Walker-Serrano by Walker v. Leonard, No. 3:99-CV-0716.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtCaputo
Citation168 F.Supp.2d 332
PartiesAmanda WALKER-SERRANO, by her parents, Lisa WALKER and Michael Serrano Plaintiff, v. Donald LEONARD, Individually and in his official capacity as President of the Lackawanna Trail School Board, Dr. Clyde Ellsworth, Individually, and in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Lackawanna Trail School District, Nancy Simon, Individually and in her official capacity as Principal of the Lackawanna Trail Elementary School, Pat Carpenter, Individually and in her official capacity as a teacher at the Lackawanna Trail Elementary School, Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 3:99-CV-0716.
Decision Date09 October 2001
168 F.Supp.2d 332
Amanda WALKER-SERRANO, by her parents, Lisa WALKER and Michael Serrano Plaintiff,
v.
Donald LEONARD, Individually and in his official capacity as President of the Lackawanna Trail School Board, Dr. Clyde Ellsworth, Individually, and in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Lackawanna Trail School District, Nancy Simon, Individually and in her official capacity as Principal of the Lackawanna Trail Elementary School, Pat Carpenter, Individually and in her official capacity as a teacher at the Lackawanna Trail Elementary School, Defendants.
No. 3:99-CV-0716.
United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania.
October 9, 2001.

Page 333

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Page 334

Gordon A. Einhorn, Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis, Harrisburg, PA, for Plaintiff.

Melinda B. Kaufmann, Stock and Leader, PC, Stephen S. Russell, Stock & Leader, York, PA, for Defendants.

Page 335

MEMORANDUM

CAPUTO, District Judge.


Plaintiff, Amanda Walker-Serrano, filed this civil rights action on May 4, 1999 against Donald Leonard, Dr. Clyde Ellsworth, Nancy Simon, and Pat Carpenter, individually and in their official capacities at Lackawanna Trail Schools, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of her First Amendment rights, emotional distress, and various state law claims. (Doc. 1.) Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on May 30, 2000. (Doc. 13.) Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt has recommended that the Court grant Defendants qualified immunity in their individual capacities, grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to all Plaintiff's federal claims, and that the state claims be dismissed without prejudice. (Report and Recommendation, Doc. 24.) Plaintiff filed a timely objection to the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation. (Doc. 27.) After making a de novo determination of the case, I adopt that recommendation. Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on all claims, as Plaintiff's First Amendment rights were not clearly established. Defendants' conduct did not violate any of Plaintiff's First Amendment rights. I further find that the School District cannot be held liable under Monell liability for First Amendment violation. Accordingly, as Plaintiff's federal law claims are dismissed, I agree with the Magistrate Judge that Plaintiff's state law claims are dismissed without prejudice.

BACKGROUND

At the time of the relevant facts, Plaintiff was a third-grade student at Lackawanna Trail Elementary School ("the School"), which is part of the Lackawanna Trial School District ("the School District"). (Doc. 1, ¶ 3.) Plaintiff's third-grade class planned to take a field trip to Shriner Circus on April 7, 1999. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10.)

Plaintiff, unhappy with the scheduled field trip, prepared a handwritten petition stating, "[w]e 3rd grade kids don't want to go to the circus because they hurt animals. We want a better feild [sic] trip." (Doc. 16, Exhibit 2.)

The parties dispute whether plaintiff asked permission to circulate the petition as required under school policy (Doc. 15, ¶ 16) or whether Plaintiff was told that she was prohibited from circulating the petition. (Doc. 18, ¶ 16.) Either way, Plaintiff brought her petition to school and circulated it during recess among her classmates, discussing how circuses are cruel to animals and obtaining 30 signatures on the petition on February 4, 1999. (Doc. 1, ¶ 13.) On February 5, 1999, Plaintiff again circulated her petition at recess and obtained three additional signatures. (Doc. 1, ¶ 16.) The parties dispute the events that occurred during the recess period on February 5. Defendants contend that Defendant Pat Carpenter ("Carpenter"), a teacher at the School, noticed a large group of students around Plaintiff near an icy patch on the playground and proceeded to investigate. On the way, Carpenter sent a crying child, who had fallen on the ice, to the nurse. (Doc. 16, Exhibit 17.) Carpenter told Plaintiff "you can't have that here." Defendants claim that Carpenter was speaking generally of the paper and writing utensils, out of fear that someone would get hurt on the icy playground. (Doc. 16, Exhibit 17.) Plaintiff denies there was any ice near her, that Carpenter was referring to circulating the petition, and that she was prohibited from having a petition at school. (Doc. 16, Exhibit 17.) Plaintiff spent part of the day in the nurse's office in tears and alleges that Carpenter's remarks caused extreme emotional distress. (Doc. 16, Exhibit 11.)

