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Doe v. Champaign Community Unit 4 School District

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

May 29, 2015

JOHN DOE and JANE DOE, as Parents and Next Friends of D.M., a minor, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHAMPAIGN COMMUNITY UNIT 4 SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, District Judge.

Before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 55). The motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Questions of material fact prevent granting summary judgment on the Plaintiffs' claims against Rhonda Howard, but summary judgment is granted on the Plaintiffs' claims against the members of the school board.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of a search conducted by Defendant Rhonda Howard on D.M., the then-16-year-old son of Plaintiffs John and Jane Doe, while D.M. was a student at Academic Academy in Champaign, Illinois, and Howard was the principal there. On the morning of January 21, 2011, Principal Howard was informed by a staff member that there was a strong marijuana odor present in the hallway outside of Room 113. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 13. Principal Howard entered Room 113 at around 9:00 AM. Id. at 17. School started at 9, but there were only four students in the room at that time. Id. at 17-18. Principal Howard spoke with those four students, but she did not feel that they were the source of the marijuana smell. Id . Principal Howard then left Room 113 to check the neighboring Room 112 for the marijuana smell. Id. at 18. When she could not locate the smell there, she went on to check other areas of the school. Id.

The parties differ on when they believe D.M. arrived at school on January 21, 2011. Principal Howard states that D.M. arrived by 9:15, while D.M. remembers getting to school at 9:30. Compare Howard dep., d/e 66 at 12, with D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 32. D.M. entered Room 113, where he had his first class of the day, hung up his coat on a hook near the door, and sat in the front row in the seat closest to the door. D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 34. By this time, Principal Howard had finished checking the rest of the school and she returned to Room 113. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 19. When she entered the room, she smelled a strong marijuana smell by the front door. Id. at 19-20. After walking around the room, she decided that D.M.'s coat was the source of the smell. Id. at 20. She did not initially know who owned the coat, but when she asked whose coat it was, D.M. identified it as his coat. Id. at 20-21. Principal Howard then observed the class for several minutes and claims to have observed that D.M. had "droopy, puffy" eyes and that he was laughing and giggling. Id. at 21. Based on her observations of D.M., Principal Howard asked D.M. to accompany her to her office. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 21.

The Plaintiffs dispute that there was any smell on D.M.'s coat, Jane Doe dep., d/e 62 at 15, that D.M.'s eyes were red, D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 67, and that D.M. was laughing or giggling, id. at 68. The Plaintiffs concede that D.M.'s eyes may have been puffy or droopy but state that this appearance was caused by lack of sleep and the fact that D.M. had woken up recently. D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 68. D.M. also states that Principal Howard did not walk around Room 113 before pulling D.M. out of class and that she instead asked him to step out immediately after she came into the class. Id. at 77.

After asking D.M. to step out of the class, Principal Howard took D.M.'s backpack and coat with her, and D.M. followed Principal Howard to her office. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 21; D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 44. When they got to Principal Howard's office, Principal Howard told D.M. that she had pulled him out of class because he was high. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 25; D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 44. D.M. responded by either laughing or smirking and told Principal Howard that he did not smoke marijuana. D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 44-45, 78. He also told Principal Howard that fatigue could have caused him to have droopy eyes and given the impression that he was high, but he reiterated that he was not actually high. Id. at 45.

Principal Howard then told D.M. that she was going to conduct a search for marijuana. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 27; D.M. dep., d/e 61 at 44-45. She began the search by having D.M. empty out his pockets while she searched D.M.'s coat and backpack. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 27-28, 31; D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 45-47. Principal Howard emptied out the pockets of the coat and felt down the lining, looked through D.M.'s backpack, and placed the contents of the coat and bag on her desk. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 28-29; D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 45-47. After D.M. pulled out the pockets of his jeans to show Principal Howard that his pockets were empty, Principal Howard pulled on the inside-out pockets to make sure the pockets were fully pulled out. D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 48. Principal Howard then asked D.M. to remove his shoes, and she looked over the inside and outside of the shoes. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 32; D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 46, 49. She also had D.M. roll down his socks and pull up his pant legs so she could see if D.M. was hiding anything in his socks. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 32-33; D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 46.

The parties dispute what happened next. D.M. states that Principal Howard had him unbuckle his belt and roll down the top of his jeans so that the top of his underwear was exposed. D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 50. She then had him remove his shirt, and she walked around him to see if he was hiding anything in his waistband or boxers. Id. at 49-51. Principal Howard states that she had D.M. "raise" his shirt so that she could see his waistline, Howard dep., d/e 66 at 58, but she also states that having a student roll down the top of his pants or lift up his shirt to expose his midsection would exceed her authority to search a student, id. at 54, and she denies that she had him take his shirt off, id. at 70. D.M. and Principal Howard also dispute whether Principal Howard's assistant was present for the search or whether the assistant did not enter Principal Howard's office until after Principal Howard had finished searching D.M. Compare Howard dep., d/e 66 at 24-25, with D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 53.

