Lansberry v. Altoona Area Sch. Dist., Case No. 3:18-cv-19

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
Citation356 F.Supp.3d 486
Docket NumberCase No. 3:18-cv-19
Parties Marc LANSBERRY, Executor of the Estate of W.J.L., Plaintiff, v. ALTOONA AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Charles Prijatelj, Superintendent of the Altoona Area School District; Don ("Dutch") Brennan, President of the Altoona Area School District Board of Directors, Defendants.
Decision Date20 December 2018

356 F.Supp.3d 486

Marc LANSBERRY, Executor of the Estate of W.J.L., Plaintiff,
v.
ALTOONA AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Charles Prijatelj, Superintendent of the Altoona Area School District; Don ("Dutch") Brennan, President of the Altoona Area School District Board of Directors, Defendants.

Case No. 3:18-cv-19

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania.

Signed December 20, 2018


356 F.Supp.3d 488

Steven P. Passarello, The Law Office of Steven P. Passarello, Esq., Altoona, PA, for Plaintiff.

Charles E. Haddick, Jr., Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., Camp Hill, PA, Jason P. Webb, Nancy R. Winschel, Maureen K. Barber, Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., Pittsburgh, PA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION 1

KIM R. GIBSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

356 F.Supp.3d 489

I. Introduction

This is a civil-rights lawsuit arising from the suicide of W.J.L., a seventh grader at Altoona Area School District Junior High School ("Altoona Junior High School"). W.J.L.'s father, Marc Lansberry ("Lansberry"), brings this suit in his individual capacity and in his capacity as the Administrator of W.J.L.'s Estate against Altoona Area School District ("AASD"), Charles Prijatelj, AASD's Superintendent, and Don Brennan, President of AASD's Board of Directors (collectively "Defendants"). (See ECF No. 15).

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Lansberry's Second Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, Motion to Strike (ECF No. 37). The Motion has been fully briefed (see ECF Nos. 38, 40, 43) and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and DENY Defendants' Motion to Strike as moot.

II. Jurisdiction

The Court has jurisdiction over Lansberry's federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Lansberry's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because a substantial portion of the events giving rise to the claims occurred in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

III. Background

A. Factual History2

1. W.J.L. Was Persistently Bullied as a Student at Altoona Junior High School and AASD Failed to Adequately Respond

W.J.L. attended Altoona Junior High School during the 2016-2017 school year as a seventh-grade student. (ECF No. 36 ¶ 9.)

During the school year, W.J.L. was subjected to "intense, persistent and malicious bullying" by other students. (Id. ¶ 10.) The bullying took various forms, including "ridicule, physical actions, threats of violence and intimidation, emotional trauma, and psychological attacks." (Id. )

The bullying was not limited to school hours nor to school grounds. (Id. ) W.J.L. was also bullied on social media and while he walked to his father's house after school. (Id. )

W.J.L. experienced bullying in the presence of both Altoona Junior High faculty and students. (Id. ¶ 11.) "It was well known throughout the school that W.J.L. was persistently picked on by his peers." (Id. )

In one instance, W.J.L. was being bullied in a male teacher's classroom and requested to be excused to see the guidance

356 F.Supp.3d 490

counselor. (Id. ¶ 13). Instead of permitting W.J.L. to see the guidance counselor, the male teacher responded by telling W.J.L. that he "needed to stop being a baby." (Id. ) Lansberry alleges that this male teacher directly participated in the bullying. (Id. )

Despite the fact that students and school personnel knew about the severe and persistent bullying that W.J.L. suffered, Defendants failed to take any action to address the issue. (Id. ¶ 14.) Furthermore, in violation of school policy, school officials never notified W.J.L.'s parents of the bullying their son experienced. (Id. )

On May 18, 2017, W.J.L. committed suicide "after a particularly brutal day of bullying" at school. (Id. ¶ 12.)

