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Mohamed v. Irving Independent School District

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

May 18, 2017

MOHAMED ELHASSAN MOHAMED, as next friend for A.M., a Minor, Plaintiff,


          Sam A. Lindsay United States District Judge.

         Before the court are: Defendant City of Irving's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8), filed October 6, 2016; Defendant Irving Independent School District's Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike (Doc. 10), filed October 11, 2016; Defendant Daniel Cummings's Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike (Doc. 11), filed October 11, 2016; and Defendant Irving Independent School District and Daniel Cummings's Joint Motion to Stay Discovery Pending Resolution of Motions to Dismiss (Doc. 22), filed December 1, 2016. Having considered the motions, responses, [1] replies, pleadings, record, and applicable law, the court grants Defendant City of Irving's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8); grants Defendant Irving Independent School District's Motion to Dismiss and denies as moot its Motion to Strike (Doc. 10); grants Defendant Daniel Cummings's Motion to Dismiss and denies as moot his Motion to Strike (Doc. 11); and denies as moot Defendant Irving Independent School District and Daniel Cummings's Joint Motion to Stay Discovery Pending Resolution of Motions to Dismiss (Doc. 22). Plaintiff will be permitted to file an amended pleading to the extent herein set forth.

         I. Background

         This is an action for monetary and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Irving Independent School District (“IISD”); Principal Daniel Cummings (“Principal Cummings”), sued in his individual capacity only; and the City of Irving (the “City”). Also, this is an action against the IISD for alleged violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, a Sudanese immigrant who is now a United States citizen, brings this lawsuit as next friend for his minor son, A.M., who is an African-American Muslim and a former student at McArthur High School (“McArthur”), a public high school in the IISD.[2]

         The lawsuit arises from A.M.'s September 14, 2015 arrest and three-day suspension from McArthur after he brought to school a homemade contraption containing wires and batteries that made a beeping sound. Plaintiff alleges that both the IISD and Principal Cummings violated A.M.'s Fourteenth Amendment constitutional right to equal protection of the laws when Principal Cummings imposed a three-day suspension from school to discipline A.M. after he brought the device to school. In addition to his section 1983 claims against the IISD and Principal Cummings, Plaintiff contends that the IISD violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (“Title VI”), by discriminating against him on the basis of his race and religion. Plaintiff has also sued the City, alleging violations of A.M.'s rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution in connection with his interrogation and arrest by police officers employed by the City.

         The court now sets forth the facts drawn from Plaintiff's Original Complaint (“Complaint”), the live pleading. See Compl. (Doc. 1). The court accepts all well-pleaded facts in the Complaint as true and views them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Sonnier v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 509 F.3d 673, 675 (5th Cir. 2007).

         A. Allegations Relating to September 14, 2015 Arrest and Suspension of A.M.

         On September 14, 2015, A.M., then a 14-year-old freshman, brought a homemade device to school in an “8 ½" by 5" Vaultz pencil box” that included “a 7 segment display, a pcb board, a 9 volt battery, some wires (from a media player that wasn't working), a 120-240 volt transformer, [and] a button board.” Compl. ¶ 53. A.M. showed the device to one of his teachers who advised him to keep it in his backpack. Id. ¶ 54. Later that same day, notwithstanding the teacher's instruction, A.M. showed the device to another student during a class. Id. The device made a beeping sound and caught the attention of his English teacher, Erin West (“Ms. West”). Id. A.M. showed Ms. West the device after class, and she asked: “[I]s that a bomb?” Id. A.M. told her it was an alarm clock. Id. Ms. West confiscated the device from A.M., and it was held in the administrative offices of the school for several hours. Id.

