United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT
Alexandra Kobrick commenced this action advancing several
constitutional statutory and common law claims against her
former teacher two school districts and various
administrators (Doc 1) Before the court are three motions
(Docs 102 105 107) for summary judgment filed by the school
districts and administrators pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 56 For the reasons that follow we will grant
the pending motions
Factual Background & Procedural
action arises from an approximately eight-month-long sexual
relationship between plaintiff Alexandra Kobrick
(“Kobrick”) and defendant Matthew Stevens
(“Stevens”), her former music teacher and band
director, which began during her senior year in high school.
(See Doc. 1).
was hired as the assistant marching band director by
defendant Western Wayne School District (“Western
Wayne”) in June of 2009. (Doc. 103 ¶ 2; Doc. 108
¶ 22). Stevens' direct supervisor at Western
Wayne was Ray Stedenfeld (“Stedenfeld”), director
of the band. (See Doc. 140 ¶¶ 17-86). Stevens was
hired at Western Wayne for the fall 2009 marching band
season. (Doc. 103 ¶ 2; Doc. 129 ¶ 2). According to
Stevens' resume, his employment with Western Wayne ended
in December of 2009. (Doc. 103 ¶ 2; Doc. 129 ¶ 2).
Stevens' resume includes prior employment as a student
teacher at two schools, Western Wayne and Lakeside Elementary
School, as well as an interim high school music teacher
position at Blue Ridge School District from November of 2009
to February of 2010. (Doc. 103 ¶ 2; Doc. 129 ¶ 2).
November 18, 2009, Joseph Totsky (“Totsky”), a
guidance counselor at Western Wayne, received an anonymous
call from someone claiming to have “some news the
school should be made aware of.” (Doc. 108 ¶¶
81, 84). The caller, later identified as a parent of a
Western Wayne student, expressed concern about what she
believed to be an “inappropriate relationship”
between another student, C.N.,  and Stevens during the 2009 band
season. (Id. ¶¶ 45, 84-85). Totsky met
with the parent in his office that day. (See Totsky Dep.,
21:22-22:24, 33:9-34:6, Aug. 12, 2015). The parent
explained that she had noticed text messages on her
daughter's phone which suggested that C.N. (a friend of
her daughter) was involved in a sexual relationship with
Stevens. (Id. at 26:10-27:22). Totsky immediately
reported what he learned to defendant Patrick Sheehan
(“Sheehan”), principal at Western Wayne at the
time. (Doc. 108 ¶¶ 32, 35, 37, 44). Sheehan in turn
reported the information to defendant Andrew Falonk
(“Falonk”) then-superintendent of Western Wayne
(See Id. ¶¶ 21 24-25)
testified that when he first received word of the anonymous
call he believed the report to likely be a
“rumor” (See Falonk Dep 65:1-6 Apr 2 2015)
Nonetheless because the report was “at this level
” Falonk thought it was “worth looking into it so
that we could answer any questions if in fact someone asked
or came forward” (Id. at 68:14-24) Falonk
tasked Sheehan to escort CN to the nurse's office or the
guidance office to ask whether the rumor was true (Doc 108
¶¶ 26-27) Falonk also ordered Sheehan to speak with
CN's parents (Id. ¶ 29)
and her parents denied the rumor (Id. ¶¶
28 30 34) A female guidance counselor Joanne Tagle
(“Tagle”) interviewed CN (See Id.
¶¶ 62-63 65-66) CN reported to Tagle that she
“felt comfortable” around Stevens (Id.
¶ 72) Tagle queried whether CN was in a “sexual
relationship” with Stevens (Id. ¶ 73) CN
answered “No” (Id. ¶¶ 20 73)
Tagle also asked whether the pair had any
inappropriate contact including hugging or kissing
(Id. ¶¶ 74-75) CN denied any physical
contact (Id. ¶¶ 74-75) During later
criminal proceedings related to this litigation CN admitted
that she had “denied everything” when interviewed
by Tagle (Id. ¶ 20)
also called CN's father whom she knew through his
employment with Children and Youth Services (See Id.
