The parents of a Berks County high-schooler who sued over their son’s
suspension, which was tied to his having consensual sex with his girlfriend while on an international school trip, have not alleged their child suffered a violation of his federal constitutional rights, a judge has ruled in dismissing the complaint against the Schuylkill Valley School District.
The case, which was reported on by the Pennsylvania Record back in October 2012, arose from the suspension of Anders Hemdal, a junior who was punished by school officials after a secretly recorded sex tape involving him and his then-girlfriend surfaced.
Another student had recorded Hemdal and the girlfriend without their knowledge using a cellphone.
The encounter took place while the students were on a trip to Morocco.
Hemdal was ultimately given a four-day home suspension because he committed a “Level 2 major offense,” Niklas and Stephanie Hemdal stated in their lawsuit, which had been filed in late October 2012 at the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The couple asserted claims of state and federal constitutional rights violations as well as state law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and invasion of privacy.
On Feb. 20, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe in Philadelphia ruled that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim for violations of the U.S. Constitution.
The parents argued that their son’s due process rights were violated, and that the denial of due process resulted in a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Rufe noted that the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals previously rejected, in another case, a similar argument to that of the plaintiffs’ that said the defendants’ failure to comply with the Pennsylvania administrative code setting forth procedures to follow during a student’s suspension constitutes a due process violation.
Rufe cited the Third Circuit’s decision, which says that it is well-accepted that “state law does not ordinarily define the parameters of due process for Fourteenth Amendment purposes; rather, the minimum, constitutionally mandated requirements of due process in a given context and case are supplied and defined by federal law, not by state law or regulations.”
The plaintiffs never disputed their son’s conduct on tape, but rather they argued that the suspension was not warranted, records show.
Rufe wrote that the facts of the case, including that the plaintiffs were afforded an opportunity to meet with school officials to discuss the suspension, display that no federal due process violation occurred.
“Although Plaintiffs argue that they were not given written notice or an opportunity to present or question witnesses, the case law makes clear that neither was required to satisfy federal standards of due process,” the judge wrote. “As a matter of law, Plaintiffs received all the process they were due, and the claim must be dismissed.”
The Equal Protection claim also fails, Rufe wrote, since the plaintiffs failed to allege any facts that would support a claim of conspiracy.
“In order to state an equal protection claim, plaintiffs must allege the existence of purposeful discrimination,” Rufe wrote. “’In other words, they must demonstrate that they received different treatment from that received by other individuals similarly situated.’”
Rufe wrote that in the absence of any factually supported allegations that the different treatment was due to membership in a protected class or that the suspension lacked any rational basis, the Equal Protection claim cannot move forward.
The judge also declined to exercise jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ state law claims.
Those claims would have to be litigated in state court, Rufe stated.