Spanier v. Dir. Dauphin Cnty. Prob. Servs.

Decision Date01 December 2020
Docket NumberNo. 19-2228,19-2228
Citation981 F.3d 213
Parties Graham B. SPANIER v. DIRECTOR DAUPHIN COUNTY PROBATION SERVICES; Attorney General Pennsylvania, Appellants
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Kimberly A. Boyer-Cohen, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, 2000 Market Street, Suite 2300, Philadelphia, PA 19103, Ronald Eisenberg [ARGUED], Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania, 1600 Arch Street, Suite 300, Philadelphia, PA 19103, Counsel for Appellants

Bruce P. Merenstein [ARGUED], Samuel W. Silver, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, 1600 Market Street, Suite 3600, Philadelphia, PA 19103, Counsel for Appellee

Before: CHAGARES, PORTER and FISHER, Circuit Judges.


FISHER, Circuit Judge.

This case stems from the disturbing child sex abuse scandal involving the football program at the Pennsylvania State University. In 2017, Penn State's former president, Graham Spanier, was convicted of child endangerment for his role in the decision not to report the suspected abuse to state authorities. Spanier and other university administrators made that decision in 2001. However, after their decision and before Spanier's trial—in 2007, to be exact—the Pennsylvania legislature amended the statutory definition of child endangerment and its statute of limitations. Although Spanier's conduct preceded these amendments, the jury was instructed in language that tracked the post-amendment statute.

Spanier challenged his state-court conviction through a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that his rights under the Due Process and Ex Post Facto Clauses were violated. He also argued that his due process rights were violated by the application of an exception to the statute of limitations. The District Court granted Spanier's petition and vacated his conviction. The Commonwealth appeals. We will reverse.

A. Factual History: Spanier's Conduct

In 1998, a woman called the Penn State police to complain that her eleven-year-old son had showered with Jerry Sandusky, who was the well-known defensive coordinator for Penn State's football team. The boy was involved with the Second Mile program, a charitable organization Sandusky founded that helped vulnerable youth. The police chief brought news of the complaint to Gary Schultz, Penn State's Senior Vice President for Finance and Business. The chief kept Schultz informed, and Schultz in turn told Spanier the details of the investigation as it unfolded. Schultz also told Timothy Curley, the university's Athletic Director, about the investigation.

Both the Penn State police and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare investigated the complaint. Ultimately, those entities concluded that sexual assault could not be proven, and the DA did not file charges. Spanier was copied on two emails about the investigation: one at the beginning and one saying it had concluded.

In 1999, Sandusky retired. He was granted emeritus status, and he still had access to Penn State football facilities. He also remained actively involved with Second Mile.

On Friday, February 9, 2001, around 8:00 or 8:30 in the evening, graduate assistant coach Michael McQueary went to the football building. He saw Sandusky and a boy he estimated to be "[r]oughly 10 to 12 years old" naked together in the shower, clearly engaged in sexual activity. App. 806. Shaken, he immediately spoke with his father and a family friend. The next morning, Saturday, February 10, McQueary told longtime head football coach Joe Paterno. Paterno asked to meet with Athletic Director Curley and Senior Vice President Schultz. The three men spoke a day later, on Sunday, February 11. Paterno reported what McQueary had told him, but he used the terms "horseplay" and "wrestling" to describe what McQueary saw. App. 1056. Later that day, Schultz asked Penn State's general counsel for advice. Counsel recommended that the University report the incident to the Department of Public Welfare.

On Monday, February 12, Curley and Schultz reported the situation to Spanier. According to Schultz's contemporaneous notes, the three men "reviewed 1998 history," i.e., the 1998 investigation; they "agreed [Curley] will ... advise [Paterno] we think [Curley] should meet [with] [Sandusky] on Friday"; they decided that "unless [Sandusky] ‘confesses’ to having a problem, [Curley] will indicate we need to have DPW [the Department of Public Welfare] review the matter"; and "[Curley] will keep [Schultz] posted." App. 1379.

The next week, Curley and Schultz asked McQueary to meet with them, and McQueary again described what he had seen. McQueary testified, "I told them that I saw Jerry molesting a boy, that what he was doing in a shower with a minor on the Friday night was sexual, it was over the line." App. 816. McQueary vigorously denied ever using the word "horseplay" to describe the incident to anyone.

Two weeks later, on Sunday, February 25, 2001, Curley and Schultz again met with Spanier. After the meeting, Schultz found an online listing of Second Mile's board of directors, printed it out, and wrote three action items on the back: "Tell Chair of Board of Second Mile," "Report to Dept of Welfare," and "Tell [Sandusky] to avoid bringing children alone into [football] Bldg." App. 1151, 1393-94. Schultz emailed Curley the next day to confirm that Curley "[had] the ball" on these next steps. App. 1382, 1143-44.

