C.K. v. Wrye et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION (Order to follow as separate docket entry). Signed by Honorable Matthew W. Brann on 11/7/17. (lg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
HOPE WRYE, CENTRAL
INTERMEDIATE UNIT #10, AND
NOVEMBER 7, 2017
Defendants Central Intermediate Unit #10 (“CIU”) and the PhilipsburgOsceola Area School District (“POASD”) filed motions for summary judgment
against Plaintiff, C.K. 1 For the reasons that follow, their motions are granted.
C.K.’s Relationship with Hope Wrye
In the fall of 2000, C.K. enrolled as a student in Larry Krest’s emotional
support class at the POASD High School. 2 Defendant Hope Wrye was Mr. Krest’s
assistant in that class. 3
ECF Nos. 59 and 61.
C.K. remained in Mr. Krest’s class until February 2001, when he transferred
to another school district.4
A few months later, in November 2001, C.K.
transferred back to POASD, where he remained until dropping out completely in
October 2002. 5
During this period, while still a minor, C.K. began a sexual relationship with
Although the parties disagree about when, exactly, the sexual
relationship began, it is undisputed that Ms. Wrye eventually became pregnant
with C.K.’s child, who was born in September 2003.
Also during this period, several CIU and POASD officials held a meeting
with Ms. Wrye about her personal relationships with students at the school – and
possibly about her personal relationship with C.K.
The parties and various
witnesses give disparate accounts of this meeting, which will be discussed infra.
C.K. instituted this action by filing a complaint in February 2015,6 and on
October 9, 2015, C.K. filed his Second Amended Complaint, which contained five
ECF No. 60 ¶¶ 1,2; ECF No. 73 ¶¶ 1,2.
ECF No. 60 ¶¶ 3, 5; ECF No. 73 ¶ 3, 5.
ECF No. 1.
counts.7 In Count II, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, C.K. alleged that his
“inappropriate” relationship with Ms. Wrye violated his constitutional right to
bodily integrity, and that his injuries were the “direct and proximate result” of a
policy or custom of CIU and POASD. 8 In Count III, brought under 20 U.S.C. §
1681 (i.e., “Title IX”), C.K. alleged that this relationship “created a sexually
hostile educational environment, and unreasonably interfered with C.K.’s
On February 6, 2017, CIU and POASD moved for summary judgment on
Counts II and III, arguing that C.K. is unable to produce sufficient evidence to
prevail on his claims at trial.
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is granted when “the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” 10 A dispute is “genuine if a reasonable trier-of-fact could find in
favor of the non-movant,” and “material if it could affect the outcome of the
ECF No. 38.
Id. ¶¶ 43-50.
Id. ¶¶ 51-56.
Counts I, IV, and V were brought against Ms. Wrye only, so they will not be addressed here.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a).
case.”11 To defeat a motion for summary judgment, then, the nonmoving party
must point to evidence in the record that would allow a jury to rule in that party’s
favor. 12 When deciding whether to grant summary judgment, a court should draw
all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. 13
Claim under Title IX
Section 1681(a) of Title 20 of the United States Code – “Title IX” – states
that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from
participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any
education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . . .” In order
to prevail against a school on a sexual harassment claim, a plaintiff needs to show,
inter alia, that an “appropriate person” at the school had “actual notice of . . . the
teacher’s misconduct.” 14 Here, C.K. has failed to produce enough evidence to
allow a jury to find that an “appropriate person” at CIU or POASD had “actual
notice” of his relationship with Ms. Wrye.
C.K. bases his argument on this point entirely on the aforementioned
meeting between school officials and Ms. Wrye. At the outset, it is unclear who,
exactly, attended this meeting. The conflicting evidence shows that, besides Ms.
Lichtenstein v. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 691 F.3d 294, 300 (3rd Cir. 2012)
(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 252 (1986).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(1); Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation
Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District, 524 U.S. 274, 277 (1998).
Wrye, it may also have been attended by Charles Young (principal of the POASD
High School), 15 Gary Springer (special education supervisor at POASD), 16 Dennis
Shanafelt (special education director at CIU), 17 and Kerri Ann Bloom (special
education supervisor at CIU). 18 Since, at this stage, this Court must draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of C.K., it will assume that all these officials were in
attendance. Evidence about the exact timing of this meeting is also imprecise, but
the Court will assume that it occurred while Ms. Wrye was employed at the school
and while C.K. was enrolled there as well.
More important than attendance and timing of this meeting is what was
discussed in it; the officials who were involved in it, however, remember very little
about its substance. In his deposition testimony, Mr. Young indicated that “the
meting proceeded by bringing [Ms. Wrye] in and informing her of a rumor that had
come to light with regard to her providing rides or being in a vehicle with C.K.” 19
Mr. Young has no recollection of discussing anything else regarding Ms. Wrye’s
relationship with C.K., e.g., whether anyone had observed any romantic or sexual
behavior between Ms. Wrye and C.K. 20 Similarly, Mr. Springer recalls that the
Young Dep. at 11, 14.
