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Ryburn v. Giddings Independent School District

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

August 31, 2017

JESSICA RYBURN, as next friend of L.W., Plaintiff,



         Before the Court is Defendant Giddings Independent School District's Second Amended Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. 14). Having reviewed the pleadings, the parties' arguments, and the governing law, the Court issues the following order.


         Plaintiff Jessica Ryburn brings this action on behalf of L.W., her minor son. L.W. was previously a student athlete at a middle school within Defendant Giddings Independent School District (“the District”). The claims here arise from an injury L.W. sustained while engaged in an exercise called “mat drills” at the direction of his coach.

         Plaintiff alleges that it was common practice for the District's athletic department to direct male student athletes to engage in mat drills.[1] The exercise involves two students “on all fours on the mat going at each other until one is pinned or knocked off the mat.” (2d Am. Compl., Dkt. 11, ¶ 41). These drills are purportedly dangerous. A student sustained a serious ankle injury one year before L.W.'s injury, and a second student, A.B., had his braces knocked out during these drills. (Id. ¶ 45-46). A.B.'s mother approached the District's athletic director, Derek Fitzhenry, who ended the mat drills. However, the mat drills resumed once Fitzhenry left the district in 2014.

         On April 11, 2014, Coach Strickland, a District employee, directed L.W. to engage in mat drills. (Id. ¶ 48). Two other coaches were present. (Id.). Shortly before L.W. began the drill, another boy hit his head very hard during the exercise and was dazed by the impact. (Id. ¶ 49). Plaintiff asserts that, to her knowledge, the boy did not receive a concussion assessment. (Id.). When it was L.W.'s turn, he was sitting on the mat on his knees when his opponent lunged forward, spearing L.W. in the chest with his head. (Id. ¶ 50). The force of the blow knocked L.W. back off his knees and his head slammed down on the tile floor beyond the edge of the mat. (Id. ¶ 51). The impact caused L.W. to lose consciousness, coming to only when another student slapped his face. (Id. ¶ 52). Regaining consciousness, L.W. told the coaches that his vision was spinning, yet the coaches did not assess him for a concussion but instead allowed L.W. to sit out the class period while the mat drills continued. (Id. ¶¶ 54-57).

         After the gym class, another student helped L.W. get to the school nurse, who provided him an ice pack and an Advil before sending him to class without assessing him for a concussion. (Id. ¶¶ 58-59). The nurse thereafter called Plaintiff at work to inform her about L.W.'s injury. (Id. ¶ 60). Plaintiff then directed L.W.'s grandmother to retrieve him from school and take him to the hospital. (Id. ¶ 62). After being assessed at the hospital, L.W. was diagnosed with a severe concussion and cerebral edema. (Id. ¶ 65). The brain injury has caused a host of other health problems: L.W. has experienced difficulty eating and sleeping, suffers from depression, anger, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and diminished cognitive capacity, among other problems. (Id. ¶ 71-91).

         Plaintiff approached L.W.'s coach a week after his injuries. She reports that the coach dismissively told her L.W. “just got his bell rung real good, ” and falsely claimed that L.W. had not lost consciousness. (Id. ¶¶ 67-68). This response was typical of the District's flippant attitude toward sports-related injuries, according to Plaintiff. Although the District's Board of Trustees approved an Athletic Concussion Plan in 2011, that plan was not easily accessible to students or parents on the District's website or in the student or parent handbooks. (Id. ¶¶ 28-33). Additionally, the District's Athletic Guide for the 2015-2016 school year provided little information regarding the proper handling of sports injuries and no information specific to concussions. (Id. ¶¶ 34-35). The sparse available information is noteworthy, according to Plaintiff, in light of state statutes and agency directives that policies and procedures be in place to deal with concussions. (See Id. ¶¶ 20-27).

         The failure to adequately implement these requirements has purportedly led to injuries other than L.W.'s. Plaintiff alleges that another student within the District suffered three concussions over the course of three football games in 2014 and 2015. (Id. ¶ 37). In each instance, the student was encouraged to continue playing. (Id.). After one concussion in 2015, the student was allegedly teased and, despite being disoriented and confused, was allowed to drive home. (Id.¶¶ 38-39).

         Plaintiff asserts causes of action under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., and 42 U.S.C § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that the District, through subjecting male students to inherently dangerous exercises, has deprived L.W. of an educational opportunity on the basis of his sex. Plaintiff further alleges that the District's failure to properly implement concussion policies or to train its employees to handle concussions has caused various violations of L.W.'s constitutional rights. More specifically, Plaintiff claims deprivations of L.W.'s rights to bodily integrity, education, medical care, and equal protection.


         When evaluating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) the complaint must be liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff and all facts pleaded therein must be taken as true. Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 mandates only that a pleading contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” this standard demands more than unadorned accusations, “labels and conclusions, ” “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Id. 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         The court must initially identify pleadings that are no more than legal conclusions not entitled to the assumption of truth, then assume the veracity of well-pleaded factual allegations and determine whether those allegations plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. If not, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]-that the pleader is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Throughout this process, the court “must consider the complaint in its entirety, as well as other sources courts ordinarily examine when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, in particular, documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).


         The Court first considers Plaintiff's Title IX claim before turning to the various constitutional claims.

         1.Title IX

         Title IX states, in pertinent part, that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . . .” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). Although the statute expressly recognizes only administrative enforcement of Title IX, the Supreme Court has held that ...

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