On Tuesday, February 27, however, Curley emailed Spanier and Schultz and shared that he'd had a change of heart:

After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe [Paterno] yesterday—I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps. I am having trouble with going to everyone, but the person involved. I think I would be more comfortable meeting with the person and tell[ing] him about the information we received. I would plan to tell him we are aware of the first situation [the 1998 incident]. I would indicate we feel there is a problem and we want to assist the individual to get professional help. Also, we feel a responsibility at some point soon to inform his organization [Second Mile] and ... maybe the other one [child protective services] about the situation. If he is cooperative we would work with him to handle informing the organization [Second Mile]. If not, we do not have a choice and will inform the two groups. Additionally, I will let him know that his guests [Second Mile children] are not permitted to use our facilities. I need some help on this one. What do you think about this approach?

App. 1386, 1075-81. Spanier responded:

This approach is acceptable to me. It requires you to go a step further and means that your conversation will be all the more difficult, but I admire your willingness to do that and I am supportive. The only downside for us is if the message isn't heard and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it. But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.

App. 1386, 1082-83. As agreed, Curley spoke with Sandusky and Second Mile's executive director. Then Curley circled back to Spanier and "told him I took care of what I was supposed to do and everything was okay." App. 1092. The Department of Public Welfare was never notified.

After this point in early 2001, the Sandusky saga went quiet—at least as far as Penn State's administration was concerned. But that was not the experience of the children Sandusky continued to abuse. In 2008, Clinton County Children and Youth Services received another report and the Commonwealth began another investigation. As a result of this investigation, Sandusky was convicted of crimes related to his abuse of several children, including four he abused after 2001.

B. Legal Backdrop: The Amendment of Pennsylvania's Child Endangerment Statute and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Decision in Commonwealth v. Lynn

Before turning to the procedural history of this appeal, we first introduce its legal backdrop, which is encapsulated in Commonwealth v. Lynn , 631 Pa. 541, 114 A.3d 796 (2015). This discussion is necessary to explain the circumstances of Spanier's conviction.

William Lynn, a Roman Catholic priest, was the Secretary for Clergy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in the 1990s and early 2000s. Id. at 798. He "was responsible for ... handling clergy sexual abuse issues," acting as the " ‘point man’ in the investigation into ... allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors within the Archdiocese." Id. at 798-99. While Lynn was Secretary for Clergy, priests in the diocese sexually abused children. Some children were victimized by priests who, Lynn knew, had abused other children in the past. Id. at 799-806.

In 2002, a grand jury was empaneled at the request of the Philadelphia District Attorney to investigate clergy sex abuse in the diocese. Id. at 806-07. The grand jury's report concluded that the 1995 version of the Pennsylvania child endangerment statute, 18 Pa. C.S. § 4304, which was then in effect, "allowed church officials such as [Lynn] to escape criminal liability." Id. at 807. The grand jury explained that the statute was "too narrow to support a successful prosecution of the decision-makers who were running the Archdiocese. The statute confines its coverage to parents, guardians, and other persons ‘supervising the welfare of a child.’ High level Archdiocesan officials, however, were far removed from any direct contact with children." Id. (citation omitted).

Based on its understanding of the statute, the grand jury did not recommend criminal charges against Lynn. Instead, it recommended amending the child endangerment statute "to encompass conduct by individuals in an employer or supervising capacity." Id. "[T]he legislature obliged, and amended the ... statute, effective January 27, 2007." Id. The 2007 amendment added new language, which is underlined here:

(a) Offense defined.--
(1) A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age ,

To continue reading

Request your trial
2 cases
  • Bodle v. Smith
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • February 1, 2021
    ...theory supporting each claim in a manner that puts them on notice that a federal claim is being asserted. Spanier v. Dir. Dauphin Cnty. Prob. Servs., 981 F.3d 213, 222 (3d Cir. 2020) (citing McCandless v. Vaughn, 172 F.3d 255, 261 (3d Cir. 1999)). If a petitioner has the right under state l......
  • Johnson v. Ransom
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • June 16, 2021
    ...engage in their work, and federal courts should not hold routinely that this work violates due process." Spanier v. Director Dauphin Cnty. Prob. Servs., 981 F.3d 213, 225 (3d Cir. 2020). On direct appeal, Johnson argued the trial court erred in admitting testimony about Jacobs' threat to Pe......
1 books & journal articles
  • Review Proceedings
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 110-Annual Review, August 2022
    • August 1, 2022
    ...challenged suff‌iciency of evidence under New York law because no constitutional violation); Spanier v. Dir. Dauphin Cty. Prob. Servs., 981 F.3d 213, 231 (3d Cir. 2020) (claim of error not cognizable when petitioner challenged state’s notice of charges because no constitutional violation); ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT