Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Johnson v. Elk Lake School District case brief

Johnson v. Elk Lake School District case brief summary
283 F.3d 138 (3d Cir. 2002)

Plaintiff (former) student asserted 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 and tort claims, seeking damages from defendants counselor, and--(collectively, the administration)--school district, board, and superintendent. She appealed the United States District Court For the Middle District of Pennsylvania's grant of summary judgment for the administration, and denial of new trial.

The student asserted that the administration knew or should have known of the counselor's propensity for sexual abuse, but was deliberately indifferent. A jury returned a verdict in the counselor's favor.


  • The appellate court concluded that the student failed to adduce any credible evidence showing that the counselor's supervisors knew or should have known of any danger of abuse when they could have acted to prevent the injuries. 
  • Regarding denial of the motion for a new trial, it found no abuse of discretion in the district court's declining to grant a mistrial in response to the counselor's attorney's remarks that his client was not arrested. 
  • The principal question arising from denial of the motion was whether the district court abused its discretion in refusing to admit the testimony of a former co-worker of the counselor regarding a bizarre incident. 
  • The student sought to present this testimony as evidence of the counselor's propensity for sexual abuse under Fed. R. Evid. 415. 
  • The appellate court concluded there was no abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony where the evidence of the past act was equivocal and it differed from the charged act in important ways.

The court affirmed the order granting summary judgment to the administration and its order denying the student's motion for a new trial.

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