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Hay v. Somerset Area School District

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 31, 2017

HEATHER HAY, Plaintiff,
STEPHEN SHAFFER Third-Party Defendant.



         I. Introduction

         Before the Court is Third-Party Defendant Stephen Shaffer's Motion to Strike, which this Court construes as a motion to dismiss.[1] (ECF No. 29.) The motion has been fully briefed (see ECF Nos. 30, 32, 33, 35) and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, Third-Party Defendant Schaffer's motion will be GRANTED.

         II. Jurisdiction

         This Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. §1391.

         III. Background

         Plaintiff initiated this civil rights action by filing a complaint in this Court on November 1, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Somerset Area School District ("SASD") acted with deliberate indifference towards inappropriate sexual conduct by Stephen Shaffer, a former teacher, causing Plaintiff to be sexually abused while she was a student. Plaintiff asserts two claims against SASD: (1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's constitutional right of bodily integrity, and (2) a Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 claim for subjecting Plaintiff to a hostile educational environment.

         Defendant filed its answer on December 13, 2016. (ECF No. 9.) On January 31, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion for Leave to File Complaint to Join Third-Party Defendant Stephen Shaffer (ECF No. 14), which this Court granted. (ECF No. 15.) SASD subsequently filed a Third-Party Complaint against Shaffer. (ECF No. 23.) Shaffer now asks this Court to dismiss him as a third-party defendant. (See ECF No. 29).

         IV. Legal Standard

         A complaint may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Rule 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 786 (3d Cir. 2016). But detailed pleading is not generally required. Id. The Rules demand only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).

         Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps.[2] First, the court must "tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009). Second, the court should identify allegations that, "because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679; see also Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 224 (3d Cir. 2011) ("Mere restatements of the elements of a claim are not entitled to the assumption of truth." (citation omitted)). Finally, "[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.; see also Connelly, 809 F.3d at 786. Ultimately, the plausibility determination is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         V. Discussion

         Shaffer asserts four arguments for why this Court should grant his motion to dismiss SASD's Third-Party Complaint. (See ECF No. 29.)[3] Shaffer argues that: (1) SASD failed to state a proper third-party claim (Id. at 6-7); (2) SASD improperly failed to seek leave of the Court before filing its Third-Party Complaint (Id. at 2)[4]; (3) SASD untimely filed its Third-Party Complaint (Id. at 3); and (4) SASD's Third Party Complaint confuses the issues. (Id. at 4-5.)[5]

         As explained below, this Court agrees with Shaffer that SASD failed to state a viable third-party claim. Therefore, this Court need not address Shaffer's remaining arguments.

         A. SASD Failed to State a Viable Third-Party Claim

         Shaffer argues that this Court should dismiss SASD's third-party claim for contribution. Shaffer contends that the statues that Plaintiff sued under-§ 1983 and § 1861 -do not provide for contribution as a remedy. (See ECF No. 33 at 6.) Shaffer also contends that the federal common law does not permit a plaintiff to seek contribution on civil rights claims. (Id.) Shaffer further asserts that SASD has not brought a proper third-party claim because SASD's Third-Party Complaint fails to establish that Shaffer and SASD are joint tortfeasors, as is required for contribution under Pennsylvania law. (Id. at 8.)

         In response, SASD argues that it has filed a proper third-party claim against Shaffer. SASD asserts that that Third Circuit recognizes a right to contribution in civil rights actions. (ECF No. 35 at 4.) According to SASD, contribution and/or indemnification is appropriate here because SASD is only liable to Plaintiff due to its relationship as Shaffer's employer; any liability against SASD is secondary because SASD cannot be held liable absent a finding that Shaffer engaged in the alleged conduct. (ECF No. 30 at 5.) Overall, SASD contends that this is the "classic" and "textbook" example of a situation where contribution and/or indemnification are appropriate. (ECF No. 30 at 5; ECF No. 35 at 4.)

         1. There is no federal right to contribution in ...

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