PHILADELPHIA — Defendants in the wrongful death lawsuit of a sixth-grade student with asthma have appealed the denial of judgment on some of the plaintiffs' claims.
The appeal was filed on Jan. 31 by the School District of Philadelphia and W.C. Bryant Promise Academy to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District. This follows a summary judgment ruling by Judge Nitza I. Quinones Alejandro, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The case stems from an incident that occurred in 2013, when Laporshia Massey, a sixth-grade student at the W.C. Bryant Promise Academy who suffered from asthma, was having problems breathing. The school had a strict policy that medication must be administered by a nurse. Because of school budget cuts, a nurse was only present at the school two days a week and not on the day that Massey was having trouble breathing.
According to court documents, on Sept. 25, 2013, Massey told her teacher that she was having trouble breathing and because there was no nurse on staff, she was told to “be calm” and remained in the class throughout the school day. Upon arriving home from school that day, Massey was given her inhaler, which proved to be unsuccessful in remedying the situation. Massey was then immediately taken to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Upon transport to the hospital, Massey went into respiratory arrest, where CPR proved to be unsuccessful in reviving her. Court documents state that the Medical Examiner of Philadelphia pronounced the case of death as an acute exacerbation of asthma.
The estate of Massey filed a complaint for damages against the School District of Philadelphia, Principal Paulette Gaddy and Jelena Markovic, the teacher Massy had complained to. A second civil action suit was filed by the plaintiffs against Markovic and a number of other employees from the school. On Nov. 6, 2015, the two suits were consolidated.
As part of their complaint, the plaintiffs claimed that Massey was “wrongfully seized” under the Fourth Amendment as she was not allowed to leave the school to seek medical treatment. The defendants named in the case argued for summary judgment on this claim, pointing to the fact that the plaintiffs failed to prove this claim. Judge Quinones Alejandro granted the defendants’ motion for this argument.
The defendants also appealed for immunity stating that they were bound by the regulation of the school district and according to the appeal are not “constitutionally liable.” The plaintiffs in the case argued that there was sufficient evidence to support this claim, as a state-created danger was present as a result of the short staffing of the nurse and the regulation which prevented self-medication by students.
The court found favorable evidence in favor of the plaintiffs and that the school’s policies created a danger to the student and contributed to her death. Summary judgment for the defendants was denied by Judge Quinones Alejandro.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages in excess of $150,000 in addition to punitive damages in the case.