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Leontiev v. Corbett School District

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 10, 2018

GRETA LEONTIEV, Plaintiff,
v.
CORBETT SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          Jill Gibson, Gibson Law Firm, LLC, Herbert G. Grey, Herbert G. Grey, Attorney at Law, Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Karen M. Vickers, Beth F. Plass, Mersereau Shannon, LLP, Of Attorneys for Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael H. Simon United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Greta Leontiev (“Plaintiff”) brings this action against Corbett School District (the “School District”) and individuals Randi Trani, Carrie Church, David Gorman, Katherine Ziemann, Jenny Layton, Jeff Mershon, and Jill Edwards (collectively, “Defendants”). Asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff alleges that all Defendants violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights by interfering with her parent-child relationship, and that Defendant Carrie Church and the School District violated Plaintiff's First Amendment rights by disparaging her religion.[1] Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, this motion is granted.

         STANDARDS

         A party is entitled to summary judgment if the “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Clicks Billiards Inc. v. Sixshooters Inc., 251 F.3d 1252, 1257 (9th Cir. 2001). Although “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ” the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position [is] insufficient . . . .” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 255 (1986). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         It is the responsibility of the non-moving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Keiffer v. Pernsteiner, 967 F.2d 527 (9th Cir. 1992). In order for a party to avoid summary judgment, such facts must be supported by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). Where an affidavit or declaration is relied on to oppose a summary judgment motion, it “must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4). Where the party opposing summary judgment is proceeding pro se, the court “must consider as evidence . . . all of [that party's] contentions offered in motions and pleadings, where such contentions are based on personal knowledge and set forth facts that would be admissible in evidence, and where [the party] attested under penalty of perjury that the contents of the motions or pleadings are true and correct.” Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 923 (9th Cir. 2004).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is the mother of F.V., a transgender boy who was 15 years old when the events underlying this action took place. F.V.'s father and Plaintiff divorced in 2008, and both have since remarried. After the divorce, Plaintiff initially had full custody of F.V., who for a time only saw his father infrequently. Plaintiff first learned that F.V. identifies as male during his ninth grade school year when he wrote a letter to Plaintiff to reveal his name change. Plaintiff reported that F.V. “was on a continuum sometimes wanting to dress in female clothes and sometimes male.” ECF 40-5 (Plaintiff Dep.) 62:20-23. Plaintiff states that she supported F.V. through his gender transition by purchasing masculine clothes for him, providing a therapist for him, and assigning him gender neutral and masculine chores at home. Plaintiff's current husband believes that F.V. “is young and doesn't necessarily know what [he] is doing.” ECF 35-3 (Eduardo Leontiev Dep.) 35:17-20.

         Defendant Corbett School District is an Oregon Public School District. During the relevant time period, F.V. attended Corbett High School, where he participated in the Corbett Performing Arts Club (“CPAC”), an extracurricular after school theater program. CPAC meets and performs at various high school campuses throughout the district. ECF 40-1 (Layton Dep.) 22:8-14. In order for CPAC to meet at a campus within the district, district policy mandates that a district staff member be present during each campus meeting. Although the district does not provide funding to CPAC, the district does the club's accounting. ECF 40-1 (Layton Dep.) 23:4-9. CPAC is run by community volunteers, many of whom are parents of children enrolled with the School District. Some of the volunteers are also employed by the district. Each volunteer is required to sign a form stating:

Thank you for taking the time to volunteer in the Corbett School District. * * * We must follow the same rules and regulations established for School District employees. * * * Volunteers shall not repeat information concerning students or employee's private lives. * * * Personal or private conversations pertaining to any sensitive subject should be held away from children.

ECF 42 at 2-4.

         On Saturday, November 19, 2016, F.V. participated in CPAC's matinee and evening productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream. ECF 35-2 (Plaintiff Dep.) 128:15-17. Between shows, F.V. told his father and his sister that he felt uncomfortable living in Plaintiff's home, and he was not planning to return to Plaintiff's home that evening. ECF 35-1 (Van Horn Dep.) 30:11; ECF 46-1 (J.V. Dep.) 17:10-12. Earlier that morning, F.V. also had told his sister that he was considering getting emancipated or changing custody to his father. ECF 46-1 (J.V. Dep.) 18:13-17. After the evening's show, F.V.'s father dropped off F.V.'s sister at Plaintiff's home, but F.V. stayed at the high school for a cast party hosted by Defendant Carrie Church and other CPAC volunteers. Defendant Church is a Corbett Middle School teacher and CPAC volunteer. F.V. was never a student in any of Church's classes, and she “never really had contact with him at school.” Church's daughter, however, is a close friend of F.V., and F.V. had spent a significant amount of time with Church's family, including joining them on overnight trips. ECF 35-6 (Church Dep.) 112:8-23. The cast party ended at midnight, at which point F.V left with Church's daughter. Where F.V. went after the cast party and where he stayed that night is unclear from the evidence.

         At 1:34 a.m., Sunday, November 20th, F.V. sent the following email to Plaintiff:

Hello Mom,
You are probably wondering why I did not come home after the cast party. It's because I am miserable at home. I do not feel like I am being supported, and I am done with contorting myself to fit an image that you have created. You and Dad both refuse to accept that I am a boy, and that my name is [F.V.]. I am so tired of living in a place where I have to endure constant invalidation.
I think it would be a good idea for me to take a break from living with you for a while. It's not forever, but I need some space to heal. I love you, and I am willing to continue going to my therapist. However, I need to live in a place where I feel supported and loved. I know you are trying, and I'm sure we will get to a place where we share a strong relationship again, and we can continue working toward it.
Your son,
[F.V.]

ECF 40-8. Shortly after F.V. sent the email, F.V. and Plaintiff exchanged the following text messages:

F.V.: I will be happy to discuss the email in the next therapy session.
Plaintiff: The first house I am going to is the Church's. I will be waking up everyone that I ...

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