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Amanna v. Dummerston School

United States District Court, D. Vermont

March 15, 2018

JENNY A. AMANNA, Individually and on behalf of NR and GR, each a minor child, Petitioners,


          Geoffrey W. Crawford, Chief Judge United States District Court.

         On July 5, 2017, Plaintiff Jenny A. Amanna filed an application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 1.) On July 17, the application was granted and the Complaint filed. (Docs. 3, 4 (Compl.).)[1] Plaintiff alleges claims both on her own behalf and on behalf of NR and GR, her minor children, based on the bullying of GR while he was a student at Dummerston School and on a truancy proceeding brought against her. On October 6, Defendants Dummerston School, Windham Southeast Supervisory Union ("WSESU"), and Dummerston School Principal Jo Carol Ratti (collectively, the "School Defendants") moved to dismiss the Complaint. (Doc. 21.) On October 10, Defendants Eric Albright and Joanna Albright also moved to dismiss the Complaint. (Docs. 22, 23.) On December 7, after the time to respond to the motions to dismiss had passed, and the case was transferred to the undersigned, the court entered an Order allowing Amanna a further twenty days to respond.[2] As that deadline has now passed without a response from Amanna, the court proceeds to consider Defendants' motions.


         Plaintiff Amanna is self-represented and alleges six causes of action against Defendants: (1) negligent supervision, (2) malicious prosecution, (3) abuse of process, (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress/failure to protect, (5) violation of Fourteenth Amendment right to a free and appropriate education, and (6) assault/intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Doc. 4 (Compl.).) She seeks $1.5 million dollars in damages. Id. at 20.

         Plaintiff Amanna alleges as follows. NR and GR were students at Dummerston School from September 2011 through October 2015. From 2012 through 2015, GR experienced verbal and physical abuse by a classmate, the daughter of Defendants Eric and Joanna Albright. By fall 2015, the verbal and physical abuse occurred and was reported to Principal Ratti daily. NR was witness to the abuse and acted as a protector of his brother GR.

         Amanna alleges defendants were responsible for the care and supervision of NR and GR. The only action Defendants Dummerston School and Principal Ratti took was to have GR "sign a 'safety contract' that told G.R. he was safe at school." Compl. ¶ 24. Defendants assured Amanna that GR and NR would be safe but did nothing to prevent the bullying.

         In October 2015, Amanna was accused by Defendant Eric Albright and the Dummerston school nurse of attempting to "physically take" the Albright's daughter out of class. Compl. ¶ 37. After several requests, on October 28, Amanna met with Defendant Ratti and the Superintendent of WSESU. Amanna alleges Defendants told her the school would not take further action to address the bullying. Amanna responded that she was formally withdrawing NR and GR from Dummerston School and she would homeschool them until January 2016 when they would be enrolled in a new school. Amanna devised the homeschool course of action in partnership with the Vermont Department of Education's Homeschooling Director and Ratti.

         NR and GR began to see a therapist to prepare to return to a new school in January 2016. NR began school fulltime in the new school. GR was still too traumatized to return fulltime and Amanna continued to homeschool him. Amanna alleges "Plaintiffs now all suffer from PTSD from the trauma of years of bullying while under Defendants' supervision." Compl. ¶ 53.

         With regard to the Albright Defendants, Amanna alleges Eric Albright abused the power he held professionally as a police officer, engaging in intimidation and threats against Amanna including threatening to arrest her if she chaperoned a class trip of GR's and Albright's daughter in 2012. In 2014, Joanna Albright also engaged in intimidation and threatening behavior toward Amanna including blocking access to Amanna's driveway with her car for over ten minutes, approaching Amanna's car on foot in a threatening manner, and verbally abusing Amanna, GR and NR.

         In January 2016, Amanna was charged with truancy by the Windham County States Attorney's Office. She alleges Defendant Ratti falsified NR and GR's attendance records for the 2012-15 school years, making false claims of unexcused absences. Amanna asserts Ratti made the false statements in an effort to protect herself from allegations she violated Vermont's anti-bullying statute, the children's "Fair and Appropriate Education" rights, and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, and to damage the Plaintiffs' credibility.

         At the initial hearing in state court, the court ordered NR and GR to reside with their father pending the outcome of the truancy charges. The charges were dismissed in December 2016. Amanna alleges, as a result of Ratti's false allegations, she lost custody of her children for more than a year and, at the time the complaint was filed, was still trying to regain custody.


         The School Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6) arguing the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claims and, alternatively, the claims fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 21.) The Albright Defendants argue parents may not file pro se claims on behalf of their children and the Albrights also move to dismiss the claims asserted against them under Rule 12(b)(6). (Docs. 22, 23.) As noted above, Plaintiff Amanna has not responded to the motions.

         Amanna cannot enter an appearance for any other plaintiff. While litigants in federal court have a statutory right to act as their own counsel, 28U.S.C. § 1654 ("parties may plead and conduct their own cases personally or by counsel"), a minor must have a representative, such as a general guardian, next friend, or guardian ad litem, and, if not an attorney, the representative must have the assistance of counsel. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(c). It is "well-established" that "a parent not admitted to the bar cannot bring an action pro se in federal court on behalf of his or her child." Tindall v. Poultney High Sch. Dist,414 F.3d 281, 284 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing Cheung v. Youth Orchestra Found, of Buffalo, Inc.,906 F.2d 59, 61 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that non-attorney parent may not bring an action on behalf of his or her child)). ...

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