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Bussell, v. Elizabethtown Independent School District

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

April 27, 2018



          Greg N. Stivers, Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (DN 7).[1] The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for adjudication. For the reasons outlined below, the motion is DENIED.


         This is a civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a) et seq. (“Title IX”), with pendent state law claims. (Compl., DN 1; Am. Compl., DN 13). Plaintiffs Kristen R. Bussell and Kali C. Centeno (together, “Plaintiffs”), on behalf of themselves and a putative class of others similarly situated, allege that Elizabethtown Independent School District (“District” or “Defendant”) and Stephen Kyle Goodlett (“Goodlett”) violated their privacy rights when they were students at Elizabethtown High School (“EHS”) between 2010-2012. (Compl. 1-2). Plaintiffs claim that pursuant to EHS's policy of allowing teachers and school administrators to confiscate and retain student cell phones if used during school hours, District school officials, including Goodlett, seized and searched the content of student cell phones, including Plaintiffs'. (Compl. ¶¶ 10, 21-24). Plaintiffs further assert that Goodlett found private nude and semi-nude photographs on their phones, and that Goodlett later uploaded those images to the Internet.[2] (Compl. ¶¶ 22-33).

         Plaintiffs bring claims against the District under Section 1983 for violations of their Fourth Amendment rights; under Title IX for discrimination and harassment; and under Article I, Section 10 of the Kentucky Constitution for unreasonable search and seizure.[3] (Compl. ¶¶ 34-51, 63-72). Plaintiffs contend that the District is liable, as Goodlett's actions were taken pursuant to his position as a teacher at EHS, under a policy adopted by the District, and that the District “fail[ed] to develop and enforce adequate policies and procedures” to prevent “the deprivation of a student's federally protected rights . . . .” (Compl. ¶¶ 63-69). Plaintiffs' suit is brought on behalf of themselves, and a putative class, defined as:

All students at Elizabethtown High School from 2010 through 2012, whose cellular telephones were confiscated by teachers and/or school officials at Elizabethtown High School; whose cellular telephones, once confiscated, were searched by teachers and/or school officials; and whose photographic images stored on said cellular telephones were transferred by Elizabethtown High School teachers and/or officials to thumb drives or other storage devices and then uploaded to one or more internet websites without the students' knowledge or consent.

(Compl. ¶ 74).


         The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' Section 1983 and Title IX claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because a federal question is presented. Additionally, the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.


         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” and is subject to dismissal if it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss, courts must presume all factual allegations in the complaint to be true and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). “But the district court need not accept a bare assertion of legal conclusions.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citation omitted).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Traverse Bay Area Intermediate Sch. Dist. v. Mich. Dep't of Educ., 615 F.3d 622, 627 (6th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim becomes plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “A complaint will be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if no law supports the claims made, if the facts alleged are insufficient to state a claim, or if the face of the complaint presents an insurmountable bar to relief.” Southfield Educ. Ass'n v. Southfield Bd. of Educ., 570 Fed.Appx. 485, 487 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 561-64).

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court “may consider the Complaint and any exhibits attached thereto, public records, items appearing in the record of the case and exhibits attached to defendant's motion to dismiss so long as they are referred to in the Complaint and are central to the claims contained therein.” Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). As the Complaint clearly centers on EHS's “written or unwritten policy related to cellular telephones[, ]” the Court will consider the EHS Cell Phone Policy as included in Defendant's motion, as well as the District's Search and Seizure Policy as attached to Plaintiffs' Response. (Def's. Mot. Dismiss 5; Pls.' Resp. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss. Ex. A, DN 10-1).[4]


         Defendant moves the Court to dismiss the Amended Complaint, asserting, inter alia, that it is entitled to immunity, cannot be vicariously liable for Goodlett's actions, and did not have a legal duty to implement policies to prevent Goodlett's unforeseeable criminal conduct. (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 2). The District's arguments as to each claim are addressed in turn.

         A. Section 1983 & Kentucky Constitutional Claims

         To state a claim under Section 1983, “[a] plaintiff must establish both that 1) she was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and 2) the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law.” Redding v. St. Eward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Because “Section 1983 is not itself a source of any substantive rights, but instead provides the means by which rights conferred elsewhere may be enforced[, ]” the Court's “first task . . . is to identify the specific constitutional . . . rights allegedly infringed.” Meals v. City of Memphis, 493 F.3d 720, 727-28 (6th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted).

         In this case, Plaintiffs contend, inter alia:

[D]espite a complete lack of reasonable suspicion, upon information and belief, . . . Goodlett, and/or other school officials at EHS, acting under the color of state law in their capacity as public school officials, unreasonably and unlawfully searched the images stored on the ...

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