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Henry v. Knox County

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

February 25, 2019

WALTER HENRY, individually, and MARGARET HENRY, individually, and as next of friends of M.H., a minor child, Plaintiffs,
KNOX COUNTY, TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.



         This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, the Rules of this Court, and the referral Order [Doc. 25] of the District Judge.

         Now before the Court is a Joint Motion for Approval of Minor's Settlement (“Joint Motion”) [Doc. 22]. The Joint Motion requests that the Court approve the settlement agreement reached by the parties with respect to the claims of M.H. The parties appeared before the Court on February 6, 2019, for a motion hearing. Attorney Jacob Erwin appeared on behalf of Plaintiffs, and Attorneys Amanda Morse and David Sanders appeared on behalf of Defendants. Accordingly, for the reasons further explained below, the Court RECOMMENDS that the Joint Motion [Doc. 22] be GRANTED.

         As an initial matter, the Court has placed the settlement agreement [Doc. 22-1] and the Statement for Attorney's Fees, Expenses, Costs, and Disbursements to Plaintiffs' Counsel [Doc. 24] under seal. The Court determined that M.H's privacy interest in the settlement agreement outweighs the public's interest in these Court records. Accordingly, when discussing the amount of the settlement agreement, the Court will use the terms “Gross Amount” and “Net Amount” without referencing specific numbers.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Complaint [Doc. 1] in this case was filed on August 7, 2018. The Complaint states that M.H. (hereinafter, the “Minor”) was diagnosed at an early age with autism, mild mental retardation, and extreme schizophrenia. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 18]. Due to his conditions, the Minor has limited verbal abilities, and he is unable to effectively express himself or communicate through speech. [Id.]. The Complaint submits that the Minor has a tendency to repeat words and phrases he has heard and that his diagnoses require daily prescription medications. [Id.].

         The Complaint alleges that in August 2017, the Minor's parents, Walter and Margaret Henry (hereinafter, the “Henrys”), enrolled the Minor in South-Doyle Middle School, where he was assigned to Defendant Evelyn Gill's classroom. [Id. at ¶ 19]. Prior to the start of school, the Henrys met with Defendant Gill, who exhibited a very aggressive demeanor. [Id.]. The Henrys told the principal their concerns with respect to Defendant Gill's demeanor, but the principal dismissed these concerns. [Id.].

         The Complaint states that on August 7, 2017, the Minor attended his first day of school at South-Doyle Middle School. [Id. at ¶ 21]. When the Henrys asked about his new school, the Minor responded by covering his mouth with his hand, stating “You're as sorry as a kindergartner.” [Id.]. The Complaint states that because the Minor is essentially nonverbal, he was unable to describe what was happening to him in Defendant Gill's classroom. [Id.]. The Complaint states that on or about August 18, 2017, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (“DCS”) launched an investigation into the abuse by Defendant Gill at South-Doyle Middle School. [Id. at ¶ 22]. The Henrys believe that the abuse began on August 7, 2017, and continued until Defendant Gill was placed on administrative leave on September 5, 2017. [Id.].

         The Complaint submits that DCS contacted the Henrys for a home visit to inform them of the investigation and the allegations against Defendant Gill. [Id. at ¶ 23]. The Henrys were advised that the Minor's classmates and a teacher's assistant witnessed the physical and psychological abuse inflicted upon the Minor. [Id.]. Specifically, it was reported that when the Minor rested his head on his desk, Defendant Gill forcefully picked up the desk and slammed it on the ground causing the Minor to hit his head on the desk. [Id.].

         The Complaint avers that the Henrys made multiple attempts to discuss the allegations with the principal and other Knox County and school officials to no avail. [Id. at ¶ 26]. The Complaint states that neither DCS, nor any other official, followed up with the Henrys to inform them of the results of the investigation. [Id.]. The Complaint contends that on October 20, 2017, Defendant Gill was removed from administrative leave and was scheduled to return to work on October 23, 2017, as a special education teacher at Fulton High School in Knox County, Tennessee. [Id. at ¶ 27]. The Compliant states, however, that she did not return to work, but instead, submitted her resignation on or about October 31, 2017. [Id. at ¶ 28].

         The Complaint alleges that school records and Defendant Gill's personnel file reveal extensive disciplinary matters dating back to 2005. [Id. at ¶ 30]. The Complaint states that despite her disciplinary matters, Defendant Gill was allowed contact with the Minor and other special needs children. [Id. at ¶ 34]. The Complaint avers that the other Defendants had direct knowledge of Defendant Gill's abuse and neglect and that they failed to remove Defendant Gill from the classroom. [Id. at ¶ 35].

         The Complaint alleges violations of the following statutes: 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the Americans with Disabilities Act; and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In addition, the Complaint alleges negligence, negligence per se, and various intentional torts.

         Defendants did not file an answer to the Complaint. Instead, the parties filed a Notice of Pending Settlement [Doc. 21] on November 26, 2018, explaining that they mediated the case on November 15, 2018, and agreed to settle this matter.

         II. POSTIONS ...

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