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Doe v. G-Star School of Arts, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

May 16, 2017

JANE DOE No. 60, Plaintiff,
v.
G-STAR SCHOOL OF THE ARTS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          BETH BLOOM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendant G-Star School of the Arts, Inc.'s (“Defendant” or “G-Star School”) Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. [52] (the “Motion”). The Court has reviewed the Motion, all opposing and supporting submissions, the record and the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action is brought by minor Plaintiff Jane Doe No. 60 ("Plaintiff") and arises out of the alleged sexual harassment and assault of Plaintiff by one of her high school teachers at G-Star School, a not-for-profit charter school. Plaintiff attended G-Star School from August 2011, when she began the tenth grade, through June 2014, when she graduated. Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Facts, ECF No. [52] (“Def. SOF”) at ¶¶ 2, 30.[1] According to Plaintiff, throughout her tenth grade year, her history teacher, Ismael Martinez ("Martinez), “groomed” her to gain her trust and develop an inappropriate relationship with her. See ECF No. [75] at ¶ 9. This process began at the beginning of the school year when Martinez stated to her that she was beautiful and assigned her to sit in the front of his class. Plaintiff's Additional Material Facts, ECF No. [58] at 3-10 (“Pl. Additional Facts”), ¶ 1.[2] On another other occasion, Martinez allegedly sang the lyrics of a sexually explicit song to Plaintiff and asked her what she likes to do sexually. Id. at ¶ 3.

         Plaintiff further alleges that some time afterwards, on April 17, 2012, Martinez had her attend a tutoring session in his classroom after school. Id. at ¶ 6. Allegedly, while Martinez and Plaintiff were alone in his classroom, Martinez again asked Plaintiff what she likes to do sexually, stated to Plaintiff that he "like[s] to eat pussy[, ]" and then, at the end of the tutoring session when Plaintiff was getting ready to leave, sexually assaulted Plaintiff. Id. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Martinez came up to her from behind as she was packing her book bag, caressed her thighs and buttocks, and began kissing her neck. Id. Martinez then placed Plaintiff on her desk, felt her breasts, pulled down her blouse and bra, kissed her on the breasts while whispering "I want you so bad[, ]" and placed her hand on his penis. Id. Martinez also tried to remove Plaintiff's pants, but Plaintiff stopped him. Id. According to Plaintiff, she began to believe that she was in love with Martinez after the alleged sexual encounter, and the inappropriate relationship between them continued throughout her eleventh and twelfth grade years. Id. at ¶ 7; ECF No. [75] at ¶¶ 12-14.

         Throughout the course of this litigation and since first being confronted with reports of the alleged relationship between him and Plaintiff, Martinez has denied what Plaintiff now alleges, maintaining that he has never been involved in an inappropriate relationship with Plaintiff. The first of those reports stemmed from Plaintiff herself, though indirectly. Shortly after the alleged sexual encounter on April 17, 2012, Plaintiff disclosed to a fellow classmate, Nina Nordarse (“Nordarse”), that she was in a relationship with Martinez. Def. SOF at ¶ 5; Pl. SOF at ¶ 5. Thereafter, Nordarse spoke with a G-Star School employee, Travis Hagler (“Hagler”), informing him that a girl in one of her classes had hinted to her that she was in a relationship with Martinez. Def. SOF at ¶ 7. Hagler then immediately advised the founder and CEO of G-Star School, Gregory Hauptner (“Hauptner”), of the information he received during his conversation with Nordarse. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10.

         On Friday, April 20, 2012, Hauptner and the principal of G-Star School, Kimberly Collins (“Principal Collins”), spoke with Plaintiff in their office. Id. at ¶ 11. At that meeting, Plaintiff denied that she was inappropriately involved with any teacher of G-Star School and stated that some girls in the school were spreading untrue rumors about her, including that one. Id. at ¶ 12. Plaintiff's statements at the meeting were memorialized in a typed statement, which Plaintiff then reviewed and signed. Id. at ¶ 13; see also ECF No. [52-1] at Exh. E.

         The next day, Martinez contacted Hauptner and Principal Collins to inform them that a student named Nicole Elkins (“Elkins”) had told him of a rumor going around that “he hooked with a student, ” which he denied to Hauptner and Principal Collins. Def. SOF at ¶¶ 14-15. Hauptner made a written note of this conversation, and indicated on the note his intention to find out how Plaintiff commuted home from school, whether she ever stays at school after hours, and what day the rumored incident could have taken place. Id. at ¶¶ 15-16.

         The following Monday, on April 23, 2012, Plaintiff was again called into Hauptner and Principal Collins' office, this time due to a rumor that Plaintiff was going to shoot someone. Id. at ¶ 17. At that meeting, Plaintiff explained that she had only joked with her friends about shooting someone. Id. at ¶ 18. Hauptner and Principal Collins documented this meeting in a typed note. id. at ¶ 19. The note indicates that the two of them spoke with Plaintiff's parents over the phone later that same day regarding both the shooting-related rumor and the meeting with Plaintiff, see ECF No. [52-1] at Exh. H. According to the note, Hauptner and Principal Collins also informed Plaintiff's parents during their conversation that they “had been hearing rumors concerning their daughter and had asked her about any inappropriate activity between her, any teacher, any staff member or students[, ]” and also requested that Plaintiff's parents “call [] immediately” if they learned any more information about the rumors from Plaintiff. ECF No. [52-1] at Exh. H. During the conversation, Plaintiff's father informed Hauptner that Plaintiff had been arriving home from school at the usual time every day except for the previous Tuesday or Wednesday (April 17th or April 18th) because she had to make up a test. Def. SOF at ¶ 22 (citing ECF No. [52-1] at Exh. H).

