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Ricks v. Matayoshi

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

March 16, 2017

MARIA THERESE RICKS, Individually and as Guardian Ad Litem for her minor son, M.R., Plaintiff,
v.
KATHRYN MATAYOSHI, in her official capacity as Superintendent of the State of Hawaii Department of Education; JOY YOSHIMURA; JEFFREY SHITAOKA; MARIE IKEDA; JODY YAMAUCHI-OKU; JENNY ZABOORI; JOANNE ALLAGONEZ; KASEY ARITA; JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.

         ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, AND DENYING, IN PART, DEFENDANTSKATHRYN MATAYOSHI, JOY YOSHIMURA, JEFFREY SHITAOKA, MARIE INOUYE (IKEDA), JODY YAMAUCHI-OKI, JOANNE ALLAGONEZ, AND KASEY ARITA'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 40) AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO LIABILITY OF DEFENDANTS KATHRYN MATAYOSHI, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE STATE OF HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, JOY YOSHIMURA AND JEFFREY SHITAOKA (ECF NO. 43)

          Helen Gillmor, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Maria Therese Ricks, individually and on behalf of her minor son, M.R., filed a Complaint against the Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi of the State of Hawaii Department of Education and various employees of the Department of Education.

         Plaintiff claims that her minor son, M.R., who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, was denied meaningful access to a public education on account of his disability in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794.

         Plaintiff brings her Rehabilitation Act claim against Superintendent Matayoshi and numerous employees of the Department of Education in their official capacities.

         Plaintiff also asserts state law tort claims of assault and battery against Defendant Joy Yoshimura.

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges state law claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress against the eight individual named Defendants.

         All Defendants, with the exception of Defendant Jenny Zaboori, filed a Motion for Summary Judgment against Plaintiff as to all claims.

         Plaintiff filed a partial Motion for Summary Judgment as to the issue of liability for Defendants Kathyrn Matayoshi, Joy Yoshimura, and Jeffrey Shitaoka.

         Defendants Kathryn Matayoshi, Joy Yoshimura, Jeffrey Shitaoka, Marie Inouye (Ikeda), Joy Yamauchi-Oki, Joanne Allagonez, and Kasey Arita's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 40) is GRANTED, IN PART, AND DENIED, IN PART.

         Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 43) is DENIED.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 3, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint. (ECF No. 1).

         On the same date, Plaintiff filed an EX PARTE MOTION FOR APPOINTMENT OF A GUARDIAN AD LITEM. (ECF No. 3).

         On February 19, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued an ORDER APPOINTING A GUARDIAN AD LITEM. (ECF No. 8).

         On February 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed a FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT. (ECF No. 9).

         On June 30, 2016, Plaintiff filed an EX PARTE MOTION FOR EXTENSION OF TIME TO SERVE FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT ON DEFENDANT JENNY ZABOORI. (ECF No. 19).

         On July 7, 2016, the Magistrate Judge held a hearing and granted, in part, and denied, in part, Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time to Serve Defendant Zaboori. (ECF No. 21).

         On December 14, 2016, Defendants Kathyrn Matayoshi, Joy Yoshimura, Jeffrey Shitaoka, Marie Ikeda, Jody Yamauchi-Oku, Joanne Allagonez, and Kasey Arita filed a MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 40) and a CONCISE STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS IN SUPPORT OF MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT. (ECF No. 41).

         On the same date, the Defendants filed a MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE EXHIBITS UNDER SEAL (ECF No. 42), which was granted (ECF No. 46).

         Also on December 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed a MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO LIABILITY OF DEFENDANTS KATHRYN MATAYOSHI, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE STATE OF HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, JOY YOSHIMURA AND JEFFREY SHITAOKA. (ECF No. 43) along with a CONCISE STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS. (ECF No. 44).

         On January 12, 2017, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF MARIA THERESE RICKS' OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 50) and PLAINTIFF MARIA THERESA RICKS' CONCISE STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT. (ECF No. 51).

         On January 18, 2017, the Court issued a Minute Order instructing Plaintiff to file a document clarifying her Concise Statement in Opposition. (ECF No. 53).

         On January 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a document clarifying her Concise Statement in Opposition. (ECF No. 56).

         Also on January 20, 2017, Defendants Kathryn Matayoshi, Joy Yoshimura, Jeffrey Shitaoka, Marie Ikeda, Jody Yamauchi-Oku, Joanne Allagonez, and Kasey Arita filed their MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION (ECF No. 54) and CONCISE STATEMENT IN OPPOSITION. (ECF No. 55).

