The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEALON
In this action, Connie M. Shepard and Brian F. Shepard, as parents, and their sons, Michael Shepard, Brian L. Shepard and Bradley J. Shepard, seek to recover damages from David Kemp, Lawrence Henry and the Oswayo Valley School District
Jurisdiction is predicated on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by the parents based on the allegation that all defendants interfered with, and adversely affected, family relations between parents and children, and by the sons, as individuals, against the same defendants for religious, sexual and family abuse. Pendent state law claims of assault and civil conspiracy have also been filed. In this Memorandum, the motions for summary judgment of defendants Lawrence Henry and the Oswayo Valley School District will be addressed. The motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for determination. For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted.
The record in the instant case consists of deposition testimony, affidavits and defendants' Statement of Material Facts. The evidence will be viewed in a manner most favorable to plaintiffs together with the uncontested affidavits and the unchallenged portions of the Statement of Material Facts submitted by the defendants.
The following factual scenario emerges:
Connie Shepard (Mrs. Shepard) and Brian F. Shepard (Mr. Shepard) are the parents of Michael Shepard (Michael), born May 1, 1973 and twin brothers Brian L. Shepard (Brian) and Bradley J. Shepard (Bradley), born November 8, 1974. Michael was graduated from Oswayo Valley High School in June, 1991, and the twins were graduated in June, 1993. Defendant, David Kemp (Kemp), was a school teacher at the Oswayo School and a Christian Minister, and defendant, Larry Henry (Henry), was School Superintendent. Dale Ishman (Ishman) served as Principal of the High School, Michael Ackerman (Ackerman) was the High School Guidance Counselor, and Henry Wojochowski (Wojochowski) was acting Principal until August, 1992. Kemp is charged by the children with committing sexual assault, religious proselytizing and family abuse while he is accused by the parents of interfering with family relations.
Henry and the School District are accused of creating a policy, practice, or custom which played an affirmative role in bringing the unconstitutional abuses against the plaintiffs and acting with deliberate indifference to that abuse.
The relationship between Michael and Kemp began while Michael was in his sophomore year at the Oswayo Valley High School. Michael was in Kemp's constitutional law class where he was singled out by Kemp for lengthy one-on-one discussions of various issues including religion. There were no allegations of any physical contact between Kemp and Michael during the sophomore year.
Michael did not attend any classes at the Oswayo Valley High School during his junior or senior years. His junior year (1989-1990) was spent at the Page School in Washington, D.C., and his senior year (1990-1991) at Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY. Michael graduated from the Oswayo Valley High School in June of 1991.
During breaks from Page School, Michael would visit Kemp and they corresponded by writing. Kemp's letters to Michael would often discuss religion pursuant to the religious dialogue that began in the constitutional law class. They continued to correspond while Michael was at Clarkson College. On May 1, 1991, Michael attained age eighteen. Shortly before Michael's High School commencement in June, 1991, Michael asked Kemp for a letter of recommendation which Kemp later provided; they also had several discussions regarding religion during that time. On August 13, 1991, after graduating, Michael was baptized by Kemp. This was done at Michael's request. On the day of the baptism, Kemp hugged Michael a few times, these were normal hugs, however, not "prayer hugs."
The day of the baptism was the first time that Kemp ever hugged Michael. After the baptism Michael was required by Kemp to do thorough religious study. This is where the objectionable prayer hugs occurred. During one visit to Michael's dorm room in Washington, D.C. in March of 1992 Kemp exposed himself to Michael. For a period of time during the summer of 1992 Michael moved into Kemp's house.
Bradley and Brian Shepard entered their senior year at Oswayo Valley High School in the fall of 1992 and were graduated from there on June 5, 1993.
Brian, at his own request, was baptized by Kemp on March 22, 1992. Prior to his baptism, and for a period thereafter, Brian received religious instruction from Kemp which included prayer hugs. These sessions were conducted in Kemp's classroom. Brian became uncomfortable with the prayer hugs and the religious training and hugs ceased in April of 1992.
Mrs. Shepard contacted Principal Henry Wojochowski in June 1992. She discussed a letter she had found from Kemp to Michael dated April 28, 1992, which sounded like a love letter wherein Kemp described Michael as "the greatest love of my life." She also expressed a fear that Kemp would begin to influence the twins. Wojochowski had a hard time remembering exactly what was said, however, he does remember being told by her that Michael was living with Kemp and that she was afraid for the twins. He believed he spoke to Henry about the Shepard conversation one or two times. There was an incident involving Kemp using abusive language toward a student or students for which Wojochowski reprimanded Kemp and reported it to Henry. (See Doc. 99, Exhibit F).
Mrs. Shepard then went to Guidance Counselor Ackerman on July 22, 1992, and complained about Kemp's efforts at religious instruction with the twins. At Ackerman's suggestion, the Shepard parents met with Henry in July of 1992. They discussed the letter that Kemp wrote to Michael and their fears that Kemp would influence the twins. They mentioned the opinions of Rev. Minors that Kemp was a "closet homosexual" and the Potter County Mental Health Association that Kemp had engaged in religious abuse as well as another incident of Kemp interfering in a family relationship.
While their initial discussion involved Kemp's religious domination of Michael and the "love letter" he had received from Kemp, they also expressed concern about the twins being exposed to him as students in their final year. "The main concern was that we wanted -- we were concerned about the suicides [in the Valley] ... we were concerned about them being exposed to him." Connie Shepard Dep. at 154. Henry was asked if he could arrange a different schedule for the twins so they wouldn't have to take classes with Kemp but Henry advised that Kemp's course "Problems of Democracy" was a required course for graduation and that Kemp was the only one teaching that subject. Henry appeared to be really concerned and stated that he would inform the appropriate people at the high school and that Kemp would be monitored and the twins would be watched closely. As to whether they sought any further response or action by Henry, Mrs. Shepard answered, as follows:
Q. Other than you requesting that Dr. Henry check into some sort of different schedule for the twins, did you have any other specific requests for him in this meeting?
A. Did we have any -- I don't believe so. We just didn't want them exposed to him. Connie Shepard Dep. at 159.
Additionally, Henry admitted to the Shepards that he was aware of problems with Kemp but that Kemp was near retirement age and they were hoping to get him out of the system.
After this meeting, Henry called School District Solicitor, Chris Mattie on July 23, 1992, but only mentioned Kemp's relationship with Michael
and was told by Mattie that nothing could be done since Michael had graduated. He also talked ...