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T.G. v. Detroit Public Schools

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

November 22, 2016

T.G., Jr., by and through his next friend, Katrina Greene, Plaintiff,
v.
Detroit Public Schools, Karen Kohfeldt, Monique Edwards, Clover Brown, and Tia Von Moore-Patton, Defendants,

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [35]

          Nancy G. Edmunds United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Detroit Public Schools, Karen Kohfeldt, Monique Edwards and Tia Von Moore-Patton's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket 35). Plaintiff T.G., Jr., by and through his next friend, Katrina Greene (together "Plaintiff" and/or "TG") filed a response. (Dkt. 39.) The Court heard this matter on November 9, 2016.

         I. BACKGROUND AND FACTS

         This suit arises from an incident on October 29, 2013, in which Plaintiff TG came out of his wheelchair and sustained injuries to his face and head while in his classroom at Jerry L. White Center High School (the "Jerry White School"). Plaintiff filed suit on October 26, 2015, against Defendant Detroit Public Schools ("DPS") and the following four Defendants in their individual and official capacities: Karen Kohfeldt, a DPS employee and TG's lead teacher at the time of the incident in question; Monique Edwards, a DPS employee and teacher's aide at the time of the incident; Clover Brown[1], a DPS employee and teacher's aide at the time of the incident; and Tia Von Moore-Patton, a DPS employee and principal at the Jerry L. White School at the time of the incident. (Compl. ¶¶ 2-7.) Plaintiff brought claims for gross negligence (Count I, Defendants Kohfeldt, Edwards and Brown); substantive due process violations pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II, all Defendants); supervisory liability, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count III, Defendants DPS and Moore-Patton); violation of Michigan's Child Protection Law, Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.623 (Count V, all Defendants)[2]; violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) (Count VI, all Defendants); and violation of the Michigan Persons With Disabilities Civil Rights Act (PWDCRA), Mich. Comp. Laws § 37.1301 (Count VII). This Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's gross negligence claim and all claims in Plaintiff's Count I and dismissed Count I without prejudice on November 17, 2015. (Dkt. 3.) In the response, Plaintiff agrees that it will not pursue its claims under the ADA and RA, or its PWDCRA claim. Therefore, the Court dismisses all claims in Counts VI and VII.

         TG has had cerebral palsy since birth, with severe physical and cognitive impairments. (Greene Dep. 14, Pl.'s Resp. Ex. A, dkt. 39-2.) On a daily basis, he needs help with bathing and feeding, and he requires diaper changing. (Id.) He is non-verbal, but communicates by vocalizing and laughing, reaching for objects, taking and throwing objects, looking at people and attending to direction. (Kohfeldt Dep. 15-16, Pl.'s Resp. Ex. B, dkt. 39-3.) At the time of TG's mother Ms. Greene's deposition, TG was 17 years old, weighed between 40 and 45 pounds and was approximately four feet tall. (Greene Dep. 11.) At the time of the October 2013 incident, TG weighed approximately 40 pounds and was in the tenth grade. (Id. at 11-12, 39.)

         TG uses a wheelchair and a stroller. (Id. at 15.) When in his wheelchair, he is secured with a lap belt and a harness (also referred to as a shoulder strap). (Id. at 16.) TG can unbuckle the lap belt by himself. (Id. at 18.) According to TG's mother, he is unable to unbuckle the shoulder strap on his own and "as long as the shoulder straps are strapped on he cannot get out" of the wheelchair. (Id. at 18.) If both the lap belt and the shoulder belt are unbuckled, he is able to ease out of the wheelchair and onto the ground by himself. (Id. at 18.)

         TG has attended the Jerry White School since ninth grade. (Id. at 12.) Throughout the ninth grade and at the beginning of his tenth grade school year, he was with teacher Kohfeldt. (Greene Dep. 12, 39-40; Kohfeldt Dep. 12.) Defendant Kohfeldt has been employed at the Jerry White School for nine years and is a lead teacher. (Kohfeldt Dep. 12.) She teaches severely and multiply impaired students such as TG. (Kohfeldt Dep. 12, 14.) She recalls first teaching TG in September 2012. (Kohfeldt Dep. 12.) The parties agree that prior to the October 2013 incident, Kohfeldt was aware that TG would undo his lap belt. The parties agree that Defendant Kohfeldt and Ms. Greene had discussed both TG undoing his lap belt and the necessity of the belt and harness prior to the October 2013 incident.