Detective Worling of the Altoona Police Department investigated W.J.L.'s suicide. (Id. ¶ 15.) Detective Worling's Incident Report indicates "bullying and harassment appeared to be a factor in the suicide." (Id. ) Thereafter, the investigation was coordinated with AASD. (Id. )

The Altoona School District Police conducted a preliminary investigation into W.J.L.'s suicide. (Id. ¶ 17.) Officer Shields served as Detective Worling's point of contact with the Altoona School District Police. (Id. ) Officer Shields indicated to Detective Worling that the preliminary investigation found that "multiple students observed W.J.L. being bullied." (Id. )

Detective Worling's investigation revealed W.J.L. had sought assistance from school counselors on multiple occasions. (Id. ¶ 18.) Michelle Saylor3 told Detective Worling about a specific bullying incident that occurred when W.J.L. was a fifth or sixth grade student. (Id. ) School administrators never notified W.J.L.'s parents of the incident. (Id. )

The investigation revealed also that another student witnessed W.J.L. crying in the office of an administrator or counselor on the date of his suicide. (Id. ¶ 16.)

Also, a search of W.J.L.'s iPhone and iPad revealed several conversations in the days preceding the suicide in which W.J.L. told other students that he had a desire to harm himself. (Id. ¶ 18.)

On May 22, 2017, Detective Worling contacted Officer Shields and requested Altoona Junior High School's security surveillance footage from May 17, 2017 and May 18, 2017. Officer Shields informed Detective Worling that there is no video surveillance for May 17, 2017.4 (Id. ¶ 20.) On May 24, 2017, Detective Worling met with Assistant Superintendent Hatch, Principal Mangan, Officer Shields, and others to collect evidence. (Id. ¶ 27.) W.J.L.'s locker contents (other than certain personal items returned to W.J.L.'s mother) and pass book for the school hallways were not turned over, despite Detective Worling's requests. (Id. ) Thereafter, on August 30, 2017, Detective Worling was permitted to view video footage from May 18, 2017, but the video footage from other dates was never produced. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Detective Worling interviewed students who witnessed W.J.L. enter Guidance Counselor Connell's office on various occasions prior to his suicide. (Id. ¶ 22.) One student, K.G., witnessed W.J.L. enter Guidance Counselor Connell's office while "crying and visibly upset" three weeks prior

356 F.Supp.3d 491

to W.J.L.'s suicide. (Id. ) This was one of two times K.G. witnessed W.J.L. enter Guidance Counselor Connell's office. (Id. ) Another student, J.K., witnessed W.J.L. enter Guidance Counselor Connell's office "roughly two weeks prior to his suicide." (Id. ¶ 26.)

Detective Worling interviewed R.G., a student, who confirmed that R.G. told W.J.L. to "go home and shoot himself" shortly before W.J.L. committed suicide. (Id. ¶ 21.)

Detective Worling also interviewed three other students — T.B., B.B., and Z.B. — who each witnessed another student, B.C., "routinely harass W.J.L." for "being a ginger" and physically assault him. (Id. ¶ 25.) The students told Detective Worling that these incidents visibly upset W.J.L. (Id. )

J.K. also witnessed a group of boys physically assault W.J.L. in Stairway H at the Altoona Junior High School on three separate occasions in one week. (Id. ¶ 26.) These assaults took place approximately three weeks prior to W.J.L.'s suicide. (Id. ) J.K. assisted W.J.L. after the assaults. (Id. ) W.J.L. told J.K. that he had informed a teacher, Mrs. Zerbee, of the incidents and that he had also gone to Principal Bogle's office to report the physical assaults, but that ultimately no action was taken. (Id. )

AASD held a special public meeting to address W.J.L.'s suicide and bullying issues on May 25, 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 28-31.) At this meeting, AASD acknowledged their bullying and harassment policy was deficient. (Id. ¶ 30.) Superintendent Prijatelj responded to an outraged crowd by saying, "[y]ou're right. There are issues that need addressed and things that we need to investigate, even though I hate that word. There are things we have to learn about what we do ...". (Id. ) Also, at this meeting, AASD voted to hire external counsel to review their policies with a "focus on student services." (Id. ¶ 31.) During the meeting, Superintendent Prijatelj offered his condolences to Lansberry's counsel and his staff, mistaking them for the Lansberry family. (Id. ¶ 28.)

