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Doe 203 v. Berkeley County School District

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

November 9, 2016

Mother Doe 203, on her own behalf and on behalf of her minor child, Jane Doe 203, Plaintiff,
v.
Berkeley County School District, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Berkeley County School District's summary judgment motion (ECF No. 38). For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants the District's motion in part, declines to rule on the remainder of it, and remands this case to state court.

         BACKGROUND

         Jane Doe 203 received her middle school education at Marrington Middle School in Goose Creek, South Carolina. This case arises out the conduct of Jane Doe's classmate, WW, who sexually harassed her several times at school in 2013.

         The harassment began early that year, when Jane Doe and WW were sixth graders. The two socialized at school and, for a time, had a “sixth-grade level relationship.” (Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex., Tr. of Jane Doe 203 Dep., ECF No. 47-20, at 40). Sadly, WW made the relationship an abusive one. WW would sit next to her at lunch, touch her inappropriately, and make her touch him inappropriately. Whenever she resisted, he threatened to spread rumors that she was promiscuous.

         No school employee observed WW's conduct, and Jane Doe initially did not report it to anyone at the school. However, after two or three weeks of WW's abuse, she told her Mother. On February 19, 2013, Mother went to the school with Jane Doe, where they reported the abuse to principal James Spencer and guidance counselor Kevin Crawford. Spencer told Jane Doe that the matter would be handled. Jane Doe then continued speaking with Crawford, who asked her to write a statement explaining what WW had done to her. Jane Doe did so and included in her statement the names of students who she believed witnessed the abuse. This was the first time the school had received a report of WW engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior.[1]

         After Jane Doe finished writing her statement, Crawford gave it to assistant principal Carol Fowler. Fowler reviewed the statement and then spoke with Jane Doe. Fowler then questioned WW, who denied Jane Doe's accusations. Like Jane Doe, WW gave Fowler the names of several student witnesses to interview. Fowler spoke with the students Jane Doe and WW named. None of them said they saw WW and Jane Doe engage in inappropriate touching. Fowler called Mother to tell her that a sexual harassment form was being sent home for Jane Doe and Mother to complete together. Fowler followed up with Jane Doe several times about the form, but it was never returned to the school. After Fowler did not hear anything else from Mother or Jane Doe on the matter for some time, she took no further investigative action. Nevertheless, school officials directed WW to stay away from Jane Doe.

         After that, WW left Jane Doe alone until May, when he kissed her one time without her consent. Jane Doe did not report that incident. However, on May 20, another female student, S, reported to Fowler that WW grabbed her in the library and said something lewd to her. Fowler investigated the complaint over the next day by interviewing other students who were present during the incident. At least two other girls (none of whom were Jane Doe) told Fowler that they had overheard WW's comments to S and that WW had also made inappropriate sexual comments to them.[2] By the end of May 21, Fowler suspended WW from school for at least one day. The record indicates this was WW's last incident during the 2012-2013 school year.

         In fall 2013, Jane Doe and WW were assigned to only one class together. They had little interaction, and no incidents, until Monday, October 7, when WW approached Jane Doe in class and made sexually suggestive gestures at her. The teacher of that class was present but did not see the incident, as she was assisting other students. Jane did not report the offense to her Mother or to any school employee.

         The following morning, WW touched three girls inappropriately. The first two incidents occurred together. WW groped Jane Doe in the presence of her female friend, EB. When EB intervened, WW grabbed and fondled EB. Jane Doe and EB then ran away from WW. Neither of them reported the attack to school personnel. The third incident occurred later that morning, when WW inappropriately touched a third girl, AC.[3] AC reported that incident to Spencer around 11:30 a.m. Under questioning, WW admitted to “dancing” in AC's personal space. The school's administration then interviewed three of AC's classmates about the incident. All three students confirmed AC's accusations. Spencer then reviewed WW's disciplinary record and suspended WW from school for the rest of the week.

         On October 9, Spencer, Crawford, and another school administrator met to discuss WW. They agreed to recommend that the District expel WW. Spencer then called District administrators to schedule an expulsion hearing and to request permission to extend WW's suspension up through the date of the hearing. The District set the hearing for October 17.

         Initially, neither Jane Doe nor EB told their parents about WW's October 7 and 8 assaults. However, after school on October 9, EB told her parents what WW did to her and to Jane Doe. EB's father discussed the matter with Jane Doe's Mother, who then asked Jane Doe about it that evening. Jane Doe told Mother what WW had done to her that week. The next morning, Mother and EB's father went to the school and relayed to Spencer what their daughters had told them the previous evening. A school resource officer then interviewed Jane Doe and EB and obtained written statements from them. Because WW had already been suspended and slated for expulsion, the school did not take any further disciplinary action for what he did to Jane Doe and EB that week.

         The District expelled WW after the October 17 hearing.

         PROCEDURAL ...


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