         Later that same day, Principal Cummings and City of Irving police officer Robin Howman (“Officer Howman”) removed A.M. from the classroom and escorted him to a room where four or more City police officers and a school counselor were waiting. Id. ¶ 56. A.M. was questioned for “almost an hour and a half by the Irving police, despite his repeated pleas for his parents.” Id. ¶¶ 57-58. A.M. repeatedly informed those present that the device was an alarm clock that he had made to show his English teacher, not a bomb. A.M. never stated the device was anything other than a clock, never threatened anyone with harm, never claimed to have made a bomb, and never attempted to scare or cause alarm to anyone. Id. ¶ 57. When he asked for his parents, he was told that he could not speak with them because he was in the middle of an interrogation. Id. ¶ 58. During the interrogation, Principal Cummings told A.M. to write a statement and “threatened to expel him if he did not.” Id. ¶ 59. A.M. was “terrified” and did not want to write anything. Id. Ultimately, because he was threatened and did not have anything to hide, he wrote in a statement that he made an alarm clock that the authorities thought was a bomb. Id.

         Despite A.M.'s insistence that the device was an alarm clock, and not a bomb, the police officers present in the room forcefully pulled him out of his chair, handcuffed him, and arrested him. Id. ¶ 60. The police officers took A.M. to the police station and “booked him as a criminal, with mug shots and fingerprinting-all still without his parents.” Id.

         Thereafter, A.M.'s father arrived at the police station and, as he waited to see his son, Officer Howman came to speak with him and informed him that A.M. had been arrested for taking a “hoax bomb” to school and that he was still being processed and fingerprinted. Id. ¶ 63. A.M.'s father tried to explain to Officer Howman that A.M. was interested in robotics and created things, but she was unwilling to listen to his explanations. Id. Officer Mitchell then arrived on the scene and repeated to A.M.'s father that A.M. had been arrested for brining a “hoax bomb” to school, and was similarly unwilling to listen to A.M.'s father's explanations. Id. ¶ 64. A.M.'s mother and sister arrived, and the family was able to see A.M. after processing. Id. ¶ 65. After seeing their son, they were instructed to leave the premises or risk having charges brought against them. Id. ¶ 67.

         Later that evening, A.M.'s father received an e-mail from Vice Principal Patrick Smith, stating that A.M. would be suspended from McArthur for three days for violating the Student Code of Conduct by possessing prohibited items. Id. ¶ 68. A.M. alleges that he was not in possession of any items prohibited by the Student Code of Conduct. Id. All charges against A.M. were ultimately dropped, and the City of Irving police chief admitted that the arrest of A.M. was a “mistake.” Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that the “United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the conduct of the [IISD], not just with respect to the treatment of [A.M.], but regarding its pattern of discrimination.” Id. ¶ 69. Plaintiff alleges that the investigation is ongoing. Id.

         B. Allegations Relating to Racism in the IISD

         According to the Complaint, the IISD has an “ugly history of race struggles, ” and the State of Texas and the IISD have a “history of discrimination against Muslims in Texas curriculum and schools.” Id. ¶ 9. Data from the Texas Education Agency (“TEA”) show racial disparities in student discipline in the IISD between 2007 and 2015. Id. ¶¶ 15-22.

         In 2008, the IISD's then-Superintendent entered into a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the Irving Education Coalition in which the IISD agreed that it would have the data showing racial disparities in student discipline and allegations of discrimination based on race analyzed. Id. ¶ 23. The IISD hired Dr. Mack Hines (“Dr. Hines”) “to provide professional development expertise to teachers on how to develop desired positive behavioral responses from African American students in the classroom.” Id. ¶ 24. Dr. Hines conducted a study and created a report titled “The Skin They're In.” Id. In the report, Dr. Hines “found that the most frequently cited area of racial disparity was school discipline practices” and that African-American students were “reprimanded differently and received suspensions more frequently.” Id. ¶ 26. Dr. Hines concluded that the findings from his study pointed to “dysconscious racism, ” which is “knowingly or unknowingly discriminating against people because of race.” Id. ¶ 28. In September 2011, the Board of Trustees met with Dr. Hines concerning his study and report and “reacted to the negative manner in which the report was received (particularly where it concluded there was an IISD ‘race war' between Hispanics and African-Americans) by determining that Dr. Hines went beyond the scope of what he was hired to do, did not use proper methodologies and they declined to implement his recommendations to address the problems.” Id. ¶ 30.

