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AYANA SCOTT ET AL. v. GREGORY WILLIS ET AL. (05/25/88)

decided: May 25, 1988.

AYANA SCOTT ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
GREGORY WILLIS ET AL., APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, in the case of Ayana Scott, a minor, by her natural mother and guardian, Glenda Scott and Tyisha Page, a minor, by her grandmother and legal guardian, Marjorie Booker and Marjorie Booker v. Gregory Willis, School District of Philadelphia, Constance E. Clayton, W. Wilson Goode, Rita Spellman, Anthony Bellows and Gene W. Waiters, No. 4214 October Term, 1986.

COUNSEL

Jay Impellizzeri, with him, John Wendell Beavers, for appellants.

Andrew M. Rosen, for appellees.

Judges Doyle and Barry, and Senior Judge Narick, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle.

Author: Doyle

[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page 329]

Before this Court is the appeal of two minors, Ayana Scott and Tyisha Page, and their respective guardians, Glenda Scott and Marjorie Booker, (Appellants) from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County sustaining preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer of the defendants, the School District of Philadelphia; Constance E. Clayton, Superintendent; Rita Spellman, Principal of Cook Wissahickon School; Anthony Bellows, Principal of Kelly School; and Gene W. Waiters, Investigator for the School District (Appellees).

[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page ]

The facts alleged are as follows.*fn1 Appellants, Ayana Scott and Tyisha Page were students at Cook Wissahickon

[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page 330]

Elementary School when they were sexually assaulted on school grounds by Gregory Willis who was then a teacher at their school. At the time of these incidents, Ayana Scott was in kindergarten and Tyisha Page was in the second grade. The teacher, Willis, assaulted the children in his school office where he had placed posters over the windows. Willis subsequently pled guilty to charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and corruption of minors, and he is presently serving a prison term.

Appellants filed their complaint in trespass on October 27, 1986 alleging, inter alia, that the School District of Philadelphia (School District) and the named government officials knew or should have known about the deviate sexual tendencies of Willis, and that Appellants suffered injury as a result of Appellees' wanton and reckless disregard for the safety of the children in their care. The complaint further averred that the School District and Appellees, Clayton and Spellman, violated the constitutional rights of the minor children to privacy, liberty and the right to obtain an education without physical and sexual assault, as protected by 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1981, 1983 and 1988, and the Fourteenth Amendment.

On December 4, 1986, Appellees filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer to the state tort claims, based upon governmental immunity, as well as a demurrer to the federal constitutional claims. Appellants filed their answer to the preliminary objections on January 7, 1986.*fn2 The Honorable Samuel M. Leher sustained

[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page 331]

Appellees' preliminary objections ruling that the School District and the named government officials are immune from state law tort claims pursuant to the governmental immunity sections of the Judicial Code*fn3 (Code). Judge Leher also dismissed the constitutional claims due to Appellants' failure to allege a custom or policy which resulted in constitutional harm, and their failure to plead specific facts to establish the direct involvement of Appellees, Clayton and Spellman.

State Law Tort Claims

Appellants present two theories which, if legally sound, would strip Appellees of their cloak of governmental immunity. The first theory rests upon the real property exception to the governmental immunity section of the Code.*fn4 The second theory asserts that the individual government officials are personally liable since their alleged actions amounted to willful misconduct. As our opinion will show, however, neither of these attempts to overcome the bar of governmental immunity can succeed.

Focusing first upon the state law claims against the School District, the general rule of governmental immunity, as set forth in Section 8541 of the Code, is that "[e]xcept as otherwise provided in this subchapter, no local agency shall be liable for any changes on account of

[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page 332]

    any injury to a person or property caused by any act of the local agency or an employee thereof or any other person."*fn5 Without question, the School District is a local agency under Pennsylvania law;*fn6 yet, its immunity is not absolute. Governmental immunity may be overcome where Appellants can demonstrate: (1) that they possess a common law or statutory cause of action under which damages could be recoverable if not for the immunity defense; and (2) that the alleged negligence was caused by the ...


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