Principal Howard did not find any contraband on D.M., and after she finished searching him, she walked him back to class. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 34-35; D.M. Dep., d/e 61 at 53-54. Principal Howard did not search any of the other students in D.M.'s class. D.M. dep., d/e 61 at 64; Jane Doe dep., d/e 62 at 22; John Doe dep., d/e 63 at 29. D.M. stated that Principal Howard also did not sniff any students other than D.M. and the only other African-American student in class. D.M. dep., d/e 61 at 55. After walking D.M. back to class, Principal Howard called D.M.'s mother, Plaintiff Jane Doe. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 36; Jane Doe dep., d/e 62 at 23. Principal Howard told Ms. Doe about the search of D.M., but at that point, Principal Howard did not give Ms. Doe any details about the search, and she did not tell Ms. Doe that no other students had been searched. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 36; Jane Doe dep., d/e 62 at 23. At lunchtime, D.M. called his mother and told her how upset he was because of the search. D.M. dep., d/e 61 at 70; Jane Doe dep., d/e 62 at 17-18, 20-21. Ms. Doe then called Principal Howard back and requested a meeting to discuss the search with her. Jane Doe dep., d/e 62 at 25.

The weekend after the search occurred, D.M. travelled to Chicago to spend time with his father. John Doe dep., d/e 63 at 15; D.M. dep., d/e 61 at 72. D.M. was noticeably upset after the search, and he spoke to some religious mentors about what had happened. John Doe dep., d/e 63 at 15-16, 27-28; D.M. dep., d/e 61 at 72. Later, D.M. sought counseling with the school counselor. D.M. dep., d/e 61 at 73-74.

The Plaintiffs met with Principal Howard on January 25, 2011-the Tuesday after the search, which had occurred on a Friday. John Doe dep., d/e 63 at 24. Present at the meeting were Ms. Doe and her brother (D.M.'s uncle), Principal Howard, and Orlando Thomas, a representative of the School Board. Jane Doe dep., d/e 62 at 26. D.M.'s father, Plaintiff John Doe, was present by telephone. Id. at 26; John Doe dep., d/e 63 at 17. D.M.'s teacher and Principal Howard's assistant were also at the meeting. D.M. dep., d/e 61 at 77. The parties dispute what occurred during the meeting. John and Jane Doe allege that Principal Howard acknowledged that she did not smell marijuana on D.M. when they got to her office. John Doe dep., d/e 63 at 22; Jane Doe dep., d/e 62 at 34. Principal Howard disputes that she told the Plaintiffs that she did not smell marijuana on D.M. in her office, and she testified that she did still smell marijuana on D.M.'s coat when they reached her office. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 36, 41-42. The Plaintiffs also stated that, after D.M.'s uncle questioned Principal Howard about the grounds for her search, she could not offer an explanation for why she searched D.M. and she eventually broke down in tears and apologized. D.M. dep., d/e 61 at 85-87; John Doe dep., d/e 63 at 18, 23; Jane Doe dep., d/e 62 at 28, 32-33. They further allege that Orlando Thomas admitted that Principal Howard had made mistakes in her search of D.M. and that he stated would review the school's search policy with her. D.M. dep., d/e 61 at 87-88; John Doe dep., d/e 63 at 18, 24; Jane Doe dep., d/e 62 at 28, 33, 36. Principal Howard acknowledges apologizing to the Plaintiffs, but she testified that the apology was "for the way the parents felt, " not necessarily for what Principal Howard had done. Howard dep., d/e 66 at 42, 70.

On September 20, 2011, Mr. and Ms. Doe filed suit against Principal Howard, Champaign Community Unit 4 School District, the Superintendent of Champaign Community Unit 4 School District, and all of the members of the Board of Education of Champaign Community Unit 4 School District ("the Board"). Compl., d/e 1. The Plaintiffs' complaint has faced two motions to dismiss and has been amended twice. In ruling on those motions to dismiss, the Court dismissed claims against Principal Howard in her official capacity and claims against the Board because the Court found that the Plaintiffs had not shown any wrongdoing on the part of the Board. See Op. of July 12, 2013, d/e 33. The latest version of the Plaintiffs' complaint brings § 1983 claims against Principal Howard for violations of D.M.'s Fourth Amendment rights "not to be apprehended or taken into possession or custody" and "not to be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures, " as well as his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment "right not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." Sec. Am. Compl., d/e 34 at 7-8. The Second Amended Complaint also brings a § 1981 claim against Principal Howard for violating D.M.'s "right not to be racially profiled." Id. at 8-10. Lastly, the Plaintiffs bring a §1983 claim against the Board that is largely the same as the claim that the Court previously dismissed. Compare id. at 10-12 with First Am. Compl., d/e ...


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