         In 2011, Dr. Steven Jones (“Dr. Jones”), a white male, campaigned for election on the IISD Board of Trustees against Nancy Jones, an African-American female incumbent, and during the campaign he made racially charged statements, including calling the IISD a “black town” and stating that “a vote for me is a vote against a black controlled school district.” Id. ¶ 29. After Dr. Jones was elected, he filed two unsubstantiated complaints against the IISD's then-Superintendent, Dr. Dana Bedden (“Dr. Bedden”), an African-American male, and declared his intent to get Dr. Bedden fired. Id. In 2013, the IISD investigated Dr. Jones, and he was ultimately censured by the Board of Trustees for violating numerous school policies, including forbidding persons in the IISD from speaking Spanish. Id. ¶¶ 32-34. Following his censure, there were new school board elections and Dr. Jones was successful in filling the school board with “like-minded people.” Id. ¶ 34.

         C. Allegations Relating to City's Implementation of the Criminal Alien Program

         In 2006, the City instituted the Criminal Alien Program (“CAP”), a program run by the Department of Homeland Security that “was meant to give local law enforcement officials access to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) information and personnel to facilitate the identification of serious, dangerous criminals and deport them.” Id. ¶ 36. A report by the University of California, Berkeley School of Law indicated that CAP “leads to rampant profiling and wrongful arrests.” Id. The report found that during the City of Irving Police Department's participation in CAP, there was a 150% increase in petty crimes arrests. Id. Plaintiff alleges that “Congress made clear that ICE should have no greater enforcement priority than to remove deportable aliens with serious criminal histories from the United States.” Id. Plaintiff further alleges that “the results of Irving's aggressive arrest policies didn't target serious criminals.” Id. Plaintiff contends that after the City of Irving Police Department implemented CAP, only 2% of ICE detainees were subject to felony charges, while 98% were charged with misdemeanor offenses. Id. Plaintiff alleges that “[a]s a result, Irving police officers engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional arrests.” Id.

         D. The Federal Lawsuit[3]

         On August 8, 2016, Plaintiff filed this federal action as next friend of his minor son, A.M. Plaintiff seeks an award of monetary damages against Principal Cummings, alleging that he subjected A.M. to discriminatory discipline based on race and religion when he removed A.M. from class, sought a written statement from A.M., and placed him on a temporary three-day suspension from school, thereby violating A.M.'s Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws. Plaintiff also seeks monetary damages against Defendant IISD under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Principal Cummings was acting pursuant to an unconstitutional custom or practice of discriminatory discipline against African-American students sanctioned by the IISD's Board of Trustees. In addition, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages against the IISD under Title VI, contending that A.M.'s suspension constituted unlawful discrimination based on race and religion by an entity receiving federal funds. As to the City, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages based on the City of Irving police officers' alleged violations of A.M.'s constitutionally protected rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments in connection with his interrogation and arrest. In addition to alleging that an historical pattern of discrimination by the City of Irving Police Department led to the A.M.'s unlawful interrogation and arrest, Plaintiff contends that the City is liable for Fourth Amendment violations based on its failure train and supervise its officers with respect to determining probable cause for arrest, that the inadequate training caused the alleged constitutional violations, and that the City's policymakers were deliberately indifferent to the need for additional training. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants are jointly and severally liable and, in addition to actual and compensatory damages, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, exemplary damages, attorney's fees, and costs.

         All Defendants have filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication.

