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Davis v. Town of Westwood

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 5, 2015

THOMAS DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF WESTWOOD, WESTWOOD PUBLIC SCHOOLS, WESTWOOD SCHOOL COMMITTEE, JOHN ANTONUCCI, EMILY PARKS, SEAN BEVAN and KARL FOGEL, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

DENISE J. CASPER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Thomas Davis ("Davis") filed this lawsuit against the Town of Westwood; the Westwood Public Schools; the Westwood School Committee; John Antonucci, the superintendent of the Westwood Public Schools; Emily Parks, the principal of Westwood High School; Sean Bevan, the assistant principal of Westwood High School; and Karl Fogel ("Fogel"), the athletic director at Westwood High School (collectively, the "Defendants"). D. 1-1 (the first amended complaint ("FAC")). In the FAC, Davis alleged that the Defendants violated his federal constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, defamed him, tortiously interfered with his contractual relations and negligently inflicted emotional distress. Id . ¶¶ 43-49, 50-53, 59-64. Davis further contends that Fogel committed assault and battery on him, id. ¶¶ 54-55, and that all the Defendants except for Fogel negligently retained Fogel in his position of athletic director, id. ¶¶ 56-58. Pursuant to a stipulation, Davis agreed to the dismissal with prejudice of his claims for violation of due process (Count I), negligent retention (Count V) and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count VII) as to all Defendants except Fogel. D. 20. Fogel has now moved to dismiss the claims against him. D. 11. Davis does not contest dismissal of his claims against Fogel for defamation (Count III) and for tortious interference with contractual relations (Count VI). For the reasons stated below, the Court ALLOWS Fogel's motion to dismiss as to the constitutional claims, without prejudice as to the equal protection claim which Davis may have leave to amend, and DENIES his motion as to the remaining claims against Fogel for assault and battery (Count IV) and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count VII).

II. Standard of Review

In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court will dismiss a complaint that fails to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). To state a plausible claim, a complaint is not required to contain detailed factual allegations, but it must recite facts sufficient 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)." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. "A pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Id . (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (alteration in original). A complaint must contain sufficient factual matter that, accepted as true, allows the Court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id . However, "[i]n determining whether a [pleading] crosses the plausibility threshold, the reviewing court [must] draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'... This context-specific inquiry does not demand a high degree of factual specificity.'" García-Catalán v. United States, 734 F.3d 100, 103 (1st Cir. 2013) (internal citations omitted).

III. Factual Background

The following factual allegations are drawn from the FAC and, as required, are accepted as true for this motion. Davis served as the head coach of the boys' cross country and track and field teams at Westwood High School from October 2009 until his termination on April 29, 2011. D. 1-1 ¶ 9. Members of both teams ran shirtless on a regular basis, a practice that was not barred by any rule. Id . ¶¶ 19, 23, 31. In March 2011, Fogel told Davis that some girls had complained that the boys were permitted to run shirtless. Id . ¶ 31. A few days later, Fogel allegedly "angrily approached and verbally assaulted" a member of one of the teams, apparently because he was running without a shirt. Id . ¶ 32.

On April 29, 2011, Davis told the members of the track and field team that they risked being barred from the team if they ran shirtless. Id . ¶ 35. Despite that admonition, one of the athletes removed his shirt during practice. Id . In response, Fogel allegedly "recklessly entered the track at full speed in his Westwood High School appointed golf cart" and confronted the athlete and then Davis. Id . "[I]n an abusive and uncontrollable manner, Fogel stormed at Davis, putting his chest to Davis's, while yelling and waving his hands around and spit leaving his mouth and landing on Davis's body." Id . Fogel then allegedly "yelled at the top of his lungs" that Davis was fired. Id . On May 2, 2011, Davis received a formal notice of termination of his employment. Id . ¶ 36.

IV. Procedural History

Davis instituted this action in Norfolk Superior Court. D. 8 at 1. The Defendants subsequently removed the suit to this Court. D. 1. The Court held a hearing on Fogel's pending motion to dismiss, D. 11, and took the matter under advisement. D. 27.

V. Discussion

A. Due Process Claim (Count I)

Since the filing of the complaint, Davis and all of the Defendants except Fogel stipulated to the dismissal of some claims, including Davis's due process claim (Count I). D. 20. Although this stipulation would appear to leave the due process claim in place as to Fogel, at the motion hearing, Davis's attorney clarified that Davis had dropped the due ...


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