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A.T. v. Everett School District

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

January 9, 2018

A.T., Plaintiff,
EVERETT SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.


          JAMES L. ROBART United States District Judge


         This matter comes before the court on Defendants Everett School District and Carol Whitehead's (collectively, "the District") first and second motions for summary judgment (1st MSJ (Dkt. # 57); 2d MSJ (Dkt. # 59)), and Defendant Craig Verver's motion for summary judgment (Verver MSJ (Dkt. #61)). A.T. opposes the motions (see 1st Resp. (Dkt. # 63); 2d Resp. (Dkt. # 69); Verver Resp. (Dkt. # 68)), and all Defendants have filed replies (see 1st Reply (Dkt. # 66); 2d Reply (Dkt. # 74); Verver Reply (Dkt. #77)). Having considered these submissions, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law, the court, considering itself fully advised, GRANTS the District's first motion for summary judgment (1st MS J) and GRANTS Mr. Verver's motion for summary judgment (Verver MS J). The court also DENIES the District's second motion for summary judgment (2d MS J) as moot. Accordingly, the court dismisses this case with prejudice.


         A.T.[1] attended Cascade High School in the Everett School District from 1999 to 2003. (1st Resp. at 6.) Mr. Verver was one of A.T.'s teachers during the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 school years. (Id. at 6; see also SAC (Dkt. # 28) ¶ 7.) A.T. was also a cabinet member of the National Honor Society, for which Mr. Verver served as a faculty adviser. (1st Resp. at 6.) During the 2001-2002 school year, Mr. Verver singled out A.T. in class, teased her, [2] and gave her special attention. (Id.; see also Cochran Decl. (Dkt. # 65) ¶ 15, Ex. N ("A.T. Interrogatories") at 202.) Mr. Verver told A.T. that she would need to take "calculated risks" to be exceptional enough to stand out for college admissions. (SAC ¶ 9.) At the end of the school year, Mr. Verver encouraged A.T. to run for Honor Society president, a position that required working closely with him in his capacity as faculty adviser. (Id. ¶ 10.) A.T. was elected Honor Society president for the following year, and Mr. Verver gave A.T. his personal contact information so that they could be in touch over the summer. (Id.; 1st Resp. at 6.)

         In October 2002, while A.T. was 17-years-old, A.T. attended a school dance. (A.T. Interrogatories at 198.) After the dance, A.T. stayed to help cleanup. (Id.) While there, Mr. Verver kept A.T. for hours and engaged her in conversation about their "unique relationship." (Id.) Mr. Verver also told A.T. that "he worried about his role in her life and was envious of her parents because A.T. might leave him after graduation while she would always be her parents' child." (SAC ¶ 11.) Mr. Verver expressed to A.T. that he was concerned about her future and protective of who she may choose to date or marry. (Id.) Mr. Verver also shared with A.T. that he was having marital problems. (A.T. Interrogatories at 198.) At the end of their conversation, Mr. Verver gave A.T. "a very long and close hug." (Id.) After this date, Mr. Verver frequently hugged A.T. closely when she left his classroom if she had been there on the weekends or after school. (Id. at 200.)

         Around two weeks after the school dance, Mr. Verver confided in A.T. that his wife was pregnant and that he was "crushed about the news." (Id. at 198-99.) A.T. also began confiding in Mr. Verver about her relationships with boys. (Id. at 199.) During one conversation, A.T. told Mr. Verver that she was uncomfortable being physical with her boyfriends. (Id.) In response, Mr. Verver sat next to A.T. on the couch in his classroom and asked, "[D]o you feel uncomfortable about me sitting here?" (Id.) He then put his hand on A.T.'s thigh and asked A.T. whether she would be able to say "no" if a date put his hand on her thigh. (Id.)

         A.T. turned 18 on January 5, 2003. (SAC ¶ 14.) Later that month, she visited Mr. Verver's classroom. (Id.) Mr. Verver greeted A.T. with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. (Id.; see also A.T. Interrogatories at 203.) The next time A.T. saw Mr. Verver, he asked her how she felt about the kiss. (A.T. Interrogatories at 203.) A.T. told Mr. Verver that it made her nervous. (Id.) Mr. Verver kissed her again on the cheek. (Id.)

