A. B. v. Manchester School District SAU 37 et al
///ORDER granting in part and denying in part 19 Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant's motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 19 ) is granted as to Count X and the procedural due process claim in Count I, but is denied as to the substantive due process claim in Count I. As modified on summary judgment, Count I brings only a claim for violation of substantive due process. So Ordered by Judge Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr.(gla)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
B.A. Individually, and as
Parent and Next Friend of
Minor Child, J.F.
Civil No. 15-cv-433-JD
Opinion No. 2017 DNH 120
Manchester School District
SAU 37 and Donna M. Varney
O R D E R
B.A. brought suit in state court on her own behalf and on
behalf of her minor and disabled son, J.F., alleging federal and
state claims against the Manchester School District and a former
teacher in the school district, Donna M. Varney.
removed the case to this court.
judgment on Counts I and X.
Varney moves for summary
B.A. objects to summary judgment on
Count I, with clarification of her claim, but does not object to
summary judgment on Count X.
Varney requested oral argument on her motion for summary
In support, Varney states only that “[o]ral argument
will assist the Court in analyzing the parties’ arguments and in
applying the evidence obtained in discovery to those arguments.”
Varney’s general statement does not explain specifically what
assistance oral argument would provide in this case to take it
outside the general rule that motions will be decided without
Therefore, the motion was decided
without oral argument.
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party
“shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact
and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
“A genuine dispute is one that a
reasonable fact-finder could resolve in favor of either party
and a material fact is one that could affect the outcome of the
Flood v. Bank of Am. Corp., 780 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir.
The facts and reasonable inferences are taken in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
McGunigle v. City
of Quincy, 835 F.3d 192, 202 (1st Cir. 2016).
“On issues where
the movant does not have the burden of proof at trial, the
movant can succeed on summary judgment by showing ‘that there is
an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.’”
OneBeacon Am. Ins. Co. v. Commercial Union Assurance Co. of
Canada, 684 F.3d 237, 241 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)).
J.F. was eight years old when he was assigned to Donna
Varney’s special education classroom for the 2012-2013 school
year at Jewett Street School in Manchester.
The students in the
classroom had various disabilities that precluded them from
being integrated into the school’s general population.1
classroom also had two teaching assistants, Alicia Otis and
Varney was a full-time special education teacher at the
Jewett Street School.
She was certified in special education
and early childhood education.
Because of intrauterine exposure to a virus, J.F. was born
with weakness on the entire right side of his body, difficulty
with swallowing, and cerebral palsy.
He also developed a
When he was five years old, he was diagnosed
with a significant Pervasive Developmental Delay and was
identified as being on the autism spectrum.
He has a limited
ability to express himself through language.
J.F.’s impairment in the ability to chew and swallow causes
him to be at risk of choking and aspiration.
J.F. also has
muscle issues that make it difficult for him to walk and to
coordinate other functions such as eating.
with eating make him a slow and picky eater, and he has cycles
of better and poorer eating habits.
Since J.F. began to attend school in Manchester in 2007,
his Individualized Educational Plans (“IEPs”) have provided that
B.A. states that there were seven children in the classroom,
while Varney states that there were eight.
he needed to be watched during eating because he could choke or
gag on food.
Varney received all of J.F.’s school records
before the first day of school in August of 2012 and read the
records, including records that explained that J.F. was
medically fragile and had eating problems.
information, Varney knew that J.F. was at risk for choking and
gagging and that he was weak and unsteady on his feet.
J.F. had a seizure on the first day of school, and his
mother came to get him.
He was absent for a week after that
Early in September, Varney saw J.F. choke on a
cracker and realized that he needed more time to eat because of
the risk of choking.
J.F. was absent again later in September
because he had stopped eating and drinking.
During a meeting in September with J.F.’s mother and
pediatrician, Varney heard that J.F. could choke or over stuff
his mouth while eating.
There was no discussion of techniques
for getting J.F. to eat more.
Varney knew that J.F. could feed
himself and could clean up after eating.
She also knew that she
was not responsible for getting J.F. to eat more or to keep food
in his mouth.
She knew that there was nothing in J.F.’s IEP
that required use of feeding techniques.
J.F. and other students in the class ate a snack at 10:00
a.m. and ate again at noon.
