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Rodriguez v. Boston Public Schools

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 29, 2019

LUIS ANGEL RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
BOSTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS and SHAUN O. HARRISON, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. NO. 16)

          Leo T. Sorokin United States District Judge.

         Luis Angel Rodriguez is suing Boston Public Schools (“BPS”) and Shaun Harrison, a former BPS employee, for harm he suffered when Harrison solicited him to sell drugs to other students at school and later shot him in the back of the head. BPS has moved to dismiss all claims against it, which include the claims asserted against Harrison in his “official capacity.” Rodriguez opposed. For the reasons expressed herein, the motion to dismiss is ALLOWED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. FACTS[1]

         BPS operates the English High School in Boston, Massachusetts. Doc. No. 14 ¶ 6. From January to March 2015, BPS employed Harrison as Dean of Academies at the English High School, where he was responsible for “overseeing the education, supervision, and discipline” of the students. Id. ¶ 7. In the five years prior to hiring Harrison to the Dean of Academies position, BPS employed Harrison for contract work at Excel High School, as a Community Field Coordinator at Boston Green Academy, and as a paraprofessional at Orchard Gardens Pilot School. Id. ¶¶ 11, 14, 27.

         In November 2012, while Harrison was employed as a Community Field Coordinator at Boston Green Academy, a female student “reported Harrison for physically assaulting her and throwing an object at her.” Id. ¶ 15. Thereafter, “BPS disciplined Harrison by issuing him a written warning after an investigation of the incident by the Headmaster at Boston Green Academy.” Id. ¶ 16. “BPS issued Harrison another written warning during the same school year when the Headmaster at the Boston Green Academy found that Harrison made inappropriate statements to two [] students that involved Harrison endorsing recreational drug use with the students.” Id. ¶ 20. Harrison appealed this second warning to the Board of Trustees, but it was upheld. Id. ¶¶ 21, 22. At the end of the 2013-14 school year, the Boston Green Academy “dismissed Harrison for poor performance.”[2] Id. ¶ 23.

         Pursuant to his contract, BPS “immediately placed Harrison in a paraprofessional position at another school within the BPS system, the Orchard Greens Pilot School” for the 2014-15 school year. Id. ¶ 27. Harrison remained in that position from August 2014 until January 2015, when he was promoted to Dean of Academies at the English High School. Id. ¶ 28. Harrison was hired by the Headmaster, Assistant Headmaster, and two Deans of the English High School. Id. ¶ 30.

         The plaintiff, Rodriguez, was a freshman at the English High School during the 2013-14 school year.[3] Id. ¶ 34. In his role as Dean of Academies, Harrison was responsible for “identify[ing] appropriate supports for students with academic, behavioral, and emotional needs, ” including students with individualized education plans (“IEPs”). Id. ¶ 32. This included Rodriguez, who was granted an IEP in February 2014. Id. ¶ 34. In fact, “BPS assigned and directed Harrison to supervise and monitor Mr. Rodriguez at school, ” and instructed Rodriguez “to work with Harrison for ‘everything' while at school.” Id. ¶ 37.

         In January 2015, Rodriguez “experienced distraction and upset during his classes” following the physical attack of his girlfriend. Id. ¶¶ 42-43. He was consequently “referred by his teacher to meet one-on-one with Harrison for mentorship and counseling.” Id. ¶ 42. Thereafter, Rodriguez met with Harrison alone a number of times. Id. ¶¶ 45, 47. In one of these meetings, “Harrison asked Mr. Rodriguez if he wanted ‘to make money.'” Id. ¶ 48. When Rodriguez asked for clarification, Harrison “told Mr. Rodriguez he would supply drugs for Mr. Rodriguez to sell at school, and that's how they both could make money off the student population at the English High School.” Id. ¶ 50. The two entered into an agreement wherein Harrison provided Rodriguez with drugs which Rodriguez sold to other students at the school, giving the money from the sales to Harrison and receiving drugs as payment. Id. ¶¶ 50-55.

         At some point, Harrison accused Rodriguez of taking two bags of drugs, which Rodriguez denied. Id. ¶ 57. Harrison demanded that Rodriguez return all the drugs he had, and Rodriguez agreed to do so. Id. ¶ 58. That same day, Rodriguez was attacked by another student, which Rodriguez believed “to be connected to Harrison's demand to return his drugs made earlier.” Id. ¶ 62. After Rodriguez met with the principal and police about the fight, “Harrison approached him, urging Mr. Rodriguez to keep quiet about their illegal drug dealing.” Id. ¶ 63. When a female student approached the two during this conversation, Harrison “threatened her by saying ‘I will smack the shit out of you!'” Id. ¶ 65.

         Later the same day, Harrison texted Rodriguez to meet him at 7:00 that evening.[4] Id. ¶ 66. Rodriguez obliged, and when the two met, Harrison told Rodriguez “he was taking him to meet some girls, and to a party.” Id. ¶ 67. As the two were walking, “Harrison shot Mr. Rodriguez at close range in the back of the head, leaving Mr. Rodriguez to bleed to death, and then ran away.” Id. ¶ 68. Fortunately, Mr. Rodriguez did not die from his injuries. Id. ¶ 69. On May 31, 2018, Harrison was convicted of a number of crimes in state court arising from these events and is currently serving the resulting prison sentence. Doc. No. 18-2.

         On June 27, 2018, Rodriguez served the statutorily required presentment letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office and the Executive Officer of BPS. Doc. No. 14 ¶ 71. On January 17, 2019, Rodriguez filed a complaint in this Court. Doc. No. 1. After an initial motion to dismiss, Rodriguez amended his complaint, adding additional claims. Doc. No. 14. The amended complaint asserts eight claims against BPS: (1) Count I for violations of 42 U.S.C. §1983; (2) Count II for violations of Title IX; (3) Count III for violations of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; (4) Count IV for negligence; (5) Count V for negligent retention; (6) Count VI for negligent transfer; (7) Count VII for intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (8) Count VIII for negligent infliction of emotional distress.[5] Id. BPS moved to dismiss all claims in the amended complaint, as asserted against BPS or Harrison in his official capacity. Doc. No. 16. Rodriguez opposed. Doc. No. 18. The Court heard argument from the parties on July 19, 2019.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In evaluating a complaint, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993). The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions and “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A reviewing court must conduct a “context-specific” assessment of the pleadings by drawing on “its judicial experience and common sense.” Maldonado v. Fontanes, 568 F.3d 263, 269 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-64). A complaint must be dismissed for failure to state a claim when it lacks “factual allegations, either direct or inferential, respecting each material element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory.” Berner v. Delahanty, 129 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 1997).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Presentment

         BPS moves to dismiss the five tort claims against the City, Counts IV-VIII based on the fact that Rodriguez did not make presentment until June 27, 2018, which BPS argues is outside the two-year requirement under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”). Rodriguez argues that the two-year requirement under ...


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