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Jody Werner, As Mother and Next Friend of B.W., A Minor v. Board of Education of the Pope County Community Unit School District No. 1 and Pope County Community Unit School District No. 1

August 16, 2012

JODY WERNER, AS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND OF B.W., A MINOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE POPE COUNTY COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 AND POPE COUNTY COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff's and defendants' motions for summary judgment (Docs. 26 & 35). Plaintiff and defendants filed responses (Doc. 32 & 37). For the following reasons, the Court denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 26), and grants in part defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 35).

BACKGROUND

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.

In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Michas, 209 F.3d at 692. Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; accord Michas, 209 F.3d at 692.

II. Facts

The parties agree that the evidence establishes the following facts. Plaintiff, as mother and next friend of B.W., alleges claims stemming from a note containing a bomb threat found at Pope County High School and B.W.'s subsequent expulsion. B.W. was a student at Pope County High School. The record reflects that he participated in sports and maintained good grades.

On October 31, 2011, a student at Pope County High School turned over a note to Principal Judy Kaegi that read as follows: "Fuck dis school, everyone keeps calling me gay. There is a bomb in grade school and high school. Get out." Doc. 27-1, p. 56. In the face of this bomb threat, school officials initiated their emergency plan and evacuated students from the school. A bomb was never found, and school officials began an investigation to find the author of the note. During the course of that investigation, B.W. was implicated as the author of the note by several students who gave written and oral statements to school officials. B.W. also gave statements in which his story changed. In one statement B.W. asserted he did not know about the note, but he heard rumors that Z.D., another student, wrote the note. In another statement, B.W. admits he did have knowledge of the note because Z.D. had asked him to write the note. Beginning November 7, 2011, B.W. received a ten-day suspension for "knowingly convey[ing] false information concerning an attempt or alleged attempt being made to destroy school property through means of explosives/bomb." Doc. 27-1, p. 62.

Given the gravity of the violation, school officials initiated expulsion proceedings. On November 7, 2011, the school superintendent informed B.W.'s parents by letter that the school board would hold an expulsion hearing on November 15, 2011, at 7:00 p.m. at the high school library during which the school board would consider suspending B.W. for "knowingly conveying false information concerning an attempt or alleged attempt being made to destroy school property through means of explosives/bomb on October 31, 2011." Doc. 27-1, pp. 64-65. The letter further informed B.W.'s parents of their right to attend that hearing, present any evidence, ask questions or review evidence presented by the school administration, and to be represented by counsel.

Attorney Robert Wilson represented plaintiff and B.W. at the expulsion hearing. B.W. was unable to attend the hearing pursuant to the terms of his previous suspension, but both of his parents were present. To support its recommendation to expel B.W., the school relied on student-witness statements obtained by Principal Judy Kaegi in the course of her investigation. Plaintiff's counsel was permitted to cross-examine Principal Judy Kaegi, and she admitted she had no personal knowledge of B.W.'s involvement in authoring the note. The school failed to present any of the student-witnesses at the hearing, and there is no evidence that B.W. requested the presence of any witnesses. As such, the only evidence against B.W. was hearsay statements, some of which were conflicting. Attorney Wilson objected to the school's reliance on the students' hearsay statements in deciding to expel B.W. Nevertheless, the school board expelled B.W. from school and all school related activities for two calendar years, beginning November 16, 2011, and continuing through November 15, 2013, with the stipulation that the expulsion be held in abeyance during such time that [B.W.] successfully participates in the Regional Safe School Program and completes the requirements for graduation.

Doc. 27-1, p. 66.

Plaintiff filed a petition for certiorari in the Circuit Court for the First Judicial Circuit, Pope County, Illinois, and defendants removed the matter to this Court. Plaintiff brings a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 alleging that defendants violated B.W.'s due process rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff also brings supplemental claims in which plaintiff alleges the school board violated B.W.'s due process rights under the Illinois Constitution and asks the Court ...


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