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Scott v. Moffit

Superior Court of Delaware

August 20, 2019

ZARATA SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW MOFFIT, in his official capacity, DR. DOLAN BLAKEY, in his official capacity, and COLONIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendants.

          Submitted Date: May 29, 2019

         Upon Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Granted.

          Zarata Scott, Plaintiff, Pro Se.

          Christopher T. Logullo, Esquire, Chrissinger & Baumberger, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Defendants.

          Calvin L. Scott, Jr. Judge.

         Background

         In December 2015, the Delaware Department of Education ("DDOE") contracted to have Middlebury Interactive Languages Program implemented in selected schools until June 2017 (the "DDOE Contract") to provide DDOE with "certain services to provide cost effective proficiency focused world language blended online learning experiences for middle school students."[1]

         On March 3, 2016, Plaintiff Zarata Scott, working in the scope of her employment with Middlebury Interactive Languages ("Middlebury"), was teaching in a Colonial School District classroom pursuant to the DDOE Contract. On that date, Plaintiff was charged with Offensive Touching after a student in the classroom alleged she pinched his neck. Plaintiff was subsequently found Not Guilty on November 7, 2016.

         Nearly two years later, on November 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint against Colonial School District and its agents Superintendent Don Blakey and Principal Andrew Moffit (collectively, "Defendants"). The complaint alleges that Defendants Blakey and Moffit were responsible for carrying out the guidelines, policies, and procedures for the language program, including insuring the protection of Middlebury teachers and the success of the students in the program. It further states that Defendant Moffit, as the principal of the school, was required by Middlebury and DDOE to have a "classroom facilitator" in the classroom with the Middlebury teachers "at all times" throughout the program to protect teachers and students.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants were grossly negligent and breached the Contract by failing to provide a "classroom facilitator." Without a classroom facilitator, Plaintiff says she was left "unprotected" and the students in the classroom were afforded the opportunity to falsely allege that she threw a stack of books at a student and pinched the student until he could not breathe.[2] Plaintiff also claims Defendants violated her due process rights and engaged in malicious prosecution by conducting an unreasonable administrative investigation, namely due to Defendant Moffit's failure to objectively interview students who would have provided an objective account of events.[3] To further support her claim of malicious prosecution, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Moffit could have terminated the criminal action against her at any time but instead acted with reckless indifference to the falsity of the students' claims.[4]

         As a result of the damages from the criminal charge and its stipulation prohibiting her from being around minors, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages for her unemployment, interference with the teaching positions she had at the time, legal fees associated with the criminal proceedings, emotional distress, and pain and suffering.

         Parties' Contentions

         Defendants' move the Court to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. Defendants claim that the statute of limitations bars Plaintiffs claims of gross negligence, malicious prosecution, [5] and due process violations. Defendants further argue that Plaintiffs breach of contract claim must also fail because Plaintiff does not have standing to bring a claim under the DDOE Contract between Plaintiffs employer, Middlebury, and the State of Delaware.

         Plaintiff opposes dismissal and says the 2-year limitations period for her due process claim commenced November 7, 2016 - the date she discovered the facts constituting the basis of such action. Plaintiff contends that because the facts underlying the claims "were so hidden that a reasonable plaintiff could not timely discover them," in part due to Defendant Moffit's fraudulent concealment, Count III is not time-barred.[6]

         Standard of Review

         When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim, the court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.[7] The Court will dismiss the complaint only if "it appears with reasonable certainty that the plaintiff could not prove any set of facts that would entitle him to relief."[8]

         Additionally, when appropriate, the Court will hold a pro se plaintiffs complaint to a less demanding standard of review.[9] However, the same set of rules applies to pro se plaintiffs, and the Court will only accommodate pro se litigants to the extent that such leniency does not affect the substantive rights of the parties.[10]

         Discussion

         Count I - Negligence

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants breach of their duty to exercise reasonable care to ensure the protection of teachers led to her arrest. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants had a duty to provide a classroom facilitator and, in the absence of providing a classroom facilitator, a duty to visit the classroom to check on classroom management.

         A cause of action in negligence accrues at the time of the injury to the plaintiff and is subject to the two-year limitations period set forth in 10 Del. C. § 8119.[11] The date of Plaintiffs arrest was March 3, 2016. The complaint was filed on November 2, 2018. As a result, Count I for Gross Negligence is DISMISSED as time-barred by the two-year statute of limitations.[12]

         Count II - Breach of Contract

         Along with the complaint, Plaintiff provided the Court with a copy of the Delaware DOE and Middlebury Interactive Languages Program Agreement ("Program Agreement").[13] The Program Agreement "outlines the roles and responsibilities of [Middlebury, DDOE, and the host school] as well as the specific implementation details" and contains the signatures of the "District Administration," "School Administration" and "Classroom Facilitator."[14]

         Plaintiff asserts that by entering into the "contract" with Middlebury, Defendants created an "implied contract with its teachers and students to adhere to the rules to ensure their safety."[15] According to Plaintiff, Defendants breached this implied contract by "not following the policy" and "procedure put forth in the guidelines" of the contract when Defendants failed to provide a classroom facilitator and, in the absence of providing a classroom facilitator, not visit the classroom to check on classroom management.[16] From the language in the complaint, the Court views Plaintiffs claim as alleging Defendants breached a duty owed to her under to the Program Agreement.[17] Still, the Court reviews both the Program Agreement and the DDOE Contract to determine the viability of Plaintiff s breach of contract claim.

         As a general rule, only the contracting parties and intended third-party beneficiaries may enforce a contract's provisions. An intended beneficiary is found to exist where: (1) the contracting parties intended that the third party beneficiary benefit from the contract; (2) the benefit is intended as a gift or in satisfaction of a pre-existing obligation; and (3) the intent to benefit the third party beneficiary is material part of the parties' purpose in entering into the contract.[18] The status of the third party is determined solely by the intent of the contracting parties.[19] An intended beneficiary need not be specified in the contract to qualify as such.[20] However, if the promisee did not intend to confer direct benefits upon a third person and instead the third party happens to either coincidentally or indirectly benefit from the performance of the promise, then the third party is deemed an incidental beneficiary and has no right to enforce the contract.[21]

         In the present case, the DDOE Contract for Middlebury's services was between DDOE and Middlebury.[22] There is no language in the Contract that indicates an intent to confer a benefit on any person or entity other than the DDOE and Middlebury. As a result, Plaintiff cannot be considered a third-party beneficiary to the DDOE Contract and therefore may not enforce it against Defendants.

         Unlike the DDOE Contract, the Program Agreement provides that the "roles and responsibilities" of the District Administrator, School Administrator, School Classroom Facilitator and Middlebury Teacher include, among other things, the following:

The District Administrator: understands the program and oversees its implementation; ensures the District meets the criteria in the Program Agreement.
The School Administrator: selects, supervises and delegates duties for the classroom facilitator; performs duties of the classroom facilitator if needed; makes regular classroom visits to check on classroom management and student progress; keeps the District ...

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