United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
S.W., a minor, by and through Next Friend, TAMMY WALSH, Plaintiff,
ROCKWOOD R-VI SCHOOL DISTRICT, ERIC KNOST, LISA COUNTS, CHARLES CROUTHER, and JENNIFER STRAUSER, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaintor, in the Alternative, for
Summary Judgment (Doc. 11). The Motion is fully briefed and
ready for disposition. The parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(c)(1) (Doc. 18). For the
following reasons, Defendants' to Dismiss Plaintiff's
Complaint or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (Doc.
11) will be GRANTED, in part and
DENIED, in part, and Plaintiff will be
permitted to amend her Complaint.
April 5, 2017, Plaintiff S.W., by and through Next Friend,
Tammy Walsh filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 and Missouri state law against Defendants Rockwood R-VI
School District (the “District”), Eric Knost
(“Knost”), the Superintendent of the District;
Lisa Counts (“Counts”), the Assistant
Superintendent of the District; Charles Crouther
(“Crouther”), the Principal at Eureka High School
(“EHS”); and Jennifer Strauser
(“Strauser”), the Associate Principal at EHS
(collectively “Defendants”) in St. Louis County
Circuit Court (Doc. 4). Defendants removed the case to the
United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri on May 10, 2017 (Doc. 1). Plaintiff fails to
indicate whether she sues Knost, Counts, Crouther, or
Strauser (collectively the “Individual
Defendants”) in their official or individual
capacities. Therefore, the Court will proceed as if the
Individual Defendants were sued in their official capacities
only. Artis v. Francis Howell N. Band Booster Ass'n,
Inc., 161 F.3d 1178, 1182 (8th Cir. 1998) (finding that
if a complaint fails to specifically name a public official
in his or her individual capacity, it is presumed he or she
is sued only in his official capacity). Plaintiff seeks money
damages and an expungement of S.W.'s education records of
the events at issue (Doc. 4 at ¶95).
raises the following claims against the Individual
Defendants: Counts I & II: Defamation (Defendant
Strauser); Count III: False Light Invasion of Privacy
(Defendants Crouther and Knost); Count IV: Prima Facie Tort
(Defendants Knost and Counts); Count V: Negligent Infliction
of Emotional Distress (All Individual Defendants); Counts VI
& VII: Section 1983 violations for property interest in
public education, property and liberty interests in his
reputation, liberty interest in being free of arbitrary and
capricious punishment, and procedural right to due process
(All Individual Defendants); and Count VIII: Civil Conspiracy
(All Individual Defendants). Plaintiff also raises a Section
1983 claim against the District (Count IX). Defendants now
move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint or, in the
alternative, for summary judgment (Doc. 11).
preliminary matter, the Court will treat Defendants'
Motion as filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's
complaint and alternatively for summary judgment but seek to
convert the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary
judgment (Doc. 11). Plaintiff also requested that the Motion
be treated as a Summary Judgment Motion (See Doc.
15). Further, as is the case here, “[i]f matters
outside the pleadings ‘are presented to and not
excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for
summary judgment under Rule 56.'” Zean v.
Fairview Health Servs., 858 F.3d 520, 526 (8th Cir.
2017) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d)).
judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue of material
fact exists in the case and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The initial burden
is placed on the moving party. City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa
v. Associated Elec. Co-op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th
Cir. 1988). If the record demonstrates that no genuine issue
of fact is in dispute, the burden then shifts to the
non-moving party, who must set forth affirmative evidence and
specific facts showing a genuine dispute on that issue.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249
(1986). In determining whether summary judgment is
appropriate in a particular case, the Court must view the
facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and
all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.
Benford v. Correctional Medical Services, No.
1:11CV121 JAR, 2012 WL 3871948, at *4 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 6,
2012) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 331). The
Court's function is not to weigh the evidence but to
determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.
Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249).
“Credibility determinations, the weighing of the
evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the
facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.”
Id. (quoting Torgerson v. City of
Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011)).
Relevant Undisputed Facts
February 10, 2016, S.W. brought two gothic masks to school so
that he and J.S. could wear them (Doc. 27 at ¶¶6,
13; Doc. 39 at ¶¶6, 13; Pl.'s Ex. D at ¶1;
Defs.' Ex. A at ¶8; Defs.' Ex. D at ¶9;
Defs.' Ex. E at ¶9; Defs.' Ex. F). S.W. wore the
mask for a period of time while walking the school hallway
before classes began (Doc. 27 at ¶13; Doc. 39 at
¶13; Pl.'s Ex. D at ¶3). At one point, S.W.
lowered his mask and spoke to at least one student (Doc. 27
at ¶7; Doc. 39 at ¶7; Pl.'s Ex. D at ¶7).
S.W. was not asked to remove the mask (Doc. 27 at ¶6;
Doc. 39 at ¶6; Pl.'s Ex. D at ¶¶4-5). The
school administration and the police were contacted about the
incident (Doc. 27 at ¶21; Doc. 39 at ¶21;
Defs.' Ex. A at ¶8; Defs.' Ex. D at ¶4;
Defs.' Ex. E at ¶¶2-3). S.W. spoke with police
that night (Doc. 27 at ¶29; Doc. 39 at ¶29;
Pl.'s Ex. D at ¶25; Pl.'s Ex. H).
