Blackledge v. Vicksburg-Warren School District et al
ORDER granting 17 Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint. Plaintiff's remaining state law claims are dismissed without prejudice. Signed by District Judge Carlton W. Reeves on 10/17/2017. (mm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
EULA BLACKLEDGE, on behalf of J.B.
CAUSE NO. 3:16-CV-00727-CWR-FKB
DISTRICT; and JOHN DOES 1-10
Before the Court is Defendant Vicksburg-Warren School District’s Partial Motion to
Dismiss Amended Complaint. Docket No. 17. Plaintiff filed a response, Docket No. 21, to which
Defendant filed a rebuttal, Docket No. 23. After considering the allegations, arguments, and
applicable law, the Court grants Defendant’s Motion.
Factual and Procedural History
In August 2015, J.B. started school at Vicksburg Junior High School. Docket No. 16 at 3.
Within the first month of the school year, J.B. was allegedly “harassed, teased, bullied, and
assaulted as a direct response to his learning disability [Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder].”
Id. at 5.
A year later, Eula Blackledge filed this suit on behalf of her son, alleging that the District
“targeted and subjected J.B. to severe pervasive bullying and harassment on account of his
learning disability” in violation of his equal protection and due process rights pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Docket No. 1 at 1. He also asserted a state law claim of negligence. Id.
The District moved to dismiss all claims. Docket No. 6. This Court denied the Motion
and granted Plaintiff leave to address several deficiencies in his Complaint: “whether (1) the
child in question is alive; (2) what elements plaintiff would have to show to support a claimed
violation of equal protection in the context of student-to-student harassment; (3) whether a claim
has been brought pursuant to the ADA; and (4) whether plaintiff’s claim of negligence is brought
pursuant to the [Mississippi Tort Claims Act].” Docket No. 14 at 1.
In May 2015, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, clarifying that (1) the child is still
alive; (3) claims have been brought pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA1; and (4) the
negligence claim is brought pursuant to the MTCA. Docket No. 16. But as discussed below,
Plaintiff failed to follow this Court’s second directive to provide an applicable equal protection
The District now requests that the Court dismiss all federal claims with prejudice and
dismiss all state claims without prejudice for their refiling in state court. Docket No. 16 at 2.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of an action that fails “to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court accepts all factual allegations as true
and makes all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009). The plaintiff’s complaint “must contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing
that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Id. at 677-78 (quotation marks and citation omitted). The
plaintiff’s claims need not include “detailed factual allegations,” but the complaint must contain
“more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. at 678
(quotation marks and citation omitted). The plaintiff must also plead “enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
The District attempts to argue that the Amended Complaint did not clarify whether Plaintiff was bringing a claim
under the ADA. Docket No. 18 at 2. But Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint expressly states that he is seeking relief
under the ADA. See Docket No. 16 at 9.
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Hale v.
King, 642 F.3d 492, 499 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
Since Iqbal, the Fifth Circuit has clarified that the Supreme Court’s “emphasis on the
plausibility of a complaint’s allegations does not give district courts license to look behind those
allegations and independently assess the likelihood that the plaintiff will be able to prove them at
trial.” Harold H. Huggins Realty, Inc. v. FNC, Inc., 634 F.3d 787, 803 n.4 (5th Cir. 2011). The
plausibility standard calls only “for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery
will reveal evidence of the necessary claims or elements.” Flagg v. Stryker Corp. 647 Fed. Appx.
314, 316 (5th Cir. 2016) (quotation marks and citation omitted).
“To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must (1) allege a violation of a right
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) demonstrate that the alleged
deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Doe v. Covington Cnty.
Sch. Dist., 675 F.3d 849, 854 (5th Cir. 2012).
Here, Plaintiff asserts violations of his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and
Plaintiff argues that the bullying and harassment of J.B. “was so severe, pervasive,
unreasonable and objectively offensive as to effectively deprive J.B. of equal access to the
educational opportunity or benefits of education” in violation of his right to substantive due
process. Docket No. 16 at 8.
Fifth Circuit case law is clear, however, that a public school has no constitutional duty to
ensure that its students are safe from private violence. Walton v. Alexander, 44 F.3d 1297, 1305
(5th Cir. 1995) (ruling that a superintendent had no constitutional duty to protect a student
against his classmate’s violence); Teague v. Tex City Indep. Sch. Dist., 185 Fed. Appx. 355, 357
(5th Cir. 2006) (finding no special relationship between a school and an eighteen-year-old
special education student who was sexually assaulted by another special education student).
