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Wilson v. Longview School District

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

October 19, 2017

CECILIA WILSON, as guardian for R.W., a minor; KEVIN and CECLIA WILSON, husband and wife; CANDACE DAWSON, as guardian for J.D.; CANDACE DAWSON, individually; CANDI LANDIS, as guardian for A.L., a minor; BRANDON BASTIN, as guardian for J.M.B., a minor, TESSA GREEN, as guardian for W.L., a minor; JANE DOES 1-10; and JOHN DOES 1-10, Plaintiffs,
LONGVIEW SCHOOL DISTRICT, a municipal corporation; MINT VALLEY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, a municipal corporation; JERRY STEIN, in his individual capacity; PATRICK KELLEY, in his official and individual capacity; SUZANNE CUSICK, in her official and individual capacity; NANCY BEAN, in her official and individual capacity; JANE DOES 1-0; and JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Partial Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 41) and Defendants' motion to strike (Dkt. 51). The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motions and the file herein.

         This case arises from Defendants' alleged use of a four foot by four foot isolation booth to discipline children attending Mint Valley Elementary School (“Mint Valley”) in Longview, Washington. Dkt. 22. In their Amended Complaint, filed June 29, 2016, Plaintiffs make claims for violations of their federal constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. They make claims under state law for violations of their Washington state constitutional rights (1) to “an education free of unreasonable interference from school district officials, ” and (2) “to equal access to their education without unreasonable restraint and isolation, ” and for the torts of negligence, outrage, and loss of consortium. Id. Plaintiffs seek damages and declaratory relief that the Defendants' conduct violated the federal constitution. Id., at 30. The Defendants now move for summary dismissal of all Plaintiffs' claims under the Washington Constitution, all Plaintiffs' claims for negligence, and Plaintiff R.W.'s claim for outrage. Dkt. 41. For the reasons provided below, the motion to strike (Dkt. 51) should be denied, and the motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. 41) should be granted, in part, and denied, in part.


         A. FACTS

         According to Plaintiffs, grade school children R.W., J.D., A.L., J.M.B., and W.L. were general education students (students without an individualized education plan (“IEP”)) who were placed in a four foot by four foot isolation booth for discipline purposes without parental consent. Dkts. (R.W.) 50, at 2; (J.D.) 49, at 2; (A.L.) 48, at 2; (J.M.B.) 46, at 2; (W.L.) 47, at 2. Mint Valley did not inform J.D., A.L., J.M.B. and W.L.'s parents/guardians that the children had been put in the isolation booth. Dkt. 49, at 2; 48, at 2; 46, at 2; 47, at 2. R.W.'s parents learned that he was put in the booth only after a general letter about the existence of the booth was sent home and R.W. told them. Dkt. 50, at 2. Each of the children assert that they suffered psychological injuries as a result. Dkt. 45-1, at 285-287.

         The isolation booth was in Mint Valley's Children's Learning Center (“CLC”) run by special education teacher Jerry Stein and also staffed by para-educator Kimberly Rambo. Dkt. 45-1, at 45. It was a solid structure, had two small “peep” holes in front, and a Plexiglas roof with small holes. Dkts. 45-1, at 51 and 218-219. Although the Washington Administrative Code (“WAC”) 392-172A-03130 (2) (c) (which was in effect at the time), required the enclosure to “permit continuous visual monitoring, ” the booth did not have a window. Id. It had curved padded walls. Dkt. 45-1, at 60. There was a handle on the door, and a bar that would rotate to hold the door closed. Dkt. 45-1, at 52. At least some of the time, Mr. Stein or others would not remain at the door, but would bar the door and walk away, contrary to WAC 392-172A-03130 (2) (e) which required “either the student be capable of releasing himself” or be “within the view of an adult.” Dkt. 45-1, at 52 and 164. Sometimes referred to as a “calming room” or “the box, ” the isolation booth was supposed to be used for children with IEPs that provided for its use and only with parental consent. Dkts. 42-1; 45-1, at 186.

         The CLC staff were given “Right Response” training. Dkt. 45-1, at 345. This training, according to Plaintiffs' expert, Christopher Jones, Ph.D., did not include any training on the use of an isolation booth. Dkt. 45-1, at 133-134. Ms. Rambo did not consider, nor was she educated, on the psychological impact that could result from placing a child in the booth. Dkt. 45-1, at 186-188.


         R.W. was placed in the isolation booth on October 31, 2012 while he was in the first grade. Dkt. 45-1, at 225. According to R.W., he was put into the booth because he kept “showing kids [his] pictures when [he] wasn't supposed to, ” and kept standing up (not sitting still). Dkt. 45-1, at 226-227. R.W. testified that Mr. Stein “pulled [him] by [his] arm, ” and at first R.W. “walked calmly, ” and entered the box “because [he] didn't want to get into trouble.” Id., at 227-228. R.W. thought it was “scary, ” so he began yelling and “cussing, ” and kicking at the door. Id., at 229.

         According to Ms. Rambo, R.W. was placed in the isolation booth because he was “out of control, running around the room, trying to run out of the room, kicking his shoes off, throwing his shoes, jumping off chairs, tipping chairs, throwing things, crawling under tables, kicking them up in the air.” Dkt. 42-1, at 9. Ms. Rambo states that Tracy Gould was in the CLC with her, but, Mr. Stein was not. Id. Ms. Rambo testified that she first attempted to “distract and derail” R.W. for around 20 minutes. Id., at 12. At one point, he went into the bathroom and started banging the stall door. Id. They told him to stop, and directed him to come out. Id. He came “charging out at [Ms. Gould], just hitting and kicking and just in a rage, just out of control again.” Id. Ms. Rambo was able to grab his hands and did a “seated chair hold, ” which was part of her Right Response training. Id. This was the first time she tried a chair hold, and while she was holding him, he was bucking, scratching, and squirming. Id., at 14. Ms. Gould testified that R.W. was trying to head butt Ms. Rambo, bite her, and was screaming. Dkt. 42-2, at 2. Thinking it was best “to separate and allow him to de-escalate, ” Ms. Rambo then got him into the booth. Dkt. 42-1, at 12. He continued to scream. Id. Principal Patrick Kelly entered the room and let R.W. out of the booth. Dkt. 42-2, at 4. According to Ms. Gould, R.W. began to run around the room again screaming, hitting and kicking. Id.

