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Doe v. The League School of Greater Boston, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 21, 2017

JANE DOE, individually and as Mother and Next Friend of J.D., a Minor, Plaintiff,
v.
THE LEAGUE SCHOOL OF GREATER BOSTON, INC., FRANK GAGLIARDI, PATRICK FULLER, SEAN BERTONI, and DONNA GRIFFIN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          INDIRA TALWANI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jane Doe's disabled child, J.D., was placed at Defendant The League School of Greater Boston, Inc. (the “School”) for special education services. Doe alleges that a seventeen year-old residential student at the School showed J.D. pornographic material and sexually molested J.D., and that the School did not take proper action to protect J.D after learning of that conduct. Count I of the Complaint asserts that the School thereby violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). The School, arguing that it is not a recipient of federal funds, has moved to dismiss this Count for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Mot. Dismiss Count I of Pls.' Compl. [“Mot. Dismiss”] [#24]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.

         I. Facts as Alleged in the Complaint

         The School is a private day and residential school that provides special education services for students with autism spectrum disorder. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 10 [#1]. At the time of the events giving rise to this case, J.D. was an eleven-year-old disabled student with autism spectrum disorder, mood disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Id. ¶ 8. In January 2014, J.D.'s public school district placed him at the School to receive special education services in compliance with his Individualized Education Plan. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. In September 2014, J.D.'s placement changed from day student to residential student. Id. ¶ 11. J.D. lived in a school-operated home staffed by School employees twenty-four hours per day. Id. ¶¶ 12-13.

         In December 2014, School staff learned that A.B., a seventeen-year-old residential student living in the same residence as J.D., showed J.D. pornographic photographs and/or videos on A.B.'s portable PlayStation device. Id. ¶ 14. On December 19, 2014, Doe expressed concerns to the School that J.D. was living with older students and was being shown sexually explicit material. Id. ¶ 16. The School did not report A.B.'s conduct to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, did not remove A.B. from J.D.'s residential home, and did not take any other action to separate A.B. and J.D. Id. ¶ 17.

         In June 2015, J.D. reported to School staff that A.B. had exposed himself to J.D., had pulled down J.D.'s pants on multiple occasions, and had touched J.D.'s genitals. Id. ¶ 18. These events also occurred at the School-operated residence. Id. A.B., who admitted he had committed these acts, was removed from the residence but continued to attend the School. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. The School did not report these events to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. Id. ¶ 21.

         From the summer of 2015 to late September 2015, J.D. exhibited symptoms of severe emotional distress. Id. ¶¶ 22-24. On September 24, 2015, Doe met with School staff to discuss the extent of the molestation, and following that meeting, removed J.D. from the School. Id. ¶¶ 24-27. In October 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families reported to Doe that it had received reports of abuse. Id. ¶ 28.

         The Complaint alleges that J.D. has suffered physical injuries and severe emotional distress and was deprived of educational opportunities as a result of the School's failure to adequately protect J.D. Id. ¶¶ 37-46.

         II. Standard

         A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is properly allowed when the complaint does not contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 570 (2007)). The court considers the facts as alleged in the complaint. See Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2011). For the purposes of this motion, any well-pleaded, non-conclusory factual allegations are assumed true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the plaintiff's favor. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680-81 (stating that conclusory allegations are not entitled to a presumption of truth); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 581. Finally, the court will “determine whether the factual allegations are sufficient to support the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable.” Saldivar v. Racine, 818 F.3d 14, 18 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting Cardigan Mtn. Sch. v. N.H. Ins. Co., 787 F.3d 82, 84 (1st Cir. 2015)).

         III. Discussion

         Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex “under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §1681(a) (2012). A student who is the victim of sexual harassment by another student may have a claim against his or her school under Title IX. Davis v. Monroe Cty. Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 633 (1999). In order to state such a claim, Doe must allege: (1) that J.D. was “subject to severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive sexual harassment by a school peer”; (2) that the harassment caused J.D. “to be deprived of educational opportunities or benefits”; (3) that the School receives federal funds; (4) that the School knew of the harassment; (5) that the harassment occurred in one of the School's programs or activities; and (6) that the School “was deliberately indifferent to the harassment such that its response (or lack thereof) is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.” Porto v. Town of Tewksbury, 488 F.3d 67, 72-73 (1st Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). The School argues that it does not receive federal funds, and therefore that Doe cannot state a claim under Title IX.

         “Entities that receive federal assistance, whether directly or through an intermediary, are recipients within the meaning of Title IX . . . .” NCAA v. Smith, 525 U.S. 459, 468 (1999) [hereinafter Smith I]; Grove City Coll. v. Bell, 465 U.S. 555, 564 (1984). In Grove City College, the Court emphasized that the fact that the institution received funds indirectly did not matter. 465 U.S. at 570-72. Indeed, the Court noted that even Grove City College recognized “the problematic nature” of the distinction between direct and indirect funds that it was advancing:

Although its interpretation . . . logically would exclude from coverage under Title IX local school districts that receive federal funds through state educational agencies, see, e.g., 20 U.S.C. §§ 3801 et seq., Grove City wisely does not attempt to defend this result. In fact, the College concedes that “[b]ecause federal assistance is often passed through state agencies, this type of indirect assistance leads to Title IX jurisdiction over the education program or activity which ultimately receives the assistance.” [citation omitted] Grove City has ...

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