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Ross v. Board of Education Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 8, 2015

GEORGE ANDREW ROSS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION GREATER EGG HARBOR REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

JERRY C. GOLDHAGEN, CENTRAL PARK EAST, LINWOOD, NJ, On behalf of plaintiffs.

TIMOTHY R. BIEG, MADDEN & MADDEN, HADDONFIELD, NJ, On behalf of defendants Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, Michael Wilbraham, and Ernest Rockelman.

JOHN J. BANNAN, REYNOLDS & HORN, P.C., MARLTON, NJ, On behalf of defendants Galloway Township Police Department and Kevin Jorgensen.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is the motion of defendants Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, Michael Wilbraham, and Ernest Rockelman, and the motion of defendants Galloway Township Police Department and Kevin Jorgensen for summary judgment in their favor on plaintiffs' claims arising out of an altercation between high school students. For the reasons expressed below, defendants' motions will be granted.

BACKGROUND

On March 30, 2009, plaintiff, George Andrew Ross II, was a sophomore at Absegami High School in Galloway Township, New Jersey. At around 7:00 am that morning, defendant Donald Pilgrim, a senior at Absegami, confronted plaintiff in the high school's 200 hallway stairwell regarding plaintiff's then-girlfriend, Briana Forbey.[1] According to plaintiff, Donald spoke "fighting words" to plaintiff because he wanted to "have" Briana. Plaintiff indicated that he did not want to fight, but plaintiff and Donald began to argue, and they eventually started to tussle. Defendant Earnest Rockelman, an Absegami teacher, heard the altercation from the upstairs hallway and came running down to break up the fight. Rockelman yelled for another teacher in the hallway to alert the office, which she did by using her classroom's intercom system. Rockelman managed to restrain Donald in a bear-hug posture until defendant Michael Wilbraham, one of the school's vice-principals, came from the office.

Before Wilbraham arrived, plaintiff, uninjured at that time, left the 200 hallway and proceeded to the 100 hallway, [2] where he encountered Donald's sisters, defendants Diamond and Dynasty Pilgrim. The girls began to taunt plaintiff, and they followed plaintiff through the hallway as he walked back toward the 200 hallway where he had his first class. The girls started to throw punches at plaintiff, and then Donald, who had broken free from Vice-Principal Wilbraham's grip, came on the scene and blindsided plaintiff. Donald hit plaintiff in the face and the three Pilgrim siblings kicked him while he was lying on the ground. Plaintiff's friend, Gilbert Langford, who had been walking with plaintiff down the hall from the first incident, pulled Donald off plaintiff, and school staff members helped break up the fight.[3] Plaintiff walked away and was escorted by a janitor to the school nurse. Plaintiff's father picked up plaintiff from school and took him to the hospital. Plaintiff suffered from a fractured eye socket, bumps and bruises to his face and body, and he received six stitches.

When the first altercation occurred, school resource police officer, defendant Kevin Jorgensen, a patrolman for the Galloway Police Department, received a radio call that there was a fight in the 200 hallway near the B corridor. As soon as he arrived there, at the same time as Wilbraham, he witnessed Rockelman standing chest-to-chest with Donald, and then received a call about another altercation in the 100 hallway, which was presumably plaintiff's interaction with the Pilgrim sisters. Jorgensen immediately turned to go to the 100 hallway. When he arrived to the scene of the second incident, it had already been broken up. Just prior to Jorgensen coming to that part of the 100 hallway, Donald had broken free from Wilbraham, who had been escorting Donald down the 200 hallway to the office, and hit plaintiff who was returning to the 200 hallway along with the Pilgrim sisters. Wilbraham, who yelled after Donald and started to run after him, came to the scene, which was breaking up, and took Donald to his office.

As a result of the altercations, the Pilgrim siblings were charged by Officer Jorgensen and the school, through Wilbraham, with aggravated assault and harassment. They pleaded guilty and were ordered to pay plaintiff restitution. The school, through Wilbraham, charged plaintiff with simple assault and disorderly conduct. The school chose not to pursue those charges, and they were dismissed.[4] Plaintiff, along with everyone else involved in the altercation, including the Pilgrim siblings, Gilbert, Briana, and another student, Derek, were suspended from school. Plaintiff served 9 days of out-of-school suspension, and during that time he was not permitted to participate in any extracurricular activities, including not attending the prom.[5]

Plaintiff, through his parents, filed suit against Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, Wilbraham, Rockelman, the Galloway Township Police Department, and Jorgensen, as well as the three Pilgrim siblings and Briana Forbey, who have not appeared in the matter. Plaintiffs have asserted numerous claims against the defendants alleging, in a nutshell, that defendants failed to properly protect him from the altercations, and defendants imposed unjustified charges and discipline on him. The appearing defendants have all moved for summary judgment in their favor. Plaintiffs have opposed their motions.

DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

Defendants removed this action from New Jersey state court to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. This Court has jurisdiction over plaintiffs' federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction ...


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