AASD held a second public event on April 18, 2018. (Id. ¶ 31.) At this meeting, a member of AASD's Board of Directors stated that bullying remains a problem at the Altoona Area Junior High. (Id. ) The board member also acknowledged that AASD received the external policy recommendations from the external counsel it hired, but that these recommendations were "contained in a thick binder" that was "collecting dust" because the Board of Directors had not reviewed them. (Id. )

2. Other Students Were Persistently Bullied at Altoona Junior High School and AASD Failed to Adequately Respond

a. R.G.

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10 practice notes
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • July 10, 2020
    ...of bullying cannot give rise to liability under § 1983 because it is not an affirmative act"); Lansberry v. Altoona Area Sch. Dist. , 356 F. Supp. 3d 486, 503 (W.D. Pa. 2018) (holding that "harm caused by student-on-student bullying is not a constitutional harm that Monell protects against"......
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    • February 4, 2019
    ...Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) is DENIED .3. Judgment is to be entered in accordance with the accompanying memorandum.356 F.Supp.3d 4864. The Clerk of Court shall thereafter close this case.AND IT IS SO ORDERED.JUDGMENT AND NOW , this 4th day of February, 2019 , in accordance with......
  • Morency v. City of Allentown, No. 5:19-cv-5304
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    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • October 2, 2020
    ...of an underlying constitutional violation; such a violation is a necessary element of both. Lansberry v. Altoona Area Sch. Dist., 356 F. Supp. 3d 486, 497 (W.D. Pa. 2018) ("[T]hePage 32 requirement of an underlying constitutional violation is implicit in the Third Circuit's Monell framework......
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    ...an affirmative act." See G.S. v. Penn-Trafford Sch. Dist., 813 F. App'x 799, 803 (3d Cir. 2020); Lansberry v. Altoona Area Sch. Dist., 356 F. Supp. 3d 486, 503 (W.D. Pa. 2018) (noting that "the cases are in agreement that students do not have a constitutional right to be free from bullying ......
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12 cases
  • Moore v. Solanco Sch. Dist.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • July 10, 2020
    ...of bullying cannot give rise to liability under § 1983 because it is not an affirmative act"); Lansberry v. Altoona Area Sch. Dist. , 356 F. Supp. 3d 486, 503 (W.D. Pa. 2018) (holding that "harm caused by student-on-student bullying is not a constitutional harm that Monell protects against"......
  • Miller v. Sessions, CIVIL ACTION NO. 17-2627
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • February 4, 2019
    ...Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) is DENIED .3. Judgment is to be entered in accordance with the accompanying memorandum.356 F.Supp.3d 4864. The Clerk of Court shall thereafter close this case.AND IT IS SO ORDERED.JUDGMENT AND NOW , this 4th day of February, 2019 , in accordance with......
  • C.W v. Bd. of Educ.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • February 28, 2023
    ...found that the plaintiffs failed to allege the violation of a constitutional right.”[3] Lansberry v. Altoona Area Sch. Dist., 356 F.Supp.3d 486, 500 (W.D. Pa. 2018); see Mohammed ex rel. Mohammed v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 355 F.Supp.2d 779, 787 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (“Because the School District a......
  • Morency v. City of Allentown, 5:19-cv-5304
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • October 2, 2020
    ...of an underlying constitutional violation; such a violation is a necessary element of both. Lansberry v. Altoona Area Sch. Dist., 356 F. Supp. 3d 486, 497 (W.D. Pa. 2018) ("[T]hePage 32 requirement of an underlying constitutional violation is implicit in the Third Circuit's Monell framework......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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