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Jankowski v. Lellock

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 6, 2013



TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

Presently pending before the Court is the MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT (ECF No. 16), with brief in support (ECF No. 17), filed by the Board of Public Education of the School District of Pittsburgh (the "School District") and Lynn Meyers-Jeffrey, Ronald Zangaro, Dale Frederick, Lee B. Nicklos, Jody Buchheit Spolar, Robert Fadzen, Jr., Kenneth Scott, III, Sherman Shrager, William Isler, Mark Brentley, Sr., Jean Fink, Darlene Harris, Alex D. Matthews, Evelyn Neiser, Maggie (Margaret) Schmidt, Randall Taylor, and Jean Wood, individually and in their official capacities, (collectively, the "Individual Defendants"). David Jankowski ("Plaintiff") filed a response in opposition to the motion (ECF No. 18). Accordingly, the matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences therefrom are to be resolved in favor of Plaintiff, the non-moving party. The following facts are drawn from the Amended Complaint, and the factual allegations therein are accepted as true for the purpose of this Memorandum Opinion.

The actions which gave rise to this lawsuit took place at Arthur J. Rooney Middle School (the "School") during the 1998-1999 school year, when Plaintiff was a 15-year-old student at the School. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 29. Defendant Lellock was employed by the School District as a Police Officer at the School. Id. ¶ 4. Defendant Meyers-Jeffrey worked as a Detention Aide at the School. Id. ¶ 9. Defendant Zangaro was the School's principal. Id. ¶ 10. Defendant Frederick was the superintendent of the School District. Id. ¶ 11. Defendant Nicklos was the District's Director of Employee Relations. Id. ¶ 12. Defendant Spolar was the Associate Director of Employee Relations. Id. ¶ 13. Defendant Fadzen was the Chief of School Safety for the School District. Id. ¶ 14. Defendant Scott was the Chief of School Police. Id. at ¶ 15. Defendant Schrager worked as a teacher at the School. Id. ¶ 16. Defendants Isler, Brentley, Fink, Harris, Matthews, Neiser, Schmidt, Taylor, and Wood were School Board members. Id. ¶¶ 17-25.

Early in the school year, Lellock approached Plaintiff and purported to befriend him, saying that he was trying to keep him out of trouble. Id. ¶ 31. Over time, Lellock's conduct allegedly grew more inappropriate. Id. ¶ 32-33. Sometime in the fall of 1998, Plaintiff was in a detention/study hall monitored by Defendant Meyers-Jeffrey when Lellock entered the room and announced that Plaintiff was "in trouble again." Id. ¶ 33. Meyers-Jeffrey permitted Lellock to remove Plaintiff from the classroom, ostensibly to speak with him about why he was in trouble. Id. After leaving the classroom, Plaintiff followed Lellock to a nearby supply closet, where Lellock went on to grab Plaintiff's genitals through his clothing. Id. ¶ 35. At the end of this encounter, Lellock warned Plaintiff, "[i]f you don't straighten up, I'm going to rip [your genitals] off." Id.

Defendant Lellock's allegedly abusive conduct continued throughout the early part of the school year, though it is unclear from the Amended Complaint for precisely how long and whether it actually lasted into 1999. Id. ¶ 36. Each time Lellock pulled Plaintiff from Meyers-Jeffrey's classroom, he directed him to the same nearby supply closet, locked the door, and allegedly engaged in a number of highly disturbing sexual acts. Id. ¶¶ 39, 41. Lellock rubbed his body against Plaintiff's body; grabbed and squeezed Plaintiff's genitals through his clothing; requested that Plaintiff touch his genitals; requested that Plaintiff manually stimulate his penis; requested that Plaintiff perform oral sex on him; grabbed and caressed Plaintiff's buttocks; and forced his hand under Plaintiff's clothing and toward Plaintiff's genitals. Id. ¶ 39(a)-(g). On one occasion, Lellock handcuffed Plaintiff's hands behind his back and grabbed, squeezed, and fondled Plaintiff's genitals. Id. ¶ 42. Lellock ended each encounter in the supply closet by telling Plaintiff not to mention the incident to anyone and either expressly or impliedly threatening Plaintiff if he failed to heed the warning. Id. ¶ 40. Plaintiff obliged, never revealing this conduct to anyone.

While most of the alleged incidents took place in the supply closet, another incident took place outside of the School when Lellock approached Plaintiff in his police cruiser and demanded that he get inside. Id. ¶¶ 43-45. After Plaintiff did so, Lellock pointed to a $50.00 bill and said to Plaintiff, "I will give you that $50.00 if you will give me a hand job." Id. ¶ 45. Plaintiff refused, and Lellock eventually permitted Plaintiff to leave the vehicle. Id. ¶ 46.

