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Henderson v. Killeen Independent School District

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

December 16, 2013

ALAINA HENDERSON
v.
KILLEEN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, BY AND THROUGH ITS BOARD OF TRUSTEES, AND JACQUELINE LUNDY, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS POLICE OFFICER FOR KILLEEN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

ANDREW W. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court are: Defendant Killeen Independent School District's Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), filed on August 14, 2013 (Dkt. # 10);[1] Plaintiff's Response, filed on August 28, 2013 (Dkt. # 12); and Defendant's Reply, filed on September 4, 2013 (Dkt. # 14). The undersigned submits this Report and Recommendation to the United States District Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 1(h) of Appendix C of the Local Court Rules of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Local Rules for the Assignment of Duties to United States Magistrate Judges.

I. GENERAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Alaina Henderson ("Henderson"), a former high school student at Ellison High School, has brought this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Killeen Independent School District ("KISD") and Jacqueline Lundy ("Lundy"), in her individual and official capacities as a police officer for KISD.[2] Henderson alleges that Defendant Lundy, a police officer for KISD, used excessive force on her in violation of rights under the United States Constitution on two separate occasions. Specifically, on September 13, 2011, Henderson claims that after she finished cheerleader practice, she attempted to re-enter a school building where she was greeted by Lundy who refused to let her back in to the school because Henderson did not have her school ID with her. Henderson alleges that before she could retrieve her bag (with her school ID in it), Lundy "physically grabbed and assaulted Plaintiff" and then shoved her through heavy school doors. Henderson claims to have been injured and bruised as a result of this alleged use of force. Plaintiff's First Amended Original Complaint ¶ 14. Due to the incident, Henderson was suspended from school. On December 7, 2012, Henderson claims that Lundy used excessive force against her again, this time when Lundy attempted to break up a fight between some students. During the incident, Henderson alleges that Lundy "attacked and grabbed Plaintiff from behind by the hood attached to Plaintiff's sweatshirt" causing her to choke. Plaintiff's First Amended Original Complaint ¶ 19. Henderson further alleges that Lundy then confiscated her school ID and threatened to arrest her. Henderson was again suspended from school.

Based on these allegations, Henderson's § 1983 lawsuit alleges excessive force and state law claims for assault and battery against Lundy, in her official and individual capacities, as well as a § 1983 claim against KISD based on Defendant Lundy's conduct. KISD moves to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Henderson has failed to allege sufficient facts to sustain a § 1983 cause of action against it.[3]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, "[t]he court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the [nonmovant]." In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted), cert. denied, 552 U.S. 1182 (2008). To survive the motion, a nonmovant must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "The court's task is to determine whether the plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim that is plausible, not to evaluate the plaintiff's likelihood of success." Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 555. "A claim has facial plausibility when the [nonmovant] pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the [movant] is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), "in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and ellipsis omitted). Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, the "showing" contemplated by Rule 8 requires the plaintiff to do more than simply allege legal conclusions or recite the elements of a cause of action. See Id. at 555 & n. 3. Thus, while a court must accept all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, it need not credit bare legal conclusions that are unsupported by any factual underpinnings. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 ("While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations").

III. ANALYSIS

A. School District Liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State... 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 redress...

42 U.S.C. § 1983. "A municipality or other local government may be liable under this section if the governmental body itself subjects' a person to a deprivation of rights or causes' a person to be subjected' to such deprivation." Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011) (quoting Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978)). However, under § 1983, local governments are responsible only for "their own illegal acts, " and "are not vicariously liable under § 1983 for their employee's actions." Connick, 131 S.Ct. at 1359 (internal citations omitted). Plaintiffs seeking to impose liability on local governments under § 1983 must prove that an official municipal policy caused their injury. Id. "Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government's lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law." Id. See also, Mc Conney v. City of Houston, 863 F.2d 1180, 1184 (5th Cir. 1989) ("[A] a policy may be either a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision that is officially adopted and promulgated by the municipality's governing body (or by one or more officials ...


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