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Bernard v. East Stroudsburg University

October 12, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)


Before the court for disposition are the defendants' motions to dismiss plaintiffs' second amended complaint. The motions have been fully briefed and argued. They are thus ripe for disposition.


According to the plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint, the facts are as follows: The plaintiffs are all current or former students at Defendant East Stroudsburg University ("ESU"). In 2000, Defendant Robert J. Dillman, ESU's president, hired Defendant Isaac Sanders as Vice President of Advancement and Executive Director of the ESU Foundation. According to the plaintiffs, Defendant Isaac Sanders used this position to target minority men, particularly African-Americans, for the solicitation of sexual behavior and to create a sexually hostile learning environment. As part of his scheme to sexually harass the men, he acted as their on-campus mentor, advisor, friend and employer, providing them with scholarships, student worker jobs and graduate assistant jobs with his office.

Defendant Isaac Sanders' behavior was open and notorious to such an extent that Defendant Dillman, Defendant Kenneth Borland, Provost of ESU, and Defendant Victoria Sanders, Associate Vice President for Special Projects, Diversity and Equity of ESU, knew about the conduct as early as 2001. These defendants used their positions with ESU to cover up Isaac Sanders' conduct and to interfere in the investigation of complaints that plaintiffs made.

Based upon these facts, the plaintiffs instituted the instant civil rights action. The complaint contains four causes of action: Count I, versus ESU based upon Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq. (which is an education law that prohibits, inter alia, sexual harassment against students); Count II, versus all defendants except ESU, a civil rights claim made pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983 alleging that plaintiffs have a liberty interest in bodily integrity, which defendants violated under color of state law; Count III, versus all defendants except ESU, asserting a conspiracy to violate constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1985; and Count IV, versus Defendants Dillman, Borland and Victoria L. Sanders, asserting negligence in failing to protect against a violation of rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1986.

Two separate motions to dismiss have been filed. ESU and three of its administrators, Robert Dillman, Kenneth Borland and Victoria L. Sanders ("University Defendants" or "University") filed the first motion and the Defendant Isaac Sanders filed the other motion to dismiss.*fn2


As this case is brought pursuant federal anti-discrimination statutes, we have jurisdiction under 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.").

Standard of Review

This case is before the court pursuant to defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. When a 12(b)(6) motion is filed, the sufficiency of the allegations in the complaint is tested. Granting the motion is appropriate if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, the plaintiff has not pled "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," or put another way, "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The plaintiff must describe "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element of the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that "justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation." Id. at 234-35.

In relation to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the complaint need only provide "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests,'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [cannot be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (citation omitted). "Rule 8(a)(2) requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Id.

The issue is whether the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, support a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can fairly be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir.1997). To decide a motion to dismiss, a court generally should consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim. See In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997); Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).


As noted above, two motions to dismiss have been filed, one by the University Defendants and one by Defendant Isaac Sanders. We will discuss each in turn.

The University Defendants Motion To Dismiss

I. Statute of limitations

A. Title IX Claims

The University first argues that the claims raised by Plaintiffs Murray, Brown and Salter are barred by the statute of limitations with regard to the Title IX claims. Plaintiffs acknowledge that the defendants are correct with this argument. (Doc. 16, Pls.' Opp. Br. at 6). Thus, the motion to dismiss the Title IX claims as to Plaintiffs Murray, Brown and Salter will be granted.

B. Section 1983 claims

Next, the University Defendants challenge the plaintiffs' section 1983 claims based upon the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for section 1983 is two years. Lake v. Arnold, 232 F.3d 360, 368-69 (3d Cir. 2000). The University argues that the claims raised by ...

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