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Briggs v. State

June 28, 2001

STEPHEN BRIGGS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THE STATE OF ILLINOIS; GEORGE RYAN, GOVERNOR; AND JESS MCDONALD, DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 99MR285 Honorable Thomas R. Appleton, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook

Not Released For Publication

STEPHEN BRIGGS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THE STATE OF ILLINOIS; GEORGE RYAN, GOVERNOR; AND JESS MCDONALD, DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.

Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 99MR285 Honorable Thomas R. Appleton, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook

In April 1998, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) indicated a report of child abuse against plaintiff, Stephen Briggs, a first-grade teacher of children with behavioral disorders, arising from an incident with one of his students. In October 1998, DCFS denied plaintiff's request to expunge the indicated report. Plaintiff requested a full hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), which DCFS conducted in February 1999. On June 15, 1999, the ALJ recommended that the Director of DCFS (Director) deny plaintiff's request for expungement of the indicated report. On June 23, 1999, the Director denied plaintiff's request. In July 1999, plaintiff filed a complaint for judicial review of that decision. In June 2000, the circuit court entered an order reversing the Director's decision.

 Defendants appealed, arguing the Director's decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence or contrary to law. Plaintiff argues the Director's decision that plaintiff caused bruises and scratch marks to C.M. was not supported by the testimony of any witness and the bruises and scratch marks did not constitute abuse. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In March 1998, C.M., a six-year-old boy, was a student in plaintiff's class for behaviorally disordered students at Harvard Park School in Springfield, Illinois. On March 10, 1998, C.M. punched another student during class. Plaintiff intervened and took C.M. to another room, the "Quiet Room." He testified that he placed C.M. in a "basket hold" by grasping the child's hands from behind and then crossing them over his abdomen after C.M. punched another child.

Plaintiff testified that he released C.M. to escort him to the Quiet Room. However, plaintiff restrained him again on the way to the room, by placing one of his hands on C.M.'s shoulder at the base of his neck, while placing his other hand on C.M.'s arm. Becky Gordon, the teaching assistant in plaintiff's classroom, stated that she observed plaintiff with his hand on the back of the child's neck when he took him to the Quiet Room. She could not say whether it was in a forceful way or not. Drucilla Brooks, a teacher at the school, stated that "I think he was leading him down the hall by his arm[.] I really can't remember[.]"

Plaintiff testified that once in the room, he placed his finger and thumb on C.M.'s jawbone so they would look face-to-face. When plaintiff released him, C.M. jumped at him and called plaintiff vulgar names. Plaintiff left C.M. with Gordon so that he could accompany the other children to the art room. C.M. had calmed down when he returned. Plaintiff then placed one hand on each of C.M.'s shoulders and moved him sideways three times to show him what it felt like to be pushed. Plaintiff then returned to his classroom. Plaintiff testified that he raised his voice during the incident, but he denied pushing the child or grabbing him by the neck.

Gordon stated that when she arrived at the Quiet Room 5 to 10 seconds after plaintiff did, plaintiff's hands were around C.M.'s throat, and plaintiff was shouting at C.M. from close range and asking him how he liked having someone "in his face." Plaintiff left the room, and C.M. calmed down. Plaintiff then returned to the room and began to push C.M. in the chest. Plaintiff was shouting at C.M. at the time. She noticed that C.M. had red marks on his neck, two on the front and at least one on the back of his neck, approximately the size of a quarter. Gordon then left the room and joined the children in the art room. After the children settled down, she went to relate the incident to the principal. Gordon returned to the art room, and C.M. arrived later.

Two teachers who had C.M. in their respective classes later that afternoon did not notice any redness, scratches, or marks on any part of C.M.'s neck, and C.M. did not mention that his neck hurt to either teacher. Neither teacher recalled looking at C.M.'s neck for any type of injury.

Linda Langheim worked in C.M.'s after-school program and stated that she had observed C.M. try to choke his brother on the afternoon of the incident and she saw C.M.'s brother try to push him. She separated the boys and at that time noticed the marks on C.M.'s neck and asked C.M. about the marks. C.M. responded that plaintiff had made the marks and not his brother. She stated that she did not see C.M.'s brother at any point have his hands on C.M.'s neck. Langheim stated that she did not remember seeing any scratches or marks ...


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