injury and the
outrageousness of such conduct, irrespective of any requirement of a FAPE, KG’s IEP,
or KG’s BIP.
See id. at ¶¶ 67-68 (battery claim based on allegations “Defendant
RIEDIGER intentionally and unlawfully threatened, had the then present ability to do
violence toward Plaintiff K.G., and caused physical injury to Plaintiff K.G.” and
“Defendant RIEDIGER placed Plaintiff K.G. in reasonable and serious apprehension of
harmful and offensive contact, and did, in fact, intentionally cause physical pain and
injury to Plaintiff K.G.”); id. at ¶¶ 71-72 (intentional infliction of emotional distress
based on allegations “The Defendants conduct was reckless and/or outrageous and in
wanton disregard of the rights and safety of Plaintiff K.G.” and “The Defendants acted
intentionally and/or with reckless disregard of the probability of causing emotional
The conclusion that the “gravamen” of the Gosches’ claims is not relief for denial
of a FAPE is bolstered by reference to the first of the “clues” identified by Justice Kagan
in Fry. 2017 WL 685533 at *12. Plainly, the plaintiff could have brought essentially
the same claims for excessive and unreasonable use of force and discrimination, if the
alleged conduct had occurred at a different public facility. Id. Just as plainly, an adult
at the school, such as an employee or visitor, could have pressed essentially the same
grievances. Id. In these circumstances, it is highly unlikely that the Gosches’ complaint
is truly about denial of a FAPE. Id.
Indeed, the only suggestion, here, that this case has anything at all to do with the
IDEA is that, in the history of the proceedings, the Gosches initially chose to pursue the
administrative process under the IDEA, and did allege violation of KG’s IEP and BIP,
but then abandoned those proceedings. Id. at *13. There is nothing strange about parents
of a child who has an IEP in place to protect his or her right to a FAPE turning, first, to
administrative proceedings to secure a FAPE or otherwise to address wrongdoing of a
special education provider, as both a familiar and readily-available forum that might
provide them with the most immediate relief. As the majority and concurring justices in
Fry all suggested, there is nothing unusual about parents of a child with an IEP initially
asserting an administrative claim under the IDEA, only later to discover, when they have
had the opportunity to consult with counsel, that either the IDEA does not provide the
appropriate relief or that their claim is not about a violation of the IDEA at all. Thus,
with the Fry majority’s caution to consider the facts to determine whether abandonment
of the administrative proceedings was strategic or because of a realization that the
grievance had to do with something other than a FAPE, see id., and the concurring
justices’ caution that other federal laws provide relief that the IDEA could not, Fry, 2017
WL 685533 at *15 (Alito, J., concurring), I do not find that the Gosches’ decision to
pursue claims under other laws and procedures was merely strategic. Rather, in light of
their allegations, they are now pursuing claims that address the “gravamen” of the
wrongful conduct at issue and the appropriate relief. This is not simply a case in which
the Gosches seek remedies that are not available under the IDEA, in which case
exhaustion would still be required, see J.M., 2017 WL 894460 at *4, but one in which
the wrongs and the remedies are both beyond the scope of the denial of a FAPE under
The defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on the ground that the
Gosches failed to exhaust administrative remedies under the IDEA.
The § 1983 Claims
The defendants argue that, even if exhaustion was not required, they are entitled
to summary judgment on the Gosches’ § 1983 claim. The Gosches disagree.
Arguments of the parties
The defendants contend that it appears that the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals
follows the approach of other circuits by measuring claims of excessive force by public
school officials against the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process “shocks the
conscience” standard, not against the Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” standard.
They assert that there was nothing “shocking” or “irrational” about Riediger’s response
to KG’s conduct, because Riediger reasonably believed that KG was in a position to hurt
himself or one of his fellow students, she made a “split second decision” to move him
out of harm’s way, she took reasonable action to do so, and she stopped immediately
when KG complained of pain. They argue that there is no evidence that Riediger was
angry or took any action maliciously, sadistically, or for the purpose of causing harm,
nor evidence of bad faith or ill will toward KG. Thus, they contend that the Fourteenth
Amendment excessive force claim fails as a matter of law.