         On January 24, 2017, the Court issued a Minute Order instructing Defendants to file the evidence referenced in their Concise Statement in Opposition. (ECF No. 57).

         On January 26, 2017, the Defendants filed their evidence cited in their Concise Statement in Opposition. (ECF No. 63).

         On February 3, 2017, Defendants Kathryn Matayoshi, Joy Yoshimura, Jeffrey Shitaoka, Marie Ikeda, Jody Yamauchi-Oku, Joanne Allagonez, and Kasey Arita filed their REPLY to Plaintiff's Opposition to their Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 66).

         On February 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Reply to Defendants' Opposition to her Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 68).

         On February 28, 2017, the Court held a hearing on the Parties' Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 98).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Maria Therese Ricks' son, M.R., was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in July 2012, when he was three years-old. (Declaration of Maria Therese Ricks (“Ricks Decl.”) at ¶ 3, attached to Pla.'s Concise Statement of Facts (“CSF”), ECF No. 44-1). A year later, in August 2013, M.R. began attending Koko Head Elementary School, a public school operated by the State of Hawaii Department of Education. (Deposition of Plaintiff Maria Therese Ricks (“Ricks Depo.”) at p. 10, attached to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 41-2).

         From August 2013 until October 2015, M.R. attended the special education preschool class that was taught by Defendant Joy Yoshimura (“Ms. Yoshimura”). (Interview of Joy Yoshimura at pp. 1-2, attached as Ex. H to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 41-10). Ms. Yoshimura is the Department Head of Special Education at Koko Head Elementary School and has worked at the school for approximately twenty years. (Deposition of Joy Yoshimura (“Yoshimura Depo.”) at pp. 6-9, attached as Ex. K to Pla.'s CSF, ECF No. 44-14).

         The case involves the use of a specialized chair in Ms. Yoshimura's classroom as an aid to assist M.R.'s physical needs. Ms. Yoshimura states she utilized a Rifton chair to allow M.R. to be able to physically sit up and participate in learning activities. (Id. at pp. 12-13, 17). The chair is a solid wooden chair that has armrests and a back to support the child's body. (Id. at p. 13). The chair also has a seat belt. (Id.)

         Plaintiff characterizes the use of the chair as a “restraint.” (First Amended Complaint at ¶ 15-16, ECF No. 9). Plaintiff alleges that the chair was used as a “punishment.” (Ricks Decl. at ¶ 8, ECF No. 44-1).

         According to M.R.'s Individualized Education Program (“IEP”), when he began school in August 2013, he was a problem feeder who would only eat McDonalds' chocolate chip cookies and would consume milk and Similac formula. (October 15, 2013 IEP, attached as Ex. C to Pla.'s CSF, ECF No. 44-6; Yoshimura Interview at p. 2, ECF No. 41-10; Occupational Therapy Report at p. 7-8, ECF No. 44-10). M.R. had difficulty in class because he was lethargic and weak due to his poor diet and sleep deprivation. (Yoshimura Depo. at pp. 16, 19-20, ECF No. 44-14). Ms. Yoshimura stated that M.R. was forced to have his occupational therapy and speech therapy while he was laying on the ground because he was so weak from not eating, drinking, and sleeping. (Yoshimura Interview at p. 2, ECF No. 41-10).

         Ms. Yoshimura stated that the chair was used once or twice a week to assist M.R. from April 2014 to June 2014. (Yoshimura Depo. at p. 34, ECF No. 41-5). The chair allowed M.R. to sit up safely for lessons and to eat at the table without falling forward due to his lethargy and weakness. (Yoshimura Depo. at pp. 17, 27, ECF No. 44-14).

         Ms. Yoshimura testified that the seat belt on the chair was used for M.R.'s safety. (Id. at p. 19). Ms. Yoshimura stated that M.R. had fallen out of normal chairs because there were no armrests to support his body and the seat belt was used to prevent M.R. from falling to the floor. (Id.) Ms. Yoshimura explained that M.R. was never left alone in the chair and there was always an adult by his side when he was in the chair. (Id. at p. 17-18). Ms. Yoshimura testified that the seat belt was used on the chair no more than ten times. (Yoshimura Depo. at p. 34, ECF No. 41-5).

         In June 2014, M.R. was seated in the chair with the seat belt during an end of the year ceremony at the school. (Id. at p. 32). An adult was seated next to M.R. for the duration of the ceremony. (Id.; Photograph of M.R. in the chair, ECF No. 47-2).

