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A federal judge has dismissed a civil rights suit brought by a Catholic high school teacher accused of a sexual assault by a female student who claims his privacy was invaded by a Chester County, Pa., detective who wrote a letter to the school’s principal even after he decided not to file any criminal charges. “However unfortunate disclosure may be to any of the persons involved, a criminal investigation and its results are matters in which the public, and particularly the school principal here, had a genuine interest, and the subject of such an investigation cannot properly claim a protected federal privacy interest with respect to it,” U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III wrote in Manion v. Sarcione. The plaintiff, John Manion, is a teacher at Bishop Shanahan in Downingtown, Pa., who claims that a student falsely accused him of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault. The student, who is not named in court papers, filed a complaint with the Chester County detectives, a division of the county’s district attorney’s office. Det. Joseph Daniels conducted an investigation which became known to the school principal, faculty and student body. In June 2000, Daniels wrote a letter to the school’s principal that said he had determined that Manion’s conduct was “improper” and that the student’s description of the event was “credible.” The letter went on to say that Daniels had “also concluded that Manion’s conduct, while inappropriate, did not meet the requirements for a criminal charge of simple assault or related sexual offense.” In his suit, Manion claimed the letter defamed him and invaded his privacy. Under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, he claimed that Daniels violated his 14th Amendment rights to procedural and substantive due process. Bartle found that Section 1983 “does not create any substantive rights,” but instead “simply provides a remedy for vindicating rights established under the Constitution or laws of the United States.” And while the 14th Amendment protects against deprivation of “life, liberty and property,” Bartle found that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that damage to reputation, standing alone, is not constitutionally protected. “Damage to reputation, unaccompanied by some tangible loss such as termination of employment, does not constitute a loss of liberty or property,” Bartle wrote. Manion argued that Pennsylvania’s constitution specifically protects reputation. But Bartle found that the 14th Amendment “only protects against deprivation of life, liberty and property. It makes no mention of reputation.” As a result, Bartle said, “even with the elevated protection that reputation seems to be afforded in this Commonwealth, this favored status in and of itself does not secure reputation alone under the 14th Amendment.” Bartle noted that the Pennsylvania constitution also declares that citizens have the right of “pursuing their own happiness.” “If plaintiff were correct that there is a federal guarantee for reputation simply because it is embedded in the Pennsylvania constitution, then it would seem that the violation of the right to pursue happiness would also give rise to a claim under Section 1983. We strongly doubt that the Supreme Court would so hold,” Bartle wrote. Bartle found it significant that Manion does not allege that he was fired from his job as a result of the letter, but only that he has suffered a loss of income and earning capacity. And while Manion claims that Daniels “intended” to interfere with and disrupt his employment, Bartle found that “intent to cause harm and causing harm are two different things.” Manion’s claim failed, Bartle said, because the Constitution does not protect against “possible loss of future employment opportunities.” Bartle also rejected Manion’s claim that the letter invaded his privacy. The letter, Bartle said, “simply reports to the school principal [Daniels'] findings and conclusions about the investigation he had conducted.” Finally, Bartle rejected Manion’s claim that the district attorney’s office was liable for its failure to train the detective. “Since plaintiff has not alleged facts sufficient to establish that Daniels violated his constitutional right to due process, there is no viable claim against the District Attorney on this ground,” Bartle wrote.

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