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Lisa Douglas Individually and As the Parent and Natural Guardian of K. E., A Minor v. Brookville Area School District and Karin Hetrick

December 20, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McVerry, J.


Pending before the Court is MOTION TO DISMISS PURSUANT TO RULE 12(b)(6) filed by Defendant Brookville Area School District (Doc. No. 11), with brief in support (Doc. No. 12), and PLAINTIFFS‟ RESPONSE AND BRIEF IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT BROOKVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT‟S MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. No. 16).

Plaintiff, Lisa Douglas, in her individual capacity, and as parent and natural guardian of her minor daughter, K.E., filed a Complaint against Defendant Brookville Area School District ("Defendant School District"), alleging in Count I a civil rights violation under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and, in Count II, a violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681, et seq. See Doc. No. 1. The claims generally stem from the period between November 2009 and March 2010 during which K.E., a 15 year old female student at the Brookville Area High School, was allegedly sexually assaulted by Defendant Karin Hetrick, a teacher and coach at the high school, on a continuing basis. Id.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a pleading which "states a claim for relief must contain .... (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The Rule further provides that "[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct" but "[n]o technical form is required." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d). "The touchstone of Rule 8(a)(2) is whether a complaint's statement of facts is adequate to suggest an entitlement to relief under the legal theory invoked and thereby put the defendant on notice of the nature of the plaintiff's claim." In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 2010 U.S.App. LEXIS 17107, *45-*46, n. 18 (3d Cir. Aug.16, 2010) ("Brokerage Antitrust"), citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 565, n. 10.

In the aftermath of Twombly and Iqbal, and the interpretation of those two cases by the United States Court of the Appeals for the Third Circuit in a series of precedential opinions, the pleading standards which allow a complaint to withstand a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) have taken on slightly new parameters. Beginning in Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224 (3d Cir.2008), the Court of Appeals noted, "After Twombly, "it is no longer sufficient to allege mere elements of a cause of action;‟ instead "a complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct.‟" Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233, quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563, n. 8 (alteration in original.) In its next important case to address the standard for motions to dismiss, Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203 (3d Cir.2009) the Court of Appeals noted that following Twombly and Iqbal, conclusory "bare-bones" allegations that "the defendant unlawfully harmed me" no longer suffice. A civil complaint must now include "sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, holding that a complaint which offers only "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." The Fowler court further directed that: after Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief. In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to show such an entitlement with its facts. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, "[w]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not shown-that the pleader is entitled to relief."

Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-211 (quotations and citations omitted.)

Thus, the current formulation of the standard of review for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) requires the court to determine if the plaintiff's claims are "plausible." "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." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949; see also Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir.2009); Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir.2010); and Bob v. Kuo, No. 10-1615, 2010 U.S.App. LEXIS 14965, *4 (3d Cir. July 20, 2010). "[W]hat suffices to withstand a motion to dismiss necessarily depends on substantive law and the elements of the specific claim asserted." Brokerage Antitrust, 2010 U.S.App. LEXIS 17107 at *46, n. 18. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Brokerage Antitrust, id. at *177, quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950.

The Third Circuit's latest summation of the standard is that "[w]e must accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, but we require more than mere assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Dawson v. Frias, CA No. 10-2200, 2010 U.S.App. LEXIS 21278, *2 (3d Cir. Oct. 14, 2010) (internal citations and quotations omitted.) "The assumption of truth does not apply, however, to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.‟" Bamigbade v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., Nos. 09-3868 and 09-4229, 2010 U.S.App. LEXIS 17033, *3-*4, 2010 WL 3096035 (3d Cir. Aug. 9, 2010), quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. "A complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits. The Supreme Court's formulation of the pleading standard in Twombly does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." McTernan v. City of York, 564 F.3d 636, 646 (3d Cir.2009) (internal quotations omitted.)


Defendant School District avers three bases for dismissal, each of which will be addressed in seriatim.

A.Claims brought in Plaintiff's individual capacity

According to the complaint, "As a direct and proximate result of the customs, practices and/or policies of the Brookville Area School District, Lisa Douglas has been required to provide medical treatment and counseling for K.E. and has been required to pay fees associated with such treatment and counseling." Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 27 & 30. Defendant School District argues that the claims brought by Plaintiff Lisa Douglas in her individual capacity should be dismissed for lack of standing. Doc. Nos. 11 & 12. More specifically, Defendant School Board contends that the individual claims brought by Plaintiff are essentially impermissible attempts to recover for the deprivation of the civil rights of a third party. See Doc. No. 12 at III.

Although styled as a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, Defendant‟s challenge that Plaintiff lacks standing is technically an attack on this Court's subject matter jurisdiction and is properly brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) (1). See Ballentine v. United States, 486 F.3d 806, 810 (3d Cir.2007). Because Defendant has raised the issue, the Court will treat it as one raised pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See Garcia v. Richard Stockton Coll. of N.J., 210 F.Supp.2d 545, 548 (D.N.J.2002) (treating defendant's motion to dismiss as one brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), despite defendant's description of motion as one being brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)).

Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the Court must accept as true all material allegations set forth in the complaint, and must construe those facts in favor of the nonmoving party. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975); Storino v. Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, 322 F.3d 293, 296 (3d Cir.2003). On a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, the plaintiff ""bears the burden of establishing‟ the elements of standing, and "each element must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation.‟" FOCUS v. Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, 75 F.3d 834, 838 (3d Cir.1996) (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992)). However, "general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct may suffice." Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c) permits a guardian, as a representative, to sue on behalf of a minor. Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(c). Defendant School District does not dispute Plaintiff Douglas‟ ability to bring the action on behalf of her minor daughter, K.E. Instead, Defendant School District challenges Plaintiff‟s ability to recover fees and expenses allegedly incurred by Douglas on behalf of K.E. as part of K.E.‟s medical treatment and counseling. The ability to pursue a claim for past and future medical expenses incurred or to be incurred by parents in the care of their injured child is well-settled law. See, e.g., Fields v. Graff, 784 F.Supp. 224 (ED Pa. 1992); Olivieri v. Adams, 280 F.Supp. 428 (E.D.Pa.1968); see also, Meisel v. Little, 407 Pa. 546, 180 ...

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