¶ 78; Tagle Dep 59:4-8 Aug 12 2015) CN's father
denied the rumor (See Doc 108 ¶¶ 54-55; see also
Id. ¶¶ 29-30 34 51) Western Wayne
concluded that accusation was “unfounded” and
believed “there was no further investigating
necessary” based on the responses of CN and her father.
(Id. ¶¶ 53-54). It is not entirely clear
from the record whether Stevens was still employed at Western
Wayne at the time of this investigation or whether his term
as assistant band director had expired. It is undisputed that
Falonk and Sheehan never spoke to Stevens regarding the
“rumor.” (Id. ¶ 23; Sheehan Dep.
66:3-11, Mar. 30, 2015).
Lakeland School District (“Lakeland”) received
Stevens' standard application for teaching in
Pennsylvania public schools on June 29, 2010. (Doc. 103
¶ 2; Doc. 129 ¶ 2). Stevens' resume identified
his educational background, his prior experience at Western
Wayne and Blue Ridge, and four references. (Doc. 103 ¶
2; Doc. 129 ¶ 2). The application contained three
favorable recommendation letters, including one authored by
Stedenfeld in his capacity as Stevens' direct supervisor
at Western Wayne. (Doc. 103 ¶ 2; Doc. 129 ¶ 2; see
Doc. 106 ¶ 215). The application also contained a
mandatory background check and child abuse history clearance,
both reflecting no history of child abuse. (Doc. 103-3 at
104-05; see Doc. 103 ¶ 3; Doc. 129 ¶ 3). A member
of the Lakeland school board highly recommended Stevens for
the job. (Doc. 103 ¶ 5; Doc. 129 ¶ 5). Lakeland did
not separately contact Western Wayne for additional
information. (Sheehan Dep. 181:22-25). Sheehan testified
that, had someone from Lakeland contacted him about
Stevens' application, he likely would have disclosed the
2009 rumor. (See Id. at 181:4-182:25).
participated in two interviews, the first with defendant
Margaret Billings-Jones (“Billings-Jones”),
then-superintendent of Lakeland, and the second with
Billings-Jones and the school board. (Doc. 103 ¶ 4; Doc.
129 ¶ 4). On July 21, 2010, Lakeland hired Stevens as a
secondary music teacher for the 2010-2011 school year. (Doc.
103 ¶ 6; Doc. 129 ¶ 6). Stevens was appointed to
the additional post of assistant band director in October of
2010. (See Doc. 103 ¶ 6; Doc. 129 ¶ 6). During his
first year at Lakeland, Stevens participated in new teacher
induction training conducted by a local intermediate unit.
(See Doc. 103 ¶ 8; Doc. 106 ¶ 265; Doc. 129 ¶
8). This training is mandated under state law and includes
instruction on the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct
for Educators. (See Doc. 106 ¶ 263).The training
program covers, inter alia, appropriate professional
conduct and “teacher-student sexual conduct.”
first met Stevens at band camp in the summer preceding the
2010-2011 school year, which was her junior year at Lakeland.
(See Kobrick Dep. 170:12-171:3, Apr. 1, 2015). Kobrick
described her relationship with Stevens during her junior
year as a “normal” teacher-student relationship.
(Id. at 364:3-5). Kobrick spent much time in the
band room both during and after school throughout her junior
year due to her music-focused curriculum. (See Doc. 103
¶ 10; Doc. 129 ¶ 10). During the 2010-2011 school
year, in advance of a school trip, Stevens exchanged cell
phone numbers with all band members for use in the event of
an emergency. (Kobrick Dep. 211:18-213:8).