         At the end of January 2003, A.T. was in Mr. Verver's classroom on a weekend. (Id. at 204.) Mr. Verver told A.T. that he was going to "steal a kiss" and kissed A.T. on the mouth. (Id.) A.T. became "physically upset" and "started trembling and twitching uncontrollably." (Id.) Mr. Verver told A.T. that he was going to "steal another kiss" and kissed her again. (Id.) Mr. Verver suggested that they move to the couch, and Mr. Verver kissed A.T. and tried to put his hands up her shirt, though A.T. resisted. (Id.) A.T. felt "humiliated" and "scared" about making Mr. Verver angry "if she said that wasn't what she wanted" and "blamed herself for making him have that misunderstanding." (Id. at 204-05.) When A.T. returned home that day, she "hid in her closet" and cried uncontrollably. (Id. at 205.) The next school day, Mr. Verver pulled A.T. aside before school started to discuss what had happened between them. (Id.) Mr. Verver told A.T. it could never happen again, but then pulled her in and kissed her, saying, "[W]ell, we both knew we couldn't help ourselves." (Id.)

         The sexual relationship between A.T. and Mr. Verver continued to escalate. (Id. at 205-06.) After school, on the weekends, and even sometimes during school hours, Mr. Verver would invite A.T. into his classroom, lock the door, and engage in intimate contact with A.T. (Id.) The sexual contact occurred two to three times a week for the rest of A.T.'s senior year, ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse. (Id. at 205-11.) The first time A.T. and Mr. Verver had sexual intercourse was on April 26, 2003. (Id. at 208.) A.T. went to Mr. Verver's classroom to gather supplies for a car wash. (Id.) Mr. Verver produced a condom and asked A.T. to put one on him. (Id.) A.T. hesitated, and Mr. Verver told her, "If you want me to wear this then you have to put it on me." (Id.) A.T. acquiesced, and the two had sexual intercourse. (Id.) After this encounter, Mr. Verver and A.T. had sex on multiple occasions in his classroom and in other locations at the school. (Id. at 210.)

         Throughout the 2002-2003 school year, teachers who frequently stopped by Mr. Verver's classroom after school and on the weekends would find A.T in his classroom. (SAC ¶ 19.) On some occasions, Mr. Verver's door was locked. (Id.) Upon Mr. Verver opening the door, teachers would find A.T. on his couch. (Id.) In addition, teachers also saw Mr. Verver give A.T. rides home from school. (Id.)

         A.T. graduated from high school in summer 2003, and began attending the University of Washington that fall. (1st Resp. at 8-9; A.T. Interrogatories at 213-14.) A.T. eventually graduated from the University of Washington in 2008, with bachelor's degrees in English and French. (Id.) While A.T. studied at the University of Washington, she and Mr. Verver continued their sexual relationship. (1st Resp. at 9.) On January 8, 2006, A.T. journaled about discussing the relationship with Mr. Verver: "[A]nd then we moved onto the topic of possible damage done and why we yet don't stop." (Leitch Deck ¶ 4, Ex. B at 2.)

         In fall 2008, AT. began graduate school at UCLA to pursue a PhD in French Studies. (1st Resp. at 9.) Near the end of 2009, A.T. was teaching an undergraduate French class when she had a "significant reaction" to being the teacher in a classroom of students. (Id.) A.T. subsequently fainted on campus, and her PhD supervisor advised her to see a therapist. (Id.) A.T. took her supervisor's advice and sought counseling at UCLA. (Id.)

         At the beginning of her therapy sessions, A.T. told the therapist that she had an "on and off relationship with an older married man. (Id. at 9-10.) On April 18, 2010, A.T. told the therapist that she felt guilty and frustrated with aspects of her relationship with Mr. Verver. (Id. at 10.) A.T. received her first psychological diagnosis at this session: Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood. (Id.)

         Around September 2011, A.T. moved abroad to Cambridge to continue her studies. (Id.) In June 2012, A.T. returned to UCLA to defend her dissertation prospectus. (Id.) On this trip, she traveled to Seattle to confront Mr. Verver and tell him that she no longer wanted a sexual relationship with him. (Id. at 10-11.) Mr. Verver agreed to stop the sexual relationship, but on the way home from dinner, Mr. Verver pulled over in an abandoned parking lot, undid his pants, and demanded oral sex. (A.T. Interrogatories at 219.) A.T. "numbly complied." (Id.) After Mr. Verver ejaculated, he "laughed, let out a satisfied sigh, and said ... 'now I guess it's okay if you go."' (Id.)

