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WOODSON v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

June 26, 1999

MARY AND ERIC WOODSON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katz, Senior District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiffs Eric and Mary Woodson bring various causes of action stemming from an alleged assault of Eric Woodson. Three of the defendants, the School District of Philadelphia*fn1, Anna McGuire, and Angela Lee, now move for summary judgment.

Background

For purposes of this motion, the court accepts the plaintiffs' factual allegations as true. According to the plaintiffs, on June 3, 1998, Eric had left John Bartram High School for the day*fn2 when he and a friend, Kilyon Keyes, were stopped by two Philadelphia police officers for truancy. Eric and Kilyon were ordered into the police car, and, after they complied, they were returned to the school. After entering the school, the officers ordered Eric into an empty room. Eric did not enter the room as promptly as the police officer wished and may have challenged the officer verbally. In response, one of the officers lifted him off the ground by his clothing and then threw him across the tiled, cement floor. Eric's face and jaw were severely injured as a result. After some time had passed, one of the officers took Eric to the school nurse, Angela Lee. According to the plaintiffs, Lee failed to assist Eric or seek other medical attention for him. Eric was taken to the principal's office, and his mother was contacted. He eventually underwent extensive treatment for injuries.

Discussion*fn3

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff must allege that defendants who acted under the color state law deprived him of a right secured by the United States Constitution or federal law. Accordingly, section 1983 does not create any rights but rather provides a remedy for violation of rights secured elsewhere. See, e.g., Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906-07 (3d Cir. 1997). The court will consider the claims made against each of the moving defendants in turn.

The School District

Count five, the only count naming the School District, alleges that the District violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by having a "policy and/or custom . . . to inadequately train principals, school nurses, supervis[ors], teachers, and others in its employ, including the principal and school nurse herein, and to protect and safeguard the students in its care and control." Compl. ¶ 49. Count five continues to say that the School District had a policy of inadequately supervising and training school personnel, including Lee and McGuire, and "thereby failing to adequately discourage further constitutional violations on the part of its . . . school personnel."*fn4 Compl. ¶ 50. Finally, this count states that the District failed "to require appropriate in-service training or re-training of its personnel who were known to have failed in protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the students in the Philadelphia School System." Compl. ¶ 51. The School District now seeks summary judgment on this count.

Plaintiffs allege no affirmative policy or custom. The only policies of record in this case are that the School District had a policy of treating injured students when possible, see Def. Ex. I at 7-8 (deposition of Lee), and that the District also had a policy of investigating "serious incidents" in which students were involved. See, e.g., Plf. Ex. D at 28-29 (security officer stating that policy requires filing of report); Plf. Ex. E at 19-22 (principal stating that policy is to file reports and conduct investigation as deemed appropriate in such situations).

With respect to the failure to train, the Third Circuit has noted that "[e]stablishing municipal liability on a failure to train claim under § 1983 is difficult," Reitz, 125 F.3d at 145, and plaintiffs have simply failed to meet their burden. "A plaintiff pressing a § 1983 claim must identify a failure to provide specific training that has a causal nexus with their injuries and must demonstrate that the absence of that specific training can reasonably be said to reflect a deliberate indifference to whether the alleged constitutional deprivation occurred." Reitz, 125 F.3d at 145. Moreover, plaintiffs must also demonstrate that "through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the `moving force' behind the injury alleged." Bryan, 520 U.S. at 404, 117 S.Ct. 1382.

In this case, the plaintiffs have presented no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the School District engaged in a deliberately indifferent policy of failing to train its employees to assist injured students. Even assuming, for the moment, that the actions of the individual defendants were in violation of section 1983, there is no indication that the School District's failure to train was related to those actions. There is no evidence that "similar conduct ha[d] occurred in the past or that the inactivity or activity occurred specifically because of insufficient training[.]" Reitz, 125 F.3d at 145. Moreover, plaintiffs may not show deliberate indifference by pointing to the shortcomings of an individual principal or nurse; nor may they meet their burden by showing, without more, "that better training would have enabled a staff member to avoid the injury-causing conduct." Hedges v. Musco, 33 F. Supp.2d 369, 382 (D.N.J. 1999). Plaintiffs also fail to clarify what training might have alleviated the problems alleged.

Nor is there any evidence of record that would permit a finding that the School District should be liable for its custom or policy of failing to train the police officers in this case. Initially, and most importantly, the only evidence of record states that the police officers were not employed by the School District and were not attached to any particular school. See Def. Ex. M at 6-7, 12-15 (deposition of Officer Lopez stating that his duties pertaining to truants are established by the police department and that he has little or no contact with the school); Def. Ex. N at 6-7, 46-47 (deposition of Officer Pigford noting same); Plf. Ex. E at 17, 18, 33-34 (McGuire testimony noting that officers are not school personnel); Def. Ex. K (police department policy pertaining to truants). Even if the court were inclined to find that the officers' close relationship with Bartram High School could create an obligation on the part of the School District to train those officers, plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing deliberate indifference as described above. There is no evidence that the School District was aware of any prior incidents with these officers or other officers such that it should have been on notice of potential problems that it could have redressed through training programs. See, e.g., Plf. Ex. D at 28-29, 32 (testimony of school security officer stating that he was unaware of any other incidents between students and police officers).

While the plaintiffs' response to the motion for summary judgment suggests that there was some sort of conspiracy between the school defendants and the police officers in question, there is no evidence or argument presented that would enable the court to find that there was a School District policy that encouraged such behavior or a lack of training that could lead to such behavior. Again, the only possible basis for School District liability would be respondeat superior liability. However, even if plaintiffs could show that McGuire and Lee engaged in some sort of cover up of a violation of Eric's rights, there is nothing that connects such actions to the School District. As noted above, it appears to be School policy to ...


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