Court tosses case against Carthage ISD

A federal court has dismissed the Title IX student-on-student sexual harassment case that was brought against Carthage ISD.  Last November the court dismissed all of the individual defendants from the case, but kept the case against the district alive based on allegations that a football player secretly shot a video of a girl undressing which was widely shared by students and even some staff members.  The suit particularly targeted the football team, alleging that there was a culture in the district that valued gridiron success more than student safety.  Now, however, the court has dismissed that claim as well. 

The case illustrates the big difference between a Motion to Dismiss, which is based on the allegations in the suit vs. a Motion for Summary Judgment, which is based on the evidence.  The November ruling was based on the Motion to Dismiss.  In ruling on such a Motion, the court is required to err on the side of caution.  Cases should not be dismissed unless it is obvious from the get-go that they lack merit. So the court is required to assume that everything the plaintiff alleges is true, and to give the plaintiff the benefit of every inference that can be drawn from those allegations.  The Motion for Summary Judgment, however, is based on evidence gathered through depositions and other methods of pretrial discovery.  

In this case there was a yawning gap between the allegations and the evidence.  In the November ruling the court cited only the allegations made by the plaintiff.  In the more recent ruling, the court relied on depositions from the plaintiff student, her mother, the principal, the football coach and the chief of police. The court also cited affidavits from the superintendent, principal and coach.  The allegations painted a negative picture of the district, but the evidence told another story. 

It’s true that a boy secretly recorded a girl changing clothes. But the court concluded that the evidence showed that the district did not have actual knowledge of any ongoing harassment of the student:

Even more troubling, Plaintiff has presented no evidence from a witness who personally viewed the video on campus.  Nor has Plaintiff presented any evidence from other parents of students at Carthage High school who may have heard about the video.

That would have been enough for the court to dismiss the Title IX claim against the district, but the court went on to hold that the evidence also failed to show any “deliberate indifference” on the part of the district:

Here, Principal Amy promptly conducted an investigation after he was first made aware of the video. He immediately notified Officer Hardy to make him aware of the situation.  He then met with Coach Surratt, and together they interviewed [the student who took the video] and searched his cell phone for the video.  [Footnote: importantly, the video was not found on [the student’s] cell phone.]  Principal Amy also interviewed the two students who had reportedly seen the video. He called [the plaintiff] into his office while Officer Hardy was present and had her give a written statement. Without any reports of continuous on-campus harassment or any indication thereof, Principal Amy waited for the authorities to complete their investigation. Even though no formal charges were brought against [the boy who shot the video] the school still punished him under its extra-curricular policies. [Footnote: he was required to run 20 miles and sit out one baseball game.]  CISD also held an assembly for all high school students on the dangers of photos and the internet.

Does that sound like “deliberate indifference” to you?  I didn’t think so. The court didn’t think so either.

The court made short shrift of the argument that Carthage valued football more than student safety and gender equity.  Again, the court noted that the evidence simply fell short.

Kudos to Carthage ISD. The case is Harvey v. Carthage ISD, decided by the federal court for the Eastern District of Texas on March 7, 2019. We found it at 2019 WL 1083782.


Tomorrow: Can you sue God?