2019 Year in Review

Flood family lawsuit against school, families gets tossed

January 1, 2020 Cranberry Local News

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PITTSBURGH — A lawsuit against the Seneca Valley School District and four local families was dismissed from federal court following a judge's order in August.

The suit, brought by the Flood family of Zelienople on behalf of their son, T.F., dealt with the fallout of alleged false sexual assault claims.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The district was listed a defendant, along with 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 three-count complaint stated K.S., C.S., E.S. and H.R. falsely accused T.F. of criminal conduct, including sexual assault.

The accusations resulted in T.F. being bullied at school and suffering a “loss of his liberty, psychological and physical injuries,” according to the complaint.

The complaint also took aim at the district's “gender-biased” selective enforcement of bullying and sexual assault policies.

Chief Judge Mark Hornak granted a motion by the school district to dismiss the suit based on the Floods' failure to state a claim.

The charge that the district violated T.F.'s 14th Amendment rights was dismissed with prejudice: It cannot be brought against it again.

Hornak also dismissed the first two counts of the lawsuit — defamation against the girls and their families — without prejudice. This means they can be filed again.

The move was based on the lack of federal claims remaining in the case. Hornak and the court declined to exercise “supplemental jurisdiction” to keep the case at the federal level.

Hornak wrote “the court emphasizes that the court is expressing no opinion nor drawing any conclusions ... as to whether the minor defendants' accusations against T.F. were falsely and/or maliciously made.”

The charges could be brought again against the families in common pleas court.

In his opinion on the matter, Hornak wrote that the suit failed to state a claim or show that a “final policymaker” in the district took action toward T.F. Hornak also noted no such policymaker could have been “deliberately indifferent” about such treatment.

The suit intended to state the principal served as that final policymaker. It noted T.F. was not permitted to play baseball and had his schedule changed to be placed away from the defendants in conjunction with a law enforcement investigation.

However, Hornak wrote that state law is clear in stating that the district's school board is the final policymaker.

Any action by school officials toward T.F. would have been done without an official ruling or policy made by the board. He cites case law indicating “decision making authority does not equate to final policymaking authority.”

Hornak also took issue with the suit focusing on the discipline for T.F. and the lack of discipline for the girls.

Even if the girls were punished for their alleged false statements, it would have “no effect” on the punishment for T.F.

The district did not comment on the lawsuit.

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