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Schools & School Boards – Civil Rights – Constitutional – Substantive Due Process – Cheerleader Coach

By: Teresa Bruno, Opinions Editor//October 28, 2015

Schools & School Boards – Civil Rights – Constitutional – Substantive Due Process – Cheerleader Coach

By: Teresa Bruno, Opinions Editor//October 28, 2015

Doe v. Georgetown County School District (Lawyers Weekly No. 002-190-15, 21 pp.) (David Norton, J.) 2:14-cv-01873; D.S.C.

Holding: Plaintiff alleges that her cheerleading coach made an inappropriate comment about plaintiff’s body and then was rude to plaintiff after plaintiff reported the comment. Accepting plaintiff’s allegations as true, the defendant-coach’s actions do not shock the conscience enough to make out a substantive due process violation claim.

The court grants summary judgment for defendants as to plaintiff’s federal claims. The court dismisses plaintiff’s state law claims without prejudice.


While discussing arm placement for a cheer, the defendant-coach told plaintiff that her placement would not be the same as for the other girls because not everyone had “saggy boobs” like plaintiff. Plaintiff turned her chair so that her back was to the coach. The coach turned plaintiff’s chair back around and continued to “pick on” plaintiff.

Plaintiff reported the incident, there was an investigation, and the coach was placed on leave for a couple of weeks before returning to her duties as cheerleading coach. Plaintiff remained on the squad for the rest of that year and returned to cheer the following year.


Conduct that is wrong enough to register on a due process scale is conduct that shocks the conscience. Regardless of whether the coach’s alleged harassing statements were coupled with physical contact, her actions do not shock the conscience. Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s reluctance to expand the reach of substantive due process, the coach’s actions clearly do not fall within that limited reach.

In her claim against the defendant-school district, plaintiff relies on the state-created danger doctrine. However, the doctrine does not apply here because plaintiff cannot show that the district created or substantially enhanced the alleged danger that caused her harm. Plaintiff merely alleges that the district’s omissions and inactions – failing to interview plaintiff or any witnesses to the coach’s comments and failing to remove her as cheerleading coach – create liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A plaintiff must show that the state actor created or increased the risk of private danger and did so directly through affirmative acts, not merely through inaction or omission. Thus, the state-created danger doctrine is inapplicable.

The record is devoid of evidence from which a reasonable jury could determine that the coach’s actions were sufficiently severe and pervasive to rise to the level of a Title IX violation.

Since the district took reasonable steps to investigate plaintiff’s complaints and took appropriate measures to ensure that the matter was adequately handled, plaintiff cannot establish that the district was deliberately indifferent to her complaints about the coach.

Motion granted in part; state law claims dismissed without prejudice.

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