United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
NATHAN B. EASTMAN, Plaintiff,
BRANDON SMITH, Blackhawk School District Technology Instructor, in his individual capacity. Defendant.
Flowers Conti Senior United States District Judge
before the court is a motion to dismiss the amended complaint
(ECF No. 20), filed by defendant Brandon Smith
(“Smith” or “defendant”), with brief
in support. Plaintiff Nathan Eastman (“Eastman”
or “plaintiff) filed a brief in opposition and the
motion is ripe for decision.
and Procedural Background
hearing on July 23, 2019, the court granted Smith's
motion to dismiss the original complaint filed in this case,
but granted Eastman leave to file an amended complaint.
Eastman did so, and Smith renewed his motion to dismiss.
facts are taken from the amended complaint (ECF No. 19). This
case arose out of an incident on April 30, 2015. At the time,
Eastman was a minor high school student. Smith was the
Industrial Technology teacher at Blackhawk High School.
Eastman was building a wooden canoe in the industrial
materials classroom at Smith's direction. Smith
instructed Eastman to use a 2-inch forstner bit on a Clausing
drill press. The spring retraction on the drill press was
broken. Eastman had not used this drill press to drill wood
before this incident. Smith did not provide instructions for
securing the clamp to the table or blocking the clamp from
moving. Smith was working on a mower with his back turned.
alleged in the amended complaint, Smith knew that the drill
press would not retract automatically and had specifically
advised the students to be aware that they would manually
have to raise the drill. Amended Complaint ¶ 9. A second
drill press that would retract automatically was available in
the classroom. Amended Complaint ¶ 10.
“Nonetheless, Smith instructed Eastman to use the
broken Clausen drill press that he knew would not retract
automatically.” Amended Complaint ¶ 11. Smith was
aware that the use of the forstner bit to remove the sliver
of wood between the holes in the canoe was not an intended
use of the bit, but instructed Eastman to use it anyway.
Amended Complaint ¶ 22.
Eastman attempted to use the drill press, the wood began
shaking and pulled his hand into the drill bit. When he let
go, the drill bit did not retract because of the broken
spring mechanism. Eastman suffered severe injuries to his
hand and wrist. Plaintiff asserts one claim under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 based on a “state-created danger”
A complaint may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) for
“failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted.” But detailed pleading is not generally
required. 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
Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2
L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
“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
Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 262 n. 27
(3d Cir. 2010). Although the plausibility standard
“does not impose a probability requirement, ”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, it does require a pleading
to show “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant
has acted unlawfully, ” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678. A complaint that pleads facts “merely consistent
with a defendant's liability ... stops short of the line
between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to
relief.” Id. (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). The plausibility determination is “a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”
Id. at 679.
Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and
Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a
complaint must take three steps. First, it must “tak[e]
note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a
claim.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675. Second, it
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 and
editorial marks 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.
Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 786-87
(3d Cir. 2016). At the final step, the court is to assume all
well-pled allegations to be true, construe those allegations
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, draw all
reasonable inferences from them in favor of plaintiff, and
ask whether they “raise a reasonable expectation that
discovery will reveal evidence” to support the legal
claim being asserted. Id. at *7.
argues that the amended complaint continues to allege mere
negligence, rather than conduct that “shocks the
conscience”; that a teacher is immune from liability
under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 8541, 8545; and that
plaintiff cannot recover punitive damages. Plaintiff contends
he stated a valid claim and that defendant is not entitled to