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RINKER v. SIPLER

May 13, 2003

THOMAS RINKER AND MICHELLE RINKER, HIS WIFE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS OF CHAD RINKER, A MINOR, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PAUL J. SIPLER, CHARLES MIDDAUGH, AND STROUDSBURG AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James M. Munley, United States District Court

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court for disposition is defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs Thomas Rinker and Michelle Rinker, his wife, individually and as parents and natural guardians of Chad Rinker, a minor, allege that defendants violated Chad Rinkers' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and seek relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs also seek damages pursuant to common law claims of assault and battery. For the reasons that follow, we will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs' federal claims. We decline to address plaintiffs' state law claims.

I. Background

On February 7, 2001, Defendant Paul Sipler, the assistant principal at Stroudsburg Area Junior High School, ("SAJHS"), requested that Chad Rinker, ("Chad"), a student at SAJHS, come to his office.*fn1 Earlier on February 7, another student at SAJHS, Nabil Cristillo, told Sipler that "a kid" had marijuana on his school bus.*fn2 Cristillo and Chad rode the same bus to school. After Cristillo's report, Sipler and Charles Middaugh, a school security officer, pulled Chad out of his keyboarding class and escorted him to Sipler's office.

Once in Sipler's office, Sipler told Chad that another student had reported that Chad had marijuana on the school bus. Chad denied that he had marijuana on the bus, and Sipler did not name the informant when Chad asked who it was. During their conversation, Sipler found Chad to be somewhat incoherent, and claims that he looked stoned and smelled of marijuana. Middaugh also smelled marijuana on Chad. Sipler told Chad that he smelled like marijuana and that he was going to be searched.

After questioning Chad, Sipler ordered Middaugh to search him. The search took place in Sipler's office, which has three windows that look out on the exterior entrance of the building. The windows have coverings, but the coverings were open at the time of the search. At the direction of Sipler, Middaugh had Chad pull out his front and back pockets. Middaugh then placed his hands in Chad's pockets to make sure that there was nothing inside of them. Chad was then ordered to take off his socks and shoes, and a walking cast that he wore because of a recent ankle sprain. Nothing was discovered in Chad's socks or shoes. After he put his socks and shoes back on, Chad was told to lower his pants. He lowered his pants to his knees. Middaugh then ran his hands around the interior of Chad's boxer shorts to make sure nothing was hidden inside. Chad was not ordered to remove his boxers and did not do so. Again, nothing was found in the search.

After the search of Chad's clothing, Sipler searched Chad's bookbag and locker. No drugs were found. Sipler did find, however, a notebook in Chad's bookbag that had drawings of mushrooms. This prompted Sipler to ask Chad whether he was doing mushrooms. Chad said that he was not doing mushrooms.

Next, Sipler called the school nurse in to check Chad's vital signs. She examined Chad's eyes and throat and had him perform some tests. She told Chad he looked stoned. Chad said he was not stoned. Immediately after the nurse's examination, how ever, Chad did give a written statement in which he admitted to smoking marijuana on Sunday night, four days before February 7, the day in question. Chad also stated that he had thrown away a marijuana "roach" that was in his coat pocket before boarding the school bus on February 7.

Sometime that morning, Chad's mother was called. She was told to come to the school in an hour. In the interim, Sipler asked Chad to give a sample for a urinalysis and he agreed to do so. Chad drank some water before attempting to give a urine sample. Middaugh gave Chad an additional drink of water and took him into a bathroom not usually open to students. The bathroom was smaller than that used by the students, having only one toilet and no urinals. As Chad attempted to produce a sample, Middaugh stood behind him. Chad was unable to urinate. Middaugh ran the water in the sink and is alleged to have splashed water on Chad's neck. Eventually, Chad was taken to a larger bathroom, one used by students, and produced a sample. The sample was later tested and came back negative.

Chad's mother, Michelle Rinker, ("Ms. Rinker"), was now at the school. Sipler asked her to sign a waiver of expulsion hearing form. Ms. Rinker refused to sign the form and alleges that Sipler told her that Chad would be expelled regardless of whether she signed the hearing waiver form. Ms. Rinker and Chad then left the school. Chad's father, Thomas Rinker, ("Mr. Rinker"), later came to the school to find out why Chad had been expelled. Mr. Rinker alleges that Sipler also told him that Chad would be expelled regardless of whether a hearing was held. He further alleges that Sipler said the police would b e called in to investigate if a hearing were held.

In the end, Stroudsburg Area School District decided not to expel Chad. In a letter dated February 9, 2001, Sipler informed the Rinkers that Chad was assigned an out-of-school-suspension of ten (10) days, beginning February 8. Ms. Rinker states that the February 9 letter was postmarked February 12 and not received until February 13 or 14. Defendants claim that they left two or three messages regarding their decision to suspend, instead of expel, Chad on the Rinkers' answering machine. The Rinkers allege that these messages were left after February 14. In the meantime, the Rinkers enrolled Chad in a private school, Messiah Christian Academy, on February 14, believing that he had been expelled from SAJHS.

On July 9, 2001, the plaintiffs filed the instant complaint, seeking damages for violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the common law torts of assault and battery. Oral argument was held on defendants' ensuing motion for summary judgment on October 28, 2002, bringing the case to its present posture.

II. Jurisdiction

The Court exercises jurisdiction over this dispute pursuant to its federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Pennsylvania law applies to those claims considered pursuant to supple mental jurisdiction. United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (193 8)).

III. Standard of Review

Granting summary judgment is proper 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. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n. 4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 19 90). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be in sufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts ...


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