Springer Dep. at 16, 41.
Shanafelt Dep. at 13, 40.
Bloom Dep. at 13, 19-20.
Young Dep. at 15.
Id. at 18, 29.
topic of the meeting was “grapevine hearsay that . . . an aide . . . had been giving
students a ride in her personal vehicle after school hours.”21 Like Mr. Young, he
cannot recall hearing anything about a sexual or romantic relationship between Ms.
Wrye and C.K. 22 Mr. Shanafelt remembers that “there were rumors that there was
an issue between” Ms. Wrye and C.K., or a “rumor that there might be something
between” the two of them, but his deposition testimony is no more specific than
that.23 Ms. Bloom remembers a “gossipy report” that “said that [Ms. Wrye] and
this student were friends, were something,” and that the report involved someone
“see[ing] this student in [Ms. Wrye’s] car . . . and also at her home.” 24 Ms. Bloom
recalls “a report . . . of [Ms. Wrye] in an inappropriate relationship with a student,”
but does not remember any facts “which would support a purported inappropriate
relationship” between the two.25
Ms. Wrye’s testimony contains scarcely any more detail. She remembers
someone “from [CIU or POASD] questioning [her] about an inappropriate
relationship with a student,” but cannot remember being questioned about her
relationship with C.K. 26 She claims that someone at the meeting “said that they
Springer Dep. at 24.
Id. at 29, 34 (“I did not hear anyone connecting Hope Wrye and C.K. in any way other than a
professional situation other than the rides that were given earlier.”).
Shanafelt Dep. at 40-41.
Bloom Dep. at 22, 27.
Bloom Dep. at 27, 29.
Wrye Dep. 105-06.
had received an accusation that someone – I don’t exactly recall what it was . . .
that someone saw me with a student or kissing a student,”27 but pressed further, she
could not recall whether anyone actually asked if she had kissed a student,”28 and
did not suspect that the officials were referring to her relationship with C.K. 29
Ms. Wrye spoke to Mr. Krest after this meeting.30 With respect to that
conversation, Mr. Krest remembers later telling someone that Ms. Wrye said “the
principal accused her of having an affair with one of her students,” 31 but
questioned at his deposition, he simply remembers that Ms. Wrye told him that “an
accusation had been made.” 32
He does not remember C.K.’s name being
Ms. Wrye’s testimony mentions a “Barb Neff allegation thing.” 34 Barbara
Neff was a food services employee at POASD who lived near Ms. Wrye at the
time of the underlying events.35 She claims that C.K. spent “many evenings and
weekends” at Ms. Wrye’s home and claims to have observed “outwardly
Id. at 106-07.
Id. at 108.
Id. at 107.
Id. at 115.
Krest Dep. at 45.
Id. at 45-46.
Id. at 49.
Wrye at 107.
Neff Dep. at 18, 32.
inappropriate behavior between” Ms. Wrye and C.K., including “physical contact,
kissing, [and] hugging,” some of which was “passionate.” 36 Although she recalls
reporting this behavior to a physical education teacher at the school, she does not
recall reporting it to “an authority or to the principal.” 37 None of the officials
questioned could recall speaking with Ms. Neff, either.38 Mr. Krest indicated that
Ms. Wrye told him that the accusations against her were made by a “female
cafeteria worker,” but could not identify Ms. Neff’s name when prompted. 39
Unfortunately for C.K.’s case, no reasonable trier of fact could, on this
evidence, find that an appropriate person at either CIU or POASD had actual
notice of Ms. Wrye’s misconduct. The officials can remember, at most, hearing
that Ms. Wrye and C.K. were driving home together after school and possibly
visiting each other outside school hours. Mr. Young and Mr. Springer specifically
deny remembering that there was any sexual or romantic behavior between Ms.
Wrye and C.K.; Ms. Bloom cannot recall any facts “which would support a
purported inappropriate relationship” between the two; and Mr. Shanafelt can only
remember hearing about “something between” them.
Id. at 37-39.
Id. at 40-41.
Young Dep. at 29; Springer Dep. at 37; Shanafelt Dep. at 46-47.
Krest Dep. at 49-50.
Before this Court, C.K. points to Ms. Wrye’s recollection of being
questioned at the meeting about an “inappropriate relationship,” but Ms. Wrye
specifically denied remembering being questioned about her relationship with C.K.
She did state that perhaps someone saw her “with a student or kissing a student,”
but also could not actually remember being asked about kissing a student. Mr.
Krest’s recollections are similarly too vague and amorphous to support a finding
that any CIU or POASD official had actual knowledge of any of Ms. Wrye’s
alleged misconduct. And finally, although it is undisputed that Ms. Neff observed
inappropriate behavior and reported it to someone, C.K. does not argue here that
the school’s physical education teacher was an “appropriate person.”
