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Kelly v. Bristol Township School District

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 6, 2019

KARAGAN KELLY, et al., Plaintiffs,


          Gerald Austin McHugh United States District Judge

         This action arises from a regrettable incident that occurred after a basketball game between rival high schools during which Plaintiff Karagan Kelly found herself trapped in a brawl and severely injured. Ms. Kelly and her mother now bring Fourteenth Amendment state-created danger claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Bristol Township School District and Harry S. Truman High School, together with state law tort claims. They also assert a state law tort claim against a John Doe Defendant, the student who allegedly attacked Kelly during the altercation. Although the injuries alleged are serious, the conduct of the School District cannot be said to rise above the level of negligence. I am therefore compelled to grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' claims under Section 1983, and I decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Kelly attends Bensalem High School. Compl. ¶ 12. Bensalem's student-athletes compete against students from Harry S. Truman High School, with whom they have a rivalry. Id. On at least one occasion prior to the incident in which Kelly was injured, the rivalry between Bensalem and Truman has led to violence. Specifically, after a boys' varsity basketball game in December 2016, students from both schools became involved in a fight that required the presence of police and generated coverage both in local media and online.[1] Compl. ¶ 14.

         On January 31, 2018, more than a year after the earlier incident, Kelly attended a boys' varsity basketball game between the two schools held at Truman. Compl. ¶ 20. During the game, Kelly witnessed students in the stands from both schools engaging in a series of verbal confrontations with one another. Compl. ¶¶ 21-22. After the game ended, and with tensions still high, Kelly and the other student attendees were required to leave the gymnasium at the same time through a single exit and wait in a designated pickup area. Compl. ¶¶ 23-25.

         As Kelly waited in the pickup area “along with several hundred other students of both schools, ” a fight broke out, and she was punched and kicked while trying to escape the altercation. Compl. ¶ 28. At some point, Kelly crawled out of the group of fighting students and, as she stood up, she was struck in the head and face by Defendant John Doe, causing her head to strike a nearby wall. Id. The melee left Kelly with a traumatic brain injury as well as a badly lacerated fingernail on her left hand. Compl. ¶¶ 30-31.

         Four of five counts in the Complaint address the liability of the School District. The remaining count involves only the John Doe assailant, who has not been identified.


         In this circuit, motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) are governed by the well-established standard set forth in Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009).


         Preliminarily, Defendants argue Plaintiffs have improperly named Harry S. Truman High School as a party because a school is not a separate entity from the district of which it is a part, Hamilton v. Hite, 2017 WL 3675398, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 21, 2017) (Pratter, J.); Estate of Massey v. City of Phila., 118 F.Supp.3d 679, 699 (E.D. Pa. 2015) (Quiñones Alejandro, J.), which plaintiffs concede. Pls.' Opp. Br., ECF 6, at 9. I will, therefore, treat the claims asserted against Truman as merged with those against the District and analyze them accordingly.

         A. Fourteenth Amendment Claims

         At its core, Plaintiffs' Complaint rests upon two broad assertions. The first is that the exit policy in place after the basketball game on the night Kelly was injured placed students of rival schools in close proximity, thereby increasing the risk of violence generally and harm to Kelly in particular. The second contention is that the District knew about the previous fight and failed to mitigate the risk that Kelly and other students might be harmed at a future event between rival schools.

         Plaintiffs allege that the District violated Kelly's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights to bodily autonomy. Although the Supreme Court has recognized that the Amendment's due process clause protects such a right, it has also held that municipalities have no affirmative duty to protect people from violence at the hands of private individuals. DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep 't of Soc. Servs.,489 U.S. 189, 195-96 (1989). The Third Circuit has observed that DeShaney therefore ‚Äústands for the harsh proposition that even though state officials know that a person is in imminent danger of harm from a ...

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