United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Cynthia Reed Eddy Chief United States Magistrate Judge
pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 15)
filed on behalf of Defendants. For the following reasons, the
motion will be granted.
April 3, 2019, Plaintiff Sawyer Cole
(“Plaintiff”) initiated this action with the
filing of a Complaint against Defendants, Central Greene
School District (“the District”), Helen McCracken
(Superintendent) (“Superintendent McCracken”),
Matthew Blair (Assistant Superintendent) (“Assistant
Superintendent Blair”), Andrew Zimmer (School Resource
Officer) (“Officer Zimmer”), Justin Stephenson
(Vice Principal) (“Vice Principal Stephenson”)
and Robert Stephenson (Principal) (“Principal
Stephenson”). Plaintiff asserts Defendants violated his
constitutional rights after he was suspended and expelled
from high school for suspicion of drug use. On June 24, 2019,
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. The matter has been
fully briefed and is ripe for consideration.
jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
following facts are either alleged in the complaint, which
the Court will accept as true for the sole purpose of
deciding the pending motion, appear in the public record or
are gleaned from documents relied upon and attached to the
Complaint. Plaintiff was enrolled as a senior at Waynesburg
Central High School ("the school") in the District.
(Complaint ("Compl."), ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 4,
11.) On January 24, 2018, Plaintiff, whose parking privileges
had been revoked by the school, parked a car at the Big Lots
near the school and walked to the school; he arrived late
sometime between 10:15 and 10:30 a.m. (Id. ¶
12.) This was Plaintiff's 40th day being tardy out of the
90 school days of the school year. (Tr. p. 26.) Shortly after his
arrival, one of Plaintiff's teachers observed Plaintiff
in a deep sleep during his study hall class. (Id.
¶¶ 14-15.) The teacher thought this behavior was
suspicious and reported it to the Vice Principal.
(Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) The teacher described the
Plaintiff to the Vice Principal as being "out
response, the Vice Principal Stephenson, along with the
Officer Zimmer, located Plaintiff in his workshop class
shortly before noon. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) Upon
entering Plaintiff's workshop class, both the Vice
Principal and Officer Zimmer observed the Plaintiff sleeping.
(Id. ¶ 19.) When Plaintiff awoke, he had a red
mark on his forehead, indicating that his head had been down
for some time. (ECF No. 15-4, Transcript of Expulsion Hearing
(hereinafter “Tr.”) at 9).
result of this lethargic behavior, Plaintiff was taken to the
Central Office where he was allegedly forced to undergo a
medical examination in the presence of the Vice Principal and
the Officer Zimmer. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21, 110,
118.) According to Plaintiff's testimony at the February
5, 2018 disciplinary hearing,  the medical examination consisted
of the school nurse checking Plaintiff's pupil dilation,
blood pressure and heart rate. (Tr. at 28). The nurse found
Plaintiff's "blood pressure to be extremely high,
pulse to be very elevated, and pupils to be dilated [and] not
reacting to light." (Id. at 10). According to
Officer Zimmer, who has training through the Pennsylvania
State Police to recognize symptoms of drug use,
Plaintiff's symptoms were "definitely indicative of
drug use." (Id. at 22-23). Plaintiff was then
questioned about whether he had taken drugs. (Compl.
¶¶ 111). Plaintiff denied taking drugs.
(Id. ¶114). Based on the medical examination
and Plaintiff's lethargic behavior, Vice Principal
Stephenson and Officer Zimmer determined that they had enough
information to reasonably suspect that Plaintiff was under
the influence of drugs. (Id. ¶ 24). Vice
Principal Stephenson then consulted with the Principal
Stephenson, who then contacted Superintendent McCracken.
(Id. ¶ 27). Vice Principal Stephenson also
called Plaintiff's parents and left a message to notify
them of the situation. (Id. ¶ 26). In response,
Plaintiff's father was told by Principal Stephenson that
Plaintiff was in the office for suspected drug use.
(Id. ¶¶ 28-29). Before Plaintiff's
father arrived at the school, Plaintiff was asked to submit
to a urinalysis drug test. (Id. ¶¶ 33,
36). Plaintiff refused to take a drug test. (Id.
Plaintiff's refusal, Plaintiff's father arrived at
the school and met privately with Plaintiff. (Id.
