United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
BRIANA TUCKER, as the parent and natural guardian of her son, Jelani Christmas a minor, Plaintiff,
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA and TERRENCE WALSH, Defendants.
J. PAPPERT, J.
Tucker, on behalf of her son Jelani Christmas, sued the
School District of Philadelphia and special education teacher
Terrence Walsh under 42 U.S.C § 1983 and state tort
laws. Tucker claims Walsh physically assaulted Christmas at
school using excessive force and depriving Christmas of equal
protection of the law. Walsh and the School District jointly
moved to dismiss the Complaint, and the Court granted Tucker
leave to amend. Defendants filed a second Motion to Dismiss
the Amended Complaint. The Motion is granted in part, again
with leave to amend, and denied in part for the reasons that
March of 2018, Jelani Christmas was a fifth-grade student at
J. Hampton Moore Elementary School in Philadelphia. (Am.
Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 7.) Christmas, who has a learning
disability, was enrolled in Terrence Walsh's special
education class. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-14.) The
Amended Complaint alleges that on March 22, 2018, Walsh
“became incited and assaulted [Christmas] because he
did not put his pencil back in the appropriate place.”
(Id. at ¶ 16.) Walsh “grabbed [Christmas]
by his neck and choked him, ” then “repeatedly
pushed [Christmas's] head and body against the school
room wall.” (Id. at ¶ 17.) The assault
occurred “during class in front of other
Amended Complaint alleges that the “School
District's policy failed to train . . . Walsh in applying
physical restraints against its students.”
(Id. at ¶ 22.) The School District did not
fire, re-train or discipline Walsh after he assaulted
Christmas. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Instead, Christmas
was moved to another classroom. (Id.)
seeks damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 from both
Defendants for use of excessive force (Count I) and from the
School District for depriving Christmas of equal protection
of the law (Count II). She claims both Defendants are also
liable under Pennsylvania law for intentional infliction of
emotional distress (Count III) and assault and battery (Count
survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must allege
“sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state
a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). A complaint
must provide “more than labels and conclusions”
or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause
of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). “Factual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in
fact).” Id. (citation omitted). While a
complaint need not include detailed facts, it must provide
“more than an unadorned, the-defendant-
unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft,
556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
and Iqbal require the Court to take three steps to
determine whether the complaint will survive defendants'
motion to dismiss. See Connelly v. Lane Const.
Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First, it must
“take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to
state a claim.” Id. (quoting Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 675). Next, it must identify the allegations that
are no more than legal conclusions and thus “not
entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id.
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, where the
complaint includes well-pleaded factual allegations, the
Court “should assume their veracity and then determine
whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 679). The Court should “construe truths in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff, and then draw all reasonable
inferences from them.” Id. at 791.
1983 imposes civil liability on any person who, acting under
the color of state law, deprives another person of rights,
privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws
of the United States. Shuman ex rel. Shertzer v. Penn
Manor Sch. Dist., 422 F.3d 141, 146 (3d Cir. 2005)
(citing Gruenke v. Seip, 225 F.3d 290, 298 (3d Cir.
2000)). Section 1983 does not create substantive rights; it
provides a remedy for the violation of federal constitutional
or statutory rights. Id.
§ 1983 claim against a municipality may proceed in two
ways: the plaintiff may allege that an unconstitutional
municipal policy or custom led to his injuries or that his
injuries were caused by a failure or inadequacy by the
municipality that reflects a deliberate or conscious choice.
Forrest v. Parry, 930 F.3d 93, 105 (3d Cir. 2019)
(citing Estate of Roman v. City of Newark, 914 F.3d
789, 798-99 (3d Cir. 2019)). A plaintiff alleging an
unconstitutional policy must point to “an official
proclamation, policy or edict by a decisionmaker possessing
final authority to establish municipal policy on the relevant
subject.” Id. A plaintiff alleging an
unconstitutional custom “must evince a given course of
conduct so well-settled and permanent as to virtually
constitute law.” Id. (citing Estate of
Roman, 914 F.3d at 798). The plaintiff must also allege
that the policy or custom was the proximate cause of his
injuries by demonstrating an “affirmative link”
between the policy or custom and the constitutional
violation. Estate of Roman, 914 F.3d at 798 (citing
Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1213 (3d Cir. 1996)
and quoting Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850
(3d Cir. 1990)). A plaintiff alleging that his injuries were
caused by a failure or inadequacy by the municipality must
demonstrate “(1) municipal policymakers know that
employees will confront a particular situation, (2) the
situation involves a difficult choice or a history of
employees mishandling, and (3) the wrong choice by an
employee will frequently cause deprivation of constitutional
rights.” Forrest, 930 F.3d at 106 (citing
Estate of Roman, 914 F.3d at 798 and Carter v.
City of Phila., 181 F.3d 339, 357 (3d Cir. 1999)).
of the Amended Complaint alleges that both Defendants are
liable under § 1983 for use of excessive force.
Excessive force claims brought under § 1983 are not
governed by a single generic standard. Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393 (1989). “In addressing
an excessive force claim brought under § 1983, ”
the Court must first “identify[ ] the specific
constitutional right allegedly infringed by the challenged
application of force.” Id. at 394 (citing
Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 140 (1979)).
“The validity ...