         After A.T. returned to Cambridge, she journaled extensively about the relationship. In a January 29, 2012, entry-when A.T. was 27-years-old-A.T. wrote that she "feel[s] damaged by [the] relationship." (Leitch Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. C at 3.) On September 12, 2012, A.T. wrote an email to her PhD supervisor at UCLA regarding the relationship and the grief it caused her. (Id. ¶ 7, Ex. E at 3.) A.T. explained in this email that, since she taught her French class in 2009, she "realized the power dynamics that had been operative ... [and] had a really difficult time teaching that whole year." (Id.) On September 27, 2012, A.T. called Mr. Verver. (Id. ¶ 9, Ex. G at 2-3.) A.T. detailed the phone call in her journal: "I think this is when I let loose a flood of my feelings and hurt and shame about everything ... about wanting to kill myself, about feeling like I had zero integrity . .. and that I felt groomed and manipulated, regardless of whether he meant to." (Id. at 3.)

         The next day, on September 28, 2012, A.T. went to Cambridge University Counseling Service. (Id.; see also Cochran Decl. ¶ 11, Ex. J ("Cambridge Counseling") at 146.) A.T. wrote her reason for seeking counseling services was because she was "getting out of a harmful relationship and [she] need[s] some help right now while [she's] feeling very fragile." (Cambridge Counseling at 146.) A.T. further explained:

The relationship was with a teacher, and it began while I was still in his class ... I have only just recently (like, for two months) allowed myself to think about this relationship as harmful, and admitting that has been incredibly painful. . . .This whole thing shuts me down fairly often (where I don't get out of bed or eat really for several days at a time); I used to think of harming myself, but not for the last two years.

(Id.) Around this time, the people A.T. confided in about the relationship described Mr. Verver's actions as "abuse" and "coercion" and "grooming." (Leitch Decl., Ex. D at 11.)

         While A.T. was at Cambridge, she had been exploring her sexual and gender identity. (1st Resp. at 10-11.) A.T. eventually began to identify as genderqueer and married another genderqueer individual, Jack, in October 2013. (Cochran Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. A ("A.T. Depo. Vol. I") at 4.)

         A.T. returned to the United States in 2013. (1st Resp. at 11.) On April 24, 2013, A.T. again sought therapy at UCLA. (Leitch Decl. ¶ 11, Ex. I at 3.) On the intake form, A.T. reported "ongoing issues around an abusive relationship, " and that she was concerned about "Anxiety, fears, or nervousness ... Depression ... [and] Sexual abuse or assault." (Id.) A.T. also wrote that she was previously in counseling "six months ago for the sexual abuse issues." (Id.) A.T. then met with the counselor, who noted A.T.'s diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood. (Id. at 5.)

         A.T. returned to UCLA counseling in May 2013, telling the therapist that she was in "recovery from a past power abusive relationship with [a] former teacher." (Leitch Decl. ¶ 12, Ex. J at 3.) A.T. also reported that she became aware of the power abusive nature of the relationship when she started a teaching role in graduate school (presumably referring to the 2009 French class). (Id.) The counselor noted that A.T. had symptoms of anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating, and reiterated A.T.'s diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood. (Id. at 3-4.)

         A.T. completed the fall 2013 quarter at UCLA, but then quit her PhD program because she "had a lot going on" and "never obtained secure housing." (1st Resp. at 11-12.) A.T. and Jack then moved to San Francisco where A.T. worked as a housekeeper. (Id. at 12-13.) In February 2015, A.T. had a double mastectomy to obtain a "more masculine torso profile." (Cochran Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. B at 62.)

         In fall 2015, A.T. went to two job fairs to consider becoming a substitute teacher and going back to school to earn a teaching certificate. (1st Resp. at 12.) At both events, A.T. was "unusually hypervigilant." (Id.) Looking around the room at these events, A.T. was overwhelmed with the thought that all of these people could be abusing or hurting students, and that A.T. becoming a teacher would make her complicit in the abuse. (Id.) At the second event, A.T. had a panic attack. (Id.) A.T. alleges that fall 2015:

[I]s when she realized that she had suffered an actual psychological injury due to Craig Verver's actions: When she realized that the physical and psychological consequences of his abuse prevented her from successfully pursuing the career that she had trained for, ...

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