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King v. Mansfield University of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 21, 2019

PATRICK KING, Plaintiff,



         Presently before the court is Plaintiff Patrick King's (“Plaintiff”) motion for reconsideration of this court's memorandum and order dated February 28, 2019 (Docs. 54, 55) which granted in part Defendants' Mansfield University of Pennsylvania (“Mansfield”), The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (“PSSHE”), John Halsted (“Halsted”), and Christine Shegan (“Shegan”), (collectively, “Defendants”) motion for summary judgment (Doc 27). Specifically, the court held that Plaintiff's claims against Halsted in his capacity as president of Mansfield should be dismissed. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         The relevant facts were set forth in this court's prior memorandum. See King v. Mansfield Univ. of Pa., No. 15-cv-0159, 2019 WL 1003612, *1-2 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 28, 2019). Because the court writes primarily for the parties, the facts need not be reiterated herein. In brief, during the course of Plaintiff's employment and participation in various extracurricular activities at Mansfield, Plaintiff intermittently was sexually harassed by a Mansfield employee, John Estep (“Estep”). Plaintiff alleges that this harassment exacerbated his previously existing depression, which the parties agree qualifies as a disability.

         On April 30, 2004, and May 3, 2004, Plaintiff wrote letters directly to Halsted that raised issues regarding allegations that two professors discriminated against him because of his depression, but these letters mentioned neither Estep nor the sexual harassment. Halsted sent a response to Plaintiff and referred him to Molly Bailey, the Chief Human Resources Officer and Director of Affirmative Action (“Bailey”). Plaintiff spoke to Bailey regarding both his issues with the professors and Estep. At the end of April or the beginning of May 2004, Plaintiff reported Estep's misconduct to campus police. Shegan apparently reached out to Bailey to inform her that Plaintiff had complained to campus police about Estep; however, there is no written record of such a complaint. As detailed in this court's prior opinions, the crux of Plaintiff's argument is that his report to Mansfield police was ignored, particularly by Shegan, the chief of police, and Halsted, the university president, because of his protected status as a gay man, while similar reports made by women students were properly recorded and investigated.

         II. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may file a motion for reconsideration to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence. Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). A judgment may be altered or amended if the party seeking reconsideration establishes at least one of the following grounds: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Cafe, by Lou Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). In this case, Plaintiff argues that this court failed to consider a decision by the Third Circuit that was published between the time briefing was complete in the instant case and the date this court's decision was issued.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff argues that this court failed to consider the impact of the Third Circuit's recent decision of Jutrowski v. Township of Riverdale, 904 F.3d 280 (3d Cir. 2018), which related to the “personal involvement” requirement in § 1983 cases, in the context of an alleged § 1983 “after the fact conspiracy.” In Jutrowski, the plaintiff brought excessive force and conspiracy claims against four police officers who were involved in his arrest and detention following a drunk driving accident. The plaintiff crashed his car after consuming several vodka sodas and, during the course of his arrest, inadvertently struck a police officer. After the plaintiff struck the police officer, he was taken to the ground and handcuffed. While he was being handcuffed, one of the officers kicked the plaintiff violently in the face, resulting in injuries that required surgery. The officers' reports were inconsistent, none of them were able to testify as to which officer delivered the blow, and none of their dashcams were activated at the time of the incident. The Third Circuit concluded that these facts, taken together with other omissions and inconsistencies, were sufficient evidence that the police officers may have made a concerted effort to protect the officer who kicked the plaintiff to prevent the plaintiff from bringing a viable excessive force claim, which effectively deprived the plaintiff of his constitutional right of access to the courts.

         The Third Circuit, in Jutrowski, outlined the analysis a court must engage in where a plaintiff alleges a conspiracy to cover up the deprivation of a constitutional right:

To prevail on a conspiracy claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must prove that persons acting under color of state law “reached an understanding” to deprive him of his constitutional rights. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150-52 [] (1970). Such rights include, of course, those protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, such as the “right to be heard in an impartial forum, ” Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 161 (3d Cir. 2010), and the “right of access to the courts, ” Monroe v. Beard, 536 F.3d 198, 205 (3d Cir. 2008). Those rights “assure[] that no person will be denied the opportunity to present to the judiciary allegations concerning violations of . . . constitutional rights.” Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 579 [] (1974).
. . . .
After a plaintiff establishes that the object of the conspiracy was the deprivation of a federally protected right, “the rule is clear that” the plaintiff “must provide some factual basis to support the existence of the elements of a conspiracy: agreement and concerted action.” Capogrosso v. Supreme Court of N.J., 588 F.3d 180, 184-85 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Crabtree v. Muchmore, 904 F.2d 1475, 1481 (10th Cir. 1990)). To show agreement, he must demonstrate that “the state actors named as defendants in the [] complaint somehow reached an understanding to deny [the plaintiff] his rights, ” Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 185 (3d Cir. 1993) . . .

Jutrowski, 904 F.3d at 293-95; see also Murphy v. Middlesex Cty., 361 F.Supp.3d 376, 389 (D.N.J. 2019) (citing Jutrowski, 904 F.3d at 295-98) (“The Third Circuit has recognized a theory of a § 1983 conspiracy to cover up constitutional violations, but this occurs when the defendants have conspired to prevent a potential plaintiff from obtaining the information needed to make a ...

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