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B.W. v. Vallivue School District No. 139

United States District Court, D. Idaho

May 31, 2018

B.W., through his guardian BRENDA WANN, Plaintiff,
v.
VALLIVUE SCHOOL DISTRICT No. 139, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER (DKT 4)

          CANDY W. DALE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court is a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by Plaintiff B.W., a minor, by and through his mother, Brenda Wann, against Defendant Vallivue School District No. 139. (Dkt. 4.) The parties filed responsive briefing, other materials, and sur-reply documents. The Court conducted a hearing on May 21, 2018, at which the parties appeared and presented their arguments. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the motion for preliminary injunction.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, B.W., seeks a preliminary injunction preventing the District from enforcing his expulsion from Ridgevue High School (Ridgevue), which is within Vallivue School District No. 139 (District). On February 28, 2018, the District expelled Plaintiff for one year based on his role in a bullying and harassment incident that took place on school grounds on February 9, 2018.

         On April 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint against the District asserting three claims. (Dkt. 1.) First, he claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 that the District violated his rights to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by failing to provide a fair pre-deprivation hearing. Specifically, he contends that the District admitted hearsay by introducing a discipline report at the meeting-without producing the witnesses whose statements helped form the basis for the report. Second, Plaintiff alleges Idaho Code Section 33-205 violates the Fourteenth Amendment and the Supremacy Clause, and seeks a declaratory judgment to that effect. Third, Plaintiff asserts the District violated Section 33-205 by failing to provide him the opportunity to cross-examine the adult faculty members who produced written statements related to the incident.[1]

         Plaintiff asserts that preliminary injunctive relief is necessary to prevent irreparable harm. Plaintiff argues the Court should issue an order with several components. First, order the District to lift the expulsion prior to June 1, 2018, so that Plaintiff can register for summer school at Ridgevue. Plaintiff contends he must attend summer school at Ridgevue, or another school in the area, to earn credits necessary to graduate on schedule-in May of 2019. Second, Plaintiff argues the Court should order the District to reenroll him with all privileges, including the privilege of playing interscholastic athletics, pending the outcome of this lawsuit. Plaintiff asserts this is necessary to prevent him from losing the opportunity to earn athletic scholarships. Although online courses may be available to Plaintiff through online learning academies, he asserts that some National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) member universities or colleges do not recognize online credits when determining a student's eligibility to play sports. Alternatively, Plaintiff suggests the Court could instead order the District to lift the expulsion as to summer school and then, in short order, hold a new disciplinary hearing regarding Plaintiff's role in the incident to determine the appropriate punishment for the 2018 through 2019 regular school year. (Dkt. 4-1 at 12-13.)

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         I. Incident Leading to Expulsion

         When the events at issue occurred, Plaintiff was a junior at Ridgevue. He actively participated in interscholastic athletics as a member of the school's football, baseball, and wrestling teams. (Dkt. 4-1 at 2.) When he was expelled, Plaintiff had a 3.36 grade point average and was enrolled in advanced placement classes in English and United States History. Id.

         The incident that led to Plaintiff's expulsion occurred the morning of February 9, 2018, after weight training practice for the football team.[2] Id. Three students, including Plaintiff, left the school in a car to get food. (Dkt. 6-4 at 3.) During the trip, Plaintiff told the victim, J.M., who was sitting in the backseat to “shut up” several times. Id. J.M. is a smaller person than Plaintiff. (Dkt. 6-3 at 3.) When the students returned to the school, Plaintiff tackled or held J.M. so he could not exit the car. (Dkt. 6-4 at 3.) Plaintiff also admitted to pinching and hitting J.M. while he was in the car. (Dkt. 6-2 at 3.) Eventually, Plaintiff let J.M. go and the three boys made their way to the locker room to shower and change. Id.

         Plaintiff was locked out for a short time by the other boys, who held the door to the locker room shut. Id. When Plaintiff was let in, he tackled J.M. to the floor. Id. While Plaintiff had him down, he jabbed or poked J.M.'s body several times with a key, including jabbing in or around the area of his rectum.[3] Id. This particular action was described in the briefing and materials as an “oil check.” Id. Although Plaintiff admits he jabbed J.M. with a key around the area of his buttocks or rectum, Plaintiff disputes that the key penetrated J.M.'s rectum. Plaintiff disputes also that he said the words -“oil check”- while jabbing J.M. with the key. Plaintiff states, instead, that he said J.M.'s “gas tank was empty.” Id.; (Dkt. 6-2 at 2-3.)

