A defamation case concerning allegedly false sexual assault claims among Seneca Valley Intermediate High School students was recently dismissed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark R. Hornak ruled on the case. The Seneca Valley School District filed the motion for failure to state a claim.
Michael Flood Jr. and Alecia Flood, along with minor T.F., filed the lawsuit against minor defendants K.S., C.S., E.S. and H.R., along with each of their parents for defamation. The supposed defamatory statements stem from two of the minor defendants falsely accusing T.F. of sexual assault.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark R. Hornak
The Seneca Valley School District was also sued as the plaintiffs alleged it violated the 14th Amendment when it allegedly discriminated against T.F. in applying its student discipline policies and its regulations against sexual harassment. Ultimately, the plaintiffs took issue with the district punishing T.F. because of the accusations, but not punishing the defendants for making false accusations.
The court explained why it granted the motion to dismiss.
“The amended complaint fails to plead that a final policymaker took any action toward T.F. that could represent official policy attributable to the school district,” said the court. “The court also concludes that the amended complaint fails to plead that any final policymaker of the school district had knowledge or constructive knowledge of prior events of sexual misconduct such that any final policymaker could have been ‘deliberately indifferent’ to the need for additional safeguards against disparate applications of school district policy.”
The court pointed out that the Seneca Valley principal and the athletic director are not final policymakers as it relates to this case. It also noted that the remaining claims would be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
The issues date back to 2017 when a teacher heard that K.S. told other students T.F. assaulted her at a pool over the summer. Both students worked at Zelienople Community Pool in Butler County.
K.S. was then called to the guidance counselor’s office, and she reiterated her sexual assault claims against T.F. The guidance counselor relayed the complaints to Childline, a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania program where child abuse and neglect can be reported.
A forensic interviewer also spoke with K.S., and she insisted that T.F. sexually assaulted her.
T.F. was charged with indecent assault and two counts of harassment. K.S. then said T.F. made her “uncomfortable” in class.
The principal switched T.F.’s class schedule, and T.F. underwent a consent decree. He didn’t plead guilty to the accusations but he did agree to a six-month probation under the supervision of the Butler County Juvenile Probation Department.
Then, in March 2018, C.S. asked T.F. to hang out with her and her friends. T.F. said he went to C.S.’s home, and saw her, E.S., and H.R. drinking alcohol.
T.F. said he didn’t drink any alcohol and didn’t stay long. Three days later, other students at the school heard K.S. and C.S. gearing up to make a false statement that C.S. would give to the guidance counselor, stating that T.S. came to her home uninvited and sexually assaulted her.
C.S., E.S. and H.R. spoke with the Butler County Alliance for Children. C.S., E.S. and H.R. then told other students about their allegations.
T.F. was then charged with indecent assault, forcible compulsion, criminal trespass and simple assault on April 9, 2018. The next day, police pulled T.F. from class and put shackles around his leg and wrist. He was released on house arrest with an ankle monitor on April 12, 2018, and he was no longer allowed to play baseball.
The Floods started to look into the charges and E.S. and H.R. confessed they lied about the alleged assault. The charges against T.F. were dismissed, and K.S., C.S., E.S. and H.R. were not punished.
The plaintiffs ultimately filed a lawsuit.