C.K.’s Title IX claim, then, must fail.
Claim Under 42 U.S.C. § 198340
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code provides a means by
which individuals may recover for violations of their constitutional rights. The
statute, however, does not allow recovery under a respondeat superior theory of
liability. 41 Therefore, when a plaintiff attempts to recover from a municipal entity
like CIU or POASD, he must show that his injuries were the result of a policy or
In his Brief in Opposition to POASD’s and CIU’s Motions for Summary Judgment, C.K.
concedes that there is insufficient evidence for his § 1983 claim again CIU to survive. ECF
No. 71 at 23-24. Therefore, judgment will be entered in favor of CIU on that claim.
Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978).
custom of the municipality. 42 Further, there must be a “direct causal link between
the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights.” 43
If “the policy or custom does not facially violate federal law, causation can
be established only by demonstrating that the municipal action was taken with
deliberate indifference as to its known or obvious consequences.”44 “Deliberate
indifference” is “something more culpable . . . than a negligent failure to recognize
a high risk of harm to [the] plaintiff.” 45 To prevail on a “deliberate indifference”
claim, a plaintiff must show “that the defendant knew of the risk to the plaintiff
Id. at 694 (“Instead, it is when execution of a government’s policy or custom, whether made
by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official
policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.”).
Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997) (noting that the
plaintiff must “demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the
‘moving force’ behind the injury alleged. That is, a plaintiff must show that the municipal
action was taken with the requisite degree of culpability and must demonstrate a direct causal
link between the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights.”) (emphasis in
Berg v. County of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 276 (3rd Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted) (emphasis added). See also Natale v. Camden County Correctional
Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 584 (“There are three situations where acts of a government
employee may be deemed to be the result of a policy or custom of the governmental entity
for whom the employee works, thereby rendering the entity liable under §1983. The first is
where the appropriate officer or entity promulgates a generally applicable statement of policy
and the subsequent act complained of is simply an implementation of that policy. The
second occurs where no rule has been announced as policy but federal law has been violated
by an act of the policymaker itself. Finally a policy or custom may also exist where the
policymaker has failed to act affirmatively at all, though the need to take some action to
control the agents of the government is so obvious, and the inadequacy of existing practice so
likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymaker can reasonably
be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.”) (internal quotation marks and
Black by Black v. Indiana Area School District, 985 F.2d 707 (3rd Cir. 1993).
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before the plaintiff’s injury occurred.”46 When a case is brought against school
officials and involves alleged sexual abuse by a school employee, there must be
“credible evidence demonstrating that school officials knew of the alleged risk of
sexual abuse posed by [the employee] at a time at which they could have prevented
[the] alleged injuries.” 47
C.K. cannot prevail on a “deliberate indifference” § 1983 claim for the
reasons discussed supra in § II.B – i.e., he has failed to show that any officials had
knowledge of the relationship between C.K. and Ms. Wrye “at a time at which they
could have prevented [C.K.’s] alleged injuries.” C.K. also alleges that POASD had
a “practice of not reporting criminal conduct at the High School out of fear that it
would reflect poorly on the school’s emotional support program.” 48 To show this
“practice,” he notes that Mr. Krest, in deposition, testified (1) that POASD failed to
contact the police after a student was caught smoking marijuana in a school
restroom, and (2) that a POASD official was “upset” after Mr. Krest reported a
student assault to the police.49 Assuming this is sufficient evidence, at this stage,
to find such a practice existed, C.K. has failed to show the requisite causal link
between this practice and his alleged injury. Although he argues that this practice
Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120, 137 (3rd Cir. 2001).
Johnson v. Elk Lake School District, 283 F.3d 138, 144 n.1 (3rd Cir. 2002).
ECF No. 71 at 22.
Krest Dep. at 74-76.
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“allowed [Ms.] Wrye’s abuse of C.K. to continue,”50 he fails to show exactly how.
There is no evidence, for example, of Ms. Wrye being aware of this alleged
practice such that she became emboldened and consciously took advantage of it. 51
C.K.’s § 1983 claim, likewise, must fail.
C.K. has not produced sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in his favor
on his Title IX claims against POASD and CIU. He has likewise not produced
sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in his favor on his § 1983 claim against
POASD, and has conceded that claim against CIU.
An appropriate Order follows.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Matthew W. Brann
Matthew W. Brann
United States District Judge
ECF No. 71 at 22.
C.K. argues that the alleged practice “was followed when [Mr. Young] did not alert
authorities regarding Ms. Wrye’s conduct with C.K.” ECF No. 71 at 23. This conflates the
analysis between, on the one hand, showing that an alleged policy was the “moving force”
behind his injury and, on the other, showing that school officials were deliberately indifferent
to the relationship between C.K. and Ms. Wrye.
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