“[T]he stubborn fact . . . [is that] ‘only when the state, by its affirmative exercise of power, has
custody over an individual involuntarily or against his will does a special relationship exist
between the individual and the state.’” Doe ex rel. Magee v. Covington County Sch. Dist. ex rel.
Keys, 675 F.3d 949, 870 (5th Cir. 2012) (emphasis in original) (citation omitted) (Jolly, J.,
specially concurring). Plaintiff’s due process claim is therefore unavailing.
Plaintiff next contends that the District violated his constitutional right to equal
protection. He relies on an out-of-circuit standard. See Docket No. 21 at 4 (citing T.E. v. Pine
Bush Cent. Sch. Dist., 58 F. Supp. 3d 332 (S.D.N.Y. 2014)). The District responds that this claim
should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to plead a constitutional violation rooted in the
District’s actions. The Court agrees.
“To state a claim under the Equal Protection Clause, a § 1983 plaintiff must allege that a
state actor intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff because of membership in a protected
class.” Williams v. Bramer, 180 F.3d 699, 705 (5th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). “The Supreme
Court has recognized an equal protection claim based on a ‘class of one,’” in which the plaintiff
must show that “(1) he or she was treated differently from others similarly situated and (2) there
was no rational basis for the disparate treatment.” C.H., II ex rel. L.H. v. Rankin Cnty. Sch. Dist.,
415 F. Appx. 541, 546 (5th Cir. 2011). But “if the challenged government action does not appear
to classify or distinguish between two or more relevant persons or groups, then the action—even
if irrational—does not deny them equal protection of the laws.” Johnson v. Rodriguez, 110 F.3d
299, 306 (5th Cir. 1997).
J.B. says he was bullied by other students because of his disability. But he does not allege
how the District treated J.B. differently from other similarly-situated students or groups in
preventing the incidents or in responding to the incidents. Absent allegations that other similarlysituated students were treated differently by the school, Plaintiff has failed to plead a plausible
equal protection violation.2
Rehabilitation Act and ADA
As the Fifth Circuit has “equated liability standards under § 504 and the ADA,” the Court
evaluates Plaintiff’s claims under the statutes together. D.A. ex rel. Latasha A. v. Hous. Indep.
Sch. Dist., 629 F.3d 450, 453 (5th Cir. 2010). “A cause of action is stated under § 504 when it is
alleged that a school district has refused to provide reasonable accommodations for the
handicapped plaintiff to receive the full benefits of the school program.” Id. at 454 (citation
omitted). As such, “the statute requires intentional discrimination against a student on the basis
of his disability.” Id.
In this case, Plaintiff contends that the District violated Section 504 and the ADA when it
made J.B. take a test in the principal’s office after it learned of the bullying incident in the
bathroom. Docket No. 21 at 9. He argues that this remedy punished J.B. rather than the bullies.
That is not a refusal of an accommodation, however. The Plaintiff’s argument is only a “mere
Plaintiff may also state an equal protection claim if he alleges that his disparate treatment was motivated by an
illegitimate animus or ill-will by school officials. Shipp v. McMahon, 234 F. 3d 907, 916 (5th Cir. 2000). He,
however, has not sought this path through which to articulate his equal protection claim.
disagreement with the correctness of the educational services rendered to him” and “does not
state a claim for disability discrimination.” D.A., 629 F.3d at 455. Accordingly, both claims
under Section 504 and the ADA are dismissed.
C. State Law Claims
What remain are Plaintiff’s state law claims. In the Fifth Circuit, the “general rule” is that
“courts should decline supplemental jurisdiction [over state law claims] when all federal claims
are dismissed or otherwise eliminated from a case.” Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London v.
Warrantech Corp., 461 F.3d 568, 578 (5th Cir. 2006). Pursuant to this authority, the Court will
decline supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state-law causes of action.
For the reasons stated, Defendant’s Partial Motion to Dismiss is granted. Plaintiff’s
remaining state law claims are dismissed without prejudice for their refiling in state court.
SO ORDERED, this the 17th day of October, 2017.
s/ Carlton W. Reeves
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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