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Razzano v. Sarandrea

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 23, 2019

ROBERT RAZZANO and BARBARA RAZZANO Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN SARANDREA and THE NEW CASTLE AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendants.

          OPINION

          MARILYN J. HORAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         This lawsuit was brought by husband and wife Plaintiffs, Robert Razzano and Barbara Razzano, against Defendants, the New Castle Area School District (the "School District") and John Sarandrea, the Superintendent of the School District. The Razzanos' claims arise out of Defendants' alleged defamatory statements on a statutorily required Pennsylvania state disclosure form which was submitted to one of Mr. Razzano5s potential educational employers. Said statements occurred several years after Mr. Razzano voluntarily resigned from employment with the School District. Mr. Razzano resigned during an investigation into allegations lodged by School District employees against Mr. Razzano concerning his inappropriate conduct towards adults.

         Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint on February 28, 2018, asserting four claims against the Defendants. ECF No. 21. In Count I, Robert Razzano asserts a Defamation claim against Defendant, John Sarandrea. In Count II, Mr. Razzano asserts a Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against both Defendants. In Count III, Mr. Razzano asserts a claim of Intentional Interference with Prospective Contractual Relations against both Defendants. Finally, in Count IV, Barbara Razzano asserts a Loss of Consortium claim against Mr. Sarandrea. Pending before the Court are each of the parties' cross-motions for partial summary judgment as to Counts I, II, and III. ECF Nos. 63, 67, & 72. As more fully explained below, Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted with respect to Count I and denied with respect to Count II. The School District's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted as to Count II and Count III. Mr. Sarandrea's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted as to Count II.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Robert Razzano was hired as teacher by the New Castle Area School District in 1994. Robert Allen Razzano Dep. 5, Sept. 21, 2018. In 1999, he was promoted to Assistant Principal for the Junior High School and the Senior High School. Id. In 2013, Mr. Razzano was promoted to Junior High School Principal, a position he held until his resignation on April 7, 2014. Id. During the time Mr. Razzano was the Junior High School Principal, his supervisor was Defendant, John Sarandrea, the Superintendent of the School District. John Sarandrea Dep. 5, Aug. 28, 2018.

         In early 2014, Mr. Razzano was placed on administrative leave with pay, following allegations from other employees that Mr. Razzano had engaged in sexual harassment towards adults. Razzano Dep. 7. During the School District's investigation into the allegations, Mr. Razzano instituted an action in Mandamus in March, 2014, alleging that the investigation did not conform precisely to the District's Harassment Policy. Am. Compl. ¶ 10, ECF No. 21. In his Mandamus action, Mr. Razzano sought relief from certain aspects of the investigation. Id. Thereafter, the parties entered into a confidential Settlement Agreement and Release of Mr. Razzano's Mandamus lawsuit, resulting, in part, in Mr. Razzano's voluntary resignation from employment, effective April 7, 2014. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11-12.

         After his resignation from the School District, Mr. Razzano sought employment in administration or teaching in his chosen field of education. Mr. Razzano's job search overwhelmingly focused on Pennsylvania educational entities and involved direct contact with children. As part of the application process for such a position, and pursuant to an amendment to Pennsylvania's Public School Code, known as Act 168, before a potential employer may hire an applicant, the employer must require both the applicant and the applicant's former employer to submit a completed form to the potential employer, entitled "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Sexual Misconduct/Abuse Disclosure Release" ("Act 168 Form"). 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1-111.1(b); Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 15; Razzano Dep. 38-39; Lyons Dep. 14-15. The Act 168 Form requires the applicant and the former employer School District to complete a form and to check either "Yes" or "No" in response to the following questions:

To the best of your knowledge, has Applicant ever[] [b]een the subject of an abuse 'or sexual misconduct investigation by an employer, state licensing agency, law enforcement agency or child protective services agency (unless the investigation resulted in a finding that the allegations were false)?
To the best of your knowledge, has Applicant ever[] [b]een disciplined, discharged, non-renewed, asked to resign from employment, resigned from or otherwise separated from employment while allegations of abuse or sexual misconduct were pending or under investigation or due to adjudication or findings of abuse or sexual misconduct?