         J.M. eventually got up off the floor and ran out of the locker room. (Dkt. 6-4 at 4.) He returned, however, and Plaintiff tackled him again and, according to J.M., did another “oil check.” Id. J.M. again got up and ran to another locker room and hid in a stall. Id. He stayed there until he thought “the coast was clear” and went back into the previous locker room to get his things. Id. However, Plaintiff was waiting for him, and proceeded to pour shampoo over J.M.'s head. Id. Plaintiff asserts that the fact that J.M. returned to the locker room twice demonstrates he consented to Plaintiff's actions and was participating in common locker room horseplay. (Dkt. 23-2 at 3, 5.)

         One of the other three students took video of portions of these events with his cell phone. Plaintiff uploaded the video to Snapchat.[4] Id.; (Dkt. 6-4 at 13.) later than morning, Plaintiff approached Ryan Andreason, Assistant Football Coach, to show him the video. Coach Andreason told Plaintiff he had no interest in seeing the video but did relay information about his conversation with Plaintiff to Coach Tom Dewitz, Head Football Coach, over the weekend. (Dkt. 6-4 at 6.)

         On Monday morning, February 12, Coach Dewitz had J.M. come to the office of Neil Stutzman, Head Basketball Coach, so Coach Dewitz could ask J.M. about what happened in the locker room. Id. J.M. related the events set forth above to both coaches. After the conversation, and because the information provided to the coaches was of concern, they alerted Ridgevue administrators and wrote a joint report detailing the conversation. Id. at 5-6.

         In response to the information, according to District protocol, Ridgevue's Vice Principal, Jeremy Bergquist, pulled each involved student out of class that day to interview them and to take written statements. (Dkt. 26-1 at 2.) The students were separated and their cell phones were temporarily taken away to prevent collaborated responses. Ridgevue also obtained a statement from Coach Andreason regarding his conversation with Plaintiff about the Snapchat video. (Dkt. 6-4 at 8). In sum, the following statements or reports were taken: the joint report of the conversation with J.M., provided by Coaches Dewitz and Stutzman (Dkt. 6-4 at 5-6); the teacher/coach statement, provided by Coach Andreason; the victim statement, provided by J.M. (Dkt. 6-4 at 2-4); and three suspected offenders statements, provided by the two other involved students, and Plaintiff.[5] (Dkt. 6-4 at 9-15.)

         Based on the information provided in the statements, Ridgevue administration referred Plaintiff to the District Disciplinary Review Committee (DDRC) for an out-of-school suspension hearing. The DDRC is a committee created by the District's Board of Trustees to handle disciplinary matters. (Dkt. 19 at 5.) The hearing was set for the following day, February 13, 2018. (Dkt. 26-1 at 2-3.)

         II. Notice and Hearings

         Vice Principal Bergquist asserts he called Plaintiff's mother, Brenda Wann, three times on February 12, 2018, to notify her of the disciplinary proceeding and to discuss the investigation of the events of February 9. Id. Additionally, Julie Yamamoto, Principal of Ridgevue, drafted a letter to Ms. Wann, providing notice that the incident had been referred to the DDRC and that a hearing would be held the next day. In addition to the letter, Ms. Wann was provided with a Behavior Detail Report (Report), which is a file that documents any disciplinary event related to a particular student. The Report was updated to include a summary of the facts related to the charges against Plaintiff from the February 9 incident. In addition to the Report, Ms. Wann was provided a copy of the school policies at issue, Plaintiff's grades, and his attendance history. (Dkt. 19 at 13.) Ms. Wann picked up the letter and additional documents from Ridgevue's administration office the morning of February 13, 2018. (Dkt. 20-1 at 1-3.)

