Court Dismisses Lawsuit Involving Coach’s Advances Toward Athlete

Aug 29, 2008

A federal judge from the Western District of New York has granted a defendant school district’s motion to dismiss in a case where the district was sued after a coach had an inappropriate relationship with a student athlete.
The plaintiffs in the case were Michael Rodenhouse and Kelly Rodenhouse, who are the parents of a student athlete identified as E.R. A student at Palmyra-Macedon High School, E.R. participated in the school’s cross-country and track and field programs.
The respective teams were coached by defendant Thomas Enright and his son, co-defendant Daniel Enright. E.R. claimed that she was a 16-year old student when Daniel Enright made sexual advances toward her, pursuing a romantic relationship that ultimately resulted in E.R. moving out of her family home and residing instead with Daniel Enright and Thomas Enright.
The plaintiffs alleged that around February of 2006 that Daniel Enright and another male met with two female high school track athletes at 4:00 a.m., ostensibly for the purpose of having breakfast. Mrs. Rodenhouse reported this information to Fred Ciaburri, the school’s athletic director, who apparently took no action with regard to the report.
In November 2006, the plaintiffs learned that Daniel Enright had been making sexual advances toward their daughter, E.R. For example, they learned that during the preceding months, Daniel Enright had kissed and fondled E.R. They also claimed that Daniel Enright was also having improper relationships with several other female high-school students at the time. The plaintiffs reported this information to Principal Barbara Persia and Ciaburri. The school district terminated Daniel Enright’s employment the same day, and assured the plaintiffs that Daniel Enright would not be allowed on school property, and that Daniel’s father, Thomas Enright, would have no contact with E.R., or any involvement in coaching her. Nevertheless, Thomas Enright continued to coach E.R., and he also allowed Daniel Enright to serve as an assistant coach at several track meets in December 2006 and January 2007.
In January 2007, E.R., then 17, moved out of her family home and into the residence of Daniel Enright and Thomas Enright. According to the plaintiffs, the Enrights subsequently manipulated E.R. into falsely informing the Department of Social Services that her parents had banished her from the family home. On January 22, 2007, the plaintiffs informed school officials of these events. On January 24, 2007, the school district terminated Thomas Enright’s employment.
The plaintiffs sued on September 7, 2007, alleging federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985, based on alleged due process and equal protection violations. In lieu of answering the complaint, Defendants filed the subject motions to dismiss, for failure to state a claim, under FRCP 12(b)(6).
In its analysis of the 12(b)(6) Standard and the plaintiffs’ claim, the court noted that it “must construe the complaint liberally, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor.”
“However, the complaint fails to allege any facts to support a plausible claim that the defendants ‘deprived’ them of the care, custody or management of E.R. within the meaning of the due process clause,” wrote the court. “Nor are there any allegations to support a plausible claim that Defendants took official actions directed at the parent-child relationship.
“Instead, it appears clear that the unfortunate disruption of the parent-child relationship in this case was only incidental to the defendants’ alleged actions and omissions in failing to properly supervise and protect E.R. See, Pittsley v. Warish, 927 F.2d 3, 9 (1st Cir. 1991). Nor does the complaint allege governmental conduct that is so egregious, so outrageous, that it may fairly be said to shock the contemporary conscience. Consequently, the complaint fails to state actionable due process claims.”
Next, the court turned to the plaintiffs’ “class of one” equal protection claim. “The legal principles concerning a ‘class-of-one’ equal protection claim are clear:
“The equal protection clause directs state actors to treat similarly situated people alike. An equal protection claim requires purposeful discrimination, directed at an identifiable or suspect class. It is possible for [a plaintiff] to allege a ‘class of one,’ where the plaintiff alleges that he has been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment. Under the ‘class of one’ theory of equal protection, a plaintiff is required to show either that there was no rational basis for the unequal treatment received or that the denial of the application was motivated by animus. Foy v. City of New York, No. 03 Civ. 7318(HB), 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18274, 2004 WL 2033074 at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sep. 10, 2004)
“With regard to demonstrating such disparate treatment, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that class-of-one plaintiffs must show an extremely high degree of similarity between themselves and the persons to whom they compare themselves. This showing is more stringent than that used at the summary judgment stage in the employment discrimination context. This is because the existence of persons in similar circumstances who received more favorable treatment than the plaintiff in a class-of-one case is offered to provide an inference that the plaintiff was intentionally singled out for reasons that so lack any reasonable nexus with a legitimate governmental policy that an improper purpose—whether personal or otherwise—is all but certain. Accordingly, to succeed on a class-of-one claim, a plaintiff must establish that (i) no rational person could regard the circumstances of the plaintiff to differ from those of a comparator to a degree that would justify the differential treatment on the basis of a legitimate government policy; and (ii) the similarity in circumstances and difference in treatment are sufficient to exclude the possibility that the defendants acted on the basis of a mistake.
Generally, whether parties are similarly situated is a fact-intensive inquiry. A court may grant summary judgment in a defendant’s favor on the basis of lack of similarity of situation, however, where no reasonable jury could find that the persons to whom the plaintiff compares itself are similarly situated. Clubside, Inc. v. Valentin, 468 F.3d 144, 159 (2d Cir. 2006).
“Here, the complaint does not allege that the plaintiffs, as the parents of E.R., were singled out for purposeful discrimination by the defendants, nor does it allege that other similarly-situated parents were treated more favorably. Accordingly, the complaint fails to state an equal protection claim.”
Similarly, the court disbanded with the plaintiffs’ 42 U.S.C. § 1985 claim, pointing to its earlier finding that “the complaint fails to allege an equal protection claim, or any other constitutional violation for that matter.”
Michael Rodenhouse and Kelly Rodenhouse v. Palmyra-Macedon Central School District; W.D.N.Y.; No. 07-CV-6438 CJS; 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43363; 6/3/08
Attorneys of record: (for plaintiffs) Jeffrey Wicks, Esq., Jeffrey Wicks, PLLC, Rochester, New York. (for defendants Harold E. Ferguson, Barbara Persia, and Fred Ciaburri: Aimee La Fever Koch, Esq., Osborn, Reed & Burke, LLP, Rochester, New York.. Kenneth A. Krajewski, Esq., Ryan J. Mills, Esq., Brown & Kelly, LLP, Buffalo, New York. Patrick B. Naylon, Esq., Goldberg Segalla, LLP, Rochester, New York.


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