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Kobrick v. Matthew Stevens Lakeland School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 1, 2017




         Plaintiff Alexandra Kobrick commenced this action advancing constitutional statutory and common law claims against her former teacher two school districts and various administrators (Doc 1) The claims arise from an approximately eight-month-long sexual relationship between Kobrick and defendant Matthew Stevens her former music teacher and band director which began during her senior year in high school (See id) Before the court is Stevens' motion (Doc 100) for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 We will grant in part and deny in part Stevens' motion.

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History[1]

         Plaintiff Alexandra Kobrick (“Kobrick”) attended Lakeland Junior-Senior High School from seventh through twelfth grades. (Doc. 101 ¶ 3; Doc. 138 ¶ 3). During her junior and senior years-the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, respectively-Kobrick pursued a music-oriented curriculum. (See Doc. 101 ¶ 7; Doc. 138 ¶ 7). She was also an active member of the marching, concert, and jazz bands. (See Doc. 101 ¶¶ 5-6, 8; Doc. 138 ¶¶ 5-6, 8). Kobrick intended to pursue a career in music education following graduation. (Doc. 101-2, Kobrick Dep. 68:8-69:9, 90:23-91:4, Apr. 13, 2015).

         Lakeland School District (“Lakeland”) hired defendant Matthew Stevens (“Stevens”) as the high school's band director and music teacher sometime in 2010. (See Doc. 101 ¶ 12).[2] Kobrick met Stevens at band camp during the summer prior to the 2010-2011 school year. (Id. ¶ 15; Doc. 138 ¶ 15). Kobrick testified that she and Stevens had a “normal” student-teacher relationship during her junior year. (Doc. 101 ¶ 17).[3] In advance of a student trip during the 2010-2011 school year, Stevens exchanged cell phone numbers with all band members for use in the event of an emergency. (Id. ¶ 18). Stevens did not call or text Kobrick using her cell phone number during her junior year. (Id. ¶ 19).

         Kobrick auditioned and was selected for the position of drum major at the end of her junior year. (Kobrick Dep. 24:18-26:13; Doc. 101 ¶ 6; Doc. 138 ¶ 6). In her role as drum major, Kobrick had more contact with Stevens during her senior year than other members of the band. (Doc. 101 ¶ 21). Stevens arranged with Kobrick's study hall teacher, Derrick Shayka (“Shayka”), for Kobrick to spend her study hall period with Stevens in the band room. (Kobrick Dep. 194:8-195:19, 198:20-200:5; see also Doc. 101 ¶ 24; Doc. 138 ¶ 24). Stevens also taught Kobrick's music appreciation, jazz band, and instrumental music theory courses. (Id. ¶ 23). Kobrick considered Stevens to be a “relaxed” teacher and had a “good relationship” with him during the fall semester of her senior year. (Id. ¶ 27).[4]

         Stevens began texting Kobrick about topics “outside of school, ” including their personal lives, sometime in the fall of 2011. (Kobrick Dep. 213:13-214:21; see also Doc. 101 ¶ 28; Doc. 138 ¶ 28). Kobrick did not perceive these text messages as “flirtatious, ” (Doc. 101 ¶ 30), but noted that Stevens began to adopt a “friendlier” tone with her. (Kobrick Dep. 214:4-215:16; see also Doc. 101 ¶ 29). On December 31, 2011, Kobrick and Stevens exchanged text messages while Kobrick attended a party. (Doc. 101 ¶ 31; Doc. 138 ¶ 31). Kobrick texted Stevens and joked that she wished she had someone to share a New Years' Eve kiss with. (Doc. 138 ¶ 32; Kobrick Dep. 217:14-218:16; see Doc. 101 ¶ 32). Stevens replied that he would kiss Kobrick. (Doc. 138 ¶ 33; Kobrick Dep. 218:17-23; see Doc. 101 ¶ 33). Kobrick was “a little taken aback” by his response and assumed he was joking. (Kobrick Dep. 218:24-219:2). At the time, Kobrick was 17 years' old. (See Doc. 101 ¶ 1; Doc. 138 ¶ 1). Stevens was 29. (See Doc. 101 ¶ 9; Doc. 138 ¶ 9).

