United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.
in this case, G.S., is a 17-year-old high school student who
was expelled from Penncrest High School in Media,
Pennsylvania. ECF No. 8. On Sunday, April 1, 2018, G.S.
posted lyrics from the song “Snap” by the band
Spite to his Snapchat account. Id. ¶ 38.
Defendants aver that G.S.'s post stated:
Everyone, I despise everyone!
Fuck you, eat shit, blackout, the world is a
All of you, I will fucking kill off all of you!
This is me, this is my, snap!
ECF No. 13-1 at 3 (emphasis added) (erroneously omitting the
word “off”); ECF No. 6-2 (purportedly an image of
the Snapchat post); see also ECF No. 8 ¶ 40.
to G.S., one or more of his 65 Snapchat followers reposted
his Snapchat post to other social media platforms, including
Instagram and Facebook. ECF No. 8 ¶ 41. Then another
person reposted the text again but added the words
“”penncreststudents, ” transforming the
post into a “direct threat.” Id. ¶
19. This “doctored post” then made the rounds on
social media platforms. Id. ¶ 42.
same day, Pennsylvania State Police interviewed G.S. and his
family. Id. ¶ 43. G.S. was taken into custody.
Id. ¶ 44. The School District was told by the
police that G.S. was in custody, but the School District did
not inform the school community of that fact until after the
start of the school day on Monday, April 2, 2018.
Id. ¶¶ 44-47.
was suspended from school for 10 days and then expelled on
August 23, 2018 after expulsion proceedings. Id.
¶¶ 48, 59-60; see also ECF No. 11-1 Ex. 1
(adjudication of the Board of School Directors). G.S. claims
that the school had no basis to expel him, rather the school
was retaliating against him for his successful assertion of
his federal rights under the McKinney-Vento Act in a previous
lawsuit. ECF No. 8 ¶ 21. G.S. also claims that the
school had previously made and then repeated false
accusations that he had made a school shooting threat.
Id. ¶¶ 25-28.
brought multiple causes of action in his First Amended
Complaint. Seven are federal claims brought under federal
question jurisdiction, and two are state law claims that are
brought under supplemental jurisdiction. G.S. variously
alleges Defendants: violated his rights under the First and
Fourteenth Amendments (Counts I to VI), including punishing
him despite his making protected speech, and enforcing
facially and as-applied overbroad and vague content
restrictions; retaliated against him for his previous
successful assertion of his civil rights under the
McKinney-Vento Act (Count VII); deprived him of due process
under Pennsylvania law during the suspension and expulsion
proceedings (Count VIII); and defamed him on several
occasions, beginning in 2015 (Count IX). Defendants filed an
Answer, and then moved for Judgment on the Pleadings on just
the state law claims, Counts VIII and IX. ECF Nos. 11, 13.
Defendants' briefing included a near half-alphabet of
arguments, from A to K, in support of dismissing or limiting
the two state law claims. ECF No. 13-1 at 7-29. G.S. opposed
the motion, and Defendants filed a Motion for Leave to File a
Reply. ECF Nos. 17, 18.
“A” raised by Defendants asserted that Count VIII
was “a supposed appeal of the School Board's
adjudication expelling G.S. as a student.” ECF No. 13-1
at 7-11. Defendants argued that under Pennsylvania law, a
student wishing to appeal a school board's expulsion
decision must file an action in the appropriate state court
of common pleas. Id. at 10 n.3.
light of the issues raised in Defendants' Argument
“A, ” the Court issued a Rule to Show Cause
“as to whether the Court should find that Younger
abstention applies to this case.” ECF No. 20 ¶ 1.
The parties responded to the Rule to Show Cause, and the
issue is ripe for disposition. ECF Nos. 21, 22.
careful consideration of the procedural background of this
case, Pennsylvania law regarding school hearings and appeals
therefrom, and jurisdictional constraints imposed by Supreme
Court and Third Circuit precedent, the Court finds that
Younger abstention is necessary and the Court cannot proceed
to hear any of the federal claims in Counts I to VII or the
state law claim in Count VIII. As a result, the entire case
must be dismissed because the Court lacks jurisdiction over
the remaining defamation claim in Count IX.
doctrine of Younger abstention, Younger v. Harris,
401 U.S. 37 (1971), provides that as a matter of policy a
federal court must abstain from deciding matters where the
federal court's decision would cause undue interference
with pending state proceedings. See Sprint Commc'ns,
Inc. v. Jacobs, 571 U.S. 69, 72-73 (2013); New
Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc. v. Council of City of New
Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 359 (1989) (“NOPSI”)
(“[T]here are some classes of cases in which the
withholding of authorized equitable relief because of undue
interference with state proceedings is ‘the normal
thing to do.'”) (quoting Younger, 401 U.S. at 45);
Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d 666, 670 (3d Cir.
2010) (“In certain circumstances, district courts must
abstain from exercising jurisdiction over a particular claim
where resolution of that claim in federal court would offend
principles of comity by interfering with an ongoing state
abstention is founded on “the principles of equity,
comity, and federalism that must restrain a federal court
when asked to enjoin a state court proceeding.”
Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 243 (1972). Comity
is the “proper respect for state functions, ” and
recognizes “the fact that the entire country is made up
of a Union of separate state governments, and a continuance
of the belief that the National Government will fare best if
the States and their institutions are left free to perform
their separate functions in their separate ways.”
Younger, 401 U.S. at 44. Comity reflects a proper
“sensitivity to the legitimate interests of both State
and National Governments, and in which the National
Government, anxious though it may be to vindicate and protect
federal rights and federal interests, always endeavors to do
so in ways that will not unduly interfere with the legitimate
activities of the States.” Id.
doctrine of Younger abstention originally concerned only
“parallel, pending state criminal proceeding.”
Sprint, 571 U.S. at 72. The Supreme Court has extended the
doctrine to cover “particular state civil proceedings
that are akin to criminal prosecutions or that implicate a
State's interest in enforcing the orders and judgments of
its courts.” Id. at 72-73 (citations omitted).
Supreme Court recently revisited the application of the
doctrine in Sprint. Sprint teaches that the scope of Younger
is not so broad that a federal court should routinely abstain
merely because there are pending state court proceedings.
Id. at 73. Rather, the circumstances that fit within
the Younger doctrine are “exceptional” and are
limited in scope to “state criminal prosecutions, civil
enforcement proceedings, and civil proceedings involving
certain orders that are uniquely in furtherance of the state
courts' ability to perform their judicial
functions.” Id. at 73, 78 (internal quotation
marks omitted) (quoting NOPSI, 491 U.S. at 368). Indeed, a
federal court having jurisdiction over a case has a
“‘obligation' to hear and decide [that]
case.” Id. at 77 (quoting Colo. River
Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800,
types of civil enforcement proceedings to which Younger might
apply are those that are “akin to a criminal
prosecution in important respects.” See Id. at
79 (quotation marks omitted) (quoting Huffman v. Pursue,
Ltd.,420 U.S. 592, 604 (1975)). As the Supreme Court
explained, “[s]uch enforcement actions are
characteristically initiated to sanction the federal
plaintiff, i.e., the party challenging the state action, for
some wrongful act.” Id. In these types of
cases, “a state actor is routinely a party to the state
proceeding and often initiates the action” in its
sovereign capacity. Id. Furthermore,
“[i]nvestigations are commonly involved, often
culminating in the filing of a formal complaint or
charges.” Id. at 79-80. A court should
“also consider whether the State ...