United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
R. HORNAK, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Michael Flood Jr., Alecia Flood, and minor plaintiff T.F.
("Plaintiffs") sued minor defendants K.S., C.S.,
E.S., and H.R. (collectively, the "minor
Defendants"), as well as each minor Defendant's
parent, for defamation. The allegedly defamatory statements
arose from two incidents in which the minor Defendants
allegedly falsely accused T.F. of sexual assault. T.F. and
each of the minor Defendants were students at the Seneca
Valley Intermediate High School ("Seneca Valley"),
which is part of the Seneca Valley School District (the
"School District") in Butler County, Pennsylvania.
Plaintiffs also sued the School District, alleging that the
School District violated the Fourteenth Amendment by applying
its student discipline policies and its policies against
sexual harassment in a discriminatory manner. Namely,
Plaintiffs allege that the School District's decision to
punish T.F. based upon the minor Defendants' accusations,
coupled with the School District's decision to not punish
the minor Defendants for making allegedly false accusations,
led to the deprivation of T.F.'s constitutional rights.
before the Court is Defendant Seneca Valley School
District's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a
Claim. (ECF No. 105). This matter has been fully briefed by
the parties, (ECF Nos. 106, 114, 115), and the Court held
Oral Argument on this pending Motion on August 20, 2019, (ECF
No. 130). The matter is now ripe for disposition. For the
reasons that follow, the Court concludes that the Amended
Complaint fails to plead that a final policymaker took any
action toward T.F. that could represent official policy
attributable to the School District. The Court also concludes
that the Amended Complaint fails to plead that any final
policymaker of the School District had actual or constructive
knowledge of prior events of sexual misconduct such that any
final policymaker could have been "deliberately
indifferent" to the need for additional safeguards
against disparate applications of School District policy.
Therefore, the School District's Motion to Dismiss will
be GRANTED. The Court further concludes that any further
amendment would be futile, and thus Count III of the Amended
Complaint will be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
remaining claims in the Amended Complaint, as well as all
counterclaims asserted by the Defendants in this case, will
be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction. All of these remaining claims and counterclaims
are brought under Pennsylvania law by Pennsylvania residents
against Pennsylvania residents. The dismissal of the claim
against the School District removes the final federal-law
cause of action in this case, and thus the Court concludes
that the exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over these
remaining claims is not warranted.
Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit on October 1, 2018,
asserting a litany of claims against a number of defendants.
(Compl., ECF No. 1). After extensive motions practice and a
hearing on pending motions to dismiss, the Court dismissed
all counts of the original Complaint without prejudice. (Mem.
Order, ECF No. 94). Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on
May 30, 2019, asserting three causes of action: defamation
against minor Defendant K.S., defamation against minor
Defendants C.S., E.S., and H.R., and a violation of the
Fourteenth Amendment against the School District pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 99). The minor
Defendants each answered the claims against them, (ECF Nos.
108, 109, 111, and 126), and the Sherk and Seaman Defendants
asserted counterclaims against Plaintiffs under Pennsylvania
law, (ECF Nos. 109, 111). The School District moved to
dismiss the claim against it, (ECF No. 105), and that Motion
is the subject of this Opinion.
Court derives the following material allegations from
Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 99). At all
material times to this dispute, T.F., K.S., C.S., E.S., and
H.R., were students at the Seneca Valley Intermediate High
School ("Seneca Valley"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 12).
T.F. and K.S. were both employed by the Zelienople Community
Pool in Butler County, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 2017.
(Id. ¶ 13). On or about July, 19, 2017, K.S.
advised her supervisor that T.F. had sexually assaulted her
at the pool, and T.F. was fired on July 26, 2017.
about October 3, 2017, a teacher overheard K.S. telling other
students that she had been sexually assaulted by T.F. at the
pool over the summer. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15). K.S. was called
to a guidance counselor's office, where she accused T.F.
of sexual assault. (Id.). The guidance counselor
reported the allegation to Childline, a program operated by
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for reporting child abuse
and neglect. (Id.). K.S. was interviewed by a
forensic interviewer employed by the Butler County Alliance
for Children, and she maintained that T.F. had sexually
assaulted her at the pool. (Id.). On October 8,
2017, T.F. was criminally charged with indecent assault and
two counts of harassment. (Id. ¶ 16). K.S.
complained to administrative personnel at Seneca Valley that
T.F. made her feel "uncomfortable" in class because
of the incident over the summer at the pool. (Id.
¶ 17). Seneca Valley principal, Dr. Matt Delp, responded
by changing T.F.'s class schedule. (Id.). After
a Petition Alleging Delinquency was filed,  T.F. entered into
a consent decree under which he did not admit K.S.'s
accusation, but agreed to be supervised by the Butler County
Juvenile Probation Department for a six-month period of
probation. (Id. ¶ 18).
