United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
OPINION AND ORDER
S. DAVIS, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss by
defendants School Board of the City of Chesapeake, Naomi
Dunbar, Dawn Cyr, Freddie Spellman, James Roberts, and Jeff
Bunn (collectively "Defendants"), pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), ECF No. 5, and a
Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint by plaintiffs
Javonte Smith and Lavone Smith (collectively
"Plaintiffs"), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 15(a)(2), ECF No. 23. After examining the briefs
and the record, the Court determines that oral argument is
unnecessary because the facts and legal contentions are
adequately presented, and oral argument would not aid in the
decisional process. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b); E.D. Va. Loc. R. 7
(J) . Thus, the Court DENIES Defendants'
request for a hearing.
reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiffs' claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is
GRANTED and Plaintiffs' remaining state
law claims are REMANDED to the Circuit Court
for the City of Chesapeake.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
11, 2016, plaintiff Javonte Smith ("Javonte") (who
was seventeen years old at the time) and other students were
participating in a game known as "Sharks &
Minnows" ("Game") during their physical
education class at Indian River High School ("Indian
River"), a public school operated by defendant School
Board of the City of Chesapeake ("Board"). Compl.
¶¶ 2, 16, ECF No. 1-2. The Game was a version of
tag that involved students acting as "sharks"
chasing other students acting as "minnows" as they
sprinted from one end of the basketball court in the
gymnasium to the other. Id. ¶¶ 16-17.
During the Game, Javonte acting as a "minnow" was
sprinting to one end of the court to avoid being tagged by a
student acting as a "shark." Id. ¶
21. In an effort to slow and stop himself once he reached the
end, Javonte extended his arms toward a wall of the
gymnasium, ultimately making physical contact with the wall.
Id. ¶¶ 21-22. The impact caused serious
and permanent injuries to both of Javonte's wrists.
Id. ¶¶ 21, 29, 31. In addition to the pain
and suffering caused by the injuries, Plaintiffs allege that
Javonte is now unable to perform occupational tasks that he
could have otherwise performed and is, thus, permanently
impaired in his earning capacity. Id. ¶ 31.
Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that Javonte's father,
plaintiff Lavone Smith ("Lavone"), incurred and
will continue to incur medical expenses on behalf of Javonte.
Id. ¶ 14.
Naomi Dunbar ("Dunbar"), the Principal of Indian
River at the time of the incident, had direct and supervisory
duties to protect the bodily integrity of the students,
including Javonte, and to set and follow school policies.
Id. ¶ 8. Defendants Dawn Cyr ("Cyr")
(a physical education teacher at Indian River), Freddie
Spellman ("Spellman") (Indian River's Athletic
Director), James Roberts (the Superintendent of Chesapeake
Schools), and C. Jeff Burm (the Chairman of the Chesapeake
School Board) were also charged with protecting the bodily
integrity of the students, including Javonte. Id.
¶ 9-12. On the day of the incident, Plaintiffs allege
that Javonte was under the care, custody, and control of all
of the Defendants. Id. ¶ 13. Prior to the
incident, the Defendants had actual and/or constructive
notice that the Game posed a risk of injury for students and
that the Game had, in fact, led to student injuries in the
past. Id. ¶ 17. Moreover, the Defendants knew
or should have known that, on the day of the incident, the
Game would have been more dangerous due to the number of
students playing. Id. Despite Defendants'
knowledge of the danger and the highly foreseeable risk of
injury, and despite the fact that they had discussed banning
the Game# none of the Defendants terminated the
Game or banned it on the day of Javonte's accident,
leading to the series of events described above. Id.
filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against
Defendants in the Circuit Court for the City of Chesapeake
alleging that Defendants violated Javonte's fundamental
right to bodily integrity. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.
Defendants then removed the suit to this Court, asserting
that federal jurisdiction was appropriate under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331 because Plaintiffs' claim arises under
federal law. Id. Defendants next filed the instant
motion and the accompanying brief in support. Defs. Mot., ECF
No. 5; Defs. Br., ECF No. 6. After the Court granted two
motions for an extension of time, Orders Granting Mot. for
Extension, ECF Nos. 17, 20, Plaintiffs filed a response, Pis.
Resp., ECF No. 21. Defendants then replied. Defs. Reply, ECF
Defendants filed their reply, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for
Leave to File an Amended Complaint, an accompanying brief in
support, and a Proposed Amended Complaint. Pis. Mot. for
Amended Compl., ECF No. 23; Pis. Br., ECF No. 24; Prop.