In response, the Gosches argue that they have asserted both Fourth Amendment
and Fourteenth Amendment claims, but the defendants have sought summary judgment
only on the Fourteenth Amendment claim. More specifically, the Gosches argue that a
Fourth Amendment claim is viable when an unreasonable seizure has occurred, such as
occurred in this case, when Riediger grabbed KG’s legs and dragged him toward the
“chill out zone.” They point to Eighth Circuit precedent analyzing claims against school
officials involving the use of restraints and seclusion under the Fourth Amendment
“reasonableness” standard, and claims involving abuse, such as yelling, demeaning, and
belittling, or application of force without a seizure, under the “shocks the conscience”
standard of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Furthermore, the Gosches argue that the
“seizure” of KG was clearly unreasonable, where, for example, the defendant’s expert
has opined that nothing in “Mandt training” would have allowed a teacher to drag a
student across a carpeted floor, and their own expert agrees that there is no situation in
which such dragging would be appropriate.
The Gosches argue that there are also triable issues as to their Fourteenth
Amendment claim, because there was no need for Riediger to apply force in the situation
in question, nor, indeed, was there any need to make a “split second decision”; dragging
KG was patently unacceptable; KG suffered well-documented physical and psychological
injuries as a result of Riediger’s use of force and is less resilient to overcome the incident
because of his pre-existing autism and other disorders affecting communication; and there
is evidence that Riediger acted with malice, in light of a pattern of using force to ensure
KG’s compliance. In sum, they argue that, when viewed in the light most favorable to
them as the non-moving parties, there is sufficient evidence from which a jury could
conclude that the defendants’ actions violated KG’s substantive due process rights.
As the Gosches argue, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has recognized both
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims arising out of the conduct of school officials
in certain circumstances. Specifically,
A litigant may state a Fourth Amendment violation by
alleging facts which indicate a seizure occurred and that it was
unreasonable. See McCoy v. City of Monticello, 342 F.3d
842, 846 (8th Cir.2003). Moreover, the Fourth Amendment’s
protections extend to actions by public school officials. See,
e.g., Couture v. Bd. of Educ., 535 F.3d 1243, 1250–52 (10th
Cir.2008); Shade v. City of Farmington, 309 F.3d 1054,
1059–62 (8th Cir.2002).
C.N. v. Wilmar Pub. Schs., Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 347, 591 F.3d 624, 633 (8th Cir.
2010). In addition, a student can assert a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process
claim based on allegations that a school official’s actions “‘violated one or more
fundamental constitutional rights’ and were ‘shocking to the contemporary conscience.’”
Id. at 634 (quoting Flowers v. City of Minneapolis, 478 F.3d 869, 873 (8th Cir. 2007)).
Thus, the defendants’ contention that a Fourth Amendment claim is not available in this
context is wrong, as a matter of law. As explained, above, the Gosches contend that they
have alleged constitutional claims pursuant to both the Fourth and Fourteenth
I will analyze whether the Gosches’ constitutional claims otherwise
overcome the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
The Fourth Amendment “seizure” claim
As to a Fourth Amendment “seizure” claim, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals
Reasonableness is judged in light of the totality of the
circumstances, however, McCoy, 342 F.3d at 848, and
“[c]ontext is [therefore] critical to reasonableness analysis.”
Couture, 535 F.3d at 1251. And in a school setting, “[t]he
Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness inquiry ... must account
for ‘the schools’ custodial and tutelary responsibility’ over the
students entrusted to their care.” Shade, 309 F.3d at 1059
(quoting Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646,
656, 115 S.Ct. 2386, 132 L.Ed.2d 564 (1995)).
C.N., 591 F.3d at 633. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has also explained that a
“seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment involves the willful or intentional
application of physical force involving a “restraint” on a person’s “freedom of
movement.” See, e.g., Atkinson v. City of Mt. View, Mo., 709 F.3d 1201, 1208 (8th
Cir. 2013); see also C.N., 591 F.3d at 633 (assuming that a child was seized within the
meaning of the Fourth Amendment when a teacher placed him in restraints and seclusion).
As the Gosches point out, the defendants’ only argument for summary judgment
on this claim was that no such claim was recognized in this Circuit, but I concluded,
above, that the defendants’ argument was wrong as a matter of law. Compare Cremona,
433 F.3d at, 620 (summary judgment is particularly appropriate when only questions of
law are involved, rather than factual issues that may or may not be subject to genuine
dispute). Thus, the defendants have failed to carry their responsibility to obtain summary
judgment on the basis that there is no genuine factual dispute, because they have not
“identif[ied] ‘those portions of [the record] . . . which [they] believe[ ] demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.’” Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042 (quoting
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323).
