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Brett, N. v. Community Unit School District No. 303

February 18, 2009

BRETT, N., A MINOR, BY SHELDON NAGELBERG, HIS FATHER AND NEXT BEST FRIEND, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 303, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF DISTRICT 303, KATHLEEN T. HEWELL, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, JAMES GAFFNEY, JR., IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, SCOTT NOWLING, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, JAMES CHIMENTI, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, ROBERT LINDAHL, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, LORI LINKIMER, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, KARLA RAY, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DONALD SCHLOMANN, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, RONALD KNAPIK, IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, JOHN KNEWITZ, IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, LISA HAYMOND, IN HER OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND SHAWN BURKE, IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Sheldon B. Nagelberg, brought suit in Illinois state court on behalf of his son, Brett N. ("Brett"), against defendants Community School District No. 303 ("District 303"), the Board of Education of District 303 (the "Board"), in their individual capacities, Kathleen T. Hewell, James Gaffney, Jr., Scott Nowling, James Chimenti, Robert Lindahl, Lori Linkimer, Karla Ray, Donald Schlomann, and in their official and individual capacities, Ronald Knapik, John Baird, John Knewitz, Lisa Haymond, and Shawn Burke, seeking declaratory judgment, administrative review, and a petition for writ of certiorari. Defendants removed the case to this court based on federal question jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

In his first amended complaint plaintiff alleges that enforcement of the Board's disciplinary policy prohibiting self-defense violated Brett's constitutional right to bodily integrity as implied within the Second Amendment and under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I) and his protected "Inherent and Inalienable Rights" as provided in Article I of the Illinois Constitution (Count II). The complaint includes claims for declaratory judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 57 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201 (Count III); administrative review (Count IV); and petition for writ of certiorari (Count V). Defendants have moved to dismiss Count I through IV of the first amended complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and to dismiss District 303 as a defendant from the entire action. Plaintiff has voluntarily withdrawn Count IV of the amended complaint. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants defendants' motion.

FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff is a student at District 303's St. Charles East High School. On December 20, 2007, while plaintiff was at school, another student physically attacked him and the two engaged in a fistfight. Plaintiff claims that the attack was unprovoked and he fought in self-defense. District 303 staff broke up the fight. Later that day, District 303 and Board staff met and decided to suspend plaintiff from school for five days for violating Section 7:190 of the Board's disciplinary policy. The relevant portion of Section 7:190 provides: "Any action a student takes to inflict physical contact may be considered fighting - including, but not limited to, self-defense."

Plaintiff appealed the suspension process and a Board-appointed officer conducted a fact-finding hearing on March 4, 2008. At the hearing, plaintiff and a student who witnessed the incident testified on plaintiff's behalf. The student who initiated the fight did not attend the hearing. Defendant Shawn Burke, a Dean of Students, testified that he arrived at scene of the incident after the fight was over and school officials were separating the students. He also testified that in deciding whether to suspend plaintiff, it was immaterial whether plaintiff was protecting himself because the Board's policy does not recognize self-defense. Plaintiff's counsel raised numerous concerns about the fairness and constitutionality of Section 7:190 and requested that plaintiff's suspension be expunged from his record.

After the hearing, plaintiff wrote a letter requesting permission to address the Board when it discussed and voted on the matter. Plaintiff's request was never answered. On April 3, 2008, plaintiff received notification that the Board had met on April 1, 2008, and voted to uphold plaintiff's suspension.

DISCUSSION

Legal Standard

In analyzing the motion, the court must accept the well-pleaded allegations as true, and view those allegations in the light most favorable to plaintiff. McMillan v. Collection Prof'ls, 455 F.3d 754, 758 (7th Cir. 2006). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, . . . a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of the cause of action will not do . . .." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, __ U.S. __, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed. 2d 929 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 1965.

1. Equal Protection Claim

A. Standing

As a preliminary matter, defendants argue that plaintiff does not have standing to bring his equal protection and due process claims. Generally, a plaintiff has standing when the plaintiff suffers an injury-in-fact that is able to be redressed by the courts. See Kochert v. Greater Lafayette Health Services, Inc., 463 F.3d 710, 714 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing U.S. Gypsum Co. v. Indiana Gas Co., Inc., 350 F.3d 623, 627 (7th Cir.2003)). More specifically, standing requires that, "(1) the party must personally have suffered an actual or threatened injury caused by the defendant's allegedly illegal conduct, (2) the injury must be fairly traceable to the defendant's challenged conduct, and (3) the injury must be one that is likely to be redressed through a favorable decision." Sanner v. Bd. of Trade of City of Chicago, 62 F.3d 918, 922 (7th Cir.1995) (quoting Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 454 U.S. 464, 472, 102 S.Ct. 752, 70 L.Ed. 2d 700 (1982)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Defendants' theory is that for plaintiff to have standing he must allege not only that he acted in self-defense, but also that the district made a finding that he acted in self-defense and punished him for this pursuant to the policy. Under this theory, no student would ever have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the policy because the board admittedly never considers whether a student fought in self-defense in making their rulings. Here, plaintiff's constitutional claims satisfy the legal requisites for standing. Plaintiff alleges that his suspension must be overturned because he suffered an injury -- suspension from school -- caused ...


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