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Corrina Weidow and Kerry Bentler v. Scranton School District

January 13, 2010

CORRINA WEIDOW AND KERRY BENTLER,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SCRANTON SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

Corrina Weidow brought this action against Scranton School District. She alleges that when she was a high school student the school district discriminated against her on the basis of her bipolar disorder and treated her differently from others similarly situated in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.*fn1 Presently before the Court is the defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 30.) Because Ms. Weidow has failed to show that she is an individual with a disability or that she faced intentionally different treatment, the motion will be granted.

I. Background

The general background of this case has been explained in the Court's August 19, 2009 Order. (Doc. 13.)

In her complaint, Ms. Weidow alleges that she suffers from bipolar disorder and has a disability. At Count I, she brings a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, alleging that the school district discriminated against her by failing to train or supervise its employees regarding their treatment of disabled students and by failing to effectively accommodate students with mental disabilities. At Count II, she claims that the district's deliberate indifference to the harassment she faced from her peers resulted in a hostile educational environment and constituted intentional discrimination. At Count III, Ms. Weidow brings a "class of one" equal protection claim, alleging that the district treated her differently from other students without any rational basis.

The district moves to dismiss these claims on summary judgment. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

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)(2). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See 2D Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256--57. The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

B. Disability Discrimination Claims

The school district argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the disability discrimination claims because the plaintiff has not shown that she has a disability, or that the district discriminated against her.

Ms. Weidow brought two claims relating to disability discrimination: one relating to the district's alleged failure to accommodate her, and another relating to deliberate indifference towards peer harassment. Both claims were brought under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both statutes prohibit certain public entities from discriminating against otherwise qualified individuals on the basis of disability. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides that:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance... 29 U.S.C. § 794(a).

Under Title II of the ADA, state and local public entities are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The relevant provision provides in part:

[N]o qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity. 42 U.S.C. § 12132. "Congress has directed that Title II of the ADA be interpreted in a manner consistent with Section 504 . . . and all the leading cases take up the statutes together." Yeskey v. Com. of Pa. Dep't of Corr., 118 F.3d 168, 170 (3d Cir. 1997). The primary difference between a disability discrimination claim under the ADA and one under the Rehabilitation Act is that a claim under the ADA does not need to allege that the offending program receives federal financial assistance.

To make out a prima facie case of disability discrimination, Ms. Weidow must first establish that she has a disability. See Andrew M. v. Del. Cnty. Office of Mental Health & Mental Retardation, 490 F.3d 337. 350 (3d Cir. 2007).

At the time this claim arose, disability was defined as "(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1) (2000); 29 U.S.C. § 705(20)(B). The implementing regulations note that "major life activities" are those of central importance to daily life and include "functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h)(1). The Supreme Court has noted that a disability substantially limits a major life activity when the individual is unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform; or significantly restricted as to the condition, manner or duration under which an individual can perform a particular major life activity as compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform that same major life activity.

Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky., Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 195--96 (2002) (citing 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(j)(2)).*fn2

In line with Toyota, as well as the EEOC implementing regulations, courts should consider the following factors in determining whether an individual is ...


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