¶ 38). Principal Stephenson then reiterated to
Plaintiff's father that they suspected Plaintiff was
under the influence of drugs and would be required to take a
drug test. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 39). According to
the Complaint, Plaintiff and his father were advised that if
the Plaintiff refused a urinalysis drug test, his refusal
would be considered a positive drug test and corresponding
disciplinary action would be taken accordingly.
(Id.). Plaintiff again refused to take the drug
test. According to the Plaintiff, School District policy
requires a saliva drug test -- not a urinalysis test -- when
students are suspected to be under the influence of drugs.
(Id. ¶ 41). He asserts that the urinalysis drug
test offered by Principal Stephenson did not comport with
School District policy. (Id. ¶¶ 40-43).
Thus, Plaintiff asserts that the statements from the school
officials regarding the urinalysis test were false.
(Id. ¶ 40). The Complaint does not state
whether Plaintiff or his father were aware of the School
District policy at the time Plaintiff refused to take the
urinalysis drug test. The first time Plaintiff or his father
raised any issue with the type of drug test offered to
Plaintiff was at the February 5, 2018 disciplinary hearing.
(Id. ¶ 51).
Plaintiff refused to take the drug test, Plaintiff and his
father were notified that Plaintiff was being suspended
because under school policy, refusals to submit to a drug
test are considered positive drug tests. (Id.
¶¶ 39, 44). That same day, January 24, 2018,
Plaintiff and his father were given an official letter from
the School District detailing that Plaintiff was being
suspended for a period of 10 days. (Id. ¶ 45).
The notice also stated that "[d]ue to the severity of
this matter, disciplinary action could be taken by the School
Directors of Central Greene School District which could
include expulsion." (Id. ¶ 46; see also
Jan. 24, 2018 Notice of Suspension, Compl., Exhibit B, ECF
giving Plaintiff's father a copy of the Notice of
Suspension, Plaintiff's father requested a meeting with
Principal Stephenson to appeal the suspension. (Tr. at 12).
On January 26, 2018, Plaintiff's father met with the
Principal Stephenson again to appeal the suspension, at which
time Principal Stephenson explained that the suspension was
proper under school policy. (Id.) Principal
Stephenson explained to Plaintiff's father that the next
step was an expulsion hearing. (Id.)
on January 29, 2018, Superintendent McCracken sent Plaintiff
and his parents a letter detailing the circumstances and
sequence of events that led the School to find that Plaintiff
was in violation of the High School's drug usage policy,
Policy No. 227.1. (ECF No. 15-3 at 1). The letter further
notified them that the School Board would be holding a
hearing on February 5, 2018 to further adjudicate the matter.
(Id.) Also, the letter explained the role of the
Board as an impartial tribunal, and that any decision they
make is appealable to the appropriate state court.
(Id.) Finally, the letter provided Plaintiff with
the following list of rights he had with regard to the
You [(parents)] have the right to appear at the hearing,
produce witnesses on [Plaintiff's] behalf, and be
represented by legal counsel. You, Sawyer, or your legal
counsel shall have a right, upon reasonable request prior to
the hearing, to examine written statements about the incident
and examine Sawyer's academic and behavioral records.
(Id.) Superintendent McCracken concluded the letter
by telling Plaintiff and his parents that if they had any
questions, that they could contact her directly.
February 5, 2018 disciplinary hearing, Plaintiff's father
acknowledged receipt of the Superintendent's January 29,
2018 letter. (Tr. at 3, 6). The school solicitor also
reiterated to the Plaintiff and his father that they
"are afforded every right to offer testimony,
cross-examine witnesses, present any exhibits and make any
statements to the Board." (Id. at 4).
Thereafter, the January 29, 2018 letter was read into the
record. Plaintiff's father gave a short opening
statement, stating for the first time that the wrong type of
drug test was offered to his son. (Compl. ¶51; Tr. at
7). Thereafter, Vice Principal Stephenson testified as to the
events of January 24, 2018. (Tr. at 8-13). Plaintiff's
father then testified, stating that the school should not
have chosen the "nuclear option of drug testing"
because his son was ill on the day in question, attributing
his son's behavior to the effects of cold medicine which
he himself had given to his son that morning. (Id.
at 20). We note that this contradicts the allegation in the
complaint that when Plaintiff “was asked if he had used
any drugs, he informed the Defendants he had not.”
