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Young v. Pleasant Valley School Dist.

April 12, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court are the parties' motions in limine. (Docs. 120, 127, 129). Having been briefed, the matters are ripe for disposition.

I. Background

This case arises from plaintiffs' conflicts with the defendant school district over events in the United States history classroom of Defendant Bruce H. Smith at the Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania high school in the spring of 2007. Smith showed students material that plaintiffs complained was sexually explicit, violent and unrelated to the history course he was teaching. At issue in the case is whether Defendant John J. Gress retaliated against the plaintiffs for complaining about material presented by Defendant Smith, whether the school district should be liable for retaliation, and whether Defendant Smith violated the minor plaintiff's right to equal protection by creating a sexually hostile environment in his classroom. The motions in limine address the extent to which such material can be presented at trial, and whether the defendants' experts is properly qualified to testify..

II. Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). The court has supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

III. Discussion

Each side filed motions in limine. The court will address each in turn.

A. Plaintiff's Motions

Plaintiff filed two motions in limine.

I. Testimony of Defendants' Expert, Edward F. Dragan

Plaintiff seeks to exclude the testimony of the defendants' expert, Edward F. Dragan. Plaintiff argues that the report in question addresses matters that are not relevant to the case and to the extent that the report addresses relevant matters, the expert lacks material support for his conclusions.

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides that "a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education" may provide opinion testimony "if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case." FED. R. EVID. 702. Courts have described the function of the district court in determining whether to admit expert testimony as a "gatekeeping" one. The trial judge has "the task of ensuring that an expert's testimony both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand." Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 598 (1993). Thus, "[t]he objective of that requirement is to ensure the reliability and relevancy of expert testimony. It is to make certain that an expert, whether basing testimony upon professional studies or personal experience, employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in a particular field." Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999).

Defendant's expert, Edward F. Dragan, Ed.D., serves as a consultant to schools, attorneys and individuals. (Exh. 1 to Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. 127)). According to his resume, Dragan is certified as a school superintendent, principal, special educator, teacher, management consultant, public manager and assistant superintendent for school business. (Id.). He holds a master's degree in education law from the Franklin Pierce Law Center, an educational doctorate from Rutgers University, an MA in Special Education from the College of New Jersey, and a BA in Industrial Arts Education and Psychology from the College of New Jersey. (Id.). Dragan also has certificates in other education-related areas from other universities and educational programs, including Harvard and Rutgers. (Id.). He served as a teacher and school administrator in various locations, mostly in New Jersey, from 1966-1993. (Id.). In addition, Dragan serves as an adjunct professor in education and special education at Seton Hall University and the College of New Jersey. Since 1993, he has been the founder and principal consultant for Education Management Consulting in Lambertville, NJ. (Id.). In that role, Dragan has provided services and seminars for numerous schools and agencies related to "student supervision, employee hiring, supervision and dismissal, special education, school evaluation in custody matters, ...

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