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Smith v. School District of Philadelphia

March 10, 2009

ELLIS SMITH
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Juan R. Sánchez, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Aaron Raynor, a minor, brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action through his parent and natural guardian, Ellis Smith, alleging the School District of Philadelphia violated his constitutional rights by failing to prevent an assault on Aaron near his high school. Drawing all inferences in the light most favorable to Smith, the Court concludes there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether the School District's conduct constituted a state-created danger. Smith also fails to identify any policy or custom which would give rise to municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). The Court will therefore grant summary judgment in the School District's favor.

FACTS

Aaron Raynor was a ninth-grader at Roberts Vaux High School (Vaux) during the 2004-2005 school year, and he resided about 0.7 miles from the School.

On May 11, 2005, Aaron informed Vaux's principal, Sandra Ruffin-Pearson, he was being threatened in school. Ruffin-Pearson attempted to reach Aaron's father, Smith, by telephone, but was unable to reach him. She sent Aaron home around 2:30 p.m., about a half-hour before official dismissal time. Along his walk home, at an intersection about 0.2 miles from Vaux, Aaron was attacked by four young men. Aaron suffered lacerations to his right arm and back and other injuries.

A fellow Vaux student, S.F., was later identified as one of the four males who attacked Aaron. As a result of the attack on Aaron, S.F. was reassigned to C.E.P., a disciplinary school. S.F.'s disciplinary record at Vaux reflects he was involved in a prior violent incident-a fight with another student which took place on March 18, 2004.*fn1 There were no documented incidents between Aaron and S.F. prior to the May 11, 2005 attack. Pl.'s Br. at 3.

In his Amended Complaint, Smith alleged the School District violated Aaron's Due Process rights,*fn2 in violation of 42 U.S.c. § 1983. Smith also appears to assert Aaron's rights under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 793, et seq., and the individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., (IDEA), were violated and that such violations may serve as a basis for a § 1983 claim.*fn3

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment "should be rendered 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). The moving party bears the burden of showing no material fact is in dispute, and the Court must review the record evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The non-moving party, however, must present sufficient evidence for a jury reasonably to find in its favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

"To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege violation of rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that a person acting under color of state law committed the alleged deprivation." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988). "Section 1983 does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights; it provides only remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal laws." Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir.1996).

Municipalities maybe sued under § 1983, with some limitations. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Municipalities may not be held liable under § 1983 based solely upon the conduct of their employees or agents. Id. "Instead, it is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983." Id. A school district is a municipality for the purposes of a § 1983 claim. See 53 Pa.C.S. § 7101 (defining "municipality" to include school districts); Sanford v. Stiles, 456 F.3d 298, 314 (3d Cir.2006) (analyzing a school district's liability as a municipality).

Smith advances two theories of liability under § 1983. First, Smith asserts a state-created danger theory in alleging the School District violated Aaron's Due Process rights. Second, Smith asserts the School District violated Aaron's § 504 and IDEA rights. For Smith's claim to survive the School District's summary judgment motion, Smith must show there is a genuine issue of fact for trial on either of these theories, and he must also show he can meet the Monell threshold for imposing § 1983 liability on a municipality. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) ("[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 that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.").

As an initial matter, allegations of § 504 or IDEA violations do not provide a basis for a § 1983 claim. See A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Sch., 486 F.3d 791, 803 (3d Cir.2007) ("Congress did not intend § 1983 to enforce the predicate rights secured by the IDEA ...."); id. at 806 ("[W]e conclude that § 1983 is not available to provide a remedy for defendants' alleged violations of [the plaintiff's] rights under Section 504."); see also Chambers v. Sch. Dist. of Phila. Bd. ofEduc., No. 05-2535, 2007 WL 4225584, at *6 (E.D.Pa. Nov.29, 2007) (recognizing A.W. holds "plaintiffs may not bring actions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to enforce the predicate rights secured by IDEA and § 504"). Therefore, to the extent Smith's § 1983 claim is premised upon alleged § 504 or IDEA violations, his claim fails as a matter of law.*fn4

A governmental entity's failure to protect an individual from harm inflicted by private actors is not actionable under the Due Process Clause. See DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 195-96, 109 S.Ct. 998, 103 L.Ed.2d 249 (1989) ("[N]othing in the language of the Due Process Clause itself requires the State to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors. The Clause is phrased as a limitation on the State's power to act, not as a guarantee of certain minimal levels of safety and security."). There is, however, a state-created danger exception to the ...


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