In contrast, the Gosches have met their burden to generate genuine issues of
material fact that Riediger’s use of force on KG was a “seizure,” within the meaning of
the Fourth Amendment. Id. (in response to a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he
nonmovant ‘must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to
the material facts,’ and must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.’” (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. 475 U.S. at 586–87)).
They have pointed to evidence that Riediger grabbed KG by his ankles and “dragged”
him along the floor, and that such grabbing and moving was precisely for the purpose of
restraining his freedom of movement, whether it was to prevent him from kicking other
children or to move him to the “chill out zone.” C.N., 591 F.3d at 633 (first element of
a Fourth Amendment claim). Thus, there are genuine issues of material fact on the
“seizure” element of their Fourth Amendment claim.
The Gosches have also generated genuine issues of material fact on the
“unreasonableness” of that seizure, id. (second element), even recognizing that, “in a
school setting, ‘[t]he Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness inquiry . . . must account for
“the schools’ custodial and tutelary responsibility” over the students entrusted to their
care,’” id. (quoting Shade, 309 F.3d at 1059). If I could construe the defendants’ Motion
to have put at issue the “unreasonableness” or “reasonableness” of Riediger’s conduct,
within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, there is still a jury question on the
reasonableness of Riediger’s actions. This is so, where the Gosches have pointed to
evidence to support this element, including the agreement of the experts that it would be
improper to “drag” a child as a form of discipline or control and the opinion of a medical
provider that KG’s injuries are consistent with “forceful dragging” sufficient to cause
“partial thickness skin burns” indicative of infliction of injuries “beyond what is
considered normal care and discipline of a 7-year-old child.” This evidence is enough to
suggest that Riediger’s conduct was a “substantial departure” from accepted professional
judgment, practice, or standards. Id. at 633. Indeed, the defendants cannot argue, like
the defendants in C.N., that Riediger’s actions were authorized by KG’s IEP, compare
id., because there is no authorization for the use of force to grab KG’s ankles to move
him to the “chill out zone,” or, indeed, any other specific authorization for the use of
force as a means to obtain his compliance, to be found in his IEP.
Finally, the Gosches have generated genuine issues of material fact on this claim
against Adams, by pointing to evidence that she was deliberately indifferent to the risk
of harm to KG from inadequate training and supervision of faculty and staff in the use of
force and restraint when seizing special education students with disabilities. They have
pointed to evidence that Adams had, herself, dragged KG on one occasion and that she
failed to ensure that Riediger had had “Mandt training” until after the incident in question
The defendants’ Motion For Summary Judgment is denied as to the merits of the
Gosches’ Fourth Amendment claim.
The Fourteenth Amendment “substantive due process”
The Gosches’ Fourteenth Amendment “substantive due process” claim requires
them to prove “actions by a government official which ‘violated one or more fundamental
constitutional rights’ and were shocking to the contemporary conscience.’” C.N., 591
F.3d at 834 (stating these as pleading requirements for such a claim (quoting Flowers v.
City of Minneapolis, 478 F.3d 869, 873 (8th Cir. 2007)). As the Eighth Circuit Court
of Appeals has explained, this is “a high standard,” because
[S]ubstantive due process is concerned with violations of
personal rights ... so severe ... so disproportionate to the need
presented, and ... so inspired by malice or sadism rather than
a merely careless or unwise excess of zeal that it amounted to
brutal and inhumane abuse of official power literally shocking
to the conscience.
C.N., 591 F.3d at 634 (quoting Golden v. Anders, 324 F.3d 650, 652–53 (8th Cir. 2003)).
Because the “shocks the conscience” standard under the Fourteenth Amendment
is much higher than an “unreasonableness” standard under the Fourth Amendment,
whether there are genuine issues of material fact on the Fourteenth Amendment claim is
a much closer question. Also, as to the Fourteenth Amendment claim, the defendants
have met their initial responsibility to identify evidence that they believe shows that
Riediger’s response to KG’s conduct was not “shocking” or “irrational,” because
Riediger reasonably believed that KG was in a position to hurt himself or one of his
fellow students, made a “split second decision” to move him out of harm’s way, took
reasonable action to do so, and stopped immediately when KG complained of pain. In
response, however, the Gosches have pointed to evidence, including the experts’ opinions
and the medical professional’s opinion that dragging a child in a way that caused carpet
burns was inappropriate and disproportionate to any circumstances presented by KG’s
conduct, and evidence that the incident continued with little escalation for ten minutes,
undermining any argument that Riediger’s conduct was based on a “split second decision”
to move KG out of harm’s way or to prevent him from harming others.