Alicia Otis, one of the assistant
teachers in the classroom, saw Varney force feed J.F. five or
more times between September of 2012 and January of 2013.
Brianne Corey, the other assistant teacher, also saw Varney
force feed J.F.
Varney would force J.F.’s mouth open with her
hands and force food into J.F.’s mouth.
and screaming during this procedure.
J.F. would be crying
When J.F. tried to spit
out the food, Varney covered his mouth with her hand until he
Varney later admitted to the Manchester police that
her force feeding of J.F. was inappropriate.
Otis was concerned that Varney’s roughness would cause J.F.
to have a seizure.
avoid the abuse.
J.F. would try to rock himself to sleep to
The force feeding incidents so exhausted J.F.
that he would put his head on the desk afterwards and sleep.
In addition to the force feeding, Varney forced J.F. to
stand up during lunch if he refused to eat.
occurred more frequently than the force feeding, approximately
three or four days of each school week.
Varney would push on
J.F.’s back to get him to stand and would then take his chair
J.F. reacted with rocking or falling asleep or falling on
the floor and screaming and crying.
Varney also frequently yelled at J.F. to get him to eat.
Otis believed Varney yelled at J.F. to scare him into eating and
to show him that she was in charge.
Other staff members at the
Jewett Street School heard Varney yelling and asked Otis about
During the fall, Otis and Corey discussed their
disagreement with Varney’s tactics and what to do about it.
Another teacher complained to the principal that Varney was
overwhelmed and did not have control of her classroom.
school nurse had heard Varney yell at her students the year
before and complained to the principal about Varney’s behavior.
The school nurse continued to notice Varney’s unkind behavior
with her students during the 2012 to 2013 school year and
complained to the principal that Varney was yelling at J.F. to
get him to eat.
Corey noted that Varney’s yelling was so loud
it could be heard through the walls.
J.F. became withdrawn during the 2012-2013 school year and
did not act like himself.
He resisted going to school.
developed an aversion to food and would scream and turn away
when his mother approached with food.
He was hospitalized in
September of 2012 because of a lack of food.
J.F. was treated by physicians and behavioral specialists
to determine why his behavior had changed and why he would not
eat or drink.
Neither J.F.’s mother nor any of his health
providers knew about Varney’s force feeding and other conduct.
Because of the eating problems, J.F. had a feeding tube
surgically inserted at the end of January of 2013.
continued to attempt to force feed J.F. even after the feeding
tube was inserted.
In April of 2013, Varney was suspended pending an
investigation of her conduct with another student in her
The Manchester police were involved in the
investigation, and Varney was eventually charged with simple
assault based on her conduct with the other student.
Manchester police told J.F.’s mother about the force feeding
incidents with J.F.
During her deposition in this case, Varney
invoked the protection of the Fifth Amendment when asked about
her treatment of J.F.
J.F.’s doctor believes that the force feeding caused J.F.’s
aversion to eating.
Joseph Shrand, M.D., a board certified
child and adolescent psychiatrist, has provided his opinion that
J.F.’s change in eating patterns was the result of Varney’s
treatment of him.
Dr. Shrand also concludes that Varney’s
treatment caused J.F. to have post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dennis C. Tanner, Ph.D., an expert in speech and swallowing,
concluded that Varney’s treatment of J.F. caused the increase in
severity of J.F.’s eating and swallowing problems.
expected to require the feeding tube for the rest of his life.
Because B.A. does not object to summary judgment on her
claim in Count X, that claim is dismissed.
Varney also moves
for summary judgment on B.A.’s civil rights claims in Count I.
In support, Varney contends that B.A. cannot prove a violation
of either substantive or procedural due process and cannot base
claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), the Rehabilitation
Act, or the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
In response, B.A. explains that she did not bring claims in
Count I arising from the IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act, or the
Those claims are brought in other counts against the
B.A. does object to summary judgment on her
claims in Count I that Varney violated J.F.’s substantive and
procedural due process rights in the actions she took to force
J.F. to eat.
