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Michelle Piekosz-Murphy and v. Board of Education of Community

March 12, 2012

MICHELLE PIEKOSZ-MURPHY AND N.M., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 230, AMOS ALONZO STAGG HIGH SCHOOL, JAMES GAY, ERIC OLSEN, AND ROBERT FABRIZIO, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow

OPINION AND ORDER

N.M., by and through his mother, Michelle Piekosz-Murphy, filed a three count complaint alleging that his high school, the school district, and school administrators violated his rights under the United States Constitution and the Illinois Constitution by disciplining him for attending a party where alcohol was being consumed by minors. Count I requests a preliminary injunction that would enjoin defendants from disciplining N.M. Count II is a request for a writ ofcommon law certiorari for review of defendants' decision. Count III asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants have filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on all counts, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the following reasons, the motion [#11] will be granted as to the federal claims and the case will be remanded to the Illinois courts for determination of the state law claims.*fn1

BACKGROUND*fn2

N.M. is a 17-year old student at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School ("Stagg High School") in Palos Hills, Illinois.*fn3 N.M. participates in interscholastic athletics and was a member of the National Honor Society. One of the criteria for membership in the National Honor Society is that students may not commit a violation of Stagg High School's Co-Curricular Code of Conduct (the "Code of Conduct") that results in a loss of privileges. (Compl. Ex. E.)

The Code of Conduct is set forth in the Parent/Student Handbook for Consolidated High School District No. 230.*fn4 The Code of Conduct provides, "Participation in co-curricular activities is a privilege, not a right. As such, there are expectations in regard to conduct that are required for ongoing participation." (Compl. Ex. D at 45.) The Code of Conduct prohibits students from using or possessing alcohol, tobacco, or drugs and provides that "[m]embers must conduct themselves at all times, including after school and on days school is not in session, as good citizens and exemplars of their school and of District 230." (Id. at 45--46 (emphasis in original).) The Code of Conduct further states that students "shall not . . . [a]attend a party or other gathering and/or ride in a vehicle where alcoholic beverages and/or controlled substances are discovered, used, possessed, bought, sold, bartered, distributed, and/or are being consumed by minors." (Id. at 46.) A student who participates in an extra-curricular activity and violates the Code of Conduct will be subject to disciplinary action. (Id.)

Attending a party where alcohol is being consumed by minors is a "Category A" violation. The Code of Conduct provides that the school will discipline a student's first offense for a Category A violation as follows: (1) "parent notification," (2) "suspension from participation in 1/10 of the total number of performances, activities or competitions," (3) "[t]he student will be referred to the Student Assistance Coordinator," and (4) "[t]he student will be required to practice with the group." (Id. at 47.) The Code of Conduct has a voluntary admission policy, which provides that a student will not be subject to any loss of competition or performance time if he or she voluntarily admits to a violation of the Code of Conduct on a first offense. (Id. at 49.) A student may not take advantage of the voluntary admission policy if the school already knows about his or her violation of the Code of Conduct. (Id.)

In December 2010, N.M. attended a party where alcohol was being consumed by minors. Stagg High School later investigated the party and determined that N.M. had attended the party. Stagg High School's dean first questioned N.M. about the party on March 11, 2011. N.M. admitted that he had gone to the party but stated he had left immediately after he found out that alcohol was present. N.M. submitted a short hand-written statement the next day, which states, "I drove to [K.]'s and I was there and I did not have one sip of alcohol. I had to leave early because I had a wrestling match the next day." (Compl. Ex. A.) N.M. then attended a disciplinary conference with school officials and his parents. N.M. confirmed that he had attended the party but left as soon as he learned that there was alcohol. Shortly thereafter, N.M. was asked to provide a supplemental statement. His supplemental statement, submitted on March 29, 2011, provides I drove to [K.]'s and I was upstairs most of the time eating and conversing with a small group of people. Then [K.] came upstairs and asked me to take a picture with her and [W.]. As I was going downstairs I saw that there was alcohol and I thought to myself that I should be leaving and plus I had wrestling in the morning.

So, then I took the picture, said my goodbyes to people then left after that. (Id.) School officials met with N.M.'s parents several times thereafter. The school determined that N.M. had not self-reported the violation of the Code of Conduct and that he would be disciplined consistently with the guidelines for a Category A offense. On April 15, 2011, Stagg High School sent a letter to N.M.'s father, informing him that N.M. had admitted that he had attended a party where alcoholic beverages were being consumed by minors and that this behavior violated the school's Code of Conduct. (Compl. Ex. C.) The letter notified N.M.'s father that N.M. would be disciplined according to the school's policy for Category A violations of the Code of Conduct. (Id.) Because of the discipline, N.M. was expelled from the National Honor Society. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 20.)

ANALYSIS

I. Section 1983 Claim (Count III)

A. Legal Standard

Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is subject to the same standard of review as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). N. Ind. Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of S. Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 452 (7th Cir. 1998). A grant of judgment on the pleadings is appropriate where "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts that would support his claim for relief." Forseth v. Vill. of Sussex, 199 F.3d 363, 368 (7th Cir. 2000) (quoting Thomason v. Nachtrieb, 888 F.2d 1202, 1204 (7th Cir. 1989)). In considering a Rule 12(c) motion, the court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Id. at 371.

B. The Alleged Constitutional Violation

N.M. alleges that defendants' disciplinary action violated his rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that "[n]o state shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. 14 § 1. Courts have acknowledged that there are two strands of analysis relating to the due process clause. Procedural due process "allows the government to deprive a citizen of 'life, liberty, or property' only in accordance with certain procedural protections." Doe v. City of Lafayette, Ind., 377 F.3d 757, 767--68 (7th Cir. 2004); Lyon v. Dep't of Children & Family Servs., 807 N.E.2d 423, 431, 209 Ill. 2d 264, 282 Ill. Dec. 799 (2004). Substantive due ...


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