         Thereafter, Martinez, at the instruction of Hauptner and Principal Collins, prepared a document outlining his schedule during the week of April 16, 2012-identifying in particular any students who were in his classroom either during the lunch hour or after school that week- which reflected that Plaintiff stayed after school to complete make-up homework on April 17, 2012. Id. at ¶¶ 24-25. Hauptner and Principal Collins then had the rest of the teachers with classrooms in the same building as Martinez indicate whether they also had students stay after school on April 17, 2012 and provide what time each of them left the school that day. Id. at ¶¶ 26-27. Upon collecting the above information, Hauptner and Principal Collins concluded in a final report that there was a “complete lack of any evidence that the rumor is true that [Plaintiff] and the teacher had any inappropriate contact[, ]” noting that both Plaintiff and Martinez “completely denied” the rumor. Id. at ¶ 28 (citing ECF No. [52-1] at Exh. K). Thus, as reflected in the final report, Hauptner and Principal Collins concluded that “[t]here was no inappropriate contact between the teacher and [Plaintiff]” and deemed “[t]he matter concerning the teacher [] dropped.” ECF No. [52-1] at Exh. K. Apparently, no further action was taken by G-Star School with respect to Plaintiff and Martinez.

         After graduating from G-Star School in 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action against G-Star School on March 21, 2016. In an Amended Complaint filed on April 25, 2016, ECF No. [6], Plaintiff asserted a claim for negligence (Count I) and a claim for violations of Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (Count II).[3] On September 6, 2016, the Court granted a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings filed by G-Star School, dismissing Plaintiff's negligence claim without prejudice for Plaintiff's failure to allege that G-Star School was provided with pre-suit notice as required under Fla. Stat. § 768.28(6). ECF No. [35]. The Court advised that Plaintiff would be allowed to refile the negligence claim after complying with the pre-suit notice requirements of Fla. Stat. § 768.28(6). Id. at 15. On April 14, 2017, the Court, satisfied that Plaintiff had thereafter complied with the pre-suit notice requirements of Fla. Stat. § 768.28(6), granted Plaintiff leave to file a Second Amended Complaint reasserting the negligence claim against Defendant, which Plaintiff filed on April 19, 2017. See ECF Nos. [72], [74]. Prior to the filing of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, on March 3, 2017, G-Star School filed its Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Plaintiff's Title IX claim-the only claim asserted at the time. ECF No. [52]. Plaintiff's Response, ECF No. [57], and G-Star School's Reply, ECF No. [63], timely followed.[4]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A court may grant a motion for summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The parties may support their positions by citation to the record, including, inter alia, depositions, documents, affidavits, or declarations. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is genuine if “a reasonable trier of fact could return judgment for the non-moving party.” Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. United States, 516 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48). The Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in the party's favor. See Davis v. Williams, 451 F.3d 759, 763 (11th Cir. 2006). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. The Court does not weigh conflicting evidence. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 485 F.3d 1130, 1140 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Carlin Comm'n, Inc. v. S. Bell Tel. & Tel. Co., 802 F.2d 1352, 1356 (11th Cir. 1986)).

         The moving party shoulders the initial burden to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Shiver v. Chertoff, 549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th Cir. 2008). If a movant satisfies this burden, “the nonmoving party ‘must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'” Ray v. Equifax Info. Servs., L.L.C., 327 F. App'x 819, 825 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). Instead, “the non-moving party ‘must make a sufficient showing on each essential element of the case for which he has the burden of proof.'” Id. (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). The non-moving party must produce evidence, going beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits, or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designating specific facts to suggest that a reasonable jury could find in the non-moving party's favor. Shiver, 549 F.3d at 1343. But even where an opposing party neglects to submit any alleged material facts in controversy, a court cannot grant summary judgment unless it is satisfied that all of the evidence on the record supports the uncontroverted material facts that the movant has proposed. See Reese v. Herbert, 527 F.3d 1253, 1268-69, 1272 (11th Cir. 2008); United States v. One Piece of Real Prop. Located at 5800 S.W. 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 363 F.3d 1099, 1103 n.6 (11th Cir. 2004).

         In resolving the issues presented under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, “the court may not weigh conflicting evidence to resolve disputed factual issues; if a genuine dispute is found, summary judgment must be denied.” Carlin Commc'n, Inc. v. Southern Bell Tel. & Tel. Co., 802 F.2d 1352, 1356 (11th Cir. 1986); see also Aurich v. Sanchez, 2011 WL 5838233, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 21, 2011) (“If a reasonable fact finder could draw more than one inference from the facts, and that inference creates an issue of material fact, then the court must not grant summary judgment.” (citing Hairston v. Gainesville Sun Publishing Co., 9 F.3d 913 (11th Cir. 1993)). Even “where the parties agree on the basic facts, but disagree about ...


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