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A.B., A Minor, By and Through His Parents and Natural Guardians v. Montgomery Area School District

August 10, 2012

A.B., A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HIS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MONTGOMERY AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John E. Jones III

MEMORANDUM

Presently pending before the Court in this Section 1983 civil rights action is the Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 40) of Defendant Montgomery Area School District. The Motion has been fully briefed (docs. 42, 46, 49) and is therefore ripe for our review. For the reasons articulated herein, we will grant the Motion in its entirety and enter judgment in favor of the Defendant on the sole Count remaining in the Plaintiffs' Complaint (doc. 1).

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Minor Plaintiff, A.B., by and through his parents and natural guardians, commenced the above-captioned civil action with the filing of a Complaint (doc. 1) on March 3, 2010. The Complaint asserts causes of action for deprivation of certain constitutional rights (Count I) and negligence (Count II) as a result of the alleged failure of the Defendant, Montgomery County School District, to adequately address the Plaintiffs' complaints of bullying. On May 10, 2010, the Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss (doc. 8), seeking dismissal of the constitutional claims. We denied that motion by Order (doc. 17) dated July 22, 2010.

The Defendant filed an Answer (doc. 18) to the Plaintiff's Complaint on August 3, 2010, denying all claims and stating affirmative defenses. The parties stipulated to the dismissal of Count II on October 4, 2011. (Doc. 35). Thereafter, on June 1, 2012, the Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 40) and a statement of facts (doc. 41), and a brief in support on June 15, 2012. Plaintiff filed an Answer to the Statement of Facts (doc. 45) and a brief in opposition (doc. 46) on July 20, 2012. The Defendant filed its reply brief (doc. 49) on August 3, 2012, and the Motion is thus ripe for our review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "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). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant meets this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence supporting an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

In opposing summary judgment, the non-moving party "may not rely merely on allegations of denials in its own pleadings; rather, its response must . . . set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The non-moving party "cannot rely on unsupported allegations, but must go beyond pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a genuine issue for trial." Jones v. United Parcel Serv., 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). Arguments made in briefs "are not evidence and cannot by themselves create a factual dispute sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Twp. of Lacey, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109-10 (3d Cir. 1985). However, the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non- moving party. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ.,442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006).

Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences that a fact finder could draw therefrom. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; there must be a genuine issue of material fact to preclude summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.

III. STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS

The following facts are derived from the record and viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff in accordance with the standard of review applicable to a motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiff A.B. ("A.B." or "Plaintiff") is a minor residing in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, with his parents, Eric W. and Marguerite W. ("A.B.'s parents"). (Doc. 42, ¶ 1). Defendant Montgomery Area School District ("MASD" or "Defendant") is the school district in which A.B. has been enrolled since 2004. (Id. ¶ 6). MASD operates the Elimsport Elementary School, the Montgomery Elementary School, the Montgomery Middle School, and the Montgomery High School. (Id.). At all times relevant, Daphne Ross was the Superintendent of MASD, Karen Synder was the Principal of the Elimsport Elementary School, and Michael Prowant was the Principal of both the Montgomery Middle School and Montgomery High School. (Id. ¶¶ 3-5).

MASD has adopted two "anti-bullying" policies relevant to this matter: Policy Number 248, regarding unlawful harassment, and Policy Number 249, regarding bullying and cyber-bullying (Id. ¶ 7). The bullying policy identifies "bullying" as including but not limited to verbal or physical acts directed at another student which occur in a school setting and/or outside a school setting that are severe, persistent, or pervasive, and have the effect of substantially interfering with a student's education, creating a threatening environment, or substantially disrupting the orderly operation of a school. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9). The harassment policy prohibits verbal, written, or physical conduct relating to a student's race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, or religion where the same is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it affects the student's ability to benefit from an educational program or activity, has the purpose or effect of substantially or unreasonably interfering with an academic performance, or otherwise adversely affects the student's learning opportunities. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11).

The policy requires an investigation to be conducted and corrective action to be taken upon receipt of a complaint, (id. ¶ 12), although A.B.'s parents assert without citation to evidence that "investigations did not occur in each of the complaints filed in this matter." (Doc. 45, ¶¶ 12-13). When a teacher learns of allegations of bullying, it is the policy of MASD that said teacher conducts the investigation and determines the appropriate sanction. (Doc. 41, ¶ 16). However, Principals Snyder and Prowant testified that when they receive a complaint directly, or when a teacher believes more severe repercussions are warranted, they will investigate the complaint themselves. (Doc. 45, ¶ 16).

Plaintiffs allege that A.B. was bullied by a fellow student, T.B., while he was enrolled at Elimsport Elementary. (Doc. 1; Doc. 41, ¶ 24). A.B.'s parents complained to Principal Snyder about name calling and harassment on the playground near the end of A.B.'s second grade school year. (Doc. 41. ¶ 27; Doc. 45, ¶ 27).MASD investigated the incident, which it characterizes as "rough play" between students, and spoke to the boys involved. (Doc. 41, ¶ 27). The teacher who investigated the complaint noted that T.B. also called A.B. names. (Doc. 45, ¶ 29, Ex. A). During another incident, A.B. was also punched by T.B. in the hallway of the elementary school. (Doc. 41, ¶ 30). T.B. ...


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