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Philadelphia Business Lawyers: Qualified Immunity

Teacher Denied Qualified Immunity After Allowing Child to Leave School With Stranger

A Philadelphia kindergarten teacher, Reginald Littlejohn, was denied qualified immunity in an action alleging that he violated the Fourteenth Amendment rights of a student. Littlejohn allowed the child to leave with a stranger and the stranger then sexually assaulted the child. The stranger was later identified as Christina Regusters. Littlejohn asked for Regusters’ identification as per district policy, however, no ID was produced, and Littlejohn allowed the child to leave with Regusters. Regusters was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 40 years to life for kidnapping and sexual assault. The parents of the child filed a civil suit against Littlejohn in his individual capacity. They did this under the state created danger theory exception to the Fourteenth Amendment’s general rule that the Due Process Clause imposes no liability on states to protect citizens from harm. The parents prevailed and Littlejohn appealed.

Judge Fuentes of the Third Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision that Littlejohn could be held liable to the student. Fuentes went on to explain that while qualified immunity is important for public officials, like teachers, to be shielded from civil cases, there are exceptions to this rule. Fuentes stated in his opinion, “Exposing a child to an obvious danger is the quintessential example of when qualified immunity should not shield a public official from suit” L.R. v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., No. 14-4640, 2016 U.S. App., 89 (3d Cir. 2016).

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