intended to pursue a career in music education after
graduation, and her curriculum and extracurricular activities
were focused toward that goal. (See Id. at
68:8-69:9, 90:23-91:4). Kobrick auditioned and was selected
for the position of drum major at the end of her junior year
(Id. at 24:18-26:13; see also Doc 103 ¶ 11; Doc
106 ¶ 38; Doc 129 ¶ 11) Kobrick's senior year
class schedule included music appreciation jazz band and
instrumental music courses in addition to her drum major
responsibilities (Doc 103 ¶ 15; Doc 129 ¶ 15; see
Doc 106 ¶ 40) Kobrick's schedule resulted in her
having more contact with Stevens than other members of the
band (Doc 103 ¶¶ 13-14; Doc 129 ¶¶ 13-14)
At some point during Kobrick's senior year Stevens
arranged with a study hall teacher Derrick Shayka
(“Shayka”) for Kobrick to spend her study hall
period in the band room (Kobrick Dep 194:8-195:19
198:20-200:5) Neither school staff nor Kobrick's parents
were concerned that she spent so much of her time in the band
room with Stevens given her music-oriented studies (See Doc
103 ¶¶ 18-19 23 27 31 34-36 41-42 64-65 71 95; Doc
106 ¶¶ 37-41 45 95 126 146 166 192-93)
began texting Kobrick about topics “outside of school
” including their personal lives sometime in the fall
of 2011 (Doc 108 ¶¶ 7-8; Doc 140 ¶¶ 7-8;
Kobrick Dep 213:13-24) On December 31 2011 Kobrick texted
Stevens and joked that she wished she had someone to share a
New Years' Eve kiss with and Stevens replied that he
would kiss Kobrick (Kobrick Dep 217:14-218:23) Kobrick was 17
years' old at the time (See Doc 101 ¶ 1; Doc 138
¶ 1) Stevens was 29 (See Doc 101 ¶ 9; Doc 138
relationship between Stevens and Kobrick became physical in
January of 2012 when Stevens kissed Kobrick on the lips while
she was helping him to sort records in the band room (See Doc
106 ¶¶ 99-100; Doc 131 ¶¶ 99-100; Kobrick
Dep 222:15-224:21) Kobrick was “shocked” by the
kiss but did not leave the room (See Kobrick Dep.
224:22-225:14). Stevens touched Kobrick in “private
areas over [her] clothes” during a second incident
later that afternoon, and a second kiss and more sexual
touching occurred the next day. (Id. at
230:23-236:17, 240:5-17, 243:20-249:1; see also Doc. 106
¶ 104; Doc. 108 ¶¶ 10-11; Doc. 140
¶¶ 10-11). Kobrick did not report these incidents
to her friends, parents, or Lakeland administrators. (Kobrick
Dep. 227:18-228:1, 249:14-19, 269:23-274:14). Kobrick
explained that she did not think her mother-a colleague of
Stevens at the high school-would believe her because Stevens
“was a teacher . . . in a place of authority.”
(Id. at 228:11-229:14, 237:3-12). Kobrick testified
that, although she was initially shocked at Stevens'
conduct, she enjoyed his attention. (Id. at
sexual contact between Stevens and Kobrick began occurring
regularly and escalated to include other sexual acts,
including oral sex. (Id. at 251:24-253:13,
267:21-268:20). Relations took place in the band
room-including in Stevens' office, a practice room, and a
drum closet-both during and after school. (Id. at
253:14-254:16, 255:25-256:3; see also Doc. 106 ¶¶
106-07). On several occasions, the acts transpired with other
students in the band room: the pair would hide in a drum
closet and close the door to avoid discovery. (Kobrick Dep.
255:4-257:8). Sexual contact even occurred on an overnight
school trip, when Kobrick snuck out of a room she was sharing
with her mother to visit Stevens. (Doc. 106 ¶¶
116-17; Doc. 131 ¶¶ 116-17). Kobrick testified that
the only person who may have known of the relationship was
defendant Thomas Kameroski (“Kameroski”),
then-principal at Lakeland, who “walked in one
time” when Kobrick had her “arms wrapped around
[Stevens'] waist.” (Kobrick Dep. 259:18-262:2). As
soon as Kameroski entered the room, Kobrick
“immediately” dropped her arms. (Id. at
264:1-23). Kobrick believes Kameroski witnessed the embrace.
(Id. at 263:17-25, 264:24-265:5). Kameroski denies
that this incident occurred. (Doc. 103 ¶¶ 57, 85).
estimated that she and Stevens had sexual contact two or
three times weekly through the end of the school year.
