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Walsh v. Krantz

June 4, 2008

RORY M. WALSH, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NATURAL GUARDIAN OF C.R.W., PLAINTIFF
v.
DR. ROBERT KRANTZ, SHARI A. YOUNG, SUE A. CATHCART, JUDY KEENEY, KELLY HEISEY, UNKNOWN DALLASTOWN STAFF MEMBER, DR. STEWART WEINBERG, DALLASTOWN AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, STEVEN L. TURNER, AND PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court are the motions, filed by defendants Dr. Robert Krantz ("Krantz"), Shari A. Young ("Young"), Sue A. Cathcart ("Cathcart"), Judy Keeney ("Keeney"), Kelly Heisey ("Heisey"), Dr. Stewart Weinberg ("Weinberg"), Dallastown Area School District ("School District"),*fn1 and Steven L. Turner ("Turner"), to dismiss the claims of pro se plaintiff Rory M. Walsh ("Walsh") brought individually and on behalf of his son, C.R.W.*fn2 For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Statement of Facts*fn3

In 2004, Mrs. Zarfoss, an English teacher at Dallastown Area Middle School, arrived at Walsh's residence on a Sunday without prior notification and purportedly began to curse at and call Walsh names. Walsh reported this incident to Krantz, the then-principal of the school. According to the complaint, Krantz subsequently directed Heisey to contact social services to have Walsh's son, C.R.W., removed from his custody.*fn4 (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 9, 14-15, 56.)

When mid-term grades were announced in the fall of 2005, C.R.W. received a blank and an "E" grade from Young. Walsh was surprised by these grades because Young had not sent a note home, as school policy dictates, informing him that C.R.W. had missed three or more assignments. (Id. ¶ 26.) Young allegedly refused to attend a conference with Walsh to discuss C.R.W.'s progress and grades.*fn5 Young also recommended that C.R.W. receive a psychological evaluation, but Walsh refused.*fn6 (Id.) Cathcart then immediately restricted Walsh from the Dallastown Area Middle School.*fn7 (Id.) In May 2006, Young failed to give C.R.W. mid-term grades. (Id. ¶ 28.) Walsh reported this failure to Krantz, who allegedly responded by insulting Walsh. (Id. ¶ 29.)

In December 2005, Krantz pressured Walsh to have C.R.W. undergo a psychological evaluation. Walsh again refused to allow such testing. (Id. ¶ 18.) Cathcart then informed each of C.R.W.'s teachers that Walsh refused to allow his son to be tested. (Id. ¶ 31.) During this time, Walsh reported to Krantz that Young was abusing her students, bringing one student to tears in class and repeatedly changing due dates of assignments. (Id. ¶ 19.) Krantz became enraged and ordered Walsh to his office because "Krantz's limited authority under the Safe Schools Act only covers his campus, and [Krantz] has become accustomed to belittling parents within his office." (Id. ¶ 20.) Walsh reported this incident with Krantz to Weinberg, the Superintendent of the School District, who advised Walsh to report to Krantz's office and recommended that Walsh allow the school to evaluate C.R.W.*fn8 (Id. ¶ 21.) Walsh believes that Krantz similarly treated other families within the school district who had complained about Krantz's actions to drive them from the district, just as he was attempting to drive Walsh and his children from the school district. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 23-24.)

On March 29, 2006, Krantz blocked the first of two telephone calls from Walsh to C.R.W.*fn9 With the assistance of an unknown Dallastown staff member, Krantz allegedly eavesdropped on a subsequent telephone conversation between Walsh and C.R.W. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 34, 37, 40, 43.) An email from Krantz to Walsh revealed the contents of the conversation between Walsh and his son, and in the email Krantz "expressed his fury that a parent would call his school, twice in the same day."*fn10 (Id. ¶ 44.)

Walsh initiated an inquiry into the alleged wrongdoing of these Dallastown Area School District staff members. According to the complaint, Turner, the assigned investigator, failed to conduct an impartial inquiry, repeatedly tried to precipitate an incident at Walsh's residence during the investigation, and falsely reported C.R.W.'s statements regarding Young's conduct. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 49.) Walsh avers that Young no longer works at the Dallastown Area Middle School and that Krantz was transferred to the Dover School District because of their alleged wrongdoing. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 22.)