(Compl. ¶ 14). He further stated that he was not
surprised of his son's conduct and described his son as
being "a little overbearing, rude, cocky, and he
doesn't always question authority respectfully."
(Id.) Plaintiff testified that he was opposed to the
urine test, but not the saliva test. He didn't know about
the saliva test option, and had he known, he would have taken
it. (Tr. at 28). He further testified that he taught his son
to never relinquish his personal privacy even if doing so
would result in his expulsion from school because his son
knew he did nothing wrong to warrant the drug test.
(Id. at 21, 29). Officer Zimmer further explained
that on previous instances throughout the school year when
Plaintiff arrived tardily he usually came into the building
with other students; this had occurred on the day in
Plaintiff had a full opportunity to testify, call witnesses,
cross-examine School witnesses, and present evidence, the
School Board deliberated and voted 5-3 to expel the
Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶52; Tr. at 33). The School
Board further recommended drug and alcohol counseling with
random drug testing. (Tr. at 33).
received an official notice of the expulsion by way of a
letter sent by the Assistant Superintendent Blair, on
February 6, 2018. (Id.) According to the letter, a
cyber school education would be provided to Plaintiff through
the District's Cyber School program. (Notice of
Expulsion, Compl., Exhibit C, ECF No. 1-36 ("The School
District will provide a Cyber School for [Plaintiff],"
and Plaintiff's parents should "contact Mr. Matthew
Blair for information on beginning this program.")).
February 16, 2018, Plaintiff appealed his expulsion to the
Court of Common Pleas of Greene County, Pennsylvania. (Compl.
¶ 53). The court, in a single page order, overturned the
expulsion and reinstated Plaintiff as a student at the High
School. (Id. ¶ 55). The court ruled that the
District failed to follow its then-existing drug testing
policy, Policy Number 227.1. (See March 29, 2018 Court Order
on Expulsion Appeal, Compl., Exhibit D, ECF No. 1-4).
However, Plaintiff was ordered to undergo a drug and alcohol
evaluation and to comply with any and all recommended
though the School District offered Cyber School to Plaintiff,
Plaintiff alleges that he was deprived of two months of
school as a result of his suspension and expulsion. (Compl.
¶ 56). Plaintiff also alleges that when he returned to
school, two of his eight classes were resumed. (Id.
¶¶ 58-59). He further asserts that he was
ostracized by his friends due to his time away from school.
(Id. ¶ 57). Plaintiff graduated from the High
School on time. (Id. ¶ 70).
Complaint alleges four counts. Count I asserts a violation of
civil rights pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
specifically, a violation of Plaintiff's procedural and
substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment
as to all Defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 71-81.)
Count II asserts municipal liability claims under
Monell as to the District. (Id.
¶¶ 82-92.) Count II asserts a policy and custom
claim as well as claims that the District failed to train and
supervise Defendants Superintendent McCracken, Assistant
Superintendent Blair, Officer Zimmer, Principal Stephenson
and Vice Principal Stevenson. (Id.) Count III
asserts a claim for violations of the Fourth Amendment for
unreasonable search and seizure against the District, Officer
Zimmer and Vice Principal Stephenson. (Id.
¶¶ 93-119.) As to the District itself, Plaintiff
asserts the District failed to maintain a policy that
respects the civil rights of its students, and that it failed
to train and monitor its employees. (Id.
¶¶101-102.) Count III further asserts that
Defendants Officer Zimmer and Vice Principal Stephenson
subjected Plaintiff to an unreasonable search and seizure by
way of a forced medical examination. (Id.
¶¶ 103-119.) Count IV asserts a state claim for
malicious use of process claim under the Dragonetti Act
against all Defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 120-126.)
Count IV asserts that the School Board expulsion proceedings
were used maliciously against Plaintiff for "sticking up
for his rights." (Id. ¶ 125.) Plaintiff
seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages and equitable
relief as to all Defendants. (Id. ¶ 17.) The
equitable relief consists of the Court ordering the District
to undergo training and reform its policies relating to the
creation and application of school policy, unreasonable
searches and seizures, and understanding the effects and
signs of drug use. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks
compensatory damages in excess of $100, 000. (Id.)
Plaintiff also seeks an award of $2, 500 as to legal expenses
incurred regarding the expulsion hearings. (Id.)