Page 336

Another incident occurred during one of Plaintiff's classes. The details are again in dispute. Both sides agree that Mrs. Mercanti, Plaintiff's teacher, told her to put away a folder which contained the petition and other non-related material. Plaintiff alleges the incident occurred during study period, when one student stood by her desk and asked for her phone number. Defendants maintain that it occurred in reading class, when a group of students were around Plaintiff talking about the petition when they should have been reading quietly among themselves.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Nancy Simon ("Simon"), principal of the school, became aware of the petition on February 4, 1999. (Doc. 1, ¶ 14.) She instructed the teachers that if Plaintiff was observed circulating the petition, she should be told that she was prohibited from doing so on school property. Id. Principal Simon is further alleged to have instructed the teachers that students are prohibited from taking pencils onto the school playground, in order to prevent Plaintiff from obtaining signatures on her petition. (Doc. 1, ¶ 15.)

When Plaintiff returned home and told her mother what occurred at school, her mother called Principal Simon, who allegedly stated that Plaintiff could not circulate the petition at school. (Doc. 1, ¶ 19.) Plaintiff's mother denies she was informed of a school district policy that any materials a student wished to distribute must be submitted for prior review to a school district representative. Id. Unsatisfied with the response, Plaintiff's mother called Defendant Ronald Leonard ("Leonard"), the President of the School Board, about the incident. Plaintiff's parents then retained counsel, who wrote to the School District about the incident. The District's solicitor responded to Plaintiff's counsel. (Doc. 1, ¶ 19.) The letter, dated February 19, 1999, stated in relevant part:

In regard to stopping the circulation of a petition among third-graders on school property during the school day, there appears to be an erroneous assumption about the basis and motives for that action. Your letter presents interesting extracts from Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 89 S.Ct. 733, 21 L.Ed.2d 731 (1969), however, this is not a case in which school authorities took punitive action "to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness" of differing views on visiting a circus. On the contrary, Ms. Walker-Serrano has expressed and continues to express her personal views on the circus trip. The school has no authority and no desire to curtail her free expression of such views. However, Ms. Walker-Serrano was denied the opportunity to circulate a petition on elementary school property during the school day for signature of other third grade students. Ms. Walker-Serrano activities briefly disrupted classroom instruction and may have contributed to a situation where another child fell down during recess and was subsequently examined by the school nurse. According to information we have at this point, the petition was never taken away from Ms. Walker-Serrano. She was told to put it away. Elementary schools are not generally the environment for petition circulation, particularly where parents are totally unaware of such activities. It is incumbent upon school authorities, particularly in an elementary school setting, to preserve an appropriate environment focused on the institution's instructional objectives.

(Doc. 1, Exhibit 2; Doc. 20, Exhibit B-2.) Then, in a letter dated February 25, 1999, the District's solicitor advised Plaintiff that she had been prohibited from circulating her petition because she had failed to comply

Page 337

with the District's policy on student expression (Policy 220). (Doc. 1, ¶ 20.) The District passed a regulation, pursuant to a Pennsylvania statute that provides "school officials may require students to submit for prior approval a copy of materials to be displayed, posted, or distributed in school property." 22 Pa.Code. § 12.9(e). Pursuant to this statute, the District promulgated Policy 220. (Doc. 15, ¶ 2.) It stated, in relevant part: "The Board shall require that students who wish to distribute materials submit them for prior review. Where the reviewer cannot show within two school days that the materials are unprotected, such materials may be distributed...The Superintendent shall develop rules and regulations for the distribution of printed material which shall include: procedure for the prior review of all materials to be distributed." (Doc. 1, Exhibit 3; Doc. 16, Exhibit 1.)