Notwithstanding the Gosches’ arguments, I cannot find that there is a genuine issue
of material fact that Riediger acted with “malice.” Id. (the plaintiff must show that the
conduct was “inspired by malice or sadism rather than a merely careless or unwise excess
of zeal”). Riediger’s conduct was “intentional,” as required for a Fourth Amendment
claim, see Atkinson, 709 F.3d at 1208, but there is no reasonable inference that it was
“malicious.” The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to find any inference of
malice, where there was no evidence that the actor disliked or had any animus toward the
alleged victim. See Golden, 324 F.3d at 854. Evidence that KG thought Riediger was
“mean” is a far cry from evidence that Riediger had any dislike or animus toward KG.
Although there may be evidence that Riediger was not the first person at the school to
use force against KG to ensure his compliance, there is no evidence of a “pattern” of
such conduct by Riediger that might suggest a negative animus toward KG. I also do not
find that a reasonable juror could infer “malice” from the nature and extent of KG’s
injuries, as suggesting that they were maliciously inflicted, even if the injuries do suggest
that Riediger was “merely careless” or acted with an “unwise excess of zeal.” C.N.,
591 F.3d at 634 (quoting Golden, 324 F.3d at 652–53). Any inference of “malice” is
further negated by the undisputed fact that Riediger went through an entire series of
techniques to try to de-escalate the situation before ever resorting to an attempt to move
KG physically, as well as by the undisputed fact that Riediger stopped moving KG at the
first indication that her conduct was causing him pain and promptly sought medical
attention for KG’s injuries.
Therefore, the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the merits of the
Gosches’ Fourteenth Amendment claim.
The defendants argue, in the alternative, that if they are not entitled to summary
judgment on the merits of the Gosches’ Fourteenth Amendment claim, the individual
defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the basis of their qualified immunity to
that claim. The defendants argue that, even if there was a Fourteenth Amendment
violation, it is clear that a reasonable person would not have known that Riediger’s and
Adams’s conduct violated KG’s constitutional rights.3 They argue that no reasonable
person would have believed that Riediger’s conduct violated KG’s constitutional rights,
where Riediger went through the process of using various techniques to try to de-escalate
the situation, ultimately acted to protect KG’s safety, moved him only a short distance,
and quit when he complained of pain. In response, the Gosches argue that it is well-
Again, the defendants have made this argument only as to the Gosches’
Fourteenth Amendment claim, so that they are not entitled to summary judgment in their
favor as to qualified immunity on the Gosches’ Fourth Amendment claim. Even if the
defendants had properly presented the question of qualified immunity as to the Gosches’
Fourth Amendment claim, qualified immunity likely would have been denied.
established that students have a right to be free from restraint and mistreatment, so that
no reasonable special education teacher would have believed that it is lawful to seize and
then drag a disabled seven-year-old child across the floor by his ankles in a manner that
caused serious carpet burns.
As the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals explained, in C.N., “Qualified immunity
protects individual state actors from liability under § 1983 unless they violate ‘clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.’” 591 F.3d at 632 (quoting Brockinton v. City of Sherwood, 503 F.3d 667, 671
(8th Cir. 2007)). In C.N., the court reached only the “violation” prong of the qualified
immunity analysis, not the question of whether a “reasonable person” would have known
that the conduct violated the alleged victim’s constitutional rights. Id. The same is true,
here: Because I have found no Fourteenth Amendment violation, the defendants are also
entitled to qualified immunity on the Fourteenth Amendment claim.
Assuming, contrary to my conclusion, above, that the Gosches’ had generated
genuine issues of material fact that there was a Fourteenth Amendment violation, I
conclude that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on the “reasonable person
would have known” prong of the analysis.
Id. (second requirement of qualified
immunity). In Mathers v. Wright, 636 F.3d 396 (8th Cir. 2011), the Eighth Circuit Court
of Appeals explained that the district court had properly denied a school official qualified
immunity on an “equal protection” claim, because the school official’s conduct
“exceed[ed] the scope of professionally acceptable choices and stem[med] from an
improper motivation,” which the court concluded was “consistent with decisions from
other courts [that] have denied qualified immunity to a school official accused of
[unconstitutional conduct] against a student in the absence of a rational basis to do so.”
636 F.3d at 402. While I found, above, that there were genuine issues of material fact
as to whether Riediger’s conduct “exceed[ed] the scope of professionally acceptable
choices,” I reiterate that there are no genuine issues of material fact that Riediger’s
actions “stem[med] from an improper motivation.” Id.