Am. Compl. ¶15. As used in the Act 168 Form, "abuse" and "sexual misconduct" refer only to conduct involving a student or child. 24 P.S. §1-111.1 (n). All parties agree that Mr. Razzano has never been the subject of an investigation of alleged "abuse" or "sexual misconduct" involving a student or a child. Am. Compl. ¶ 20; Sarandrea Answer, ¶ 20; School District Answer, ¶ 20; Sarandrea Resp. to Pltfs.5 First Set Req. for Admissions, ¶¶ 3, 6; Razzano Dep. 38; Sarandrea Dep. 66, 74-75.

         In 2014, Mr. Razzano applied for an Assistant Principal position at North Allegheny School District, and for an administration position at Youngstown East School District, and for an administration position at Vincentian Academy, and for a position as a teacher/teacher evaluator at Slippery Rock University. Razzano Dep. 17-23. He was not hired for any of these positions; thus no Act 168 was submitted to the potential employers. In 2015, he applied for an Assistant Principal position at Laurel District High School, and for an Athletic Director position at South Side Beaver. Razzano Dep. 23-25. He did not obtain either of these jobs and no Act 168 was submitted to those potential employers.

         In 2016, he applied to be the Athletic Director at Moon School District. Razzano Dep. 26-27. He was not hired, and he did not have to provide an Act 168 Form. Next, he was offered employment as a substitute teacher at the North Catholic High School (formerly Cardinal Wuerl). Razzano Dep. 27. Pursuant to Act 168, before North Catholic could hire Mr. Razzano, Mr. Razzano and his former employer the School District, had to submit completed Act 168 Forms to North Catholic. Razzano Dep. 29. The Act 168 Form was completed accurately by Mr. Sarandrea on behalf of the School District, wherein he answered "No" to the above two Act 168 questions. Razzano Dep. 29-31; Sarandrea Dep. 53, 57. Mr. Razzano was called to substitute from September 2016 through November 2016. Razzano Dep. 28.

         In Winter 2016, Mr. Razzano applied to the Lawrence County Career and Technology Center for the position of Principal. Razzano Dep. 31-33. He was not hired, and no Act 168 Form was completed. In 2016, he was hired as a Behavior Specialist Counselor for Vocational Psychological Services, however, he was not required to provide an Act 168 Form for that position. Razzano Dep. 33-36. Finally, in 2016, Mr. Razzano worked as a substitute teacher at two schools located in Ohio, Poland and Youngstown Area. The Ohio schools were not subject to Pennsylvania's Act 168 Form requirements. Razzano Dep. 36.

         In February 2017, Mr. Razzano applied for employment as a substitute teacher at Kennedy Catholic High School ("Kennedy Catholic"). Razzano Dep. 36-37; William C. Lyon Dep. 12, Jan. 4, 2018. He was offered employment, and Kennedy Catholic requested and received the completed Act 168 Forms from Mr. Razzano and from the School District. 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1-111.l(b)(1)(iii) & (b)(2)(h). Mr. Razzano completed the Act 168 Form, correctly answering "No," to the above questions. Razzano. Dep. 38. However, Mr. Sarandrea incorrectly completed the Act 168 Form on behalf of the School District, by answering "Yes" to both above Act 168 questions. Razzano Dep. 41; Sarandrea Dep. 76; Sarandrea Resp. to Pltfs.' First Set Req. for Admissions, ¶¶ 4, 7; School District Resp. to Pltfs.' First Set Req. for Admissions, ¶¶ 4, 7. The School District's Act 168 Form, as completed by Mr. Sarandrea, was submitted to Kennedy Catholic on March 9, 2017. Sarandrea Resp. to Pltfs.' First Set Req. for Admissions, ¶ 9.