(Kobrick Dep. 258:2-259:1, 269:20-22). Kobrick graduated from
Lakeland on June 1, 2012 and turned 18 one month later. (See
Kobrick Dep. 285:9-12, 293:7-17). According to Kobrick, at
the time she graduated, “nobody knew what was going on
between [Kobrick] and Mr. Stevens other than [Kobrick] and
Mr. Stevens.” (Id. at 274:7-14). Kobrick did
not disclose the relationship to her friends or family or to
any staff while at Lakeland. (Id. at 294:24-296:7).
During the course of the relationship and until she left for
college, Kobrick thought of Stevens as a
“boyfriend.” (Id. at 297:1-16,
394:20-5). At the time, she believed their relationship was
consensual. (Id. at 268:21-269:16, 271:25-272:15).
relationship continued during the summer after Kobrick's
graduation. (Id. at 285:9-17). When Kobrick left for
college in mid-August, the physical aspect of the
relationship ended, but Kobrick and Stevens exchanged text
messages and talked on the phone while she was away.
(Id. at 292:14-24, 301:24-302:16, 303:25-304:22).
Their relationship devolved when, in September of 2012,
Stevens called Kobrick and became pushy asking her to touch
herself while on the phone with him. (Id. at
304:23-308:7). Kobrick refused and decided to cease all
contact with Stevens. (Id. at 311:13-20). Stevens
texted Kobrick a handful of times thereafter, but Kobrick
made excuses to avoid talking to him. (Id. at
Kobrick returned to Lakeland for a classroom observation in
January of 2013, she saw Stevens in the band room behaving
flirtatiously with two younger students. (See Id. at
323:20-326:2, 330:10-334:5; see also Doc. 103 ¶ 50; Doc.
129 ¶ 50). Kobrick warned Stevens to “watch
himself and watch how he was acting with those girls because
he's going to get caught.” (Kobrick Dep. at
334:6-13). She testified that this conversation was her last
with Stevens. (See Id. at 335:1-3).
called her mother on February 14, 2013 and disclosed that she
had sexual relations with Stevens during her senior year.
(Doc. 103 ¶¶ 52-53; Doc. 106 ¶¶ 51, 53).
Kobrick's mother contacted the Pennsylvania State
Education Association (“PSEA”) for guidance.
(Doc. 106 ¶ 54). A PSEA representative advised that the
incident should be reported to Billings-Jones. (Id.
¶ 55). Kobrick's mother met with Billings-Jones that
afternoon and relayed Kobrick's report. (Doc. 103 ¶
55; Doc. 106 ¶¶ 57, 59). Billings-Jones immediately
notified the district attorney and thereafter contacted
Kameroski, the district's counsel, and its solicitor.
(See Doc. 103 ¶¶ 55-56; Doc. 106 ¶¶
59-60, 72-74). Billings-Jones directed Kameroski to ensure
that Stevens was not alone with students and to escort him
from school property. (See Doc. 103 ¶¶ 56-57; Doc.
106 ¶¶ 69-70). Billings-Jones also contacted the
Department of Education to report Kobrick's allegations.
(Doc. 106 ¶ 83).
February 15, 2013, Kobrick provided a written statement to
the district attorney's office detailing the sexual
contact with Stevens. (Kobrick Dep. 345:6-10). Stevens was
charged with institutional sexual assault, unlawful contact
with minor, and corruption of minors and was arrested on
February 19, 2013. Commonwealth v. Stevens, No.
CP-35-CR-563-2013 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. 2013); (see also Doc.
103 ¶ 58; Doc. 106 ¶ 85). Lakeland terminated
Stevens' employment following his arrest. (Doc. 103
¶ 60; Doc. 106 ¶ 86). On June 16, 2014, Stevens
entered a plea of guilty to one count of corruption of
minors. Commonwealth v. Stevens, No.
CP-35-CR-563-1023 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. June 16, 2014); (Doc. 101
¶ 111). The state court sentenced Stevens to a term of 6
to 23 months' imprisonment. Commonwealth v.
Stevens, No. CP-35-CR-563-2013 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Oct. 1,
2014). Prior to this incident, no administrator or staff
member at Lakeland had ever received any reports of or
otherwise suspected sexual misconduct by Stevens. (See Doc.
