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Ayala v. Houston Independent School District

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

January 22, 2018

HECTOR AYALA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE HOUSTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY F. ATLAS SENIOR UNITEJ2 STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This civil rights case is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) [Doc. # 48] filed by Defendant Houston Independent School District (“HISD”) as to the Title IX claim against it, and by Individual Defendants Harrison Peters, Justin Fuentes and Robert Scott Allen as to the equal protection claim against them.[1] Plaintiffs Hector Ayala and Itza Ayala, As Representatives of I.L., a Minor, filed a Response [Doc. # 49], and Defendants filed a Reply [Doc. # 50]. Having considered the full record and the applicable legal authorities, the Court grants the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         I.L. was a student at the High School of the Performing and Visual Arts (“HSPVA”), an HISD school. I.L. was on the HSPVA campus on the morning of August 15, 2014, for a program for incoming students. I.L., a rising tenth grader at the time, claims that a rising-senior male HSPVA student (“S.S.”) asked her to help him look for an amplifier. I.L. claims that S.S. placed his hand inside her pants when the two students were alone in a practice room. S.S. and I.L. were part of the same group of friends at school, and they had been exchanging text messages over the summer, with I.L. initially expressing an interest in becoming S.S.'s girlfriend. I.L. later sent a text message to S.S. stating that she did not want anyone in her life at that time, and S.S. responded “fine.”

         Later on August 15, 2014, another HSPVA student informed HSPVA school counselor Travis Springfield that I.L. was crying in a restroom. After speaking with I.L., Springfield informed HSPVA Principal Allen and HSPVA Assistant Principal Mercy Alonso-Rodriguez of the incident involving I.L. and S.S. Allen instructed Springfield to obtain a written statement from I.L. After I.L. completed her handwritten statement, Springfield asked I.L. if she and S.S. had any history together. I.L. informed Springfield that the two students had exchanged text messages over the summer, and Springfield reviewed the messages. Springfield telephoned I.L.'s parents and left a voicemail message for each of them. Both parents arrived at the school, where they spoke with HISD police officers.

         Meanwhile, Rodriguez questioned S.S. in Allen's presence until HISD police officers arrived and began questioning S.S. Rodriguez telephoned S.S.'s mother and asked her to come to the school. Rodriguez then spoke with I.L., who was in the nurse's office at the school.

         Allen, Rodriguez, and Springfield conferred and exchanged information. The text messages between I.L. and S.S., and a security video of the hallways outside the practice room where the encounter occurred, caused some uncertainty regarding whether the encounter had been consensual. As a result, it was decided to wait for the HISD police officers to complete their investigation before finalizing an appropriate disciplinary response.

         Although they were undecided regarding the appropriate discipline, the HSPVA officials believed there had been an encounter between the students and, therefore, wanted to keep I.L and S.S. apart during the investigation. Allen and Rodriguez met with Assistant Principal Larry Trout on Monday, August 18, 2014, and asked him to ensure that S.S. had no contact with I.L. Trout spoke with S.S. that same day and instructed him to have no contact whatsoever with I.L. Trout instructed S.S. that if he saw I.L. in the hallway, he should turn and go in the opposite direction. Trout instructed S.S. that he was not to be alone at any time with I.L. and that if he was in a room and I.L. entered, he was to leave the room immediately. Trout also explained these instructions to S.S.'s mother.

         Throughout the first semester of the 2014-15 school year, Trout would seek out S.S. at lunch, in the hallway, or after school to verify that he was following HSPVA's rule that S.S. avoid all contact with I.L. Trout also met with S.S. approximately once per month to question him about any contact with I.L. Trout did not observe or hear about any contact between the two students.

         Also during the fall semester, Rodriguez informed I.L. that she was available any time I.L. wanted or needed to talk. Whenever Rodriguez saw I.L. in the school hallway, she would ask I.L. how she was doing and I.L. always responded that she was fine.

         Springfield worked with I.L.'s parents during the fall semester regarding I.L.'s academic and attendance issues. At one point, I.L. informed Springfield that she had seen S.S. in the hallway and found it upsetting. She stated that there had been no contact, only that she had seen him. Springfield told I.L. that she could come to him any time that she felt upset.

         I.L. continued to suffer depression, anxiety, and epileptic seizures throughout the 2014-15 school year. On March 2, 2015, I.L.'s request for a transfer was granted, and I.L. began attending classes at Lamar High School.

         Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on August 15, 2016. After Plaintiffs filed multiple amended complaints and the Court ruled on two motions to dismiss, the only remaining claims are a Title IX discrimination claim against HISD and an equal protection claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Individual Defendants. Plaintiffs complain that HISD failed to conduct a proper investigation, and that no action was taken by HSPVA or HISD to “eliminate the hostile environment in which I.L. [then] found herself, to prevent its recurrence, or to address its effects.” Plaintiffs complain specifically that HSPVA failed to remove S.S. from the school or, at least, to preclude him from eating lunch or changing classes with any other students and failed to provide an escort for I.L. during the school day. Plaintiffs allege HISD violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 29 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., and that the Individual Defendants violated I.L.'s equal protection rights.

         After the close of discovery, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment. The Motion has been fully ...


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