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L.S. v. Tacoma School District

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

April 18, 2014

L.S., Plaintiff,
v.
TACOMA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. #29]

RONALD B. LEIGHTON, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Tacoma School District's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. #29). Plaintiff L.S. alleges that a classmate, F.W., stalked and then raped her in a bathroom while she was attending Mount Tahoma High School. L.S. claims that the School District knew F.W. posed a threat to her, yet failed to prevent the rape. L.S. brings claims against the School District for discrimination under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. ยง 1681(a)), and for negligence. The School District moves for Summary Judgment, claiming L.S. has not established actionable harassment under Title IX and that the School District's actions (or omissions) were reasonable under the circumstances.[1] Because material questions of fact preclude summary judgment, the School District's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

L.S. attended Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma. During her senior year, she befriended F.W. They both have cognitive impairments, so they attended special education classes. L.S. spent time with F.W. at school and outside of school. The two visited each other's houses, talked on the phone, and sent each other text messages.

F.W.'s behavior toward L.S. began to change during the year. Around January 2012, F.W. became increasingly infatuated with L.S. and wanted to be around her as much as possible. Even their special education teachers noticed. One teacher described F.W.'s behavior as taking it "a little far, " and that F.W. was "calling [L.S.] too much when she said not to and going over to the house when she said not to." L.S. complained to her teachers about this new unwanted attention.

Another teacher noticed that F.W.'s infatuation had made L.S. emotional on at least one occasion and she showed up to class crying. F.W. would leave his own classes and come to L.S.'s classes, or watch her through a window. Teachers were concerned and took steps to prevent F.W. from contacting L.S. A paraeducator would escort one of the two students in between classes so their paths would not cross. That winter, F.W. and F.W.'s parents met with his teachers to discuss his behavior. At the conference, the teachers told F.W. to stop calling L.S.

In March, F.W. threatened another classmate who he believed L.S. was dating. The administration suspended F.W. for one day. Terry Thayer, one of the students' teachers, was particularly concerned. She emailed Assistant Principal Robert Cooper about the incident. She wrote that F.W. was "VERY jealous" and had a "fatal attraction" to L.S. Thayer also told Cooper that several students had told her that F.W. groped L.S. on more than one occasion (behavior she described as "harassment").

Principal Paul Colgan met with L.S. the next day. L.S. told Colgan that she was concerned about F.W. That day, Thayer emailed F.W.'s other teachers, telling them that under no circumstances should F.W. and L.S. be together unsupervised: "Please DO not allow [F.W.] to leave your room.... He is obsessed with a girl and more time than not he is... following/watching her." Dkt. #35, Ex. B (emphasis in original).

On March 16, 2012, F.W. allegedly sent L.S. text messages stating "It's gonna happen!" throughout the day.[2] L.S. complained about it to her teacher. Later in the day, L.S. and F.W. were both in Thayer's sixth period class. F.W. was supposed to be in another class, but he had decided to attend class with L.S. instead. At some point, Thayer excused L.S. to use the restroom and L.S. left the classroom, unattended. While L.S. was out of the room, Thayer noticed that F.W. had also left the room. When L.S. was leaving the girls' bathroom, F.W. allegedly dragged her into the boys' bathroom and forcibly raped her. The administration "emergency expelled" F.W. and the police investigated.

L.S. sued the School District, claiming that Mount Tahoma should have known F.W. might harm her and that it did not do enough to prevent the alleged rape. The School District moves for summary judgment, arguing (1) that L.S. did not establish a prima facie Title IX harassment claim, and (2) that the School District was not negligent because its acts (or omissions) regarding L.S. and F.W. were reasonable under the circumstances.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact that would preclude summary judgment as a matter of law. Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, it is entitled to summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to present, by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file, "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is not sufficient." Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D Co., 68 F.3d 1216, 1221 (9th Cir. 1995). Factual disputes whose resolution would not affect the outcome of the suit are irrelevant to the consideration of a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. ...


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