United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
C.M. and CATHERINE P. FERNANDEZ, on behalf of her minor daughter, C.M., Plaintiffs,
PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL, et al., Defendants.
RENÉE MARIE BUMB UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
C.M., a minor, and her mother, Catherine P. Fernandez
(together, the “Plaintiffs”) originally filed
this civil rights action and an application to proceed in
forma pauperis (“IFP”) on December 19, 2016
[Docket Nos. 1, 1-1]. On January 27, 2017, the Court granted
Plaintiffs' IFP application [Docket No. 3]. The Court
also screened Plaintiffs' Complaint, as required by 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), and issued an Opinion on January
27, 2017 [Docket No. 2] (the “January 2017
Opinion”), dismissing with prejudice all claims by
Plaintiffs against individual defendants John Bamber, Ida
Smith, and Kathleen Devlin (the “Individual
Defendants”), and dismissing without prejudice
Plaintiffs' claims against the Pemberton Township High
School District (the “School District”) and the
Pemberton Township Board of Education (together with the
School District, the “Pemberton Defendants”).
Court granted Plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint
remedying the deficiencies identified in its January 2017
Opinion, within thirty days. Plaintiffs timely requested an
extension of the time to amend the pleadings, which this
Court granted [Docket Nos. 4, 5]. On March 17, 2017,
Plaintiffs submitted an Amended Complaint [Docket No. 6].
Thereafter, on March 30, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a submission
entitled “Motion for Punitive Damages” [Docket
7]. The Court now screens Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and, for the
reasons set forth below, finds that the Amended Complaint
shall proceed. Additionally, the Court denies Plaintiffs'
Motion for Punitive Damages.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
underlying facts of this suit are recited in the January 2017
Opinion [Docket No. 2]. The Court incorporates the facts as
set forth in the January 2017 Opinion by reference, to the
extent those facts have been restated in the Amended
Complaint. The Court will nevertheless provide an overview of
the relevant factual and procedural background, as well the
new allegations included in the Amended Complaint.
C.M. is a high school student with Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”) enrolled at
Pemberton Township High School. Am. Compl. p. 5. Plaintiffs
allege that C.M. suffered a series of physical assaults and
sexual and gender harassment by other students. Id.
pp. 6-8. These alleged incidents include a student tripping
and injuring C.M., students punching C.M. in the stomach,
multiple unexplained sprains, and at least one occurrence of
sexual harassment by another student. Id. p. 6.
Plaintiffs allege that after notifying the school officials
of these incidents, the Pemberton Defendants did not properly
investigate the allegations, exhibiting deliberate
indifference to the matters. As a result, Plaintiffs allege
that the Pemberton Defendants violated C.M.'s civil
rights by depriving her of protection from an unsafe
educational environment and the ability to participate in
certain educational activities, such as after-school
tutoring. Id. pp. 17-20.
about June 25, 2015, Plaintiff Fernandez instituted a
complaint against the School District with the U.S.
Department of Education Office for Civil Rights
(“OCR”), alleging sex and disability
discrimination by the School District against C.M. on the
basis of its failure to adequately respond to Plaintiffs'
complaints. Id. p. 17.
considered the allegations in the context of Section 504 of
the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”),
as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794, Title II of the Americans
with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C.
§ 12131, et seq., and Title IX of the Education
Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), as amended, 20
U.S.C. § 1681. The OCR determined, as a preliminary
matter, that the School District failed to adequately respond
to Plaintiffs' allegations, of which the School District
was on notice, and that the School District's existing
and proposed anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies
did not comply with the requirements of Title IX, Section
504, or the ADA. OCR Determination, Am. Compl. pp. 26,
29-32. Following the OCR's determination, the
School District agreed to implement a resolution agreement to
address these concerns and to conduct a supplemental
investigation into the tripping incident, the results of
which were to be communicated to Plaintiff Fernandez.
Id. p. 29. Plaintiffs contend that the School
District has failed to comply with the resolution agreement.
Am. Compl. p. 9. The OCR also noted, “[t]he complainant
may have the right to file a private suit in federal court
whether or not OCR finds a violation.” OCR
Determination, Am. Compl. p. 33.
commenced the present action against the Pemberton Defendants
and three individuals on December 19, 2016, alleging
violations of Section 504, the ADA, and Title IX. After
reviewing the Complaint, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B), on January 27, 2017, the Court dismissed all
claims against the Individual Defendants with prejudice and
all claims against the Pemberton Defendants without prejudice
[Docket Nos. 2, 3]. Plaintiffs amended their pleadings on
March 17, 2017 [Docket No. 6].
STANDARD OF REVIEW
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), a district court must screen
a complaint filed by plaintiffs who are proceeding in
forma pauperis, and dismiss any claim that is frivolous
or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is
immune from such relief.
complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint must 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. 544, 570
(2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual conduct that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “While legal
conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they
must be supported by factual allegations.” Id.
at 679. 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.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d
203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009).
must liberally construe pleadings filed by pro se
litigants. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
(2007). If a complaint can be remedied by an amendment, a
district court may not dismiss the complaint with prejudice,
but must permit the amendment. Grayson v. Mayview State
Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002).