         II. Applicable Legal Standard

         To defeat a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Reliable Consultants, Inc. v. Earle, 517 F.3d 738, 742 (5th Cir. 2008); Guidry v. American Pub. Life Ins. Co., 512 F.3d 177, 180 (5th Cir. 2007). A claim meets the plausibility test “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must set forth “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). The “[f]actual allegations of [a complaint] 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. (quotation marks, citations, and footnote omitted). When the allegations of the pleading do not allow the court to infer more than the mere possibility of wrongdoing, they fall short of showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Sonnier, 509 F.3d at 675; Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). In ruling on such a motion, the court cannot look beyond the pleadings. Id.; Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999). The pleadings include the complaint and any documents attached to it. Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2000). Likewise, “‘[d]ocuments that a defendant attaches to a motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to [the plaintiff's] claims.'” Id. (quoting Venture Assocs. Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993)). In this regard, a document that is part of the record but not referred to in a plaintiff's complaint and not attached to a motion to dismiss may not be considered by the court in ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion. Gines v. D.R. Horton, Inc., 699 F.3d 812, 820 & n.9 (5th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Further, it is well-established and ‘“clearly proper in deciding a 12(b)(6) motion [that a court may] take judicial notice of matters of public record.”' Funk v. Stryker Corp., 631 F.3d 777, 783 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Norris v. Hearst Trust, 500 F.3d 454, 461 n.9 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Cinel v. Connick, 15 F.3d 1338, 1343 n.6 (5th Cir. 1994)).

         The ultimate question in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is whether the complaint states a valid claim when it is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 313 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2002). While well-pleaded facts of a complaint are to be accepted as true, legal conclusions are not “entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citation omitted). Further, a court is not to strain to find inferences favorable to the plaintiff and is not to accept conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions, or legal conclusions. R2 Invs. LDC v. Phillips, 401 F.3d 638, 642 (5th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). The court does not evaluate the plaintiff's likelihood of success; instead, it only determines whether the plaintiff has pleaded a legally cognizable claim. United States ex rel. Riley v. St. Luke's Episcopal Hosp., 355 F.3d 370, 376 (5th Cir. 2004). Stated another way, when a court deals with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, its task is to test the sufficiency of the allegations contained in the pleadings to determine whether they are adequate enough to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Mann v. Adams Realty Co., 556 F.2d 288, 293 (5th Cir. 1977); Doe v. Hillsboro Indep. Sch. Dist., 81 F.3d 1395, 1401 (5th Cir. 1996), rev'd on other grounds, 113 F.3d 1412 (5th Cir. 1997) (en banc). Accordingly, denial of a 12(b)(6) motion has no bearing on whether a plaintiff ultimately establishes the necessary proof to prevail on a claim that withstands a 12(b)(6) challenge. Adams, 556 F.2d at 293.

         III. Analysis

         A. Section 1983 Claims

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a civil remedy in federal court for violations, under color of state law, of the rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Findeisen v. N.E. Indep. Sch. Dist., 749 F.2d 234, 236-37 (5th Cir. 1984).[4] It is well-established that school administrators, such as principals, are state actors for purposes of section 1983. See, e.g., Leffall v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 28 F.3d 521 (5th Cir. 1994) (DISD school principal treated as state actor by court). To state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must (1) allege a violation of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person or entity acting under color of state law. See Atteberry v. Nocona Gen. Hosp., 430 F.3d 245, 252-53 (5th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted); Doe v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 153 F.3d 211, 215 (5th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted).

         All Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's section 1983 claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The IISD argues that Plaintiff fails to allege conduct actionable against it pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The City contends that “Plaintiff[] fail[s] to allege sufficient facts to state facially plausible claims for municipal liability under Section 1983, both because Plaintiff[] failed to allege facts sufficient to establish any underlying constitutional violation and because Plaintiff[] fail[s] to establish a policy, custom, or practice of the City which caused any constitutional violations.” See Def. City of Irving's Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. 8). The City also argues that dismissal is warranted because Plaintiff fails to allege facts sufficient to meet the elements of their causes of action against the City. Principal Cummings asserts he is entitled to qualified immunity, as Plaintiff has failed to plead facts showing that he violated any of A.M.'s clearly established constitutional rights. The court will address the IISD's and the City's arguments in support of dismissal together, as they are both governmental entities for purposes of the court's section 1983 analysis.

