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Yarnall v. Philadelphia School District

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2015

COLLEEN YARNALL, et al.,
v.
THE PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al.

MEMORANDUM

L. FELIPE RESTREPO, District Judge.

Defendant Philadelphia School District ("School District") filed a Motion in Limine (ECF No. 179) to preclude Plaintiffs from introducing any testimony or evidence relating to non-party Rodney Bradley's alleged "spying" activities. In the alternative to precluding such evidence, the School District requests that Count I and Count II be tried separately from Count III. Following the Court's disposition of the parties' summary judgment motions, the School District filed a supplemental brief (ECF No. 205), urging the Court to enter summary pursuant to Rule 56(f) of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure on Count III in favor of Defendant Charles Ray. For the reasons that follow, the Court will: (1) not grant summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(f) on Count III; (2) deny the School District's Motion in Limine to preclude evidence relating to Rodney Bradley; and (3) deny the School District's request for separate trials.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are four white/Caucasian teachers employed by the School District who filed this action as a result of their experiences while working at the Thomas Mifflin Elementary School during the 2008-09 school year. The parties are scheduled to begin trial in this action on June 1, 2015.[1] Following the disposition of the parties' summary judgment motions, there are three pending counts against two defendants. In Count I, Plaintiffs assert a Title VII claim against the School District for hostile work environment based on race. In Count II, Plaintiffs assert a Section 1983 claim against Ray for violating their right to equal protection under the law. In Count III, Plaintiffs assert a Section 1983 claim against Ray for retaliation and invasion of privacy.

A. Factual History[2]

In or around August 2008, Ray and Bradley first became acquainted through Bradley's association with Lincoln University. JA 1330.[3] Though they met because of similar professional interests, Ray and Bradley began to develop a personal relationship that morphed into friendship in the months that followed. JA 1338, 1362. The two visited each other's homes, would get together for social activities, and would see or speak with each other several times a week. JA 1338-39, 1361-62. At some point during the 2008-09 school year, Ray approached Bradley about covertly surveilling Plaintiffs. JA 1332-33. Ray wanted to scare Plaintiffs. JA 1336. He also wanted harm to come to Plaintiffs. JA 1333, 1339. Plaintiffs were making Ray's life "quite complicated, real miserable" - he wanted them "gone from the building." JA 1333, 1336. Ray was particularly interested to know whether the Plaintiffs were meeting off school grounds. JA 1362.

Bradley ultimately agreed to "spy" on Plaintiffs. JA 1358, 1362. To that end, Ray provided Bradley with Plaintiffs' addresses and license plate numbers. JA 1332-33. Bradley then followed Boyd, Yarnall, and Marenbach at various points throughout the school year. JA 1334-35. To facilitate Bradley's surveillance, Ray would periodically call Bradley to let him know when one or more of the Plaintiffs were leaving the building. JA 1334. Bradley would do surveillance at Plaintiffs' homes, and would also take up watch outside Ray's home to make sure that nobody came by to do something to Ray. JA 1337, 1363. On one occasion, Bradley broke the side view mirror on one of Plaintiffs' cars. JA 1333-34. Bradley also owned a gun, which Ray knew about, and the two of them apparently discussed the importance of having a gun to support their surveillance scheme. JA 1335, 1348. Ray also provided Bradley with Plaintiffs' email addresses so that Bradley could find someone to research whether the Plaintiffs were "in cahoots together." JA 1350. Bradley then used Boyd's email address to monitor when Boyd logged in to her email account by adding her to his "friend" list. JA 1346. Though Ray and Bradley discussed paying Bradley for his surveillance efforts, Bradley was never directly paid for his efforts. JA 1339. Ray tried to compensate Bradley indirectly for his efforts by paying for joint social activities. Id.