         Plaintiff testified that she observed M.R. seated in the chair at the June 2014 ceremony and photographed him using the chair. (Ricks Depo. at pp. 32-34, ECF No. 41-2). Plaintiff testified that she did not object to the use of the chair at the ceremony, remove M.R. from the chair at the ceremony, or tell any employee of the Hawaii Department of Education that she had any concerns about the use of the chair. (Id. at pp. 32-34).

         Ms. Yoshimura said the chair was no longer needed for M.R. during the 2014-2015 school year, as M.R. had the strength to support himself. (Yoshimura Depo. at p. 29, ECF No. 44-14; Yoshimura Interview at p. 3, ECF No. 41-10). Ms. Yoshimura testified that after school resumed in the fall of 2014, the seat belt was clipped to the back of the chair and not used. The chair became just another piece of furniture in the classroom. Both M.R. and other children enjoyed sitting in the chair. No other chair in the classroom had arms. (Yoshimura Depo. at p. 34-36, ECF No. 41-5).

         The Parties do not agree as to when the chair was first used. Plaintiff states that she believes the chair was first used in the classroom in the fall of 2013 and that she spoke to a Ms. Brooke and Ms. Yoshimura about it. (Ricks Depo. at p. 30, ECF No. 41-2). Plaintiff's testimony about the chair first being used in the fall of 2013 is contradicted by Ms. Yoshimura's deposition testimony that she did not obtain the chair until April 2014. (Yoshimura Depo. at pp. 12-13, ECF No. 44-14).

         Plaintiff disputes Ms. Yoshimura's claim that the chair was used for M.R.'s safety. (Id. at p. 19). Plaintiff stated in her Declaration that M.R. has “never been so weak from lack of food that he could not sit in a chair safely.” (Ricks Decl. at ¶ 15, ECF No. 44-1).

         There is a dispute of fact as to when Plaintiff first objected to the use of the chair. Plaintiff claims she objected to its use in November 2014. (Ricks Depo. at p. 35, ECF No. 41-2). The State of Hawaii Defendants claim that Plaintiff first objected to the use of the chair at the January 2015 Individualized Education Program Meeting. (Yoshimura Depo. at pp. 24-25, ECF No. 44-14).

         In February 2015, the chair was removed from Ms. Yoshimura's classroom due to Plaintiff's request. (Id. at p. 30). Eight months later, in October 2015, Plaintiff withdrew M.R. from Koko Head Elementary School and he began attending private school at the Pacific Autism Center. (Ricks Depo. at p. 11, ECF No. 41-2).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). To defeat summary judgment there must be sufficient evidence that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Nidds v. Schindler Elevator Corp., 113 F.3d 912, 916 (9th Cir. 1997).

         The moving party has the initial burden of “identifying for the court the portions of the materials on file that it believes demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.” T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party, however, has no burden to negate or disprove matters on which the opponent will have the burden of proof at trial. The moving party need not produce any evidence at all on matters for which it does not have the burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The moving party must show, however, that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. That burden is met by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Id.

         If the moving party meets its burden, then the opposing party may not defeat a motion for summary judgment in the absence of probative evidence tending to support its legal theory. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Savage, 611 F.2d 270, 282 (9th Cir. 1979). The opposing party must present admissible evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Brinson v. Linda Rose Joint Venture, 53 F.3d 1044, 1049 (9th Cir. 1995). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Nidds, 113 F.3d at 916 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986)).

         The court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Martin, 872 F.2d 319, 320 (9th Cir. 1989). Opposition evidence may consist of declarations, admissions, evidence obtained through discovery, and matters judicially noticed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The opposing party cannot, however, stand on its pleadings or simply assert that it will be able to discredit the movant's evidence at trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 630. The opposing party cannot rest on mere allegations or denials. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Gasaway v. Northwestern Mut. Life Ins. Co., 26 F.3d 957, 959-60 (9th Cir. 1994). When the non-moving party relies only on its own affidavits to oppose summary judgment, it cannot rely on conclusory allegations unsupported by factual data to create an issue of material fact. Hansen v. United States, 7 F.3d 137, 138 (9th Cir. 1993); see also National Steel Corp. v. Golden Eagle Ins. Co., 121 F.3d 496, 502 (9th Cir. 1997).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff Maria Therese Ricks, on behalf of herself and as guardian ad litem for her minor son M.R., brings three causes of action.[1]

         First, Plaintiff alleges that M.R. was denied meaningful access to a public education on account of his disability in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 794. Plaintiff states the first cause of ...


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