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Coronado v. Valley View Public School District 365-U

August 12, 2008

ROGER CORONADO, JR., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
VALLEY VIEW PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT 365-U, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 08 C 1254-John W. Darrah, Judge.

Per curiam.

ARGUED JULY 8, 2008

Before BAUER, COFFEY and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

Roger Coronado, Jr., a fifteen-year-old student at Bolingbrook High School, was involved in a confrontation between rival gangs in the school cafeteria-for which he received a two-semester expulsion. Acting through his next friend, Shelley Gilbert, Coronado sued the school district, a police officer, and various school officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming, as relevant here, that his expulsion hearing deprived him of procedural due process. Coronado also sought a preliminary injunction that would lift the expulsion until a second hearing with "Due Process safeguards" could take place. The district court denied the motion, however, reasoning that Coronado had failed to demonstrate a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits, and that the proposed injunction would harm the public interest. This interlocu-tory appeal followed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1). We affirm.

I.

The following facts are undisputed. During the lunch hour on February 4, 2008, several boys-some of them Latin Kings-sat down at Coronado's table in the school cafeteria. Within a few minutes, a member of a second gang, the Gangster Disciples, approached the table and began to taunt the group. The other boys at Coronado's table rose to confront their rival, which attracted additional Gangster Disciples. Both sides started shouting and making gang signs. Coronado stood up as well. But before the situation could escalate further, the bell rang and the group dispersed at the urging of a security guard. Shortly thereafter Timothy Gavin, a second security guard in the cafeteria, filed an incident report in which he wrote, "Roger was seen by myself posturing with a large group in the cafeteria who were flashing gang signs at a group of Gangster Disciples." Gavin also wrote up the other 12 to 14 students involved in the confrontation.

A few days later Coronado was told to report to the school's police substation, where he met Officer Alan Hampton. Officer Hampton showed Coronado the incident report, which Coronado signed below this acknowledgment: "The above offenses have been explained to me and I have had the opportunity to respond to them; my signature shall not be taken as an admission of guilty [sic] of the offense(s) alleged." At Officer Hampton's invitation, Coronado telephoned his father to let him know that he was in trouble. Officer Hampton also demanded that Coronado complete a "Memorandum of Incident" describing the events in the cafeteria. Coronado's signed statement reads, "I just got up and try to see if my friends were goin [sic] to need help or something because there were a lot of them other guys on the there [sic] side so I got up to help." That document also bears the undated signatures of Coronado's parents underneath the representation that they had "seen this statement." On the basis of this confession, Coronado was suspended for ten days while the school considered expulsion.

Approximately a week later, Coronado's father received a letter from Hearing Officer Steven Prodehl explaining that the school administration had charged Coronado with "Subversive Organizations," had recommended expulsion, and had appointed Prodehl to review the matter. Prodehl "requested" that Coronado and his parents attend a hearing on February 19, 2008, at 11:00 a.m., to discuss Coronado's "behavior and said expulsion." The letter described the nature of the hearing as well:

You, and your child, will be given the opportunity to review the charges made against your child. You may present evidence at the Hearing, and have counsel present, if you desire. Information germane to the question of expulsion, which you may wish to present is requested and will be taken into consideration.

Coronado and his parents attended the expulsion hearing, as did Prodehl and Dean Rob Lathrope. Gavin and Officer Hampton did not appear. There is no record of the hearing other than Prodehl's written summary of the proceedings. According to that document, Coronado was charged with a second offense-"Fighting/Mob Action"-at the hearing. And, Prodehl writes, Coronado admitted to both charges: "Roger stated that he did walk over and lent support to his table, some of whom he knows are Latin Kings. . . . Roger stated that he should have acted differently and what he did was very stupid, especially when he is not that good of friends with any of them." The summary also recounts that Coronado's father remarked, in English, that he was "very surprised at his son" and that he and his wife support the school's efforts to prevent gang violence but believed that Coronado had just "got caught up in the moment and did something stupid." Additionally, Coronado's father related that his son had never been in trouble before, that the parents hope that he will attend college, and that the entire family is involved in coaching and playing team sports. Finally, Coronado's father asked that the school authorities "look at his son as an individual, find that he is a good kid and not expel him." Following the hearing, Prodehl proposed to the Board of Education a two-semester expulsion, which would encompass the remainder of the spring semester of 2008 (which has now ended) and the fall semester of 2008. On or around February 25, 2008, Coronado received notice that the Board had adopted Prodehl's recommendation; he was not to return to school until 2009.

Coronado responded by filing in the district court a sprawling, fifteen-count complaint, naming as defendants the school district, Prodehl, Gavin, and an assistant principal at the high school. At the same time Coronado moved for a preliminary injunction that would lift the expulsion until a second hearing "with Due Process safeguards" could take place. As relevant to his request for a preliminary injunction, Coronado claims that his expulsion violated his right to due process because the school district did not provide his parents with a Spanish-language interpreter, or allow him to cross-examine Gavin and Officer Hampton, or create a contemporaneous record of the hearing before Prodehl. The district court ordered an evidentiary hearing on the motion.

On March 12, 2008, Coronado, Coronado's parents, Prodehl, Gavin, and Officer Hampton, among others, testified about the events leading up to Coronado's expulsion. Coronado testified that, contrary to his written statement and Prodehl's summary of the expulsion hearing, he did not support or encourage anyone in the school cafeteria that day. According to Coronado, Gavin had "flat-out lie[d]" about his role in the incident, Hampton had intimidated him into falsely confessing, and Prodehl had misrepresented in his written summary that he admitted a role in the cafeteria confrontation. Gavin, Hampton and Prodehl, on the other hand, con-firmed the accuracy of their earlier reports and denied any misrepresentation or intimidation. Notably, Coronado and his parents acknowledged that they had received advance notice of the expulsion hearing and the charge of "Subversive Organizations." Coronado, moreover, conceded that he was offered an opportunity to respond to the charges and rebut the evidence presented by school officials, but he declined. The parties agree that Coronado learned of the second charge, "Fighting/Mob Action," at the hearing. Yet Coronado has never maintained that he was surprised by the second charge or that he asked for more time so that he could respond more fully to the new charge.

Coronado also testified that his father had called the school prior to the hearing to request a translator "[b]ut he left a voicemail and nobody called back." According to Coronado, his father made the request at the hearing as well and Prodehl denied the accommodation. Coronado's father also testified, through an interpreter, that "on the way in he asked the official if he could have an interpreter because he didn't exactly understand" the proceedings but "was told that he wouldn't need an interpreter" because his son was present. Prodehl, meanwhile, testified that he asked the parents at the outset of the hearing if they needed an interpreter and was told no.

At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, James Mitchem, the principal at Bolingbrook High School, testified that the proposed injunction would have a pernicious effect on his staff ...


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