103 ¶¶ 20, 25, 30, 32, 39-40, 45, 103; Doc. 106
¶¶ 108-13, 122-24, 133-35, 137, 139, 145, 153, 155,
157, 159, 161, 164, 167, 170-75, 179-81, 184-89, 194, 196).
mother's recommendation, Kobrick commenced counseling on
the day she reported Stevens' conduct to authorities.
(Kobrick Dep. 341:16-21, 342:1-19). Kobrick began suffering
from anxiety after reporting the relationship and is
prescribed Zoloft to manage her symptoms. (See Id.
at 362:5-363:1). Kobrick also suffers from nightmares and
crying spells, and “get[s] sick to [her] stomach”
talking about what happened. (Id. at 378:12-379:10).
Kobrick testified that, over the course of two years
preceding her deposition, she treated with a counselor while
at school, a social worker while at home, and her primary
care physician concerning her anxiety and stress.
(Id. at 353:6-362:4). Kobrick also testified that
she has been unable to work in a classroom and had to change
her music education major (See Id. at 90:2-91:18)
commenced this action with the filing of a 14-count complaint
(Doc 1) on November 25 2013 Kobrick generally catalogues the
defendants into three groups: the Western Wayne defendants
(Western Wayne School District Falonk and Sheehan); the
Lakeland defendants (Lakeland School District Billings-Jones
and Kameroski); and Stevens individually After Rule 12(b)(6)
motion practice the following claims remain against the
Western Wayne and Lakeland defendants:
• Count 4: a claim against the Lakeland School District
Billings-Jones and Kameroski pursuant to 42 USC § 1983
for violation of substantive due process under the Fourteenth
• Count 5 a claim against Lakeland School District for
discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education
Amendments Act (“Title IX”) 20 USC §
• Count 6: a claim against Western Wayne School District
Falonk and Sheehan pursuant to 42 USC § 1983 for
violation of substantive due process under the Fourteenth
• Count 7: a claim against Lakeland School District for
discrimination in violation of Title IX 20 USC §
• Count 14: a claim against Kameroski and Sheehan for
intentional infliction of emotional distress under
See Kobrick v Stevens No 3:13-CV-2865 2014 WL
4914186 at *9-19 (MD Pa Sept 30 2014) (Mannion
defendants moved for summary judgment on July 15, 2016.
(Docs. 100, 102, 105, 107). The motions are fully briefed and
ripe for disposition. In view of the distinct theories of
liability attending Kobrick's claims against Stevens, the
court addresses Stevens' motion (Doc. 101) by separate
memorandum of today's date. We analyze the school
district and administrator defendants' Rule 56 motions
summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those claims
that do not present a “genuine dispute as to any
material fact” and for which a jury trial would be an
empty and unnecessary formality. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The
burden of proof tasks the non-moving party to come forth with
“affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the
pleadings, ” in support of its right to relief.
Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F.Supp.2d 311, 315
(M.D. Pa. 2004); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate,
as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the
non-moving party on the claims. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
587-89 (1986). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of
action proceed. See Pappas, 331 F.Supp.2d at 315.
claims against the Western Wayne and Lakeland defendants are
threefold: first, that the defendants, individually
and at the institutional level, failed to protect
Kobrick's bodily integrity and thereby violated her
Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process;
second, that the defendant school districts were
deliberately indifferent to known sexual harassment in
violation of Title IX; and third, that defendants
Kameroski and Sheehan intentionally inflicted emotional
distress upon Kobrick. The court addresses each claim
Section 1983 Claims
1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code creates a private
cause of action to redress constitutional wrongs committed by
state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute is
not a source of substantive rights, but serves as a mechanism
for vindicating rights otherwise protected by federal law.
Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe,536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002);
Kneipp v.Tedder,95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d
Cir. 1996). To state a claim under Section 1983, plaintiffs
must show a deprivation of a “right secured by the
Constitution and the laws of the United States . . . by a
person acting under color of state law.” Kneipp, 95
F.3d at 1204 (quoting Mark v. Borough of Hatboro, 51
F.3d 1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995)). The defendants do not