March 23, 2018, T.F. received an invitation from C.S.
inviting him to "hang out" with her and her
friends. (Am. Compl. ¶ 19). T.F. claims that he visited
C.S.'s residence and saw C.S., E.S., and H.R. consuming
alcoholic beverages. (Id.). T.F. claims that he did
not consume any alcohol and left shortly after arriving.
(Id.). On March 26, 2018, other students at Seneca
Valley overheard K.S. and C.S. preparing a false statement
that C.S. would provide to a Seneca Valley guidance
counselor. (Id. ¶ 20). C.S. allegedly told the
guidance counselor that T.F. entered her home uninvited on
the night of March 23, 2018, and sexually assaulted her.
(Id.). Thereafter, C.S., E.S., and H.R., were
interviewed by the Butler County Alliance for Children.
(Id.). C.S., E.S., and H.R. allegedly repeated their
accusations to other Seneca Valley students over the next
several days. (Id. ¶¶ 21-27).
was criminally charged with indecent assault, forcible
compulsion, criminal trespass, and simple assault on April 9,
2018. (Am. Compl. ¶ 29). On April 10, 2018, T.F. was
removed from class at Seneca Valley by local police, after
having been placed in leg and wrist shackles. (Id.
¶ 30). Following a hearing, T.F. was confined at the
Keystone Education Center for nine days. (Id.). On
April 12, 2018, T.F. was released on house arrest with an
ankle monitor. (Id. ¶ 32). Seneca Valley
athletic director Heather Lewis did not permit T.F. to play
baseball for Seneca Valley, despite Butler County probation
officials informing Mr. and Mrs. Flood that he would be
permitted to play baseball. (Id.).
after T.F.'s arrest, the Floods began investigating the
allegations and incidents and obtained exculpatory evidence.
(Am. Compl. ¶¶ 33-38). The Floods provided the
Butler County District Attorney's Office with this
information on May 21, 2018. (Id. ¶ 38).
T.F.'s ankle monitor was removed on May 29, 2018, after
Assistant District Attorney Russ Karl interviewed E.S. and
H.R., who allegedly admitted to lying about the sexual
assault. (Id.). On August 30, 2018, all charges
against T.F. stemming from the March 23, 2018, incident were
dismissed by court order. (Id. ¶ 39). K.S.,
C.S., E.S., and H.R., were not punished by Seneca Valley in
connection with these events. (Id. ¶ 40).
attach several School District student conduct policies to
their Amended Complaint. (Am. Compl., Exh. 15, Exh. 16, ECF
Nos. 99-1, 99-2). These policies were promulgated and
approved by the Seneca Valley School District School Board of
Directors (the "School Board") and were in
operation during all times relevant to this dispute. (Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 61, 62). Pursuant to these policies, the
principal is charged with investigating sexual harassment
allegations and doling out discipline. (Id. ¶
63). Plaintiffs allege that there is only an appeal process
for students that are subject to discipline by the principal,
but there is no process for an aggrieved student to appeal
the principal's decision that discipline is not warranted
in a particular case. (Id.).
also allege five instances involving sexual misconduct
involving others that, in Plaintiffs' view, establish a
pattern of discriminatory disciplinary decisions made by
Seneca Valley officials on the basis of sex. Paragraphs 64
through 68 of the Amended Complaint read as follows:
64. In December 2016, a male Seneca Valley Intermediate High
School student was accused by two girls of touching them
inappropriately. One girl admitted that she put the boy's
cell phone down her shirt, precipitating his attempt to
retrieve it. The principal failed to interview witnesses
supporting the boy's claim that he had done nothing wrong
to the second girl. The boy was suspended for ten days but
the girl who admitted that her accusation was false received
no discipline and the boy's claim that the second
girl's allegations were false was not investigated.
65. In 2017, multiple Seneca Valley Intermediate High School
female students (who upon information and belief were
cheerleaders) sexted male students. "The display or
distribution of pornography to others, including the use of a
cellular telephone" is a Level III Offense pursuant to
Policy #218. The female students were not disciplined while
male students sexting girls were subjected to discipline.
66. In 2018, Seneca Valley Intermediate High School male
student D.H. was accused via an anonymous online complaint of
snapping a girl's bra and touching her thigh. He was
suspended from school even though there were no witnesses and
no proof whatsoever.
67. In 2018, a Seneca Valley High School male student was
suspended due to a false sexual harassment allegation made by
a female student. The principal failed to investigate the
boy's claim that the allegation was false.
68. In 2019, a Seneca Valley Middle School male student was
falsely accused of sexually harassing a female student. The
girl later admitted that she lied, but she was not
to Plaintiffs, neither Dr. Delp nor the School District have
punished K.S., C.S., E.S., or H.R., despite having knowledge
of the alleged falsity of their allegations and despite
multiple complaints from the Plaintiffs in this case. (Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 70-71). The Plaintiffs argue that this
evinces a discriminatory application of Seneca Valley's
polices against bullying and sexual harassment, in violation
of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to
the United States Constitution. (Id. ¶ 71).