CIVIL RIGHTS-IMMUNITY-QUALIFIED IMMUNITY-CLEARLY ESTABLISHED RIGHT-SCHOOL SWIMMING ASPHYXIATION

November 23rd, 2015 by Rieders Travis in Civil Rights

This action stems from the death of a 15-year-old from a rare form of asphyxiation shortly after participation in a mandatory swimming class run by his physical education teacher.  The estate sued the school district, claiming a violation of civil rights.  The school district moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, which the district court denied.  The conduct of the teacher and the school did not violate a clearly established constitutional right, and hence summary judgment should have been granted.  To equate intentional infliction of painful corporal punishment or the sexual molestation of a student, with a student-athlete’s unfortunate accident during wrestling practice or a rare instance of delay drowning after swim class is a bridge too far.  The case law does not inform a reasonable gym teacher that the failure to assess a student who briefly goes underwater for the possibility of dry drowning violated the student’s constitutional right to bodily integrity free from unwarranted intrusions by the state.  Spady v. Bethlehem Area School District, 800 F.3d 633 (3rd Cir. 2015).