Substantive Due Process
To prove a substantive due process claim, a plaintiff must
show that he “suffered the deprivation of an established life,
liberty, or property interest, and that such deprivation
occurred through governmental action that shocks the
Najas Realty, LLC v. Seekonk Water Dist., 821 F.3d
134, 145 (1st Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The defendant’s actions “must be ‘so egregious, so outrageous,
that it may fairly be said to shock the contemporary
Irish v. Maine, 849 F.3d 521, 526 (1st Cir. 2017)
(quoting City of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 847 n.8
In circumstances where the defendant had “an
opportunity to reflect and make reasoned and rational decisions,
deliberately indifferent behavior may suffice” to meet the
standard for a substantive due process violation.
quotation marks omitted).
Varney contends that her conduct, as a matter of law, does
not meet the standard required for a substantive due process
In support, she cites cases in which teachers
mistreated students in a variety of ways, and courts found no
substantive due process violation.
Those cases also found that
the plaintiff did not suffer sufficient harm to support a
substantive due process claim.
In this case, however, B.A. has provided expert opinions to
support the level of harm she asserts J.F. has suffered as a
result of Varney’s force feeding and other actions related to
Based on that evidence, which is not contradicted by
Varney, B.A. raises a factual issue as to whether Varney caused
J.F.’s eating aversion, which required insertion of a feeding
He will need the feeding tube for the rest of his life.
In addition, the expert’s opinions are that Varney’s actions
caused J.F. to have serious psychological injury, including
post-traumatic stress disorder.
Therefore, the record in this
case supports a level of injury sufficient to support the
substantive due process claim.
Varney also contends that her actions were not the brutal
and inhumane conduct that would shock the conscience.
Varney force fed a disabled child who was at risk of
choking, gagging, and seizures; forced him to stand to eat when
his physical disabilities made that difficult; and yelled at him
to force him to eat.
Varney’s actions caused J.F. to scream and
cry and frightened him to the point that he would try to fall
asleep to avoid her.
According to the experts, Varney’s actions
caused serious and lasting physical and psychological harm.
Those actions could be conscience shocking within the
prohibition of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Procedural Due Process
The Fourteenth Amendment protects against the deprivation
of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law.
U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.
To establish a procedural due
process claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must prove that she “(1)
had a property interest of constitutional magnitude and (2) was
deprived of that property interest without due process of law.”
Miller v. Town of Wenham, 833 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2016).
Due Process Clause requires “certain procedures, such as notice
and a hearing, by which an individual can prove a substantive
entitlement to (or defend against a deprivation of) property.”
Nelson v. Colorado, 137 S. Ct. 1249, 1265 (2017).
The parties agree that J.F. had a protected property
interest in receiving a free and appropriate public education.
Varney contends that B.A. cannot show that Varney deprived J.F.
of the right to a free and appropriate public education without
In response, B.A. contends that Varney’s conduct
caused J.F. to miss school for treatment of the food aversion,
which Varney caused, and to miss school for the surgical implant
of the feeding tube.
B.A. contends that Varney’s conduct in
causing those problems was arbitrary but does not explain what
process was due before or after Varney acted as she did.
In other words, procedural due process claims address the
means the defendant should have taken, but did not take, to
protect the plaintiff’s property interest either before
deprivation or after deprivation.
For example, a student is
entitled to due process either before or after being suspended
Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 577 (1975).
process due depends on the extent of the student’s educational
deprivation, which for a ten-day suspension would be effective
notice and an informal hearing.
Here, however, assuming that Varney’s conduct caused J.F.
to miss school, she did not suspend J.F. or take any direct
action to prevent him from attending school.
As such, B.A. has
not shown that Varney took action that would trigger due process
In other words, there was no opportunity for notice or
a hearing, and those concepts are not relevant to the reasons
J.F. missed school.
Therefore, B.A. has not articulated a
cognizable procedural due process claim.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendant’s motion for
summary judgment (document no. 19) is granted as to Count X and
the procedural due process claim in Count I, but is denied as to
the substantive due process claim in Count I.
As modified on
summary judgment, Count I brings only a claim for violation of
substantive due process.
Joseph DiClerico, Jr.
United States District Judge
June 14, 2017
Erin J. M. Alarcon, Esq.
Mark S. Bodner, Esq.
Keith F. Diaz, Esq.
Robert J. Meagher, Esq.
Michael B. O’Shaughnessy, Esq.
James G. Walker, Esq.
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