The opinion of the court was delivered by: Vanaskie, Chief Judge.
Kurilla contends that Magistrate Judge Blewitt erred in
applying the substantive due process "shocks the conscience" test
to Callahan's conduct, asserting that the applicable test is
provided by the Fourth Amendment "reasonableness" standard.
Kurilla argues that the fact that Callahan was convicted of the
summary offense of harassment in connection with the incident
giving rise to this lawsuit entitles Kurilla to summary judgment
on liability. Alternatively, Kurilla contends that there is a
triable issue as to whether Callahan's conduct "shocks the
Having carefully considered the issues de novo, I find that
the momentary use of force by a school teacher is to be judged by
the shocks the conscience standard. I also find that Callahan's
conduct, which consisted of striking a blow to Kurilla's chest
that resulted in bruising but otherwise did not require medical
care, was not so "`brutal' and `offensive to human dignity'" as
to shock the judicial conscience. Johnson v. Glick,
481 F.2d 1028, 1033 n. 6 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 1033, 94
S.Ct. 462, 38 L.Ed.2d 324 (1973). Accordingly, I will adopt
Magistrate Judge Blewitt's recommendation that Callahan's summary
judgment motion be granted.
While Callahan's conduct did not violate substantive due
standards, Mid-Valley School District may nonetheless be held
accountable for having established a policy or custom that caused
the injury allegedly sustained by Kurilla. Because I find that
Kurilla has presented sufficient evidence to warrant a trial on
the question of the existence of a policy or custom to tolerate
use of excessive force by a teacher, the School District's
summary judgment motion will be denied.
On October 3, 1995, Kurilla was an eighth grade student at Mid
Valley Secondary Center. (Kurilla's Aff., Dkt. Entry 39 at ¶ 2.)
According to Kurilla, on that date, he was attending a study hall
supervised by Defendant Kevin Callahan ("Callahan"), where
Kurilla got into a fight with another student. Id. at ¶ 3.
Callahan called both Kurilla and the other student to his desk,
and asked the other student what happened. Id. at ¶ 4. Kurilla
interrupted and began explaining his side of the story, to which
Callahan responded by telling Kurilla to "Shut up or I will lay
you out on the floor." Id. at ¶ 4. Kurilla attempted again to
tell his side of the story when Callahan grabbed him by the shirt
with clenched hands and proceeded to pull Kurilla very hard,
causing Kurilla's chest to strike Callahan's closed fists. Id.
at ¶ 5. Kurilla claims that Callahan's action, which allegedly
had the identical effect as if Callahan punched him, resulted in
bruising on Kurilla's chest. Id. at ¶ 5.
The bruise was on Kurilla's right side, above the nipple.
(Kurilla Dep. at 60.) In addition to the bruise on his chest,
Kurilla alleges that he had a red mark on the back of his neck
and on the left side of his chest. Id. at 61. The only
photographs taken were of the bruise on Kurilla's right side,
above the nipple. Id. According to Kurilla's father, the
photographs were taken two or three hours after the incident with
Callahan. (Kurilla Sr. Dep. at 26, 28.)
Following the incident with Callahan, Kurilla saw the family
doctor, Dr. Gazmen. (Id. at 29.) Dr. Gazmen performed a
complete examination, but no x-rays were taken. (Id. at 37.)
Dr. Gazmen concluded that there was no internal damage and that
there was no need to prescribe any medication or to impose any
restrictions on Kurilla. (Id. at 69-70.) Kurilla's father was
told to call Dr. Gazmen if there were any problems, but Kurilla's
father never called. Id.
Callahan was subsequently tried and convicted of the summary
offense of harassment of Kurilla.*fn1 Callahan was also
convicted of harassment of two other students in separate
incidents, one occurring before the matter involving Kurilla and
one occurring two days after the Kurilla incident. Callahan
appealed his guilty verdict to the Pennsylvania Superior Court,
which dismissed his appeal. Kurilla filed this action on February
6, 1997, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law.
A motion for summary judgment was filed by Defendant Mid Valley
School District ("School District") on February 2, 1998. (Def.'s
Mot.Summ.J., Dkt. Entry 26 at 1.) The School District argued that
Kurilla failed to adduce evidence demonstrating the School
District had a policy or custom of tolerating its teachers'
violent behavior towards students, or that the School District
created a danger to students. Id. at 2. On January 15, 1999, a
motion for partial summary judgment was filed by Callahan.
