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Wadley v. Hazel Park Community Schools

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

December 6, 2019

Serenity Wadley, by and through her guardian, Kenyette Wadley, Plaintiff,
Hazel Park Community Schools, et al., Defendants.



         I. Introduction

         Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. On October 24, 2017, Plaintiff Serenity Wadley had a behavioral incident, walked out of her classroom, and was brought into a separate room at Webb Elementary School by two employees. As Plaintiff attempted to escape this room through a nearby door, one of the employees moved to shut that door. Plaintiff's hand was still around the door as it closed, resulting in significant injury to one of her fingers.

         On August 21, 2018, Serenity Wadley, by and through her mother, Kenyette Wadley, filed an Amended Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as state law claims of assault, battery, and gross negligence against Defendants Lynette Daley, Corri Nastasi, and the Hazel Park School District.

         Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment on July 31, 2019. In their present motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims are barred because she must first exhaust administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). They further assert that there are no genuine issues of material fact as to whether Defendants violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights or committed assault, battery, or gross negligence. Additionally, Defendants argue that, even if a constitutional violation occurred, all Defendants are entitled to immunity.

         Plaintiff filed her response to Defendants' motion on September 20, 2019, and Defendants filed their reply on September 30, 2019. A hearing on this matter was held on December 2, 2019. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [#28].

         II. Factual Background

         This case stems from a behavioral incident that occurred during the school day on October 24, 2017. Plaintiff Serenity Wadley, then a third-grade, eight-year-old student at Webb Elementary School, returned to her classroom after lunchtime. ECF No. 11, PageID.68. The classroom teacher asked Plaintiff to remove an object from her mouth, but Plaintiff did not do so and instead left the classroom by herself. Id.; ECF No. 28, PageID.170. Unable to leave the classroom to retrieve her, the teacher requested help from school employees Joan Rybinski, a paraprofessional, and Defendant Lynette Daley, a behavioral specialist. Id.

         Plaintiff ran through the school hallways in an attempt to avoid Rybinski and Defendant Daley. ECF No. 11, PageID.69. Defendants state that, as Plaintiff ran around trying to avoid contact with the paraprofessionals, other classroom transitions were occurring in the school hallways. ECF No. 28, PageID.171. This included the movement of students in the “SXI classroom, ” which has “students with severe multiple impairments that [make them] medically fragile.” Id. at PageID.172. Defendants explained that they were fearful Plaintiff would injure either herself or others if she continued running through the hallways. Id.

         Plaintiff was then brought by Rybinski and Daley into a separate room off of the hallway. Id. This room is known as the “wolf den” as a reference to the school's mascot and, according to Defendants, used by school officials as a de-escalation space when students have behavioral problems. ECF No. 36-7, PageID.576; ECF No. 28-13, PageID.372. In contrast, Plaintiff alleges that the wolf den is an isolation room where behaviorally challenged students are placed in “solitary confinement . . . for prolonged periods of time . . . without any adult supervision.” ECF No. 11, PageID.68. The wolf den contains various chairs and bookshelves along with two doors that lead back to the hallway. ECF No. 28-13, PageID.371.

         Plaintiff was in the wolf den with Rybinski and Defendant Daley, who each stood in front of the two doors. Id. at PageID.374. Plaintiff states that she knocked books down from a bookshelf, while Defendant asserts that Plaintiff attempted to pull over the entire bookcase. ECF No. 11, PageID.68; ECF No. 28, PageID.173. Defendant Daley moved from her position in front of the door to either pick up the books or prevent the bookshelf from falling over. Id. As she moved away from her position, Plaintiff ran towards that door in an attempt to leave the wolf den. Id. Defendant Daley moved to close the door in response, but Plaintiff's hand was positioned in between the doorframe. Id. Plaintiff's finger was caught in the door as it closed, resulting in a severe fracture and laceration of her left index finger. ECF No. 11, PageID.69. Plaintiff was taken to the hospital, where they set the bone and stitched the laceration. ECF No. 36-2, PageID.530.

         Defendant Nastasi, the principal of Webb Elementary School, was informed of the incident later that day. ECF No. 28-14, PageID.396. She stated that the actions described to her by Rybinski and Defendant Daley appeared to be in line with all school policies and trainings. Id. at PageID.397.

         III. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) “directs that summary judgment shall be granted if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Cehrs v. Ne. Ohio Alzheimer's Research Ctr., 155 F.3d 775, 779 (6th Cir. 1998) (quotations omitted). The court must view the facts, and draw reasonable inferences from those facts, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). No. genuine dispute of material fact exists where the record “taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” Matsushita Elec. Indus., Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Ultimately, the court evaluates “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         IV. ...

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