Plaintiff's counsel responded that when Plaintiff's mother brought her concerns about the planned circus field trip and petition incident to the School Board on February 22, 1999, such action constituted such a request and that, not having heard anything within two days, Plaintiff was then free to circulate her petition. (Doc. 1, ¶ 22.) Defendants' solicitor responded that the presentation at the Board meeting did not constitute "presentation" to the reviewer and that the proper procedure would be for Plaintiff to present the petition to Principal Simon for approval. Id. Plaintiff does not allege that this procedure was ever taken up with Principal Simon. Plaintiff asserts, rather, that the Solicitor only raised this policy long after Plaintiff was made to stop circulating her petition at school and that the policy was not enforced by the District.

The...

To continue reading

Request your trial
5 practice notes
  • Flood v. Sherk, 2:18-cv-01310
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • August 30, 2019
    ...2262936, at *6 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 6, 2007) (citing Praprotnik , 485 U.S. at 129–30, 108 S.Ct. 915 ; Walker-Serrano by Walker v. Leonard , 168 F. Supp. 2d 332, 346 (M.D. Pa. 2001) ). Rather, an official must have "final, unreviewable discretion to make a decision or take an action" for......
  • Wyatt v. Fletcher, No. 11–41359.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 31, 2013
    ...while “demeaning” and “belittling” to his students, did not violate their constitutional rights); Walker–Serrano by Walker v. Leonard, 168 F.Supp.2d 332, 347 (M.D.Pa.2001) (stating “verbal abuse, whether coming from a student or a teacher, is not a constitutional violation.”). Thus, there i......
  • Wyatt v. Fletcher, No. 11-41359
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 31, 2013
    ...and "belittling" to his students, did not violate their constitutional rights); Walker-Serrano by Walker v. Leonard, 168 F. Supp. 2d 332, 347 (M.D. Pa. 2001) (stating "verbal abuse, whether coming from a student or a teacher, is not a constitutional violation."). Thus, t......
  • Nixon v. Northern Local School Dist. Bd. of Educ., No. 2:04-CV-1149.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • August 18, 2005
    ...visibly upset, tried to avoid the student's speech, and complained to school officials about the speech); Walker-Serrano v. Leonard, 168 F.Supp.2d 332 (M.D.Pa.2001) (student's speech had caused a classroom disruption in the past and the school reasonably concluded that another disruption wa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Flood v. Sherk, 2:18-cv-01310
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • August 30, 2019
    ...2262936, at *6 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 6, 2007) (citing Praprotnik , 485 U.S. at 129–30, 108 S.Ct. 915 ; Walker-Serrano by Walker v. Leonard , 168 F. Supp. 2d 332, 346 (M.D. Pa. 2001) ). Rather, an official must have "final, unreviewable discretion to make a decision or take an action" for......
  • Wyatt v. Fletcher, No. 11–41359.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 31, 2013
    ...while “demeaning” and “belittling” to his students, did not violate their constitutional rights); Walker–Serrano by Walker v. Leonard, 168 F.Supp.2d 332, 347 (M.D.Pa.2001) (stating “verbal abuse, whether coming from a student or a teacher, is not a constitutional violation.”). Thus, there i......
  • Wyatt v. Fletcher, No. 11-41359
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 31, 2013
    ...and "belittling" to his students, did not violate their constitutional rights); Walker-Serrano by Walker v. Leonard, 168 F. Supp. 2d 332, 347 (M.D. Pa. 2001) (stating "verbal abuse, whether coming from a student or a teacher, is not a constitutional violation."). Thus, t......
  • Nixon v. Northern Local School Dist. Bd. of Educ., No. 2:04-CV-1149.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • August 18, 2005
    ...visibly upset, tried to avoid the student's speech, and complained to school officials about the speech); Walker-Serrano v. Leonard, 168 F.Supp.2d 332 (M.D.Pa.2001) (student's speech had caused a classroom disruption in the past and the school reasonably concluded that another disruption wa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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