Walsh commenced the instant action on April 2, 2007. (See id.) He alleges, inter alia, that Krantz, Cathcart, Keeney, Young, and Heisey attempted to deprive him and his children of a public education (id. ¶¶ 16, 55). The complaint sets forth nine counts against the individual defendants and the School District: (1) 18 U.S.C. § 241 (conspiracy against rights), (2) 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (conspiracy to interfere with civil rights), (3) 5 U.S.C. § 552 (Privacy Act), (4) 18 U.S.C. § 119 (interception of oral communications), (5) 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2520 (Federal Wiretapping Act), (6) 47 U.S.C. § 605 (unauthorized publication or use of communications), (7) 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 5703, 5704, 5725 (Pennsylvania Wiretap Act), (8) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (civil action for deprivation of rights), and (9) 18 U.S.C. § 875 (interstate communications). Turner filed a motion to dismiss the § 1983 claim against him*fn11 and the School District defendants filed a motion to dismiss all claims against them.*fn12 The motions have been fully briefed*fn13 and are ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice pleading rules require the complaint to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Sershen v. Cholish, No. 3:07-CV-1011, 2007 WL 3146357, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 26, 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, --- U.S. ---, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007)). The plaintiff must present facts that, if true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a) (stating that the complaint should include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief"); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ---U.S. ---, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"); Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007). Thus, courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim if it "contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Montville Twp. v. Woodmont Builders LLC, No. 05-4888, 2007 WL 2261567, at *2 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, --- U.S. at ---, 127 S.Ct. at 1969). Under this liberal pleading standard, courts should generally grant plaintiffs leave to amend their claims before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).

III. Discussion

The complaint raises: (1) claims under various criminal statutes, (2) a 42 U.S.C. § 1985 claim, (3) a Privacy Act claim, (4) claims relating to the alleged eavesdropping, and (5) claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court will address these claims seriatim. Before doing so, however, the court will address defendants' contention that Walsh cannot bring claims belonging to his son.

A. C.R.W.'s Claims

The School District defendants contend that Walsh lacks standing to bring claims belonging to his son. (Doc. 18 at 5.) They argue that Walsh did not properly bring the claims on behalf of his son. (Id. at 7.) The court disagrees. Although Walsh cannot bring individual claims for the alleged injuries sustained by C.R.W.,*fn14 a liberal reading of the complaint, see supra note 3, reveals that Walsh intended to bring individual claims for his own alleged injuries and claims on behalf of his son when he used the caption "Rory M. Walsh, individually and as natural guardian of C.R.W., a minor." Indeed, in all but three counts-Counts II, VIII, and IX-the complaint reads: "Plaintiffs pray for entry of a Judgment in their favor against defendants." (Doc. 1 at 8, 10-12.) Under Rule 17 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, it is proper for Walsh, as natural guardian of C.R.W., to bring claims on behalf of C.R.W. See FED. R. CIV. P. 17. Therefore, to the extent that Walsh brings individual claims for the alleged injuries to his son, the court will grant the School District defendants' motion to dismiss. However, to the extent that Walsh brings claims on behalf of his son, the court will deny the motion.*fn15

B. Criminal Statutes

Defendants contend that Walsh cannot maintain the claims premised on the following criminal statutes: (1) 18 U.S.C. § 241, (2) 18 U.S.C. § 875, and (3) 18 U.S.C. § 119. The court agrees. "A private party has no right to enforce federal criminal statutes." Balawajder v. Jacobs, 220 F.3d 586, 586 (5th Cir. 2000).*fn16 Nor do the criminal statutes at issue provide for a private right of enforcement. See Three Rivers Ctr. for Ind. Living v. Hous. Auth., 382 F.3d 412, 420 (3d Cir. 2004) ("A court must look to the text of the statute to see if it states, by its terms, that a private party may bring suit to enforce it."); Barr v. Camelot Forest Conservation Ass'n, 153 F. App'x 860, 862 (3d Cir. 2005) (affirming the dismissal of the federal criminal statute claims because 18 U.S.C. §§ 241, 242, and 245 "are criminal offenses for which there is no civil remedy, and therefore, [plaintiff] lacked standing to bring them"); United States v. City of Philadelphia, 482 F. Supp. 1248, 1260 (E.D. Pa. 1979) ("On their face, [18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242] neither authorize any civil suit nor create any civil liability.").*fn17 Notably, Walsh's opposition to the dismissal of these claims does not attempt to demonstrate that he has a private right of action under these criminal statutes.*fn18 (See Doc. 33 at 6, 20-21.) Accordingly, the motion to dismiss these criminal claims-Counts I, IV, and IX of the complaint-will be granted and leave to amend will be denied as futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002).