         Kohfeldt testified that In fall 2012, Kohfeldt contacted TG's mother regarding his undoing the seatbelt and leaving his chair. (Kohfeldt Dep. 23.) Ms. Greene testified that prior to the accident there were a few times where Ms. Greene went in and had a meeting about the harness. (Greene Dep. 38.) Kohfeldt testified that she learned that TG would undo the lap belt all the time and that she passed this information along to her aides. (Id. at 26.) The aides to whom she passed this information in 2012 were different than the aides in the 2013 school year, when the incident occurred. (Kohfeldt Dep. 29-30.) In 2013, her aides were Defendants Edwards and Brown. Kohfeldt testified that in 2013 when she saw that TG was still unbuckling himself, she passed the information about unbuckling along to her co-educators again. (Kohfeldt Dep. 30-31.) Kohfeldt stated that TG could unbuckle the lap belt "instantly" but it would take him about a minute to get out of his chair. (Kohfeldt Dep. 54.)

         On October 29, 2013, when TG was in tenth grade in Kohfeldt's classroom, TG came out of his wheelchair and sustained injuries to his head and face. (Greene Dep. 40.) Kohfeldt had left the room at the end of the lunch hour to return a cart to the office and she told her aides that she was leaving, indicating that she would be gone "a couple minutes." (Kohfeldt Dep. 32-33, 39.) She was gone approximately five minutes. (Kohfeldt Dep. 35.) When she returned to the classroom she saw her two aides on the floor, applying ice to TG's forehead and TG was on the floor in a bean bag chair. (Kohfeldt Dep. 35.) TG was crying a little bit and screaming. (Kohfeldt Dep. 35.) Defendant Edwards was one of the aides at the time and she told Kohfeldt that TG fell out of his chair. (Kohfeldt Dept. 36.) Defendant Brown, the other aide, also indicated to Kohfeldt that TG fell out of the chair. (Kohfeldt Dep. 37.) Kohfeldt did not recall if they indicated whether they saw him fall from the chair or saw him after he had already fallen out of his chair. When Kohfeldt returned to the room, the nurse, Pam Joy, was also there. (Kohfeldt Dep. 39.) Kohfeldt observed a knot above TG's right eyebrow. (Kohfeldt Dep. 42.) Kohfeldt does not recall if she made a report or gave a report on the incident and though she thought she may have, she has not seen an incident report. (Kohfeldt Dep. 44.)

         Later the same day, Kohfeldt, Brown and Edwards were called to Defendant Moore-Patton's office to review the incident. They met for approximately 15-20 minutes. (Kohfeldt Dep. 58-59.) A Detroit Public Schools Student Accident Report contains the following handwritten statement as the "description of the accident": "Student was fasten (sic) in chair with seat belt there was another student standing next (sic) him when student fall (sic) out his chair in the classroom. There was blood from mouth, nurse and parents was (sic) called time of the accident." (Pl.'s Resp. Ex. D, dkt. 39-5.) A second Accident Report describes the following:

Student [redacted] Green was sitting in his chair. The safety belt was fastened. I turned around and [TG] was on the floor another student was standing near him. [TG] was on the floor with blood coming from his . . . mouth and a bruise on his head. The school nurse was called.

(Pl's Resp. Ex. D, dkt. 39-5.)

         On the day of the incident, Ms. Greene received a call from the school nurse who notified her that TG had a "boo-boo" and had taken off his strap-- the lap belt-- but that he was fine, that they were going to put ice packs on him, and that he had a "little bump." (Greene Dep. 19, 36.) Ms. Greene testified that when he was dropped off by the school bus at the end of the day, she saw the knot on his forehead immediately. (Greene Dep. 20.)

         Both of his eyes were bruised, the right eye was almost completely shut, the left eye was puffy, and he had a cut on his lower lip. (Greene Dep. 21.) TG's mother took him to the hospital the same day. (Pl.'s Resp. Ex. E, dkt. 39-6.) It took more than a month for the bruising around TG's eyes to go away. (Greene Dep. 21-22.)

         Aside from the October 2013 incident and resultant injury, Greene testified that there were other instances where TG's bodily integrity was compromised. (Greene Dep. 38.) For example, since the incident he has come home several times "without his straps" or without being belted. (Greene Dep. 37-38.) TG also kicks off his shoes and takes off his socks, and several times both before and after the incident he was not wearing shoes or socks when he arrived home; they were tied to the back of his wheelchair. (Greene Dep. 38-39.) This has also occurred in the winter. (Greene Dep. 38.) The paraprofessionals (aides) and Kohfeldt are responsible for getting their students ready to go home at the end of the school day, making sure that they have their coats, shoes and socks on. (Kohfeldt Dep 46.) Kohfeldt agreed that TG removed his shoes or socks in the classroom "several times" yet she alleges that she or the paraprofessionals put them back on every time. (Kohfeldt Dep. 47.)

         Plaintiff filed this action with this Court on October 26, 2015. (Dkt. 1.)

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is proper when 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). When reviewing the record, “the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” S.E.C. v. Sierra Brokerage Servs., Inc., 712 F.3d 321, 326-27 (6th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). Furthermore, the “substantive law will identify which facts are material, and summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. (citation and quotations omitted). When considering the material facts on the record, a court must bear in mind that “[t]he mere ...


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