the stream. The Plaintiffs allege that the juvenile youths saw the Decedent in the waters of the stream but did not do anything to help him. In fact, the Plaintiffs allege one of the youths picked up the Decedents school books that were lying on the side of the embankment and threw them in the water at the Decedent yelling "Catch these!". Tragically, the Decedent drowned in the stream. Although he was declared missing on November 17, 1989, his body was not found until March 19, 1990, downstream in Scranton, Pennsylvania. A subsequent autopsy by the County Corner determined the cause of death was hyperthermia and drowning.
Plaintiffs allege that the conduct of the Defendants violated the Decedent's civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, his Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution, as well as various rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution and other federal and state enactments.
It is under this factual background that the Court will review and analyze the above motion.
MOTION TO DISMISS
In deciding a Motion to Dismiss, all material allegations must be accepted as true and construed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Truhe v. Rupell, 641 F. Supp. 57 (M.D. Pa. 1985). A complaint may be dismissed only if it appears that the Plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Id. The Court must view all allegations made in the complaint, as well as all inferences reasonably drawn therefrom, in favor of the Plaintiff. Sturm v. Clark, 835 F.2d 1009 (3d Cir. 1987). Because a Motion to Dismiss results in a determination on the merits at the earliest stage of the proceedings, the Court is obligated to construe the Plaintiff's complaint in favor of the Plaintiff. Pittsburgh National Bank v. Welton Becket Associates, 601 F. Supp. 887 (W.D. pa. 1985). A complaint should never be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless the court is convinced beyond doubt that the Plaintiff can prove no set of facts to support a claim which would permit a recovery. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957); Hooten v. Pennsylvania College of Optometry, 601 F. Supp. 1151 (E.D. Pa. 1984).
A. Violation of Civil Rights Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
The Plaintiffs' assert that under applicable state law a special relationship existed between the Defendants and the students entrusted to their care including Plaintiff's decedent, David Hadden, and the other juvenile individuals. The Plaintiffs further allege that the Defendants had a right to control and discipline the students. In essence, the Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants deprived the Decedent of his liberty without due process of law when a special relationship existed, in violation of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, by failing to protect against a risk of violence when the Decedent was placed in detention after school on the afternoon of November 16, 1989 with other non-exceptional students.
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that "no State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law". Plaintiffs assert that the State deprived the Decedent of his liberty interest by failing to provide him with adequate protection against the other student's violent behavior. It is a well-established principle that the Due Process Clause does not impose an affirmative duty upon the state to protect its citizens. Rather, there is nothing in the language of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, that requires a state to protect the life, liberty and property of it's citizens against harm by private actors. The Due Process Clause is phrased to limit the State's power to act, not as an assurance of certain minimal levels of safety. Deshaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, 195, 103 L. Ed. 2d 249, 109 S. Ct. 998 (1989); Fialkowski v. Greenwich Home for Children, Inc., 921 F.2d 459, 465 (3d Cir. 1990); D.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Vocational-Technical School, 972 F.2d 1364 (3d Cir. 1992). "The purpose of the Due Process Clause was to protect the people from the State, not to ensure that the State protected them from each other. The Framers were content to leave the extent of governmental obligation in the latter area to the democratic political processes." See Deshaney at 196. However, when the state enters into a "special relationship" with a citizen, it can be liable to that citizen for the private actions of third parties. See Cornelius v. Town of Highland Lake, Ala., 880 F.2d 348, 352 (11th Cir. 1990). Liability against a state actor attaches under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when the state fails, under certain blameworthy circumstances, to Protect the health and safety of the citizen to whom it owes an affirmative duty. See Cornelius at 353.
In the present case, the Plaintiffs contend that under existing federal and state statutes a special relationship existed between the parties. This Court must decide whether the school Defendants had such a special relationship with the Plaintiffs by virtue of the fact that the Decedent was placed in special education courses at Carbondale Area Junior High School as required by federal and state law. Plaintiffs argue that the state entered into a special relationship when they restrained the Decedent's freedom to act by placing him in detention after school.
The United States Supreme Court in Deshaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services, supra, refused to impose a constitutional duty upon a state to protect the life, liberty or property of a citizen from the deprivations by private actors absent the existence of a special relationship between the parties. DeShaney involved the state's repeated receipt of reports of abuse of a minor by his father. The state agency received reports of repeated instances of child abuse by the father but failed to remove the baby from the home. The father eventually beat the child so severely that the child fell into a life-threatening coma. The child and his mother filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against state officials claiming that they deprived the minor of his liberty without due process of the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to protect him against the risk of violence from the father and by failing to remove him from the violent environment.
In DeShaney, the Court determined "a State' failure to protect an individual against private violence by a third party simply does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause," DeShaney, at 197. The Court noted, however, that in certain limited circumstances the Constitution does impose upon a State an affirmative duty to protect and care for certain private individuals. For example, in, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976) the Court found that a State did have an affirmative duty to provide adequate medical care for prisoners due to the fact that incarceration prevented the inmates for caring for themselves. The Court later broadened Estelle by imposing a duty of care on the State to provide protection and care for involuntarily committed mental patients. See Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 73 L. Ed. 2d 28, 102 S. Ct. 2452 (1962).
A review of the Plaintiffs amended complaint reveals that the Estelle-Youngberg exceptions are not applicable to this case. However, the Plaintiffs assert that the state owed a duty to the Decedent
"when the Defendants took the Decedents into their custody and held him against his will in detention, the Constitution imposed a duty to assume some responsibility for his safety and well-being". (See Amended Complaint, Doc. No. 5).