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Leach v. District Board of Trustees of Palm Beach

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

March 24, 2017

PATRICK LEACH, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF PALM BEACH d/b/a PALM BEACH STATE COLLEGE; and CYNTHIA A. ARCHBOLD, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          KENNETH A. MARRA United States District Judge

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendant Cynthia Archbold's Motion to Dismiss [DE 15]. The Court has carefully considered the entire Court file and is otherwise fully advised in the premises.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Patrick Leach (“Plaintiff”), a former student at Palm Beach State College, has filed a seven count complaint against the District Board of Trustees of Palm Beach d/b/a Palm Beach State College, and his composition instructor Cynthia A. Archbold (“Archbold”). Plaintiff alleges that he has difficulty reading due to a disability, [1] and that therefore, the act of asking Plaintiff to read in front of the class constituted the intentional infliction of emotional distress as well as invasion of privacy. Archbold asserts that Plaintiff fails to state adequately a claim for either tort for multiple reasons.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The Supreme Court has held that "[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

         "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quotations and citations omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Thus, "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff's allegations as true in determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for which relief could be granted. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

         In Count IV, Plaintiff alleges that on Wednesday, February 24, 2016, during her composition class in front of 20 or more students, Archbold intentionally or recklessly requested that Plaintiff read aloud to his classmates when she knew of his disability or should have known that Plaintiff could not perform the requested task of reading and that emotional distress would likely result. Compl. ¶ 66. It is further alleged that Archbold intentionally or recklessly responded to Plaintiff in such a manner as to force Plaintiff to disclose his disability to his classmates when Archbold knew or should have know that emotional distress would likely result. Compl. ¶ 67. Plaintiff then asserts that on Monday, February 29, 2016, Archbold again intentionally or recklessly requested that Plaintiff read aloud in class when Archbold knew of Plaintiff's disability and knew or should have known Plaintiff could not perform the requested task of reading and that emotional distress would likely result. Compl. ¶ 68. On Wednesday, March 16, 2016, Plaintiff claims that during the class, Archbold intentionally and recklessly requested that Plaintiff recite an essay which was typed in fine print when Archbold knew of Plaintiff's disability and knew or should have known Plaintiff could not perform the requested task of reading and that emotional distress would likely result. Compl. ¶ 69. Subsequently during that class, after Plaintiff did not read the essay as instructed, Archbold intentionally and recklessly stated to Plaintiff, “I am trying to give you an equal opportunity to participate in this class, ” in front of a giggling audience of students when Archbold knew of Plaintiff's disability and knew or should have known Plaintiff could not perform the requested task of reading and that emotional distress would likely result. Compl. ¶ 70. Plaintiff alleges feeling severe emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment due to Archbold's conduct. Compl. ¶¶ 25, 73.

         Under Florida law, to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the following four elements must be shown: (1) extreme and outrageous conduct; (2) an intent to cause, or reckless disregard to the probability of causing, emotional distress; (3) severe emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff; and (4) that the conduct complained of caused the plaintiff's severe emotional distress. Hart v. United States, 894 F.2d 1539, 1548 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 980 (1990). In Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. McCarson, 467 So.2d 277 (Fla. 1985), the Florida Supreme Court recognized the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, and adopted the standard of § 46, Restatement (Second) of Torts as the appropriate benchmark for the cause of action. Id. at 278-79. The comment to § 46 adds the following to this definition:

Liability has been found only where the conduct has been so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community. Generally, the case is one in which the recitation of the facts to an average member of the community would arouse his resentment against the actor, and lead him to exclaim, “Outrageous!”

Metropolitan Life, 467 So.2d at 278-79 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46 cmt. d (1965)). The question of what constitutes outrageous conduct is judged by an objective test. Id. Moreover, the issue is ordinarily one of law to be resolved by the court, rather than a question of fact to be resolved by a jury. Metropolitan Life, 467 So.2d at 279; Dependable Life Ins. Co. v. Harris, 510 So.2d 985, 988 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1987).

         Florida courts have construed the parameters of this cause of action extremely narrowly. Whether a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress will be held is highly dependent on the allegations in the particular case. Gillis v. SportsAuthority, Inc., 123 F.Supp.2d 611, 616 (S.D. Fla. 2000). In Doe v. Board of CountyCommissioners, Palm Beach County, Florida, 815 F.Supp. 1448, 1450 (S.D. Fla. 1992), the ...


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