         His mother, Cecilia Wilson, testified that the school called her to come pick up R.W. Dkt. 45-1, at 236. When she and her husband, Kevin, arrived, someone in the office made a call and asked “if it was okay to send [them] down.” Id. Another woman met them, and as they approached the room, they could hear R.W. screaming. Id., at 237. As they entered, they could see Principal Kelly, holding R.W. with his arms back and R.W. was “screaming and yelling . . . his hair was all wet . . . and he had no shoes on.” Id., at 237-238. Ms. Wilson tried talking to R.W., who continued to scream, and when she asked about his shoes, a woman in the room said “R.W., were you jumping in puddles?” Id., at 239. R.W. responded, “No.” Id., at 250. Ms. Wilson noted that his socks and pants were wet and his shoes were dry. Id., at 245. Principal Kelly let R.W. go. Id., at 240. According to Mr. Wilson, when he asked “what happened, ” he was told R.W. “wouldn't listen” and they had to “hold him down.” Id., at 251. Mr. and Ms. Wilson left with R.W. before asking for more information because they were in shock. Id., at 240. After that, they had trouble getting R.W. to go to school, he kept complaining of stomachaches, etc. Id., at 242.

         Ms. Wilson testified that around a month later, a letter came home in R.W.'s backpack, which she began to read aloud. Dkt. 45-1, at 241. The letter indicated that there was an isolation booth at Mint Valley, which had been the “subject of Facebook posts and media inquires, ” due to a student having observed use of the booth, and having related those concerns to his family. Id., at 241 and 262. According to Ms. Wilson, R.W. stopped her, and told her for the first time that he was placed in the booth on Halloween. Id. R.W. related that it was “dark and that he could not get out, and he was screaming and yelling and hitting the walls trying to get out.” Id. at 255. Ms. Wilson called Principal Kelly, told him what R.W. related about being put in the booth, and Principal Kelly asked her to come in for a meeting. Id., at 243. There was media at the school. Id., at 245. When Mr. and Ms. Wilson walked into the meeting, Ms. Wilson asserts that Principal Kelly said, “I just want to let you guys know that I told him not to do it, it wasn't right for his treatment, and they did it anyways.” Id., at 245.


         J.D. testified that during his fourth grade year he was sent to Mr. Stein's class and put in the booth for talking too much with his friends. Dkt. 45-1, at 58. He states that as he arrived, he was not screaming or throwing a fit; they just “waved” him into the box. Dkt. 45-1, at 59-60 and 66. According to J.D., the second time he was put in the booth was when he made a mess eating a cupcake. Dkt. 45-1, at 62-63. He states that he was told to go to the bathroom, clean his face, which he did, and when he returned he saw the same man he had when he was put in the box the first time. Dkt. 45-1, at 63-64. J.D. just followed him out of the room and was “waved” into the box. Dkt. 45-1, at 64-66. He complied. Id. The man did not touch J.D. and they did not talk to one another. Id. J.D. was a fourth grade student at Mint Valley in the 2009-2010 school year. Dkt. 49, at 1.


         A.L. testified that while in the second grade, he was placed in the isolation box for: (1) around 30 minutes for playing tag, which was against the rules, (2) for bullying another student, and (3) for running out of the building because he was afraid of being put back in the isolation booth for making a mess, after another student tipped his lunch tray over. Dkt. 45-1, at 3-18. A.L.'s second grade year was in 2012-2013. Dkt. 48, at 1.

         A.L. told his mother, Candi Landis, that he was being placed in the booth on and off in the middle of November 2012. Dkt. 45-1, at 332-333. She called the school, and they said they'd have the principal call her back. Id., at 333. He did not do so until early December. Id. Ms. Landis attended a meeting, which at the school's request, included A.L. Id., at 334-335. A man questioned A.L., who was nervous and scared, about the booth. Id. After that, Ms. Landis transferred A.L. to a different school, telling Principal Kelly that A.L. “was scared to death of [Mint Valley].” Id., at 335.


         J.M.B. testified that she was sent to Mr. Stein's room to complete homework on occasion. Dkt. 45-1, at 28-29. Once, while in the first grade, she was sent to his room for talking, became upset, started screaming, tried to leave, and he put her in the booth. Dkt. 45-1, at 30-34. She was there about six minutes. Id., at 34. J.M.B. testified that she was placed in the box a second time for throwing a chair. Id., at 37. Her teacher called Mr. Stein, who walked her down to the special education room, and once he tried putting her in the booth, she started “yelling and screaming and . . . kicking the box.” Id., at 37-39. J.M.B. couldn't remember how long she was in the box, but thought it was longer than the first time. Id. She was at Mint Valley for the last half of first grade and first half of second grade in the calendar year 2012. Dkt. 46, at 2.


         W.L. testified that he was placed in the isolation box three times during his second grade year, which was in 2012-2013. Dkts. 45-1, at 156-157; 47, at 1. He was placed in the box when he would have a “blow out” over a test score or wanting to go to the bathroom and not being allowed to do so. Dkt. 45-1, at 156-157. W.L. was in the box anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Id. According to W.L., at one point, he was in Mr. Stein's room for other purposes, and realized that another child was in the box. Id., at ...

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