February 11, 2016, S.W. and his parents met with Defendants
Charles Crouther and Jennifer Strauser (Doc. 27 at ¶33;
Doc. 39 at ¶33; Pl.'s Ex. D at ¶26; Defts.'
Ex. A at 2; Defs.' Ex. D at ¶¶6-7; Defs.'s
Ex. E at ¶¶6-7). A representative from the Special
School District appeared via telephone (Doc. 27 at ¶33;
Doc. 39 at ¶33; Defs.' Ex. D at ¶7; Defs.'
Ex. E at ¶7). During the meeting, Defendant Crouther
advised S.W. of the allegations against him (Defs.' Ex. D
at ¶¶8; Defs. Ex. E at ¶8). Specifically,
Defendant Crouther indicated that the allegations against
S.W. were that he wore the mask to school, had previously
written the word “PREPARE” on his desk, and told
other students he was going to “kill them all”
(Defs. Ex. D at ¶6). S.W. denied that he said he was
going to “kill them all” (Defs.' Ex. D at
¶9; Pl.'s Ex. D at ¶31).
Crouther suspended S.W. for ten school days (Defs.' Ex. D
at ¶12). S.W. was provided with a previously prepared
suspension notice describing the basis of the suspension
(Doc. 27 at ¶33; Doc. 39 at ¶33; Defs.' Ex. D
at ¶13; Pl.'s Ex. E). The text from the suspension
notice was included in a Behavior Detail Report, a part of
S.W.'s confidential education record (Defs.' Ex. D at
¶14-15; Pl.'s Ex. F). The text reads:
On Wednesday, February 10, before school in the hallway,
[S.W.] and another student were wearing skull masks that
[S.W.] provided. They covered the lower half of their faces
and frightened many students. [S.W.] is seen on camera
walking up and down the hallway, confronting students
silently in a menacing manner. At one point, [S.W.], seated
on the floor, pulled the mask down and told a group of boys
he was going to “kill you all” and then put the
mask back up on the lower part of his face.
(Defs.' Ex. J). The video has no sound (Doc. 27 at
¶35; Doc. 39 at ¶35; Pl.'s Ex. D at ¶29).
A second meeting took place on February 17, 2016 (Defs.'
Ex. L at ¶5). Present at the meeting were S.W., his
parents, and Defendants Counts and Knost (Defs.' Ex. L at
¶5). During the meeting S.W. was interviewed (Defs.'
February 25, 2016, a hearing was held to determine whether a
suspension beyond ten days was warranted (Defs.' Ex. L at
¶6). S.W. and his parents were accompanied by a lawyer
(Defs.' Ex. L at ¶7). Also present at the hearing
were the District's attorney, the 9th Grade Principal,
Defendant Crouther, a special education administrator, and an
attorney representing the Special School District (Defs.'
Ex. L at ¶7). Administrators presented the findings from
the District's investigation including statements from
two witnesses who heard S.W. say that he was going to
“kill them all” (Defs.' Ex. L at ¶8).
S.W. denied saying that he was going to “kill them
all” (Defs.' Ex. L at ¶9). Two students
appeared to testify on S.W.'s behalf (Doc. 4 at ¶39;
Doc. 27 at ¶39; Doc. 39 at ¶39; Pl.'s Ex. A at
¶35). The students were not allowed to testify (Doc. 27
at ¶39; Doc. 39 at ¶39; Pl.'s Ex. A at
after the hearing, Defendant Counts contacted S.W.'s
mother via telephone and advised her that Defendant Knost had
decided to extend S.W.'s suspension through the end of
the school year (Defs.' Ex. L at ¶10). Defendant
Counts further indicated that Defendant Knost would consider
allowing S.W. to return to school sooner if S.W. provided an
assessment from a private professional indicating that S.W.
does not present a danger to others or himself (Defs.'
Ex. L at ¶11). That same day, S.W.'s counsel sent an
email to counsel for the District indicating that S.W. would
be appealing the District's decision to extend S.W.'s
suspension to the School Board (Defs.' Ex. O).
February 29, 2016, Plaintiff was informed by letter of
S.W.'s extended suspension through the end of the school
year (Defs.' Ex. N). The letter, signed by Defendants
Counts and Knost, provided, “If, however, [S.W]
completes an assessment with a private professional
indicating that he does not present a danger to others or
himself and is safe to return to school, we are willing to
consider a written request for reducing the suspension”
March 11, 2016, counsel for the District sent a letter to
S.W.'s counsel confirming S.W.'s request for a
hearing before the School board and setting the hearing on
March 23, 2016 (Defs.' Ex. Q). The District's
The District alleges that on February 10, 2016, [S.W.]
engaged in threatening behavior and made threats to students
by wearing a skull mask on school property in a frightening
and menacing manner and by ...