Therefore, the defendants are also entitled to summary judgment on the Gosches’
Fourteenth Amendment claim on the basis of qualified immunity, but not on their Fourth
The Disability Discrimination Claims
The defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on the Gosches’
claims pursuant to Title II of the ADA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Gosches
argue to the contrary.
The defendants argue that the benefit that KG was allegedly denied because of his
disability is a FAPE. They argue that KG continues to receive a FAPE, because of his
enrollment in a different district providing a FAPE, albeit at the expense of the defendant
District. In response, the Gosches contend that this argument fails to recognize that the
appropriate educational duty under the IDEA is not identical with the District’s duty not
to discriminate on the basis of disability under Section 504 or the ADA. They argue that
KG’s disability discrimination claims are that he sustained damages from being subjected
to a hostile educational environment because of his disability, which is wholly unrelated
to the IEP process, which involves individual identification, evaluation, educational
placement, and free appropriate education decisions.
They also contend that KG
continues to suffer the consequences of the discriminatory conduct, notwithstanding that
he has been enrolled in a school in another district.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has “‘held that the enforcement, remedies,
and rights are the same under both Title II of the ADA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act.’” B.M. ex rel. Miller v. South Callaway R-II Sch. Dist., 732 F.3d 882, 887 (8th
Cir. 2013) (quoting Birmingham v. Omaha Sch. Dist., 220 F.3d 850, 856 (8th Cir.
2000)). The court has also “consistently held that ‘[w]here alleged ADA and § 504
violations are based on educational services for disabled children, the plaintiff must prove
that school officials acted in bad faith or with gross misjudgment.’”
Birmingham, 220 F.3d at 856, and also citing M.Y. ex rel. J.Y. v. Special Sch. Dist. No.
1, 544 F.3d 885, 888 (8th Cir. 2008)).
For the reasons, cited above, that I conclude that the “gravamen” of the Gosches’
ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims is not a denial of a FAPE, I now reject the defendants’
argument that, simply because KG is obtaining educational services from another school
district, the defendants are entitled summary judgment on KG’s disability discrimination
claims. Indeed, the alleged ADA and § 504 claims are not based solely or substantially
on educational services for disabled children, but on subjecting a disabled student to a
hostile environment because of his disability. Thus, “bad faith” is not a requirement of
such a claim. Id.
The defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on the Gosches’ disability
The Common-Law Claims
As explained, above, the Gosches assert Iowa common-law claims of “general
negligence” against Riediger, Adams, and the District, battery against Riediger, and
intentional infliction of severe emotional distress against Riediger, Adams, and the
District. I will consider the defendants’ grounds for summary judgment on each of these
claims, in turn, at least briefly.
The negligence claim
In their “general negligence” claim, the Gosches allege that the defendants
breached the duty of care owed to KG, in one or more of the following ways:
(a) negligent supervision of classroom teachers; (b) negligent investigation of allegations
of wrongdoing; (c) failing to keep KG safe and free from harm; (d) failing to act as
reasonable teachers and school administrators; and (d) inflicting harm upon KG.
The defendants argue that the Gosches cannot cite to any evidence that the District
in general, or Kelly Adams in particular, failed to supervise Miranda Riediger, nor can
the Gosches credibly claim that the incident involving KG was a proximate result of those
defendants’ failure to supervise.
Furthermore, they argue that it was simply not
foreseeable that grabbing a seven-year-old child by the ankles and taking two steps back
would result in injury. Rather, they reiterate that Riediger acted reasonably. The
Gosches counter that Riediger’s conduct in seizing and dragging a student was
foreseeable, particularly since Adams had previously engaged in the exact same conduct
by dragging KG across a floor, and that it was reasonably foreseeable that a child would
suffer carpet burns from being dragged across a carpeted floor. They also contend that
a reasonable juror could conclude that it was unreasonable for Riediger to engage in
conduct that neither his parents nor his prior school had tolerated and that Riediger acted
out of frustration or anger, not fear that KG might injure himself or others.
The defendants argue that negligent investigation or supervision of the
investigation after the incident cannot be the proximate cause of any of KG’s injuries,
which allegedly arose from the incident. The Gosches make no attempt to resist summary
judgment on the allegation of negligent investigation. Thus, the defendants are entitled
to summary judgment on this specific allegation of negligence.
The defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on any of the other
allegations of negligence, however. The Gosches have met their burden in response to
the defendants’ Motion For Summary Judgment to point to evidence generating a jury
question on whether Riediger’s conduct was unreasonable, for the reasons set out, above.
Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042. They have also generated a jury question on whether either
allegedly dragging a child across a carpeted floor or injury from such conduct were
foreseeable, by pointing to evidence that Adams had allegedly engaged in similar conduct
and a reasonable person’s commonsense recognition of the fact that dragging a child
across a carpeted floor can result in carpet burns.
The battery claim
The defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on the Gosches’
“battery” claim, because Riediger is immune to criminal liability, pursuant to IOWA CODE
§ 280.21(2), for reasonable action to protect an employee, student, or other students.4
They argue that Riediger reasonably believed that KG was likely to harm himself or
others if she did not intervene and the nature of her intervention was reasonable. While
the Gosches agree that statutory immunity does exist, they argue that it is not applicable,
here, because Riediger’s conduct was not reasonable. Again, for the reasons stated,
above, a reasonable juror could conclude that Riediger’s conduct was not “reasonable
under the circumstances [to] [p]rotect[ ] the employee, the student, or other students.”
IOWA CODE § 280.21(2)(b).
IOWA CODE § 280.21(2) provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
2. A school employee who, in the reasonable course of
the employee’s employment responsibilities, comes into
physical contact with a student shall be granted immunity
from any civil or criminal liability which might otherwise be
incurred or imposed as a result of such physical contact, if the
physical contact is reasonable under the circumstances and
involves the following:
Protecting the employee, the student, or
The defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on the Gosches’ “battery”
The “intentional infliction of emotional distress” claim
As to the Gosches’ last claim, for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the
defendants argue, again, that the conduct that the Gosches claim was outrageous is the
incident in the classroom, but moving a child two steps away from other students and a
heavy metal desk, as a last resort, in an effort to protect the student and his classmates
from physical harm, is not outrageous; it is required. The Gosches counter that the
outrageousness of the conduct at issue in this case arises from Riediger’s authority over
KG and her abuse of that authority.
I agree with the defendants that the Iowa Supreme court has held that it “is for the
court to determine in the first instance whether the relevant conduct may reasonably be
regarded as outrageous.” Roalson v. Chaney, 334 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Iowa 1983). For
essentially the same reasons that I find that the Gosches have failed to generate a jury
question on whether Riediger’s conduct “shocks the conscience” and was “malicious,” I
now conclude, in the first instance, that Riediger’s conduct cannot reasonably
regarded as outrageous. Id.
Thus, the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the Gosches’
“intentional infliction of emotional distress” claim.
While I conclude that some of the Gosches’ claims should proceed to trial, I do
not want to leave anyone with the impression that this is not a very close case, even on
those claims. I have focused on what reasonable jurors could conclude, taking the
evidence in the light most favorable to the Gosches, as I am required to do at summary
judgment. See Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042. I hasten to add, however, that reasonable
jurors could find, at trial, based on the evidence and arguments almost identical to the
ones that the defendants make here, at summary judgment, that Riediger’s conduct was
entirely reasonable under the circumstances presented—I certainly recognize that those
circumstances were very difficult. Teachers face increasing challenges, it seems, in
meeting their obligations to foster learning, while keeping all their students safe. I do
not envy them that daunting task. Nor do I envy the jurors the daunting task of deciding
what the facts show in this case.
Upon the foregoing, the defendants’ January 20, 2017, Corrected Motion For
Summary Judgment (docket no. 29) is granted in part and denied in part, as follows:
The defendants’ Motion is denied as to failure to exhaust claims pursuant
to the IDEA, because, applying the Fry test, the Gosches were not required to exhaust
their non-IDEA claims;
The defendants’ Motion is denied as to the Gosches’ § 1983 claim of a
violation of the Fourth Amendment;
The defendants’ Motion is granted as to the Gosches’ § 1983 claim of a
violation of the Fourteenth Amendment;
The defendants’ Motion is denied as to the Gosches’ disability
discrimination claims pursuant to Title II of the ADA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation
The defendants’ Motion is granted as to that part of the Gosches’ “general
negligence” based on a negligent investigation, but otherwise denied as to that claim;
The defendants’ Motion is denied as to the Gosches’ battery claim; and
The defendants’ Motion is granted as to the Gosches’ claim of intentional
infliction of emotional distress.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED this 23rd day of March, 2017.
MARK W. BENNETT
U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
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