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Hill v. Blount County Schools

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division

February 19, 2015

CHI HILL and JIM HILL, Individually and on Behalf of S.H., a minor, and DALTON HILL, Plaintiffs,


PAMELA L. REEVES, District Judge.

Plaintiffs have brought this action alleging racial discrimination at William Blount High School in violation of federal and state law. The federal claims are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(d) (Title VI), and under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The state law claims are for negligent hiring and retention; intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress; and a statutory claim under Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-4501, et seq.

The Complaint makes general factual allegations about the treatment of S.H. and Dalton Hill while enrolled at William Blount High School. Dalton Hill attended William Blount High School 9th Grade Academy during the 2009-2010 school year and then transferred to Hardin Valley Academy in 2012. The Complaint avers that S.H. is a junior at William Blount High School and attended the William Blount High School 9th Grade Academy during the 2010-2011 school year. Plaintiffs allege a pattern of discrimination that occurred in the years 2009 through 2011, but do not mention any specific acts occurring after 2011.

This matter is before the court on various motions filed by defendants: (1) defendants' motions to dismiss [R. 20, 23], and (2) defendant's motions to dismiss, or in the alternative to substitute parties [R. 36, 38].

I. Standard for Motion to Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) sets out a liberal pleading standard. Smith v. City of Salem, 378 F.3d 566, 576 n.1 (6th Cir. 2004). Rule 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the [opposing party] fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but a party's "obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Id . Nor will an "unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully harmed me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). A pleading must instead "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will [ultimately] ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." A court considering a motion to dismiss may begin by identifying allegations that, because they are mere conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the complaint's framework, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948.

II. Motions to Dismiss, or in the Alternative to Substitute S.H. as Party Plaintiff

Defendants move to dismiss the claims of Chi Hill and Jim Hill as Next Friend of S.H., a minor, or in the alternative, move to substitute S.H. as plaintiff to her claims. In support of their motion, defendants state that S.H. was a minor when this lawsuit was filed. However, S.H. reached eighteen (18) years of age on August 20, 2014, and is no longer a minor. Further, S.H. graduated from William Blount High School on May 20, 2014. Therefore, defendants assert that Chi Hill and Jim Hill no longer have standing to sue in behalf of their daughter in a representative capacity as Next Friends and Parents. In the alternative, defendants move to substitute S.H., now an adult, as the real party in interest.

The enactment of Tenn. Code Ann. § 1-3-113(a) completely emancipated individuals over eighteen years of age from the control of their parents. Garey v. Garey, 482 S.W.2d 238, 241 (1958). Where emancipation of a minor is complete, the parent's right to maintain an action for loss of services due to injuries is cut off. Memphis Steel Constr. Cov. v. Lister, 197 S.W. 902 (Tenn. 1917). No Tennessee case has recognized a parental cause of action for loss of society and companionship of an emancipated adult child. Morris v. State, 21 S.W.3d 196, 200 (Tenn.Ct.App. 1999). Moreover, a plaintiff has no right to sue in his own behalf for the deprivation of the civil rights of his or her children. Meador v. Cabinet for Human Resources, 860 F.2d 1079 (6th Cir. 1988).

Because S.H. is no longer a minor nor under any legal disability under Tennessee law, her parents have lost all rights or standing to bring this lawsuit as Next Friends. This necessitates the removal of Chi Hill and Jim Hill as the persons bringing the claims in behalf of their emancipated daughter. Therefore, the claims of Chi Hill and Jim Hill brought in behalf of S.H. must be dismissed, unless a substitution of the real party in interest occurs.

Defendants do not dispute that the applicable statute of limitations as to the claims of S.H. has not run. Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-304 provides a one year statute of limitations for a cause of action for personal injuries in Tennessee. Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-106 provides that S.H. has until her 19th birthday in which to sue for a claim which arose while she was a minor. Assuming that S.H. wishes to continue the lawsuit, substitution of S.H. as the "real party in interest" is appropriate. Plaintiffs do not dispute the fact that S.H. is no longer a minor as defined by Tennessee law. Plaintiffs have cited no authority contrary to that provided by defendants that once a person under disability at the time suit was filed, is no longer under disability, the status of Next Friend goes away, leaving as the only remaining real party in interest, the now adult S.H. Accordingly, defendants' motions to substitute S.H. as the real party in interest, is GRANTED, and S. Hill is SUBSTITUTED as party plaintiff in this action.

Next, the court will address the defendants' motions to dismiss the individual claims of Chi Hill and Jim Hill.

III. Individual Claims of Chi Hill and Jim Hill

A plaintiff "generally must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim on the legal rights or interests of third parties." Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 292 (1999). Specifically, the Sixth Circuit has held that a parent may not bring a § 1983 claim or an Equal Protection Clause claim as an individual for any alleged violation of his or her child's constitutional rights because such action is "entirely personal to the direct victim of the alleged constitutional tort." Jaco v. Bloechle, 739 F.2d 239, 241 (6th Cir. 1984); Claybrook v. Birchwell, 199 F.3d 350, 357 (6th Cir. 2000); Robinson v. City of Memphis, 340 F.Supp.2d 864, 872 (W.D.Tenn. 2004).

In addition, there is no consortium or loss of services claim of a parent under Title VI or § 1983 for the personal injury to a child. See Kinzer v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville, 451 F.Supp.2d 931 (M.D.Tenn 2006). Accordingly, all claims brought by Chi Hill and Jim Hill, Individually, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (Title VI), and under the Equal Protection Clause for the alleged deprivation of their children's civil rights are DISMISSED.

Next, any individual federal claims or state law claims brought by Chi and Jim Hill are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The Supreme Court has explained that, where a federal statute does not provide a statute of limitations period, the district courts are to apply the relevant state law statute of limitations. Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 421 U.S. 454, 462 (1975). Tennessee law provides that a civil rights action must be brought within one year from the date the cause of action accrued. Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(3). Therefore, a Title VI claim must be brought within one year from the time the cause of action accrued. Simmons v. Middle Tennessee State University, 1997 WL 400105 at *2 (6th Cir. 1997). The statute of limitations for a cause of action under § 1983 and the Equal Protection Clause is governed by the state personal injury statute of limitations. Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 249-50 (1989); Lyons v. Metro Gov't of Nashville, 416 Fed.Appx. 483, 491 (6th Cir. 2011). Therefore, the statute of limitations for a ...

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