(Def.'s Mot. Partial Summ.J., Dkt. Entry 42.) Callahan sought
dismissal of Kurilla's § 1983 claim, asserting that Callahan's
conduct was not sufficient to impose liability under § 1983.
(Def.'s Supp.Br., Dkt. Entry 44 at 4.) On January 25, 1999,
Kurilla filed a motion for partial summary judgment with respect
to liability on his civil rights claim, alleging that Callahan's
unreasonable conduct violated Kurilla's Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendment rights. (Pl.'s Mot. Partial Summ.J., Dkt Entry 45 at
Magistrate Judge Blewitt, to whom this matter had been assigned
for pretrial management, concluded that the School District and
Callahan were entitled to summary judgment. With respect to the
School District, Magistrate Judge Blewitt reasoned that the
plaintiffs failed to present competent evidence sufficient to
warrant a trial on the questions of whether the School District
had a policy or custom of tolerating violent behavior by its
teachers towards students, or whether it acted in willful
disregard for the safety of Kurilla. As to Callahan, Magistrate
Judge Blewitt rejected Kurilla's assertion that Fourth Amendment
principles were applicable. Instead, Magistrate Judge Blewitt
found that Kurilla's claims were properly evaluated under the
substantive due process component of the Fourteenth Amendment and
its "shock the conscience" standard. Concluding that Kurilla's
claim failed to "shock the conscience," Magistrate Judge Blewitt
recommended that Callahan's motion for partial summary judgment
be granted. Magistrate Judge Blewitt also recommended that
Kurilla's motion for partial
summary judgment be denied and that supplemental jurisdiction
over the pendent state law claims be declined. The matter is now
before the Court on Kurilla's objections.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate if the "pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with
the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Jones v.
Witinski, 931 F. Supp. 364, 365. (M.D.Pa. 1996). In Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91
L.Ed.2d 265 (1986), the Supreme Court opined:
[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry
of summary judgment, after adequate time for
discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails
to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's
case, and on which the party will bear the burden of
proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be `no
genuine issue as to any material fact,' since
complete failure of proof concerning an essential
element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily
renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party
is `entitled to judgment as a matter of law' because
the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient
showing on an essential element of her case with
respect to which she has the burden of proof.
An issue of fact is "`genuine' only if a reasonable jury,
considering the evidence presented, could find for the non-moving
party." Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 693-94 (3d Cir. 1988)
(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106
S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). "Material facts are those
which will affect the outcome of the trial under governing law."
Jones v. Witinski, 931 F. Supp. at 365. To determine whether an
issue of material fact exists, the court must consider the
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. White v.
Westinghouse Electric Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988).
B. The Excessive Force Claim Under § 1983
1. The Constitutional Standard to be Applied in School
Excessive Force Cases.
The threshold inquiry in addressing Kurilla's § 1983 excessive
force claim involves "identifying the specific constitutional
right allegedly infringed. . . ." Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. 386, 394, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). Identification
of the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed is
essential because the standard against which the defendant's
conduct is to be assessed depends upon the right that is
purportedly violated. See Metcalf v. Long, 615 F. Supp. 1108,
1118 (D.Del. 1985). For example, an excessive force claim in the
context of an arrest is analyzed under the Fourth Amendment
reasonableness standard. Graham, 490 U.S. at 395-97, 109 S.Ct.
1865. But once a person has been convicted and sentenced, an
excessive force claim is analyzed under the Cruel and Unusual
Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment. Metcalf, 615
F. Supp. at 1119. In Eighth Amendment excessive force cases, "the
core judicial inquiry is . . . whether force was applied in a
good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or
maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Hudson v.
McMillan, 503 U.S. 1, 6, 112 S.Ct. 995, 999, 117 L.Ed.2d 156,
166 (1992). Claims of abusive treatment of pretrial detainees are
analyzed under substantive due process principles. Graham, 490
U.S. at 395 n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 1865; Bell v. Wolfish,
441 U.S. 520, 535-39, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979); Williams v.
Mussomelli, 722 ...