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Cole v. Big Beaver Falls Area School District

March 26, 2009

JOSEPH B. COLE, A MINOR, BY HIS PARENTS AND GUARDIANS, DAVID N. COLE AND FRANCES P. COLE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BIG BEAVER FALLS AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lisa Pupo Lenihan United States Magistrate Judge

Magistrate Judge Lenihan

Re: Doc. No. 6

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Procedural Background

This civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is brought by David N. Cole, and Frances P. Cole on behalf of their minor son Joseph B. Cole (hereinafter collectively referred to as "Plaintiff.") Plaintiff was injured in shop class at the senior high school of Defendant Big Beaver Falls Area School District (hereinafter "Defendant"). Plaintiff's fingers were severed by a table saw in the Industrial Materials Classroom that was allegedly lacking a guard and used by Plaintiff without adult supervision. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff specifically invokes the "state-created danger" and "special relationship" theories of liability. The case is presently before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (Doc. No. 6).

II. Relevant Facts

On March 10, 2006, at approximately 1:30 p.m., Joseph Cole, minor Plaintiff herein, was injured in the Industrial Materials Classroom at the Big Beaver Falls Area Senior High School. (Complaint, Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 4) (hereinafter "Doc. No. 1 at ¶ __). According to the Complaint, Joseph Cole was participating in wood shop class where he was attempting to cut a piece of wood on a table saw. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 6.) His left hand came in contact with the blade of the table saw, severing the fingers of his left hand. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 6.) This particular table saw, at the time of the accident, "and for a considerable period of time" prior to the accident, was lacking a guard. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 5, 6.) Plaintiff avers that the minor Plaintiff's injuries were the result of instructing Plaintiff to remove the guard from the saw blade, "failing and neglecting to maintain" the saw in a reasonably safe condition, "[c]arelessly, negligently and recklessly failing to maintain the guard on the saw," permitting Plaintiff and other students to utilize the saw without a blade guard, and that Defendant had notice, actual and /or constructive of the absence of the guard on the saw and the dangerous condition created thereby . . .." (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 7.) Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant failed to warn of the danger, failed to inspect the table saw, and failed to properly supervise its employees with respect to the care and condition of the saw. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 7.) Further, Plaintiff avers that his injuries resulted from "[i]nstructing students to make cuts on the table saw when said saw lacked a blade guard that could be engaged during this particular cut or type of activity." (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 7.) Plaintiff continues that the above acts "constitute a state-created danger," depriving Plaintiff "of his constitutional rights to personal protection" pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 8.) Plaintiff also alleges that there existed a "special relationship" between Plaintiff and Defendant which required Defendant "to insure that plaintiff's constitutional rights were protected." (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 9.)

III. Legal Standard

As the United States Supreme Court recently held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (May 21, 2007), a complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 1974 (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The court must accept as true all allegations of the Complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003); Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). The Court, however, need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1965. Although the United States Supreme Court does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 1974.

Moreover, the heightened fact-pleading requirement for civil rights complaints has been rejected by the United States Supreme Court. Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993). Consequently, nothing more is required in making out a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 than the notice pleading requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 513 (2002); see Ray v. Kertes, 285 F.3d 287, 297 (3d Cir. 2002).

In a Complaint alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, however, the District Court must afford a plaintiff the opportunity to amend the complaint, unless the amendment would be futile. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 228 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116 (3d Cir. 2000)).

Defendant files this Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Plaintiff's Complaint does not invoke the protections of a constitutional or federally-created right as required pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that Plaintiff has failed to make out a claim pursuant to the "state-created danger" theory, and the "special relationship" theory of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff responds that Plaintiff's Complaint sufficiently states a claim for relief.

IV. Analysis

Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act ...


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