         Kobrick's relationship with Stevens became physical in January of 2012. (Doc. 101 ¶ 36; Doc. 138 ¶ 36). In early January, she was in the band room with Stevens helping him to sort health records when he kissed her on the lips. (Doc. 101 ¶ 36; Doc. 138 ¶ 36). Kobrick was “shocked” by the contact, (Doc. 101 ¶ 37; Doc. 138 ¶ 37), but did not leave the room. (Doc. 101 ¶ 37). Later that afternoon, two of Kobrick's friends pushed Kobrick and Stevens into a uniform closet as a joke. (Id. ¶ 38; Doc. 138 ¶ 38). Stevens locked the door from the inside and began “[t]ouching [Kobrick's] private areas over [her] clothes.” (Kobrick Dep. 233:21-234:11). Stevens continued touching Kobrick despite her request that he stop. (Id. at 234:12-236:8). The two eventually exited the closet. (See Id. at 236:18-21). The next day, Stevens again kissed Kobrick, this time in the front of the band room. (Id. at 242:10-244:19). Stevens then led Kobrick to a practice room where he kissed her, touched her, and “stuck his hand down [her] pants.” (Id. at 246:11-248:5). Kobrick asked Stevens “what he was doing” but did not protest or resist his advance; after a few minutes, the two said goodbye and Kobrick went home. (Id. at 248:6-249:9).

         Kobrick did not report either incident to her parents or to administrators. (Doc. 101 ¶¶ 40-41, 47). Kobrick did not think her mother-a colleague of Stevens at the high school-would believe her because Stevens “was a teacher and he's in a place of authority.” (Kobrick Dep. 228:2-229:14, 237:3-12). Kobrick testified that, although she was surprised at Stevens' conduct, she enjoyed his attention and the physical contact. (Doc. 101 ¶ 39; Kobrick Dep. 238:21-239:9). Kobrick also testified that she was not apprehensive about returning to the band room or being alone in Stevens' presence. (Doc. 101 ¶ 42; Kobrick Dep. 243:10-14).

         Kobrick and Stevens thereafter began regularly engaging in other sexual contact, including oral sex. (Kobrick Dep. 251:24-253:13, 267:21-268:20; see Doc. 101 ¶ 43). The relations took place in the band room-including in Stevens' office, a practice room, and a drum closet-both during and after school. (Kobrick Dep. 253:14-254:16, 255:25-256:3). On several occasions, the sexual acts occurred with other students in the band room while Kobrick and Stevens hid in a drum closet and closed the door to avoid discovery. (See Id. at 255:4-257:8). Kobrick estimated that she and Stevens had sexual contact two or three times per week through the end of the school year. (Id. at 258:2-259:1, 269:20-22; see also Doc. 101 ¶ 43; Doc. 138 ¶ 43).

         Kobrick graduated high school on June 1, 2012 and turned 18 one month later. (Doc. 101 ¶¶ 4, 43, 62; Doc. 138 ¶¶ 4, 43, 62). She and Stevens continued their sexual relationship during the summer following graduation. (Doc. 101 ¶ 43; Doc. 138 ¶ 43; Kobrick Dep. 285:9-17). Kobrick visited Stevens at his home ten times throughout the summer, and the pair engaged in sexual relations during five of those visits. (Kobrick Dep. 289:13-291:19). The physical aspect of the relationship ended when Kobrick left for college in mid-August of 2012. (See Doc. 101 ¶ 43; Doc. 138 ¶ 43; see also Kobrick Dep. 292:14-24). During the course of their relationship and until she left for college, Kobrick thought of Stevens as a “boyfriend.”[5] (Doc. 101 ¶ 63; Kobrick Dep. 297:1-16, 394:20-5). She believed their relationship to be consensual at the time. (Kobrick Dep. 268:21-269:16, 271:25-272:15).

