Hearing looms in Flood lawsuit

School district seeks dismissal

August 6, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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PITTSBURGH — A hearing on a potential dismissal of the Seneca Valley School District from a federal lawsuit involving alleged false sexual assault allegations is scheduled for next week.

The original suit, filed by the Flood family of Zelienople on behalf of their minor son, T.F., lists as defendants David and Christy Sherk as parents of minor K.S.; David and Christine Seaman as parents of C.S.; Cris and Kimberly Salancy as parents of minor E.S.; and David and Lynn Reina, both individually and as parents of H.R. The suit also names the Seneca Valley School District.

An amended three-count complaint filed in May states that K.S., C.S., E.S. and H.R. falsely accused T.F. of criminal conduct, including sexual assault.

Oral arguments on the school district's motion to dismiss are scheduled Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Pittsburgh.

The amended lawsuit focused on the district's alleged failure to discipline the girls, arguing the district and principal repeatedly failed to investigate or discipline young women falsely reporting harassment or assault. Their response further contends those same district officials investigate and discipline young men alleged to have committed similar offenses.

The complaint argues the policy is biased in favor of female students and against male students and “is so permanent and well-settled as to virtually constitute law.” The district is also accused of violating the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which ensures equal protection under the law, by selectively enforcing student conduct policies.

In its motion to dismiss, Seneca Valley's attorneys counter that the suit fails to show proof of such a policy and that selective enforcement exists. It also argues no proof was shown to indicate that a lack of discipline for the female students was the reason T.F. suffered physical and emotional trauma.

First Response

On Friday, H.R. filed the first response since the original lawsuit was brought last fall.

In the filing, H.R. denies that she accused T.F. of criminal conduct, and states she only told police what she saw and what C.S. told her.

She also denies telling other students about the alleged incident, and that she, E.S. and C.S. conspired to create a false order of events. Accordingly, she also denies that her actions caused T.F. harm or damages as alleged in the amended complaint.

The filing asks for a judgment to be made in her favor.

Countersuit Responses

The Sherk and Seaman families filed countersuits earlier this summer, with each alleging assault, battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision against the Floods and T.F.

Both suits indicated that K.S. and C.S. never recanted or changed their stories about being sexually assaulted by T.F. Both girls report emotional suffering because of the lawsuit being filed, with each document pointing to media coverage of the case and school events in which fellow students wore T-shirts and held signs of support for T.F.

The countersuits also allege the Floods failed to control or discipline T.F. for his alleged actions.

Both families seek reimbursement, punitive damages and the costs of the suit.

Similar responses to both countersuits filed by the Floods ask for a dismissal of the negligent supervision and negligent infliction of emotional distress charges. They do not address the assault and battery charges.

The response argues there is no plausible cause of action for the emotional distress charge. The Floods are not responsible for the actions of third parties, including public displays and discussions.

They also were not responsible for considering the feelings of the parties sued in the initial filing, and “the words on the pages of the complaint did not cause such injuries” as alleged to have been suffered by the girls and their families, the filing states.

“It would go strongly against public policy to force litigants and their attorneys to consider ... whether third parties might review allegations in a complaint and get stirred up about the situation and possibly cause an issue for the other party to the case,” the filing states.

Additionally, the Floods did not know of the severity of allegations against T.F., and were unaware of the circumstances surrounding the alleged incidents. Because of that, they cannot be held legally responsible for failing to punish or “control” T.F. for his alleged actions, the response states.

The filing asks that the charges be dismissed with prejudice, meaning they could not be brought again.

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J.W.  Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr. is the bureau chief of the Cranberry Eagle. Johnson is a native of Bellaire, Ohio, and graduated from Bellaire High School in 2004. He is a 2009 graduate of Ohio University in Athens with a bachelor of specialized studies degree in English and journalism. While there, he served as a reporter and editor at The Post, the university’s student-run, independent newspaper. In 2009, he was hired as a reporter for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register in Wheeling, W.Va. Over the course of eight years, he also served as Marshall County bureau chief, city editor and news editor. He also won two first place West Virginia Press Association Awards for his reporting and design work. He and his wife, Maureen, live in Carnegie.