         The basis for the disciplinary hearing was described in the letter as “the sexual harassment and bullying/intimidation” of another student at the school. (Dkt. 6-1 at 1.) The letter detailed that Ms. Wann could request a continuance should the hearing date not provide a reasonable period to prepare. Id. Further, the letter set forth that Ms. Wann had the following rights during the hearing process: (1) the right to be represented by legal counsel; (2) the right to produce witnesses and submit evidence on [Plaintiff's] behalf; and (3) the right to cross-examine any adult witness who may appear against [Plaintiff]. Id.

         i. District Disciplinary Review Committee Hearing - February 13, 2018

         At the February 13, 2018 DDRC hearing, Ms. Wann acknowledged that she received advanced notice of the hearing, that she was notified of her son's disciplinary offenses, and that she understood she had the right to ask questions and ask for clarification throughout the hearing process. (Dkt. 6-2 at 2.) Ms. Wann affirmed also that there was no reason to postpone the hearing for her to be better prepared. Id. The following Behavior Detail Report was then read aloud by Vice Principle Bergquist to Ms. Wann, Plaintiff, and all other members of the DDRC:

Incident Details: 4 students (BW, MS, JM, KB) were in the locker room/parking lot area on 2.9.18 before school (after football workouts). KB was never in the parking lot. JM, MS and BW were in BW's vehicle after getting some food. JM and BW were having words back and forth and BW became physical with JM. JM is much smaller than BW/MS. Both BW and MS were reported to have been physically pinning down and punching JM (in the arm) repeatedly in the vehicle. The three students then proceeded to the locker room area and KB let them in the door. BW was locked out at this time and eventually let back in. When BW came into the locker room, he continued to be physically aggressive towards MS and JM. Statements were made that BW was messing around and [sic] may be typical of his behavior.
Eventually BW tackled JM down to the ground and continued to pin him down, using his key and jabbing in [sic] in various parts of the body. BW eventually probed JM in the buttocks where it has been reported that the key penetrated his rectum. At this point, BW or MS referred to the event as an “oil check.” Victim reports multiple incidents of penetration with the key. JM got up and ran out of the locker room. MS was recording the incident and send [sic] the footage to BW. KB was a witness. Moments later, after the students had taken a shower, BW went over to JM in the PE locker room and poured shampoo on his head.
Later that day the incident was on Snapchat and available for others to see. Victim stated that he saw the video on BW's phone.

(Dkt. 6-3 at 3.)

         Plaintiff and Ms. Wann were asked if the Report[6] was accurate. Plaintiff disputed two facts: that the key penetrated J.M.'s rectum, and that he said, “oil check.” (Dkt. 6-2 at 2). He instead stated he said J.M.'s “gas tank was empty.” Id. However, Plaintiff and Ms. Wann agreed that all other portions of the Report were accurate. The committee then asked Plaintiff to provide his own account of what happened. Id. at 3. Thereafter, he was questioned by members of the committee regarding particular details and asked whether he understood the impact of his actions. Plaintiff stated that he took full responsibility and that he would likely be scared if something similar happened to him. Id. Ms. Wann next gave a statement regarding her son's good character at home, within his school, and the community. Id. at 5. She also read a statement written by a Ridgevue staff member about Plaintiff's leadership qualities. Id.

         The DDRC decided to refer Plaintiff's case for a full expulsion hearing before the District's Administrative Review Team (DART), and set the hearing for February 20, 2018. The DDRC announced that Plaintiff remained on temporary out-of-school suspension until the expulsion hearing.

         ii. District Administrative Review Team Hearing - February 20, 2018

         At the February 20, 2018 DART hearing, Ms. Wann answered affirmatively when asked if she had received notice of the hearing, if she was notified of her son's disciplinary offenses, and if she understood the rights to ask questions and ask for clarification. (Dkt. 6-2 at 6.) She affirmed also that she was prepared for the hearing and there was no reason to postpone it on that basis. Id.

         The principal of Ridgevue, Ms. Yamamoto, then provided a packet to Ms. Wann, stating it was the same as the packet of documents provided prior to the DDRC hearing.[7]Ms. Yamamoto read aloud the same Behavior Detail Report read previously by Vice Principal Bergquist at the DDRC hearing. The hearing officer asked if everything in the report was correct. Plaintiff denied that the key penetrated J.M.'s rectum, yet admitted that he did jab J.M. with the key, and stated that he took full responsibility for his actions. Committee members asked Plaintiff additional questions, and Ms. Wann provided another statement regarding her son's character and his plans to make amends within the school and the community. Ms. Wann then read a statement posted on Facebook in 2017 by a Ridgevue staff member and an email from Coach Dewitz-both providing praise of Plaintiff. Finally, prior to ...


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