         Kobrick and Stevens continued to exchange text messages and talk on the phone while she was away at college. (Doc. 101 ¶ 80; Kobrick Dep. 301:24-302:16, 303:25-304:22). At some point in September of 2012, Stevens called Kobrick and became pushy in asking her to touch herself while on the phone with him. (Kobrick Dep. 304:23-308:7; see also Doc. 101 ¶ 83). Kobrick refused and decided to end all communication with Stevens. (Kobrick Dep. 311:13-20; see Doc. 101 ¶ 83). Stevens texted Kobrick a handful of times thereafter, but Kobrick responded with excuses to avoid talking to him. (Kobrick Dep. 312:7-313:18; see also Doc. 101 ¶ 85).

         Kobrick returned to Lakeland Junior-Senior High School in January of 2013 for an assignment which required her to observe a teacher for three days. (Kobrick Dep. 323:20-326:2; see also Doc. 101 ¶ 88). During her visit, Kobrick saw Stevens in the band room behaving flirtatiously with two younger female students. (Kobrick Dep. 330:10-334:5). Kobrick admonished Stevens “that he needed to . . . watch himself and watch how he was acting with those girls because he's going to get caught.” (Id. at 334:6-13).

         On February 14, 2013, Kobrick called her mother and disclosed that she had sexual relations with Stevens and that she believed him to be a “sexual predator.” (Kobrick Dep. 338:19-25; see also Doc. 101 ¶ 92). Kobrick's mother contacted the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the school district's superintendent, defendant Margaret Billings-Jones (“Billings-Jones”). (See Doc. 101 ¶ 93). Billings-Jones immediately notified the district attorney's office of the allegations. (Id. ¶ 94). Kobrick provided a written statement to the district attorney's office detailing the sexual contact with Stevens the following day. (Id. ¶ 97). Stevens was arrested on February 19, 2013 and charged with institutional sexual assault, unlawful contact with minor, and corruption of minors. Commonwealth v. Stevens, No. CP-35-CR-563-2013 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Feb. 19, 2013).[6] On June 16, 2014, Stevens entered a plea of guilty to one count of corruption of minors. (Doc. 101 ¶ 111). The state court sentenced him to a term of 6 to 23 months' imprisonment. See Commonwealth v. Stevens, No. CP-35-CR-563-2013 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Oct. 1, 2013).

         At her mother's recommendation, Kobrick began treating with a campus counselor on the same day that she reported Stevens' conduct to authorities. (Doc. 101 ¶ 112; 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 Kobrick Dep. 362:5-363:1). Kobrick also described suffering from nightmares and crying spells, and stated that she “get[s] sick to [her] stomach” talking about the incident. (Id. at 378:12-379:10). She testified that, over the course of the two-year period preceding her deposition in this case, she treated with a counselor while at school, a social worker while at home, and her primary care physician concerning her anxiety and stress. (See Doc. 101 ¶¶ 118-22; see also Kobrick Dep. 353:6-360:4, 362:4). Kobrick also testified that she was unable to work in a classroom after this experience and had to change her music education major. (See Kobrick Dep. 90:2-91:18).

         Kobrick commenced this action with the filing of a 14-count complaint on November 25, 2013. (Doc. 1). In addition to Stevens, Kobrick asserts claims against Lakeland, Billings-Jones, and Thomas Kameroski, principal at Lakeland High School during the 2011-2012 school year, as well as Stevens' former employer, Western Wayne School District, its superintendent, Andrew Falonk, and its principal, Patrick Sheehan. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 7-15).

         Against Stevens, Kobrick asserted the following claims: in Count 1, a claim for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment right to bodily integrity and personal security and the Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures via 42 U.S.C. § 1983; in Count 2, a state law claim for assault; in Count 3, a state law claim for battery; in Count 8, a claim for violation of due process rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution; in Count 10, a claim for sexual and simple assault; and in Count 14, a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Following Rule 12(b)(6) motion practice, the court dismissed Count 1 to the extent it relied on the Fourth Amendment, as well as Counts 8 and 10, finding that there is no private right of action under the state constitution nor recognized tort claims for sexual and simple assault. Kobrick v. Stevens, No. 3:13-2865, 2014 WL 4914186, at *3-9 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2014) (Mannion, J.).[7] The court otherwise allowed Kobrick's claims against Stevens to proceed to discovery. See id.

         All 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, we address Stevens' motion (Doc. 100) separately from the school district and administrator defendants' motions.

         II. ...

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