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Remer v. Burlington Area School Dist.

April 16, 2002

SANDRA REMER, PARENT OF A MINOR SON, M.R., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BURLINGTON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, LARRY ANDERSON, WILLIAM C. CAMPBELL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 99 C 209--J.P. Stadtmueller, Chief Judge.

Before Easterbrook, Ripple and Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ripple, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JANUARY 24, 2002

Sandra Remer brought this action on behalf of her son, M.R., claiming that his expulsion from school had violated his procedural and substantive due process rights. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the action. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

BACKGROUND

A. Facts

In November 1998, school and law enforcement officials in Burlington, Wisconsin, learned from a confidential informant that five high school students were planning to enter Burlington High School with guns and shoot several students and school officials. M.R., a minor, was one of the students implicated in the conspiracy. Ms. Remer is M.R.'s mother. Three of the students were detained and prosecuted, but M.R. and another were not. The statements of the conspirators indicated that M.R. had withdrawn from the conspiracy.

Although M.R. was not criminally prosecuted, the school district suspended him. The suspension was to last until December 8, 1998. The superintendent of the Burlington Area School District notified M.R., by letter dated November 24, 1998, that the district would hold a hearing on school district property on December 1, 1998, to determine whether he should be expelled for his participation in the conspiracy. The school district also obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) to keep M.R. from school district property "for as long as [M.R. was] suspended and for the length of any future expulsion." R.8, Ex.I, at 2. A hearing concerning the TRO was set for November 30, but, when the court was not able to hold the hearing on that date, M.R. and the school district agreed that the TRO "shall be extended and remain in force" until a hearing could be held. R.8, Ex.J. A court thereafter extended the TRO in terms identical to those of the original TRO, "for as long as [M.R. was] suspended and for the length of any future expulsion." R.8, Ex.K, at 2.

On December 1, 1998, the day of the expulsion hearing, the district's counsel faxed counsel for M.R. a message to reassure counsel for M.R. that it would be appropriate for M.R. to attend the expulsion hearing notwithstanding the TRO restricting M.R. from school district property. The message stated that the TRO would remain in force, but that "because we want the hearing to be in an appropriate and comfortable setting for all parties, including your client, we want to make it clear that we have invited your client to the hearing tonight and that it is appropriate for him to attend." R.8, Ex.L. The message also stated that it was the district's position that M.R.'s attendance would not violate the TRO because, according to the message, the TRO would expire the night of the expulsion hearing. By its terms, however, the TRO was to last for the length of M.R.'s suspension, which was to last until December 8--one week after the expulsion hearing. M.R. did not attend the hearing, which was held as scheduled on December 1.

At the school board hearing, Principal Jose Martinez, who had been informed by the police that he was an intended target of the conspiracy, recommended that M.R. be expelled and submitted the evidence in his possession. This evidence included a copy of the delinquency petition filed by the District Attorney's office against one of M.R.'s co-conspirators and Principal Martinez's verbal summary of information that the police had shared with him after hearing from the confidential informant and obtaining the confessions of all five co-conspirators. Principal Martinez informed the school board that M.R. had withdrawn from the plan, but as the minutes of the hearing indicate "[i]t was also acknowledged that [M.R.] after backing out of the plot did not communicate with school or police officials to inform them of the planned events." R.8, Ex.N, at 2. Even though Principal Martinez had information that the District Attorney was not going to prosecute M.R., he did not so inform the school board. After deliberating, the school board voted to expel M.R. from the schools of the district from December 1, 1998, to April 26, 2003. The practicaleffect of expelling M.R. until 2003 was to preclude permanently M.R.'s education in the schools of the district.

B. District Court Proceedings

Ms. Remer sued the Burlington Area School District and several members of the Burlington School Board, claiming that the defendants had violated M.R.'s procedural and substantive due process rights in expelling M.R. from the district's schools. The district court granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment, holding that the defen dants had afforded M.R. a reasonable opportunity to be heard and that the expulsion was not unreasonable. The district court further ...


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