         1.Section 1983 Claims Against the IISD and the City

         A governmental entity, such as the IISD or the City, can be sued and subjected to monetary damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 only if its official policy or custom causes a person to be deprived of a federally protected right. Board of the Cty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997); Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). “Parties can sue a municipality that has violated their constitutional rights ‘under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage.'” Advanced Tech. Bldg. Solutions, L.L.C. v. City of Jackson, 817 F.3d 163, 165 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 690). As governmental entities, the IISD and the City cannot be liable for civil rights violations under a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691; see also Barrow v. Greenville Indep. Sch. Dist., 480 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 2007) (“A school district has no vicarious liability under § 1983.”); Baskin v. Parker, 602 F.2d 1205, 1208 (5th Cir. 1979) (recognizing that “state vicarious liability doctrines are inapplicable in [section] 1983 suits.”).

         Official policy is defined as:

1. A policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision that is officially adopted and promulgated by the [school district or city] lawmaking officers or by an official to whom the lawmakers have delegated policy-making authority; or
2. A persistent, widespread practice of [school district or city] officials or employees which, although not authorized by officially adopted and promulgated policy, is so common and well-settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents [school district or city] policy. Actual or constructive knowledge of such custom must be attributable to the governing body of the [school district or city] or to an official to whom that body had delegated policy-making authority.

Eugene v. Alief Indep. Sch. Dist., 65 F.3d 1299, 1304 (5th Cir. 1995); Webster v. City of Houston, 735 F.2d 838, 841 (5th Cir. 1984) (en banc) (per curiam); Bennett v. City of Slidell, 735 F.2d 861, 862 (5th Cir. 1984) (en banc) (per curiam). To hold a municipality liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 “requires proof of three elements: a policymaker; an official policy; and a violation of constitutional rights whose moving force is the policy or custom.” Doe ex rel. Magee v. Covington Cty. Sch. Dist., 675 F.3d 849, 866 (5th Cir. 2012) (en banc).[5]

         Regardless of the required proof needed to prevail ultimately on a given claim, to survive a motion to dismiss, claims within the live pleading must contain sufficient factual allegations to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), as interpreted in Iqbal, supra, and Twombly, supra. When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must examine the factual allegations of the live pleading to determine whether asserted claims survive the motion. See Groden v. City of Dallas, 826 F.3d 280, 282-83 (5th Cir. 2016). In Groden, the Fifth Circuit clarified that to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, “a plaintiff is not required to single out the specific policymaker in his complaint.” Id. at 282. To sufficiently state a claim upon which relief can be granted to survive a motion to dismiss,

[a plaintiff need] only to plead facts-facts which establish that [a] challenged policy was promulgated or ratified by the city's policymaker. [The] complaint [does] not need to supply an answer to the legal question of the specific identity of the city's policymaker under the relevant statutory scheme.

Id. at 285 (original emphasis). Groden involved a claim against the City of Dallas for a “crackdown policy” of arresting vendors without probable cause “in retaliation for annoying-but-protected speech” in Dealey Plaza. Id. at 286. Because the plaintiff alleged that the city's official spokesman publically announced the new policy of cracking down on vendors in Dealey Plaza and gave media interviews describing the new policy, the Fifth Circuit found that the plaintiff had sufficiently pleaded promulgation or ratification by a policymaker even though he had not specifically identified one. See Id. at 286.

         Even though the operative pleading need not “supply an answer to the legal question of the specific identity of the city's policymaker under the relevant statutory scheme, ” which Plaintiff can determine in discovery, he needs to plead some “facts [that] establish that the challenged policy was ...

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