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Gentry v. Mountain Home School District

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

December 1, 2017

JAMES GENTRY; KRISTI GENTRY; and PATRICK GENTRY PLAINTIFFS
v.
MOUNTAIN HOME SCHOOL DISTRICT DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Now pending before the Court are a Motion for Partial Dismissal (Doc. 19) and Brief in Support (Doc. 20), filed by Defendant Mountain Home School District ("MHSD"); a Response to the Motion (Doc. 22) and Brief in Support (Doc. 23), filed by Plaintiffs James, Kristi, and Patrick Gentry; and MHSD's Reply (Doc. 26). For the reasons set forth herein, the Motion for Partial Dismissal is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At the time of the events in the Amended Complaint (Doc. 18), Plaintiff Patrick Gentry was a student at Mountain Home High School with a 3.5 grade point average. He intended to attend college immediately after graduation in May of 2014. On January 20, 2014, Patrick and a female student named Jamie Voelkenks were seated in the auditorium, waiting for a school program to begin, when they began discussing a teacher who had given them each a "B" in his class. The two students thought they had deserved "A" grades. At some point, another student named Sarah Ross sat beside Patrick and Jamie and joined in their conversation about the teacher. Sarah suggested that they report the "unfair" teacher to the office and write the letter "B" in chalk on the teacher's car; Jamie suggested-with a chuckle-that they burn down the teacher's house; and Patrick jokingly suggested that they pour pigs' blood over the teacher's female daughter, just as in a scene from the horror movie Carrie.

         Someone in the auditorium must have overheard the students' comments and reported them to school officials. On January 22, 2014, Patrick was called to the office and interrogated by a Mountain Home police officer concerning the statements he had made in the auditorium about the teacher. Patrick's mother, Kristi, arrived at school and was advised that Patrick would be suspended for ten days, would be required to complete ten days of community service, and only after those requirements were completed would he be permitted to return to school. According to Patrick, he completed his community service hours and was told that a committee would need to review the matter and decide what would happen next. On February 7, 2014, Patrick and his parents learned that the review committee had decided that Patrick would not be allowed to return to the high school but would instead be transferred to the Guy Berry Alternative Learning Environment ("ALE"), a separate educational facility with its own courses, grades, and transcripts. Patrick asserts that Jamie's punishment was less severe than his, in that she was able to return to Mountain Home High School after performing her community service hours and finishing her period of suspension, and she was not forced to enroll at the ALE. Patrick was also not permitted to attend his high school prom.

         Patrick's parents disagreed with the committee's decision and refused to sign a form that stated that they agreed to the District's recommendations. Kristi and James Gentry requested a meeting with the school Superintendent to discuss the situation, but their request was denied. They contend that this refusal to allowthem to appeal the educational decision involving Patrick violated Patrick's and their right to due process. Mr. and Mrs. Gentry claim that they were forced to withdraw Patrick from MHSD and move to another school district so that Patrick could complete his pre-college level coursework and graduate on time. This disrupted his academic performance and extra-curricular activities he had been participating in at Mountain Home High School. In addition, the Amended Complaint claims that Patrick suffered humiliation, ridicule, embarrassment, and damage to his reputation.

         The claims for relief arise from alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title IX, as codified at 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 -1688. Plaintiffs allege that their constitutional rights were violated, specifically the right to liberty and property, the right to due process, and the right to equal protection under the law. They also claim that the statements Patrick made about his teacher did not constitute a true threat of violence and thus should have been protected by the First Amendment. The Title IX claim is that Patrick was intentionally discriminated against by MHSD because of his gender.

         MHSD has filed a motion to dismiss all claims asserted by Patrick's parents, Kristin and James Gentry, as they are not the true parties in interest, lack standing to pursue claims on Patrick's behalf, and do not state claims for violations of law on their own behalf. The motion also asks that Plaintiffs' claim for injunctive relief against MHSD be stricken as moot, since Patrick has now graduated from high school and will not be subject to any decision-making by that entity in the future. Lastly, the motion asserts that the Title IX and Equal Protection claims should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) because Plaintiffs have failed to state facts to show MHSD intentionally discriminated against him due to his gender.

         In the Plaintiffs' response to the motion, they agree that Kristi and James Gentry's claims should be dismissed without prejudice. As for the claim for injunctive relief against MHSD, they agree that Patrick is no longer a high school student and has now graduated; but they object to dismissing the request for injunctive relief because they contend the issue is not yet ripe. Finally, as to the Title IX and Equal Protection claims, they believe they have stated enough facts to survive dismissal. Below, the Court will consider these arguments in turn.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a pleading must provide "a short and plain statement of the claim that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The purpose of this requirement is to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The Court must accept as true all factual allegations set forth in the Complaint by the plaintiff, drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Ashley Cty., Ark. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009).

         However, the complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertions' devoid of 'further factual enhancement."' Id. In other words, "the pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Dismissal of ...


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