15 F.3d 443 (5th Cir. 1994), 90-8431, Doe v. Taylor Independent School Dist.

Docket Nº:90-8431.
Citation:15 F.3d 443
Party Name:Jane DOE, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. TAYLOR INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants, Mike Caplinger in his official capacities and Eddy Lankford in his official and individual capacities, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:March 03, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 443

15 F.3d 443 (5th Cir. 1994)

Jane DOE, Plaintiff-Appellee,



Mike Caplinger in his official capacities and Eddy Lankford

in his official and individual capacities,


No. 90-8431.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 3, 1994

Page 444

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Gwendolyn H. Gregory, Deputy Gen. Counsel, August W. Steinhilber, Nat. School Brds. Assoc., Alexandria, VA, for amicus curiae, Nat. School Brd. Assoc.

Myra Schexnayder, Vinson & Elkins L.L.P., David M. Feldman, Feldman & Rosenberg, Houston, TX, for M. Caplinger and E. Lankford.

Patricia Ahearn, Dir. of Leg. Servs., Austin, TX, for amicus curiae, TX Assoc. of Schl. Brds.

Ellen Hahn, Brian D. East, Daves, Hahn & Levy, Vella M. Fink, B. Craig Deats, Van Os & Owen, Austin, TX, for Jane Doe.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.


E. GRADY JOLLY and W. EUGENE DAVIS, Circuit Judges:

Jane Doe was sexually molested by her high school teacher in Taylor, Texas. Defendant Eddy Lankford, principal of Taylor High, and defendant Mike Caplinger, superintendent of the Taylor Independent School District, were sued in their supervisory capacity by Jane Doe for permitting violations of her substantive due process right to bodily integrity. The district court denied their claim of qualified immunity, and they have filed this interlocutory appeal on that issue. We hold, first, that schoolchildren do have a liberty interest in their bodily integrity that is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that physical sexual abuse by a school employee violates that right. Second, we hold that school officials can be held liable for supervisory failures that result in the molestation of a schoolchild if those failures manifest a deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of that child. Next, we conclude that each of these legal principles was clearly established in 1987, when the violations took place. Finally, in analyzing whether Caplinger and Lankford fulfilled the duty that they owed to Jane Doe, we reverse the district court's denial of immunity to defendant Caplinger, but we affirm its denial of immunity to Lankford.

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Defendant Jesse Lynn Stroud, a twenty-year veteran of Texas's public education system, was employed by the Taylor Independent School District as a biology teacher and assistant coach from 1981 until 1987. It was no secret within the school community that Coach Stroud behaved inappropriately toward a number of young female students over the course of his employment at Taylor High. He made little effort to conceal his fancy for these female students: he wrote notes to them, he let them drive his truck, he exhibited explicit favoritism toward them in class, and often touched them in an overly familiar, inappropriate way.

Defendant Eddy Lankford became the principal of Taylor High in August 1983. By the fall semester of 1985, complaints about Stroud's behavior had reached his office through various channels. During the previous 1984-1985 school year, Stroud had "befriended" one of his female freshman students. Their friendship far transgressed the boundaries of a normal, appropriate teacher-student relationship. Stroud frequently placed candy, flowers, and other gifts in her locker, and the two were often seen exchanging notes. He allowed her to take her friends to lunch in his truck. He wrote excuses for her when she was late for other classes. He often walked her to class, prompting students openly to tease Stroud about his relationship with this girl. Stroud also engaged in overt favoritism in his biology classes. Female students were not required to do classwork or to behave; they often wandered around the classroom, left the classroom during the class period, or changed their grades in Stroud's gradebook. Conversely, male students (with the exception of certain athletes who were coached by Stroud) were made to submit classwork, take tests, and generally behave like regular students.

By the fall of 1985, approximately one year after their "relationship" had begun, rumors about Stroud and the freshman student (by then a sophomore) were circulating not only among students and faculty but also among the town residents of Taylor. Stroud's favoritism in the classroom was also well-known within the school community. In addition, Stroud had also befriended a new female freshman student, and began a similar inappropriate relationship (note-writing, gift-giving, walking to class, etc.) with her. Principal Lankford approached Stroud outside the fieldhouse during the 1985 football season and spoke to him about being "too friendly" with the sophomore student.

