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Haines v. Forbes Road School Dist.

January 13, 2009

LAURIE HAINES AND GARY HAINES, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS OF B.H., PLAINTIFFS
v.
FORBES ROAD SCHOOL DISTRICT AND LISA DAVIES, AS THE ADMINISTRATRIX AND PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF DAVID DAVIES, DEFENDANTS
DEBRA WHITMAN AND SCOTT WHITMAN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS OF P.W., PLAINTIFFS
v.
FORBES ROAD SCHOOL DISTRICT, AND LISA DAVIES, AS THE ADMINISTRATRIX AND PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF DAVID DAVIES, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court are Forbes Road School District's motions for summary judgment against all Plaintiffs. (Doc. No. 87.)*fn1 Plaintiffs' brief in opposition responds only to Defendant's position that Defendant Forbes Road could not be liable to Plaintiffs for a violation of § 1983 under a theory of "failure to train," conceding that Defendant Forbes Road is not liable under a respondeat superior theory or a "policy or custom" theory of Monell liability. (Doc. Nos. 94 & 97.) Having duly considered all arguments and applicable law, the Court finds that summary judgment will be granted in favor of Defendant.

I. BACKGROUND

During the 2005-2006 school year, two girls, P.W. and B.H., were sexually assaulted by David Davies, History and Earth Science teacher at Forbes Road Junior/Senior High School. (Doc. No. 83 ¶¶ 1-2, Doc. No. 86 ¶¶ 1-2.)*fn2 B.H. was in the eighth grade at the time, and P.W. was in the ninth grade. (Doc. Nos. 84 ¶ 1 and 87 ¶ 1.) On March 30, 2006, P.W. reported to the school secretary, Mrs. Hohman, that Davies sexually assaulted her by touching her legs, chest, and buttocks while she was alone with him in his classroom. (Doc. No. 83 ¶¶ 5-9.) Hohman asked P.W. to complete a complaint form regarding the harassment and instructed her to tell her parents about the incident. (Doc. No. 83 ¶¶ 12-13.) Hohman then telephoned the principal, James Heroux, and the superintendent, Larry Palmer, who were absent from the building that day, to inform them of P.W.'s allegations against Davies. (Doc. No. 83 ¶¶ 10 & 14.) State police arrived at the school the following day to investigate P.W.'s allegations, and Davies was suspended from teaching the following Monday. (Doc. No. 83 ¶¶ 15-17.)

B.H. alleges even more extensive incidents of sexual abuse by Davies. Beginning around September 2005, Davies began touching her shoulder or leg, kissing, and verbally soliciting her during class and while they were alone in his classroom. (Doc. No. 86 ¶¶ 6-7.) Starting around January 2006 and continuing through March 29, 2006, Davies privately touched B.H. in a sexually explicit manner and forced her to touch him. (Doc. No. 86 ¶ 8.) This abusive conduct occurred on several occasions in Davies' classroom, in the closet of Davies' former classroom, and at various other locations around the school. (Doc. No. 86 ¶¶ 9-10.) Davies would accomplish the illicit conduct during school hours by giving B.H. a "passport"*fn3 out of one of her other classes to accompany him to another location in the building. (Doc. No. 86 ¶ 27.) B.H.'s other teachers were aware that she was leaving class to see Davies, but because Davies gave passports to other students for study purposes, B.H.'s teachers did not suspect inappropriate behavior. (Doc. No. 86 ¶ 27.) B.H. did not report any inappropriate conduct until she revealed the abuse to Hohman during a ride home from school on March 31, 2006, one day after P.W. reported her incident. (Doc. No. 86 ¶ 13.) Hohman told B.H. to make a report to the state police, and state police later spoke with B.H. on April 6, 2006 about the abuse. (Doc. No. 86 ¶¶ 14-17.)

Although all staff and officials at Forbes Road School District deny having any knowledge of the sexual abuse perpetrated by Davies prior to March 30, 2006, some teachers did overhear rumors by students regarding Davies' relationship with B.H. (Doc. No. 86 ¶¶ 23-29, Doc. No. 83 ¶¶ 18, 23.) For example, one student suggested to another teacher, Mrs. Vollbrecht, who was looking for B.H., that Davies was B.H.'s "boyfriend" and that maybe he would know where she was. (Doc. No. 94, at 10.) Mrs. Vollbrecht took the suggestion as a joke and made no investigation. (Doc. No. 94, at 10.) Additionally, a year prior to the incident, P.W. and a friend, Shauna Shoop, reported to guidance counselor Gayle Swales that Davies made sexually "inappropriate comments" during class, however no action was taken against Davies. (Doc. No. 86 ¶ 29, P.W. Dep. at 5.) No other complaints of inappropriate sexual conduct by Davies were made to teachers or to officials at the Forbes Road School District. (Doc. No. 83 ¶¶ 18-19, Doc. No. 86 ¶¶ 23-24.)

During the period at issue, Forbes Road had three written policies regarding sexual harassment of students by teachers. (Doc. No. 83 ¶ 3, Doc. No. 86 ¶ 3.) However, all record evidence demonstrates that the students and teachers at the school were largely unaware of any official policies regarding harassment, and the policies do not appear to have been updated in at least the past six years. (Doc. No. 83 ¶ 3 n.2, Doc. No. 95 ¶ 3, Doc. No. 98 ¶ 3.) Notably, one policy directs students to contact Mrs. King, the Affirmative Action Officer, with reports of sexual harassment, however Mrs. King had resigned from the position at least six years prior to the events at issue here. (Doc. No. 83 ¶ 3.)

It is undisputed that once the sexual abuse was reported, police were called upon to investigate the situation, and Davies had no further incidence of sexual misconduct with a student before being suspended. However, Davies was not prevented from re-entering the school building or calling P.W. after the investigation began. (Doc. No. 98 ¶ 20.) Davies later committed suicide on April 10, 2006, shortly after the investigation began and prior to the start of this litigation.

In light of the above facts, Defendant Forbes Road School District moves for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiffs have not proved it is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Plaintiffs base their § 1983 claim against Defendant Forbes Road on a "failure to train" theory of liability.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides, in relevant part, that summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law, and it is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). At summary judgment, the inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Id. at 251-52. In making this determination, the Court must "consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims, "the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the nonmoving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial," summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the nonmoving party must provide, a court should grant summary judgment where the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. ...


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