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J.C. v. Laverne Public School District

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 5, 2018

J.C., a minor, by and through his mother, LUISA FERNANDA SUTTON, Plaintiff,
v.
LAVERNE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, ISD No. 1, HARPER COUNTY, OKLAHOMA; KYNDRA ALLEN; EDDIE THOMAS; RICHARD WELLS; ANDY CUNNINGHAM, Defendants.

          ORDER

          VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction, filed March 13, 2018. On March 21, 2018, defendants filed their response, and on March 23, 2018, plaintiff filed his reply. On March 28 and 29, 2018, the Court held a hearing in this matter.

         I. Introduction[1]

         J.C. is a ninth grade student at Laverne High School in Laverne, Oklahoma. The Laverne Public School District (“District”) allows its middle and high school students to walk or drive off campus for lunch during the school day. On January 31, 2018, J.C. and another student left campus at their lunch break, picked up marijuana at the other student's house, drove to a country road, and smoked marijuana. J.C. and the other student were stopped by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and they were found to be in possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. The Oklahoma Highway Patrolman took J.C. home to his mother.[2]

         Though J.C. was not formally charged with a crime, the incident was reported to defendant Kyndra Allen (“Allen”), the principal at Laverne High School, around noon on January 31, 2018. That evening, Allen filled out the Laverne High School Suspension Procedures form (“Suspension Form”), stating that J.C. would be suspended for the rest of the semester. In the Suspension Form, Allen indicated that she had not considered any other options before deciding to suspend J.C. Allen also stated in the Suspension Form that J.C. had violated the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Policy.[3]

         On the morning of February 1, 2018, J.C.'s mother, step-father, and J.C. went to Allen's office to find out whether J.C. would be returning to school. Allen advised J.C. and his parents that she could not meet with them at the time and that she would call them when she was ready to meet with them. J.C.'s step-father indicated that he had to go to work and would not be able to meet with Allen later. Allen stated that she could just talk to J.C.'s mother. Later that morning, Allen called J.C.'s mother and asked if they could return to the school.

         J.C. and his mother came to Allen's office. During the meeting, Allen went over the Suspension Form. Allen imposed an out-of-school suspension of J.C. starting February 1, 2018 and ending May 18, 2018. During the meeting, J.C. did not dispute that he was smoking marijuana on the country road during his lunch break and that he was stopped by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. It is disputed whether during the meeting, Allen, J.C., and his mother specifically discussed other potential options for discipline. Allen states they did; both J.C. and his mother state they did not. Allen informed J.C. and his mother of their right to appeal the decision to the Board of Education by making a request to the superintendent.

         On February 2, 2018, Eddie Thomas (“Thomas”), the superintendent of Laverne Public Schools, was informed that J.C.'s parents were requesting an appeal of the suspension to the Board of Education. Thomas included the appeal on the agenda for the February 5th meeting and posted the agenda later that day. Subsequently, on the afternoon of February 5th, J.C.'s step-father came to the district's main office confirming that J.C. was appealing the suspension. Thomas asked J.C.'s step-father if he wished to have the meeting at the regular board meeting scheduled for that evening, and J.C.'s step-father responded that he would.

         The Laverne Board of Education (“Board”) convened for its regularly scheduled meeting on February 5, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. At approximately 7:10 p.m., the Board entered into executive session to conduct J.C.'s requested appeal hearing. Those present included three Board members: defendant Andy Cunningham, defendant Richard Wells, and Gabe Hope, as well as Thomas, Allen, J.C., his parents, and three witnesses to testify on J.C.'s behalf.[4] During the meeting, J.C. and his parents were given the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses, to question the administration, and to make arguments to the Board. J.C., his parents, and the three witnesses testified on J.C.'s behalf. Allen presented the basic facts to the Board and informed them of the length of the suspension. The only policy that was discussed during the executive session that J.C. was alleged to have violated was the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Policy.

         After thirty minutes in executive session, the Board returned to regular session and adopted the following findings of fact: (1) Suspended student, was stopped by The Oklahoma Highway Patrol, during lunch break, and was found to have in his possession a Controlled Dangerous Substance and Drug Paraphernalia; (2) According to school policy this act is punishable by a suspension of up to the current semester and the succeeding semester; (3) Student was suspended for the remainder of the current semester.[5] In a 2-1 vote, the Board upheld J.C.'s suspension.

         On March 2, 2018, plaintiff filed the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that J.C.'s procedural and substantive due process rights have been violated. After the instant action was filed, Allen provided J.C. with an out-of-school education plan. Under that plan, J.C. will receive weekly coursework for his core subjects, and J.C. will receive up to 65% credit for any work done on the educational plan while suspended. Plaintiff now moves this Court, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(a), to enter a preliminary injunction directing defendants to permit J.C. to return to school during the pendency of this litigation.

         II. Discussion

         A movant seeking a preliminary injunction must show: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) irreparable injury to the movant if the injunction is denied; (3) the threatened injury to the movant outweighs the injury to the party opposing the preliminary injunction; and (4) the injunction would not be adverse to the public interest. Dominion Video Satellite, Inc. v. Echostar Satellite Corp., 269 F.3d 1149, 1154 (10th Cir. 2001). “Because a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy, the movant's right to relief must be clear and unequivocal.” Id. (internal citation omitted). Whether to grant a preliminary injunction rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. United States v. Power Eng'g Co., 191 F.3d 1224, 1230 (10th Cir. 1999).

         If, however, a movant is seeking a disfavored preliminary injunction - preliminary injunctions that alter the status quo, mandatory preliminary injunctions, or preliminary injunctions that afford the movant all the relief that he could recover at the conclusion of a full trial on the merits - the movant must satisfy a heightened burden. See O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal v. Ashcroft, 389 F.3d 973, 975 (10th Cir. 2004). “[A]ny preliminary injunction fitting within one of the disfavored categories must be more closely scrutinized to assure that the exigencies of the case support the granting of a remedy that is extraordinary even in the normal course.” Id. at 975. Specifically, ...


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