Finally, Plaintiff seeks legal expenses relating to this
Standard of Review
motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the
complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d
Cir. 1993). In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court is not
opining on whether the plaintiff will likely prevail on the
merits; rather, when considering a motion to dismiss, the
court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations in
the complaint and views them in a light most favorable to the
plaintiff. U.S. Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281
F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002). While a complaint does not need
detailed factual allegations to survive a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide more than labels
and conclusions. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A “formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S.
265, 286 (1986)). “Factual allegations must be enough
to raise a right to relief above the speculative level”
and “sufficient to state a claim for relief that is
plausible on its face.” Id. “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.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility
standard is not akin to a “probability requirement,
” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully.... Where a complaint pleads
facts that are “merely consistent with” a
defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line
between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to
relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. At 556) (internal citations omitted).
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
instructs that “a court reviewing the sufficiency of a
complaint must take three steps.” Connelly v. Lane
Constr, Corp., 809 F.3d 780 (3d Cir. 2016). The court
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
809 F.3d at 876-77. “Determining whether a complaint
states a plausible claim for relief will ... be a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (internal citations omitted)
District Court is generally limited to a plaintiff's
complaint in assessing a motion to dismiss, it may take
judicial notice of public records, including records of
judicial proceedings. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d
263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). Moreover, when a document is
“integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint
[, it] may be considered without converting the motion [to
dismiss] into one for summary judgment.” In re
Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426
(3d Cir.1997) (internal quotations omitted).
alleges violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983. “To state a claim under §
1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right
secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States,
and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a
person acting under color of state law.”
Tatsch-Corbin v. Feathers, 561 F.Supp.2d 538, 543
(W.D. Pa. 2008) (citing West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42,
1983 does not create any rights, but provides a remedy for
violations of those rights created by the Constitution or
federal law.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch.
Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 907 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing
Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3 (1979));
Puckett v. Miller, No. CV 15-1019, 2018 WL 658926,
at *6 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 1, 2018) (Fischer, J.) (quoting
Morse, 132 F.3d at 907). Accordingly, “[a]
plaintiff cannot prevail in an action brought under §
1983 without establishing an underlying violation of a
federal constitutional or statutory right.” Ickes
v. Borough of Bedford, 807 F.Supp.2d 306, 315 (W.D. Pa.
2011) (Gibson, J.) (citing Blessing v. Freestone,
520 U.S. 329, 340 (1997)). “The first step in
evaluating a section 1983 claim is to ‘identify the
exact contours of the underlying right said to have been
violated' and to determine ‘whether the plaintiff
has alleged a deprivation of a constitutional right at
all.'” Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806
(3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Cnty. of Sacramento v.
Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 841 n. 5 (1998)); Chavarriaga
v. New Jersey Deft of Corr., 806 F.3d 210, 222 (3d Cir.
2015) (quoting Nicini, 212 F.3d at 806).
noted by this court in Davis v. Quaker Valley Sch.
Dist., No. 13-1329, 2016 WL 912297, at *11 (W.D. Pa.
Mar. 10, 2016) (Conti, J.), aff'd, 693 Fed.Appx.
131 (3d Cir. 2017):
Courts generally afford schools wide discretion with respect
to disciplinary decisions. See Z.H. ex rel. Berish v.
Penn Hills Sch. Dist., No. C.A. 12-1696, 2013 WL 300753,
at *7 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 25, 2013) (“Keeping in mind that
'courts are to refrain from second-guessing school
administrators' disciplinary decisions”) (quoting
C.S. v. Couch, 843 F.Supp.2d 894, 910 (N.D. Ind.
2011)); DT v. Somers Cent. Sch. Dist., 588 F.Supp.2d
485, 496 (S.D. N.Y. 2008), aff'd sub nom., DT v.
Somers Cent. Sch. Dist., 348 Fed.Appx. 697 (2d Cir.
2009) (“courts have been skeptical of arguments
premised on the degree to which a school punishes its
students....The Supreme Court further recognized that
'[s]chool administrators will continue to enjoy the
flexibility they require' and that 'courts should
refrain from second-guessing the disciplinary decisions made
by school administrators.' ”) (quoting Davis
Next Friend LaShonda D. v. Monroe Cty. Bd. of Educ., 526
U.S. 629, 648-49 (1999)).
has asserted claims under § 1983 for violations of his
Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights. ...