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JGS v. Titusville Area School District

August 26, 2010

JGS, A MINOR AND JAMES HAROLD STERNER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TITUSVILLE AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sean J. McLaughlin United States District Judge

District Judge McLaughlin

MEMORANDUM OPINION

McLAUGHLIN, SEAN J., J.

This matter is before the Court upon a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Jennifer Corklin and Cynthia Nosko ("Corklin" and "Nosko") against Plaintiffs JGS, a minor student, and his father, James Sterner ("Sterner").*fn1 For the reasons which follow, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff JGS, a minor, is an autistic student with an identified disability that made him eligible for special education services. During the 2005-06 school year, JGS was enrolled in first grade in the Titusville Area School District. Defendant Corklin was the special education teacher assigned to his classroom and Defendant Nosko assisted Corklin as a teacher's aide. (Nosko Aff. Paragraphs 2-3; Corklin Aff. Paragraph 4).

Throughout the 2005-06 school year, JGS frequently engaged in verbal and physical outbursts that included loud and profane screaming, threats of force and violence, and suggestions of his intent to physically harm other students and personnel. (Sterner Depo., p. 15; Nosko Aff. Paragraph 6; Corklin Aff. Paragraph 7). These outbursts included threats to kill various individuals and were often accompanied by physically aggressive behavior including kicking, biting, striking and spitting upon teachers and, occasionally, fellow students. (Sterner Depo. pp. 15-16; Corklin Aff. Paragraphs 7-8; Nosko Aff. Paragraphs 6-7). On several occasions, including one in which JGS stabbed another student with a sharpened pencil, his outbursts resulted in minor physical injuries such as bruises and cuts. During his outbursts, Nosko and Corklin would sometimes remove the other students from the classroom in order to maintain order.

On February 16, 2006, JGS was working one-on-one with Kourtney Josephic, a counselor assigned to work with JGS through Therapeutic Support Services, when he abruptly stood up and began screaming obscenities at other students. (Corklin Aff. Paragraphs 17-21; Nosko Aff. Paragraphs 15-19). At the time, Nosko was sitting at her desk and Corklin was teaching several students at the other end of the classroom. Nosko asked Josephic if she required assistance with JGS and Josephic indicated that she did. The parties offer divergent accounts of what happened from this point forward.

In the Complaint, Plaintiffs contend that, in response to JGS's outburst, Nosko placed some liquid hand sanitizer in her hand, held it over JGS's mouth and forced him to ingest it. (JGS Depo., p. 13). Nosko allegedly informed JGS that "This is the way we handle little boys who use bad words in our house." (First Amended Complaint, Paragraph 14).

Nosko denies ever forcing JGS or any other student to swallow liquid hand sanitizer. (Nosko Aff. Paragraphs 21; 27-28). According to Nosko, when JGS began acting out on February 16, 2006, she initially attempted to verbally dissuade JGS by instructing him to stop yelling and encouraging him to return to his prior activity. When that failed, Nosko states that she gently placed her hand over JGS's mouth for one or two seconds and instructed him to "be quiet." (Id. at 20-21). Nosko denies that she applied any degree of force or that she held JGS's mouth opened or closed or forced him to ingest anything. (Id. at 27-28). She acknowledges using liquid hand sanitizer on her hands throughout the work day for routine sanitation purposes, but denies having placed any within JGS's mouth. When Nosko's efforts to calm JGS failed, she proceeded to remove the other students from the classroom while Corklin physically restrained JGS.

Following the incident, Corklin observed that JGS did not choke, gag, cough or indicate any physical discomfort as a result of his interaction with Nosko. He eventually settled down and took a nap before finishing school. Upon arriving home, JGS did not complain of any symptoms or exhibit any physical injury. (Sterner Depo., p. 22). He did not vomit and, according to Sterner, "seemed to be okay" physically. (Id. at pp. 23, 25-26). Sterner's family physician and local poison control center each advised him to observe JGS and seek medical attention if necessary, but indicated that JGS would have had to swallow "more than a bottle or so" for it to be an extreme emergency. (Id. at 24). Sterner concedes that JGS did not suffer any physical injury as a result of the alleged incident. (Id. at 24-26). However, he contends that JGS has experienced various psychological injuries. Specifically, Sterner alleges that JGS has become reactionary and violent towards women, has regressed socially and educationally, and requires more attention at home. (Sterner Depo., pp. 34).

II. STANDARD FOR REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(2) provides that summary judgment shall be granted 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." Rule 56(e) further provides that when a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, "an opposing party may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must -- by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule -- set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. If the opposing party does not so respond, summary judgment should, if appropriate, be entered against that party."

A district court may grant summary judgment for the defendant when the plaintiff has failed to present any genuine issues of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Krouse v. American Sterilizer Company, 126 F.3d 494, 500 n.2 (3rd Cir. 1997). The moving party has the initial burden of proving to the district court the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's claims. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Country Floors, Inc. v. Partnership Composed of Gepner and Ford, 930 F.2d 1056, 1061 (3rd Cir. 1990). Further, "[R]ule 56 enables a party contending that there is no genuine dispute as to a specific, essential fact 'to demand at least one sworn averment of that fact before the lengthy process of litigation continues.'" Schoch v. First Fidelity Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3rd Cir. 1990) (quoting Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871 (1990)).

The burden then shifts to the non-movant to come forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Company v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-461 (3rd Cir. 1989) (the non-movant must present affirmative evidence - more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance - which supports each element of his claim to defeat a properly presented motion for summary judgment). The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show specific facts by affidavit or by information contained in the filed documents (i.e., depositions, ...


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