Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Twitter Admissibility — Third Party Tweet Admissible for Effect on Reader (to Explain Reader’s Subsequent Behavior), Not for Its Truth

R.L. v. Central York Sch. Dist., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58446 (M.D. Pa. May 3, 2016):


Our recitation of the procedural history of the instant matter is abbreviated, as it is recounted solely for the benefit of the parties, who are familiar with the matter.

R.L., a minor, by and through his parents, Michael Lordan and Jill Lordan, commenced this action by filing a Complaint on March 11, 2014, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his First Amendment free speech rights and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. (Doc. 1). The Complaint also includes [*2]  a state law claim for violation of R.L.'s free speech rights under the Pennsylvania Code.

On May 12, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, requesting dismissal of all counts of Plaintiffs' Complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. (Doc. 14). On October 15, 2014, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss. We dismissed the claims against Defendant Jeffrey Hamme, but gave leave to amend. We dismissed, without leave to amend, the claims against Defendants Hamme and Michael Snell in their official capacities. The motion was denied in all other respects. We gave leave to Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint consistent with our Opinion, but they chose to not do so within the permitted time frame.

On September 1, 2015, Plaintiffs and Defendants each filed a motion for summary judgment. (Docs. 49, 54). The motions have been fully briefed and statements of undisputed material facts have been filed and responded to. (Docs. 50, 52, 55, 61, 62, 66). Therefore, the motions are ripe for our review.



The following facts are undisputed by the parties: At the time of the incident at the center of this action, R.L. was a 15-year-old student in the ninth grade at Central York High School, ("the High School"), located in the Defendant Central York School District, ("the School District"). Defendant Michael Snell was at all relevant times the Superintendent of the School District. There are approximately 1,700 students and 200 staff members at the High School. (Doc. 52, ¶ 17).

On October 23, 2013, administrators at the High School received a bomb threat. (Id., ¶ 2). Specifically, a student had reported at 8:30 a.m. that morning that he had found a note which read, "there is a bomb in the school."1 (Id., ¶ 18). The High School administration immediately began investigating the threat and notified the Springettsbury Township Police of the threat, as well. (Id., ¶ 20). Approximately twenty (20) police officers [*5]  responded to the bomb threat that day. (Id., ¶ 21).

1   To be clear, it is undisputed by the parties that this initial morning note qualified as a bomb threat.

Students and staff of the High School were evacuated from the school building to the regular fire drill locations at approximately 9:15 a.m.; these fire drill locations were intended to be temporary as school administrators were sent to the school stadium to search it and determine whether it was safe for everyone to be moved there. (Id., ¶¶ 23-24). Additionally, the School District notified the school community and parents about the bomb threat and evacuation. (Id., ¶ 25). Gas lines at the school were disconnected as a precaution. (Id., ¶ 26).

The students were ultimately moved to the baseball field, a decision made by Superintendent Snell. (Id., ¶ 33). This change of procedure was due to the fact that another student had posted on the social networking website Twitter, in the form of a "tweet," that "the bomb is supposedly in the stadium."2 (Id., ¶¶ 32-33). The State Police Canine Unit arrived at 10:30 a.m.; based on the amount of time required for a complete and thorough search of the school, Superintendent Snell decided to cancel [*6]  school for the day. (Id., ¶ 34). The students, including R.L., were dismissed and sent home at approximately 11:30 a.m. (Id., ¶ 2).

2   Plaintiffs deny this "tweet" as immaterial hearsay. However, we do not find this evidence to qualify as hearsay. It is not being offered for truth of the matter asserted--that there was a bomb in the stadium--but instead to explain Defendant Snell's reaction and decision to move the students to the baseball field instead of the stadium. Regardless, the evidence of this tweet is not particularly material to our disposition of the pending motions.

The police did not find a bomb during their search, and concluded their search of the school building around 1:30 p.m. (Id., ¶ 38).

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