Ray did not do much to hide his disdain for Plaintiffs when speaking with Bradley, and was rather blunt when he asked Bradley to spy on Plaintiffs. JA 1336. Though Ray and Bradley talked about this spying candidly with each other, the two went to great lengths to prevent anyone else from knowing about their activities. If Bradley came to Mifflin, Ray would introduce Bradley to people as his brother or Mr. Harris in an effort to conceal Bradley's true identity. JA 1347. Bradley also concealed his identity while doing some of the surveillance by wearing a black ski mask.[4] JA 1358. The two would use code words for the spying activities, such as "the process, " and even had codenames for the Plaintiffs. JA1352, 1357. Bradley provided Ray with an additional cell phone that Ray was supposed to use to call Bradley, which would prevent tracing anything back to the School District phones. JA 1335, 1352. In addition, Ray would email Bradley from his personal AOL email address instead of using an official email address issued by the School District. JA 1350. Ray and Bradley even developed a contingency plan in the event that Bradley got caught: Ray would use money stashed behind a picture on the second floor of Bradley's house to bail Bradley out of jail. JA 1335. Ultimately, Ray and Bradley were successful in keeping their activities a secret for many months, as Bradley never told anybody else about the spying. JA 1341. None of the Plaintiffs ever realized that Bradley was watching them. JA 38, 40, 261-62, 393-94, 486, 1347. The spying scheme was only discovered when Bradley emailed Boyd on May 15, 2009, to let her know what had been going on. JA 184. Bradley sent this email after Ray pressed criminal charges against Bradley related to a physical fight between Bradley and Ray, during which Bradley cut Ray with a pair of scissors. JA 1340-41.

Though the majority of the spying occurred off School District property and after typical business hours, Bradley and Ray would, at times, utilize School District resources to further their scheme. For example, despite having a second cell phone specifically for the purpose of calling Bradley, Ray would also use School District telephones to call Bradley to discuss the spying scheme. JA 1334. Also, Bradley would often visit Ray at Mifflin - Bradley did not visit every single day, but he was there "a lot." JA 1339. The majority of Bradley's visits to Mifflin were "after hours." JA 1362. On certain occasions while at Mifflin, Ray gave Bradley access to his laptop computer, and Bradley used Ray's computer in his presence. JA 1342, 1362. At some point, Bradley was able to view Plaintiff's formal evaluations by looking at Ray's computer while in Ray's office at Mifflin. JA 1363. In addition, Ray gave Bradley a flyer that Boyd left in the employee mailboxes at Mifflin to advertise a holiday party - the flyer was useful to Bradley because it had Boyd's address on it. JA 1348. Despite the foregoing, Bradley never had any reasons to believe that anybody associated with the School District was aware of what Ray and Bradley had been doing. JA 1341.

B. Procedural History[5]

The School District filed the instant Motion in Limine on September 12, 2014. ECF No. 179 (the "Motion"). Plaintiffs filed their Response in Opposition to the Motion on September 19, 2014. ECF No. 182 (the "Opposition"). The School District filed its Reply in Support of the Motion on September 26, 2014. ECF No. 190 (the "Reply"). This Court issued a Memorandum and Order resolving the parties' pending summary motions on September 30, 2014. ECF Nos. 194-95. On October 22, 2014, the School District filed a Motion for Leave to File a Supplemental Brief in Support of the Motion. ECF No. 203. On October 23, 2014, this Court signed an order granting the School District's Motion for Leave. ECF No. 204. The School District's Supplemental Brief in Support of the Motion was then docketed by the Clerk of the Court. ECF No. 205 (the "Supplemental Brief"). The Court's October 23rd Order also provided notice to the parties that the Court was considering granting summary judgment on Count III in favor of Ray pursuant to Rule 56(f), and directed Plaintiffs and Ray to file any response to the Supplemental Brief on or before November 14, 2014. Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition to the Supplemental Brief on November 14, 2014. ECF No. 212 (the "Supplemental Opposition"). Ray did not file any documents related to the Motion. Counsel for the School District and counsel for the Plaintiffs appeared in person for oral argument on the Motion on February 18, 2015, while Ray appeared pro se and participated by telephone. ECF Nos. 216-17.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Rule 56(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[a]fter giving notice and a reasonable time to respond, the court may: (1) grant summary judgment for a nonmovant; (2) grant the motion on grounds not raised by a party; or (3) consider summary judgment on its own after identifying for the parties material facts that may not be genuinely in dispute." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f).

Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). On a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the "underlying facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Slagle v. Cnty. of Clarion, 435 F.3d 262, 264 (3d Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). If the movant carries its initial burden of showing the basis of its motion, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and point to "specific facts showing that a genuine issue exists for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Summary judgment must be granted against a non-moving party who ...


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