Also during the fall of 1985, the school librarian, Mary Jean Livingood, received telephone calls from two friends whose children were students in Stroud's biology class. Both mothers complained about Stroud's favoritism toward certain students in the classroom and his use of sexual innuendo in his biology lectures. Livingood had also seen Stroud engaging in unprofessional conduct; he often grabbed girls around the waist from behind in the hallways or excessively hugged girls while putting his arms around them. Livingood reported the inappropriate behavior she had witnessed to Principal Lankford and also informed him of the two telephone calls she had received from parents. Additionally, one of the mothers who had initially called Livingood also called Lankford to complain about Stroud's favoritism in the classroom. Although Lankford claims that he spoke with Stroud about these complaints, Stroud does not recall any such meeting.

In the spring of 1986, guidance counselor Naomi Pasemann noticed a group of girls gathered around Stroud's desk before school one day; one of the girls was sitting on top of the desk, while Stroud was seated behind the desk with the rest of the girls around him. Pasemann told Lankford about this incident; the two also discussed Stroud's practice of allowing unlicensed freshmen to drive his truck. Later that spring, the mothers of two female students in Stroud's biology class met with Lankford and complained

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about Stroud's overt favoritism toward certain girls in the class. Lankford suggested that their daughters were "a little bit jealous" of those girls in the favored group.

In May of 1986, Livingood reported to Lankford that she had witnessed an episode of "child molestation" involving Stroud and two freshman female students. Livingood noticed that the lights in the copy room at the library were off; as she approached the room, she heard loud laughing and talking. When she looked into the room, she saw Stroud lifting the female students onto a table and catching them as they jumped off of the table into his arms. She insisted that Stroud stop the behavior. She immediately reported the incident to Lankford.

Lankford downplayed the incident. He told Livingood that he put his arms around cheerleaders at pep rallies all the time, and joked that he had invented the popular "pro-hugging" bumper stickers often seen on automobiles. 2 Livingood explained that the behavior that she witnessed was of a different ilk, was inappropriate, and was akin to "child molestation." When Stroud later approached Lankford to discuss the incident, the two men agreed that the librarian had overreacted. Lankford did not warn or discipline Stroud--even mildly--for any incident or conduct. Indeed, Lankford failed to document any of the complaints he received about Stroud.

All of this behavior occurred before defendant Mike Caplinger ever moved to Taylor or worked for the Taylor Independent School District. Caplinger became the superintendent of the Taylor ISD in July 1986; Lankford did not inform Caplinger of any problems--real or potential--with Stroud or with his pattern of conduct.

Plaintiff Jane Doe entered Taylor High as a freshman in August 1986; she was a student in Stroud's biology class. Stroud began his seduction of Doe by writing personal--often suggestive--comments on her homework and test papers. The two began exchanging notes and telephoning each other; he often walked her to class. Stroud took Doe and her friends to lunch during the school day and bought alcoholic beverages for them. He did not require Doe to do classwork or to take tests, yet she received high grades in Stroud's class. Not surprisingly, all of this attention flattered Doe, and she developed a "crush" on Stroud.

By late fall, Stroud was touching and kissing Jane Doe. It began with a kiss on her cheek as she was leaving the school fieldhouse one day. Eventually, he began taking her into the laboratory room adjacent to his classroom and to the fieldhouse to engage in kissing and petting. Their physical relationship escalated to heavy petting and undressing in January 1987, when Stroud took Doe and some of her friends, including his own daughter, to a rock concert. There, he bought her alcoholic beverages, took her back to the fieldhouse, and began caressing her in the most intimate of ways. He suggested intercourse, but she refused.

Rumors about Doe and Stroud were rampant among the students and faculty by this time. The two were constantly together--walking to class, riding in the car, going out to lunch. Doe often went to Stroud's classroom during other class periods. Coaches and students frequently teased Stroud about his relationship with Doe, often mentioning the two freshman girls he had befriended during the two previous years. Sometime in...

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