156 F.3d 571 (4th Cir. 1998), 97-2173, DesRoches by DesRoches v. Caprio

Docket Nº:97-2173.
Citation:156 F.3d 571
Party Name:James DesROCHES, II, a minor, by his father and next friend, James DesROCHES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Michael CAPRIO; Roy D. Nichols, Jr.; School Board of the City of Norfolk, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:September 23, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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156 F.3d 571 (4th Cir. 1998)

James DesROCHES, II, a minor, by his father and next friend,

James DesROCHES, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Michael CAPRIO; Roy D. Nichols, Jr.; School Board of the

City of Norfolk, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 97-2173.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

September 23, 1998

Argued May 6, 1998.

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ARGUED: Harold Phillip Juren, Senior Deputy City Attorney, Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellants. Mary Catherine Bauer, ACLU of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Jacob P. Stroman, IV, Deputy City Attorney, Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellants. Frank Morris Feibelman, Feibelman & Erdmann, Richmond, Virginia; Brett Loney, Segall & Moody, Newport News, Virginia, for Appellee.

Before MURNAGHAN and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges, and MICHAEL, Senior United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, sitting by designation.

Reversed by published opinion. Judge MURNAGHAN wrote the opinion, in which Judge HAMILTON and Senior Judge MICHAEL joined.


MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judge:

Appellants, Principal Michael Caprio, Superintendent Roy Nichols, Jr., and the City of Norfolk School Board, appeal the judgment of the district court finding a violation of the Fourth Amendment arising from the suspension of Appellee, James DesRoches, Jr. (DesRoches), following his refusal to consent to a search of his backpack by school officials investigating a missing pair of tennis shoes. Because we believe the proposed search was reasonable under the circumstances, we reverse.


On May 2, 1997, James DesRoches was a ninth-grade student at Granby High School, a public high school in Norfolk, Virginia. On

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that day, he attended his fourth period art class, which met for half an hour before and after lunch. During the first half of class, one of the nineteen students in the class, Shamra Hursey (Hursey), placed her girls' tennis shoes on top of her desk. While the students went to lunch, Hursey left her shoes unattended in the classroom.

During lunch, the art classroom was unlocked, and the teacher remained in the classroom. For a "very short" portion of the time, however, the teacher was in a closet in the classroom cutting paper. (J.A. 69). The teacher could not see out of the closet into the classroom, but she stated that while she was in the classroom she never saw any students whom she did not know. One student in the classroom during the lunch period, however, testified that a student who was not enrolled in the fourth period art class was in the classroom during lunch. A few other students who were enrolled in the class returned to the classroom for a few minutes during lunch.

Upon Hursey's return from class, she noticed her shoes were missing. DesRoches and others assisted Hursey in looking for the shoes. When the shoes were not found, Hursey reported the shoes as stolen to the school's Dean of Students, James Lee, whose responsibilities include attending to matters of school security. Lee was aware that a ring had been reported missing in the same class the day before.

Upon arriving at the classroom, Lee spoke in the hallway with the class's teacher, Ms. Ratliffe, who informed him that, to her knowledge, only three students had remained in the classroom during lunch. When interviewed, those students informed Lee that Hursey had placed the shoes on her desk before the lunch period and that they were unaware of what might have happened to the shoes during lunch.

From his talks with these people, it was Lee's understanding that there had been students in the art classroom at all times during lunch, that the teacher knew all these students, that none of the students had been left alone in the classroom, and that the teacher was in the classroom at all times. It is also clear from the record that, although a student testified at trial to (1) seeing DesRoches in the cafeteria or courtyard during the lunch break; (2) seeing DesRoches with his backpack during lunch; and (3) whether DesRoches returned to the classroom after Shamra, no one told Lee anything about this at or before the time of the search.

On the basis of what he had learned during his investigation, Lee determined that it was necessary to conduct a search of the personal belongings of all nineteen students in the class. He announced his intention to search, asking whether anyone objected. At that point, DesRoches and another student raised their hands. When Lee reminded them that school policy authorized a ten-day suspension for a student's refusal to consent, the other student provided his consent but DesRoches continued to refuse. Lee told DesRoches "that he could just sit there and [they] would talk about it later," and then proceeded to search the bags and backpacks of the consenting students. Because those searches were unfruitful, Lee escorted DesRoches to the principal's office where the school's principal, Michael Caprio, renewed Lee's request to search DesRoches's backpack. When DesRoches refused, Caprio allowed him to call his parents in the unrealized hope that they would convince him to change his mind. DesRoches was then suspended for ten days, commencing immediately.

On May 8, 1997, DesRoches filed this action by his father and next friend, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking injunctive relief, monetary damages, and attorneys fees, on the grounds that the school officials had violated his rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. On May 12, 1997, the district court heard testimony on the matter in response to DesRoches's request for a preliminary injunction. Before the court rendered a decision in that matter, the parties reached a compromise in which DesRoches was to be readmitted to school pending a final hearing and decision by the district court.

The case proceeded to trial on May 28, 1997. The court dismissed DesRoches's claim for money damages on the grounds

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that defendant Caprio was entitled to qualified immunity and that the defendant school board and superintendent were immune from money damages under the 11th Amendment. The court then dismissed DesRoches's...

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