Plaintiff alleges that Lellock was permitted to remove many other male students from Meyers-Jeffrey's classroom during the 1998-1999 school year, and that they, too, were sexually abused. Id. ¶ 47. One such encounter came to light in May 1999. On May 28, 1999, Defendant Zangaro witnessed Lellock leaving a storage closet with an unidentified student. Id. ¶ 57. As a result, the School District launched an investigation into Lellock's conduct. Id. As part of the investigation, Lellock was interviewed by School District personnel, and he also wrote a memo to Defendant Spolar, the School District's Associate Director of Employee Relations. Id. ¶ 58; Compl. Ex. 1. In the memo, Lellock attempted to explain why he was in the closet by saying that he was wrestling with the student. Id. Lellock wrote that he recalled being in the storage closet with this same student one other time to question him about an incident. Id. He also acknowledged that he sometimes used "the hallway, a conference room and the Principal's office to meet with students" and that he had to meet with students in areas "where they wouldn't be seen by others" because otherwise "they are less reluctant to talk." Id.

On June 23, 1999, Defendant Fadzen, the Chief of School Safety for the School District, prepared a memo to Defendant Frederick, the District's Superintendent, concerning the Lellock investigation. Id. ¶ 87; Compl. Ex. 3. The memo reads, in its entirety, as follows:

On June 22, 1999 I was allowed by Jodi Spolar to sit in on the second interview with Officer Robert Lellock.
At the conclusion of the interview I was advised by Jodi Spolar that interviews were conducted without my presence with the children involved, and it was her opinion and Vicki Beatty's, of Campbell Durrant and Beatty's opinion [ sic ] that no issues needed forwarded to Law Enforcement and no grounds existed to terminate Lellock's employment. I want to be on record as recommending Lellock's immediate termination and further advising Pittsburgh Police irregardless [ sic ] of the current statements, or evidence.
In the alternative I would like to see the children interviewed by a trained child abuse specialist from Western Psychiatric or another qualified institution. I have made this request repeatedly to Jodi Spolar from day one in this case, but she does not seem to understand the need to check every possibility out completely. Please advise.

Id. Despite Fadzen's recommendation, the investigation was allegedly not reported to law enforcement officials, and the students involved were never interviewed by child abuse specialists. Compl. ¶ 88. Furthermore, Jankowski was never contacted or interviewed as part of the investigation; his parents were never informed of the possibility that he had been sexually abused; and he was never offered counseling or advised to seek counseling by the School District. Id. ¶¶ 83-85.

Although Lellock was not terminated following the May 28th incident, he was suspended for 20 days, commencing July 6, 1999.[1] Id. ¶ 73. He was informed of his suspension in a letter dated July 1, 1999, from Defendant Nicklos, the School District's Director of Employee Relations. Id. ¶ 74. The letter, which was apparently also sent to Defendants Spolar, Shrager, Fadzen, Scott, and Zangaro, [2] explained in part that the School District's "investigation has revealed that you pulled the student in question from class on at least one other occasion to go to the storage room and wrestle. In addition, the evidence reveals that you have gone to the storage room with other students under similar circumstances." Compl. Ex. 2.

In September 2012, Defendant Lellock was arrested and charged with several crimes involving allegations similar to those raised by Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 48. As part of its investigation into the criminal charges filed against Lellock, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police detectives interviewed Meyers-Jeffrey. Id. ¶ 79. The detectives asked Meyers-Jeffrey to identify students whom Lellock had removed from her classroom during the 1998-1999 school year by pointing to their pictures in a yearbook. Id. ¶ 80. Meyers-Jeffrey identified Plaintiff as one such student. Id. ¶ 81. Plaintiff alleges that because Meyers-Jeffrey was able to identify Plaintiff in 2013, she would have also been able to do so in 1999 had she been questioned as part of the investigation into the May 28th incident. Id. ¶ 82.

Plaintiff never revealed Lellock's conduct to anyone until February 2013, when he saw a television news story regarding Lellock's arrest. Id. ¶ 98. The story forced him to tears, and for the first time, he spoke about the alleged abuse, telling his father about Lellock's conduct. Id.

Plaintiff initiated this action on February 6, 2013, [3] by filing a two-count Complaint (ECF No. 1) against Lellock and the School District. On April 8, 2013, the School District filed a motion to dismiss the claim against it. (ECF No. 9). Plaintiff responded to the School District's motion by filing an Amended Complaint on April 22, 2013 (ECF No. 13), adding allegations against the 17 Individual Defendants and two additional Counts. On May 7, 2013, the Court stayed the proceedings pending the resolution of the state criminal case against Lellock. On July 29, 2013, Lellock was found guilty of various sex-related offenses. Accordingly, the Court lifted the stay on October 4, 2013.

As it now stands, the Amended Complaint contains four Counts. In Count I, Plaintiff raises a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Lellock for violating his constitutional right to bodily integrity, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[4] In Count II, Plaintiff alleges a § 1983 claim against the School District for maintaining a policy or custom of deliberate indifference to the sexual abuse of students by Lellock and for failing to train and supervise its employees with regard to reporting suspected abuse. In Count III, Plaintiff asserts a § 1983 claim against the Individual Defendants, in their official and individual capacities, and the School District, alleging that their investigation of the 1999 incident involving the unidentified student was inadequate and thus failed to reveal that Plaintiff was also a victim of abuse. Finally, in Count IV, Plaintiff raises "supplemental state claims" against the Individual Defendants.

The School District and Individual Defendants renewed their motion to dismiss on May 7, 2013. They contend that Counts II through IV should be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for ...

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