         With regard to the Act 168 Form questions, Mr. Sarandrea testified as follows:

Q. [D]id you understand that for Act 168 purposes, including for this form that you were asked to fill out, that the term sexual misconduct meant an act directed toward or with a child or student?
A. Yes.
Q. Did you understand that for purposes of Act 168 and this form, the term abuse meant conduct directed toward a child or student.?
A. I did.

         Sarandrea Dep. 74. Regarding allegations involving Mr. Razzano, Mr. Sarandrea testified as follows:

Q. . . . [Y]ou knew that Mr. Razzano had never been accused of any misconduct involving a child or student?
A. That's correct.
Q. And he had never been accused of any sort of abuse or any other misconduct involving a child or student regardless of age?
A. Correct.

         Sarandrea Dep. 66. Mr. Sarandrea also testified that he understood that "Robert Razzano had never committed any act of misconduct of any kind nor any abuse toward a child or student," and that Mr. Razzano had "never been alleged to have done so." Sarandrea Dep. 74-75. Mr. Sarandrea's responses to these deposition questions confirm that his Act 168 Form submission to Kennedy Catholic was a false official report. The submitted form conveyed that Mr. Razzano was either investigated for or was no longer employed because of allegations of "abuse" and/or "sexual misconduct" involving a student or child.[1] Sarandrea Resp. to Pltfs.' First Set Req. for Admissions, ¶¶ 5, 8; School District Resp. to Pltfs.' First Set Req. for Admissions, ¶¶ 5, 8.

         Mr. Razzano learned of Mr. Sarandrea's false Act 168 responses through his telephone call with Kennedy Catholic's Principal, William Lyon. Razzano Dep. 40-41; Lyon Dep. 18. Mr. Lyon told Mr. Razzano that the Act 168 Form completed by Mr. Sarandrea was "very bad," and that as a result of the "Yes" responses, "there were some problems." Razzano Dep. 41; Lyons Dep. 16. Kennedy Catholic declined to employ Mr. Razzano because of Mr. Sarandrea's "Yes" responses on the Act 168 Form. Lyon Dep. 16.

         Mr. Razzano's attorney contacted the School District to rectify the incorrect responses on the Act 168 Form. Lyon Dep. 18; Sarandrea Dep. 84, 87. Thereafter, Mr. Sarandrea changed his "Yes" responses to "No," and submitted a corrected Act 168 Form to Kennedy Catholic on July 6, 2017. Sarandrea Dep. 84, 87-89; Razzano Dep. 52, 54; Lyon Dep. 5, 16. After receiving the revised Act 168 Form, Kennedy Catholic placed Mr. Razzano on the substitute teacher list on July 7, 2017. Lyon Dep. 10. Placement on Kennedy Catholic's substitute list does not guarantee substitute assignments, and Mr. Razzano was never called to substitute teach for Kennedy Catholic. Lyon Dep. 17; Razzano Dep. 52.

         In March 2017, Mr. Razzano was also offered a ninth-grade football assistant coaching position at Seneca Valley. Razzano Dep. 54. At the time of the offer, Mr. Razzano was aware that Mr. Sarandrea had recently submitted the false Act 168 Form to Kennedy Catholic. He also knew that under Pennsylvania law in order to proceed with the hiring process, Seneca Valley would have to request the School District to provide it with a completed Act 168 Form. At that time, Mr. Razzano believed an Act 168 Form would be incorrectly completed and submitted by Mr. Sarandrea. Mr. Razzano believed that a false form would effectively bar his employment at Seneca Valley. Razzano Dep. 54. Accordingly, Mr. Razzano chose not to accept the Seneca Valley position at that time; he did not request the School District to submit an Act 168 Form to Seneca Valley. After Mr. Sarandrea and the ...


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