Amend. Compl., ECF No. 25. Following Plaintiffs' request
for leave to amend, Defendants filed a request for a hearing,
Defs. Request, ECF No. 26, and a brief in opposition to
Plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend, Defs. Br. in Opp.,
ECF No. 27. Having been fully briefed this matter is now ripe
Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review permits dismissal when a
complaint fails "to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint fails to
state a claim if it does not allege "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)
. Though a complaint need not be detailed, the" [f
]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level." Id. at 555;
see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint
without resolving factual disputes, and a district court
"xmust accept as true all of the factual
allegations contained in the complaint' and 'draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.'"
Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep't v. Montgomery
Cty., 684 F.3d 462, 467 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting
E.I, du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus.,
Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011)). Although the
truth of the facts alleged is presumed, district courts are
not bound by the "legal conclusions drawn from the
facts" and "need not accept as true unwarranted
inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments."
E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213
F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000); see Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
"Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. At 678 (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In order to survive a
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint
must include 'more than an unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. "'
Johnson v. Am. Towers, LLC, 781 F.3d 693, 709 (4th
Cir. 2015) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
Section 1983 Claim
Basis for the Section 1983 Claim
42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff may pursue a private right
of action if a person, acting under color of state law,
deprives the plaintiff of rights secured by the United States
Constitution or conferred by a law of the United States.
Wahi v. Charleston Area Medical Center,
Inc., 562 F.3d 599, 615 (4th Cir. 2009).
1983 states, in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or
the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person
within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action
at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim is
brought pursuant to Javonte's right to bodily integrity,
which has been recognized as a liberty interest under the
Fourteenth Amendment. See Meeker v. Edmundson, 415
F.3d 317, 323-24 (4th Cir. 2005). Plaintiffs argue that
Javonte's constitutional right to bodily integrity was
violated when Defendants allowed him and his classmates to
play the Game because Defendants were deliberately
indifferent to the risk of injury.
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
provides that a state shall not "deprive any person of
life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. This clause recognizes two
distinct categories of rights - procedural rights and
substantive rights. See, e.g., Weller v.
Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir.
1990). While procedural due process simply guarantees fair
procedures (typically notice and opportunity to be heard),
Mora v. City of Gaithersburg, 519 F.3d 216, 230 (4th
Cir. 2008), substantive due process protections guard against
*state action so arbitrary and irrational, so unjustified by
any circumstance or governmental interest, as to be literally
incapable of avoidance by any pre-deprivation procedural
protections or of adequate rectification by any
post-deprivation state remedies." Rucker v. Harford
Cnty., 946 F.2d 278, 281 (4th Cir. 1991).
Plaintiffs' claim falls within the substantive due
Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause protects a set
of interests - life, liberty, and property - that are also
protected by state tort law. Together with § 1983, then,
there is some risk of the Clause supplanting state tort law
in almost any suit alleging that a local official has caused
harm." Waybright, 528 F.3d at 204. The Supreme
Court has therefore taken a cautious approach to such claims.
Id. In distinguishing between actions that rise to
the level of a constitutional injury and those that are more
akin to a state tort action, the Supreme Court has observed
that the Clause, at its core, "combats 'arbitrary
action' of government." Id. (quoting
County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 845
(1998)). It does not apply to ordinary governmental neglect,
bad policy or inaction, but rather "only the most
egregious official conduct can be said to be arbitrary in the
constitutional sense." Id. (citation omitted).
standard is high because "[i]n case after case, the
Supreme Court has . . . spurned any approach to the
Fourteenth Amendment that would make itxa
font of tort law to be superimposed upon whatever systems may
already be administered by the States.'"
Id. (quoting Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693,
701 (1976))." [T] he due process guarantee does not
entail a body of constitutional law imposing liability
whenever someone cloaked with state authority causes
harm," Lewis, 523 U.S. at 848, and therefore,
the Due Process Clause should not be "interpreted to
impose federal duties that are analogous to those
traditionally imposed by state tort law." Collins v.
City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 128 (1992).
Fourth Circuit noted in Waybright, two guiding
principles can be gleaned from Supreme Court jurisprudence
regarding the reach of the Due Process Clause. First,
meritorious due process claims are those that "involv[e]
a certain sense of constitutional magnitude."
Waybright, 528 F.3d at 204. Since "applying the
Clause to the ordinary run of governmental neglect, inaction,
and bad policy would diminish it," the courts should
apply the Due Process Clause to cases that involve
"'only the most egregious official
conduct.'" Id. (quoting Lewis, 523
U.S. at 846) . Second, the Fourth Circuit notes that every
extension of the Due Process Clause necessarily implicates a
"concern for the authority of state governments over
areas traditionally assigned to state law." Id.
at 205." [D]ecisions about how to allocate resources in
state government * involve a host of policy choices that ...