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Robert Schanne v. Jenna Addis

September 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, J.


Plaintiff Robert Schanne brings suit against Defendant Jenna Addis for defamation under Pennsylvania state law.*fn1 I exercise federal diversity jurisdiction over Schanne's claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Addis moves for summary judgment.*fn2 For the reasons set forth below, I will grant Addis' motion.


Plaintiff Robert Schanne, a resident of Pennsylvania, was a physics teacher at Lower Merion High School ("Lower Merion") in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. He was hired in September 1997 and officially terminated on January 24, 2011. Defendant Jenna Addis was a student at Lower Merion from 1999 until she graduated in 2003. Thereafter she attended Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she continues to reside. During her junior and senior years of high school, Addis was a student in Schanne's physics and advancement placement physics classes. She sometimes ate lunch with Schanne in the closet space between classrooms. Schanne also tutored Addis at her home and served as her senior project advisor.

The record is mixed as to the evolution and timeline of the physical relationship between Schanne and Addis. According to Addis, their romantic relationship began during her senior year of high school, escalating from hugging and kissing to inappropriate touching and oral sex. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. D at 2. She explains that the physical contact began when Schanne was tutoring her at her home during the fall of her senior year and that they were dating by the spring. Id. at

2. She states that they did not begin having intercourse until after she graduated. Id. at 5. According to Schanne, the sexual relationship did not begin until after Addis' graduation. Pl.'s Compl. 1 ¶ 2. They dated during the summer after she graduated. After she went to college they were no longer a couple but they would have intercourse when she saw him over breaks. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. D at 3.

In November 2010, Addis was home in Pennsylvania visiting for Thanksgiving weekend. That Friday, she called Schanne to see if he wanted to get together. During the call, Schanne told Addis that he was living with his girlfriend in a home they purchased together. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. B 102:6-12. The following Monday, November 29, 2010, Schanne and Addis met for coffee at a bookstore. Addis told Schanne that she was struggling with their past relationship and that it was affecting her ability to have a meaningful relationship. Def. Ex. A 31:21-22; Pl.'s Resp. Ex. B 103:4-12. Later that day, Addis visited her neighbor, Susan O'Bannon, who is also a Lower Merion teacher. O'Bannon had taught Addis biology in the ninth grade and Addis had babysat for O'Bannon's children in the past. Id. at 9:11-13. During the visit, Addis told O'Bannon about the relationship that she had with Schanne while she was a student at Lower Merion.

The next day, O'Bannon reported the conversation to Lower Merion Principal Sean Hughes. Def. Ex. A 17:22. O'Bannon initially thought Addis was confiding in her as a friend, but the next day thought Addis might have reported the relationship to her as a school official. Id. at 23: 12-22. Though O'Bannon was unsure, she felt it was her professional obligation, as a school employee, to report the allegation. Id. at 29:6-13. Addis stated that she did not know that O'Bannon was going to report the information. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. B 90:18-20.

On December 3, 2010, Principal Hughes called Addis. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. B 38:15. Six days later,Hughes and Lower Merion's Human Resources Director Martha Yoder called Addis. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. D. Addis told them about the sexual relationship she had with Schanne during and after high school. Id. at 1. On December 13, Hughes and Yoder called Addis again. Over the course of these two conversations Hughes and Yoder took notes and sent them to Addis. Addis reviewed the notes, made changes and on December 14 sent them back. These notes represent Addis' official statement. See P.'s Resp. Ex. D.

On December 15, 2010, the school district administration summoned Schanne for a pre-termination Loudermill hearing. See Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985) (providing for a mandatory pre-termination hearing for public employees with a constitutionally protected interest in their jobs). The next day the hearing was conducted by Hughes and Yoder. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. A 41:4. Schanne was suspended on December 16, 2011. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. C 7. Schanne refused to attend a follow-up hearing on January 18, 2011. Id. 51:18-21. On January 24, 2011, the School Board officially terminated his employment. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. C 7. On March 15, 2011 Schanne filed the instant defamation suit against Addis. In addition, Schanne filed a grievance against Lower Merion. See Def. Status Update and Attached Arbitration Award, Schanne v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., et. al. Case No. 11-cv-7707 (ECF No. 20). On December 2, 2011 and April 23, 2012 arbitration hearings took place. On July 27, 2012 the Arbitrator issued her decision, denying Schanne's grievance and finding that the school district proved just cause for his discharge. Id. at 26.


Summary judgment will be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . . ." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" if the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The nonmoving party must then "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322. However, the nonmoving party may not "rely merely upon bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions" to support its claims. Fireman's Ins. Co. of Newark, N.J. v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982).

In essence, the inquiry at summary judgment is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail ...

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