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WALLACE v. BATAVIA SCH. DIST. 101

November 15, 1994

HEATHER WALLACE, a minor by her mother and next friend Phyllis Wallace, Plaintiff,
v.
BATAVIA SCHOOL DISTRICT 101 and JAMES CLIFFE, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM T. HART

 At the time this litigation commenced, plaintiff Heather Wallace, a minor, had just completed her junior year at Batavia High School. Plaintiff, through her mother and next friend, Phyllis Wallace, alleges that defendant James Cliffe, a teacher at Batavia High, deprived plaintiff of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution when Cliffe attempted to forcibly eject her from his classroom on September 22, 1993. Batavia School District Number 101 has been named as a defendant for alleged failure to discipline and train Cliffe, thus depriving plaintiff of her constitutional rights. Plaintiff has also raised a state law claim of battery against both defendants. Defendants' motion for summary judgment is currently pending.

 Summary judgment is appropriate only where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Selan v. Kiley, 969 F.2d. 560, 564 (7th Cir. 1992). Summary judgment will be denied where there is a genuine issue of material fact such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the entire record must be reviewed, drawing all reasonable inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Cornfield by Lewis v. School Dist. No. 230, 991 F.2d 1316, 1320 (7th Cir. 1993). Factual disputes must be resolved in favor of the nonmovant. Eastman Kodak Co. v. Image Technical Services, Inc., 119 L. Ed. 2d 265, 112 S. Ct. 2072, 2077 (1992).

 The burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact rests with the movant. Jakubiec v. Cities Service Co., 844 F.2d 470, 473 (7th Cir. 1988). The nonmovant, however, must make a showing sufficient to establish any essential element for which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). The non-moving party cannot rest on the pleadings alone, but must identify specific facts to establish that there is a genuine triable issue. Cornfield, 991 F.2d at 1320. The party must do more than simply "show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). It is not sufficient to show evidence of purportedly disputed facts if those facts are not plausible in light of the entire record. See Covalt v. Carey Canada, Inc., 950 F.2d 481, 485 (7th Cir. 1991); Collins v. Associated Pathologists, Ltd., 844 F.2d 473, 476-77 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 852, 102 L. Ed. 2d 110, 109 S. Ct. 137 (1988).

 Resolving all factual disputes in favor of plaintiff, the non-movant, yields the following series of events. *fn1" Wallace was enrolled in James Cliffe's co-op class during the fall of 1993. On September 22, 1993, Wallace entered Cliffe's classroom and began to talk to her friends. Cliffe entered the classroom after the bell rang and told the students to continue working on an assignment; Cliffe then left the room. Wallace and another student, Kim Fairchild, became engaged in a shouting match. Cliffe reentered the classroom and told the girls to sit down. Wallace did so, but Fairchild began to walk toward Wallace and tried to hit her. Cliffe intervened and stood between the two girls. Cliffe told Wallace to leave the classroom.

 According to Wallace she was leaving slowly, but apparently not fast enough for Cliffe, who then reached over a desk and grabbed Wallace's left wrist and right elbow. In the process, Wallace tripped over a chair and a desk. Cliffe tugged at Wallace, telling her to "come on;" she refused to move for a short time. Cliffe then released Wallace's elbow and she left the room. Plaintiff went to the nurse's office where she was treated with icepacks for soreness to her wrist and elbow.

 Plaintiff alleges that defendants are liable pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983 for violating her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures and her Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force against her. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides in pertinent part:

 Defendants do not deny that their actions were conducted under color of state law. They dispute, however, whether their alleged conduct deprived plaintiff of any right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution. Not every state law tort becomes a federally cognizable constitutional tort under § 1983 simply because it was committed by a state actor. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 146, 61 L. Ed. 2d 433, 99 S. Ct. 2689 (1979), Wise v. Pea Ridge School Dist., 855 F.2d 560, 565 (8th Cir. 1988). Consequently, the initial inquiry must be whether the alleged actions, if taken as true, deprived plaintiff of her Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment rights.

 Despite plaintiff's attempts to characterize the classroom incident as a seizure in which excessive force was used, her Fourth Amendment claim has no merit. Excessive force claims brought under § 1983 are not governed by a single generic standard. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94, 104 L. Ed. 2d 443, 109 S. Ct. 1865 (1989). Instead, the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed by the challenged application of force must be identified. Id. The Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizures in excessive force cases applies only where a law enforcement officer engages in excessive force during the course of an arrest. Id. at 394-95 & n.10. Plaintiff's reliance on New Jersey v. T. L. 0., 469 U.S. 325, 83 L. Ed. 2d 720, 105 S. Ct. 733 (1985), is misplaced because that case examines the rights of students in conjunction with searches conducted by school officials on school grounds. The application of the Fourth Amendment in that context does not extend Fourth Amendment protection to all cases involving school officials acting under the color of state law. Although plaintiff was momentarily seized, this kind of de minimus seizure does not rise to the level of a Fourth Amendment violation. *fn2"

 Plaintiff also argues that her substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment have been violated. Plaintiff relies only on police brutality cases to substantiate her claim, ignoring the more relevant case law on corporal punishment. A claim of excessive force by a school official is properly considered under the line of cases addressing school corporal punishment. See Wise v. Pea Ridge School Dist., 855 F.2d 560 (8th Cir. 1988); Metzger by and Through Metzger v. Osbeck, 841 F.2d 518 (3rd Cir. 1988); Hall v. Tawney, 621 F.2d 607 (4th Cir. 1980). At the time Cliffe grabbed Wallace, he was attempting to avert a fight between two students. His use of physical force to guide a student away from a potentially dangerous situation is governed by the disciplinary code of the school. *fn3"

 Neither plaintiff nor defendants adequately address the standard to be applied in corporal punishment cases. While school corporal punishment implicates a constitutionally protected liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment, it is not per se unconstitutional. Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 672, 51 L. Ed. 2d 711, 97 S. Ct. 1401 (1977). Instead, a disciplinary action which is arbitrary, capricious, and wholly unrelated to the legitimate state goal of maintaining an atmosphere conducive to learning may violate the liberty interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Fee v. Herndon, 900 F.2d 804, 808 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 908, 112 L. Ed. 2d 233, 111 S. Ct. 279 (1990). The Ingraham Court specifically declined to address the circumstances in which school corporal punishment violates substantive due process rights, 430 U.S. at 659 n.12, but circuit courts have subsequently held that substantive due process is violated only where the punishment inflicted was so "grossly excessive as to be shocking to the conscience." Garcia by Garcia v. Miera, 817 F.2d 650, 655 (10th Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 959, 99 L. Ed. 2d 421, 108 S. Ct. 1220 (1988).

 The Seventh Circuit has not set forth a test for evaluating substantive due process claims in corporal punishment cases. See Thrasher, 732 F. Supp. at 970. The majority of the circuits that have decided the issue tend to follow the standard first articulated by the Fourth Circuit ...


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