C. Section 1985 Claim

Walsh alleges a § 1985 claim against various School District defendants. (See Doc. 1 at 8-9.) Section 1985(3) provides a cause of action against a person who conspires "for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws." 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3).*fn19 To establish a prima facie case under § 1985(3), a plaintiff must allege: "(1) a conspiracy; (2) motivated by a racial or class based discriminatory animus designed to deprive, directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons . . . [of] the equal protection of the laws; (3) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; and (4) an injury to person or property or the deprivation of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States." Ridgewood Bridgeport. of Educ. v. N.E. ex rel. M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 253-54 (3d Cir. 1999); see also Farber v. City of Patterson, 440 F.3d 131, 134 (3d Cir. 2006); Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 102-03 (1971); Brown v. Philip Morris Inc., 250 F.3d 789, 805 (3d Cir. 2001); Lake v. Arnold, 112 F.3d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1997).

In the matter sub judice, the complaint is devoid of allegations sufficient to state a § 1985 claim. First, the complaint does not allege a conspiracy or agreement among the defendants; it merely sets forth the individual actions of these defendants. Second, the complaint does not allege that "any 'racial or class based discriminatory animus'" motivated defendants' conduct. See Cranbury Brook Farms v. Twp. of Cranbury, 226 F. App'x 92, 95 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Lake v. Arnold, 112 F.3d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1997)). Finally, the complaint does not identify a protected class to which Walsh belongs. In his opposition brief, however, Walsh argues that he is a member of the protected class of single-parent families. (See Doc. 33 at 20.) The court finds that single-parent families do not constitute a protected class for purposes of § 1985.

In determining whether a class is protected under § 1985, "a court must examine whether a plaintiff belongs to a class that exhibits immutable characteristics for which it bears no responsibility and whether the class has suffered historically pervasive discrimination." Laufgas v. Bramson, No. 04-387, 2006 WL 1805884, at *6 (D.N.J. June 29, 2006) ("[T]he Third Circuit, in holding that persons with handicaps were members of a protected class for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), noted that a court must examine whether a plaintiff belongs to a class that exhibits immutable characteristics for which it bears no responsibility and whether the class has suffered historically pervasive discrimination." (citing Lake v. Arnold, 112 F.3d 682, 688 (3d Cir. 1997))); Humphrey v. Court of Common Pleas of York County, Pa., 640 F. Supp. 1239, 1243 (M.D. Pa. 1986) (same). The court finds that Walsh's purported class-single-parent families-fails to satisfy either of these criteria. Id. (finding that the plaintiff's purported class-divorcing fathers, divorced fathers, or fathers engaged in custody disputes-does not satisfy either criteria); see also Borlawsky v. Town of Windham, 115 F. Supp. 2d 27, 29 (D. Me. 2000) ("The class for which the plaintiff claims protection is 'divorced or otherwise single women parents.' That is not a recognized class [under § 1985(3)]."). Therefore, the purported class is not a protected class for purposes of § 1985. Accordingly, the court will grant the School District defendants' motion to dismiss the § 1985 claim-Count II of the complaint-and will deny leave to amend as futile. See Grayson, 293 F.3d at 108.

D. Privacy Act

Walsh brings a Privacy Act claim against Cathcart and the School District, alleging that Cathcart informed each of C.R.W.'s teachers that Walsh refused to allow his son to be tested. (See Doc. 1 at 9-10.) The Privacy Act provides that "[n]o agency shall disclose any record which is contained in a system of records by any means of communication to any person, or to another agency, except pursuant to a written request by, or with the prior written consent of, the individual to whom the record pertains." 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b) (emphasis added). The court agrees with its sister courts in the Western District of Pennsylvania and the District of New Jersey that a Privacy Act claim cannot be brought against an individual or a state or local agency. See Fetzer v. Cambria County Human Servs., 384 F. Supp. 2d 813, 816 (W.D. Pa. 2005);*fn20 Cummings v. Malone, No. 06-5442, 2006 WL 3694592, at *3 (D.N.J. Dec. 12, 2006) ("The Privacy Act prohibits certain records from being disclosed by federal agencies, except upon written consent of the individual to whom the record pertains, with exceptions. However, Plaintiff may not seek damages under the Privacy Act because that statute authorizes a civil action to be brought solely against a federal agency." (citations omitted)). In the matter sub judice, the complaint does not name a federal agency as a defendant. Therefore, the Privacy Act claim must fail. Accordingly, the court will grant the School District defendants' motion to dismiss this claim-Count III of the complaint-and will deny leave to amend as futile. See Grayson, 293 F.3d at 108.

E. Eavesdropping Claims

Walsh brings three claims related to the alleged eavesdropping on a telephone call with his son by Krantz and an unknown Dallastown staff member:*fn21 (1) 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2520 (Federal Wiretapping Act), (2) 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 5703, 5704, 5725 (Pennsylvania Wiretap Act), and (3) ...


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