190 F.3d 648 (4th Cir. 1999), 98-2227, Lovern v. Edwards

Docket Nº:98-2227 (CA-98-397-3)
Citation:190 F.3d 648
Party Name:MICHAEL LOVERN, SR., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MARK A. EDWARDS, Individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Henrico County Public Schools, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:August 31, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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190 F.3d 648 (4th Cir. 1999)

MICHAEL LOVERN, SR., Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

MARK A. EDWARDS, Individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Henrico County Public Schools, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 98-2227 (CA-98-397-3)

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

August 31, 1999

Argued: June 11, 1999

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Richmond. Richard L. Williams, Senior District Judge.

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Before WIDENER, NIEMEYER, and KING, Circuit Judges.

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Affirmed by published opinion. Judge King wrote the opinion, in which Judge Widener and Judge Niemeyer joined.

OPINION

KING, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Michael Lovern sued appellee Mark A. Edwards, the Superintendent of the Henrico County Public Schools ("Superintendent" or "Superintendent Edwards"), in the district court for the Eastern District of Virginia, asserting subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a)(3). Lovern's complaint alleged that Superintendent Edwards violated Lovern's constitutional rights by prohibiting Lovern from entering the property of the Henrico County Public Schools ("HCPS"), and Lovern sought redress under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the form of injunctive relief and damages. After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied Lovern's motion for injunctive relief, declined to exercise jurisdiction over Lovern's claims, and dismissed the case without prejudice.

Lovern timely appealed to this court, and we possess jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1291.1. Because Lovern's claims fail to pass muster under the substantiality doctrine, we affirm the district court's dismissal.

I.

A.

Lovern is the non-custodial parent of three children who attend Henrico County public schools near Richmond, Virginia. His former wife, the custodial parent and the children's legal guardian, also lives in the same area of Virginia. In February 1997, Lovern moved from Texas to Virginia. Lovern acts as president of a private corporation, Trial Management Associates, Inc., that specializes in "federal public interest cases," and which, according to its letterhead, maintains offices in Fort Worth, Texas; Richmond, Virginia; and Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity, Lovern supervises a full-time staff attorney and a number of volunteer attorneys.

Shortly after Lovern moved to Virginia, the basketball coach of his son's junior varsity team at J. R. Tucker High School in Henrico County was evicted from a game. Lovern promptly contacted Tucker's principal about the coach's eviction, insisted that the principal refuse to comply with the mandatory one-game suspension of the coach, and sought to have the principal appeal the coach's eviction. When his requests to the principal failed, Lovern immediately sought intervention from higher authorities. He contacted Superintendent Edwards' office, where the handling of his complaints consumed a substantial amount of the employees' time.

On November 13, 1997, to Lovern's apparent disappointment, his son was not selected by the basketball coach to play on Tucker's varsity basketball team. Lovern immediately phoned the coach, both at work and at home, to complain about his son's exclusion. Lovern also telephoned the Tucker principal's office a number of times to register complaints concerning the coach's decision. Lovern then attended a November 26, 1997 evening basketball practice at Tucker and, for approximately 25 minutes, attempted to address the situation with the coaches.

On December 5, 1997, Tucker's principal wrote to Lovern to explain and reemphasize to him that his children's mother had requested that the school provide her with notice and opportunity to be present at any of the school's discussions about her children.2 The letter explained that, as a

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result, any such meetings had to be scheduled in advance.3 The principal's letter of December 5, 1997, also informed Lovern that he should otherwise limit his entry onto school property to events scheduled for and open to the public.4 Lovern felt the principal's December 5 letter violated his constitutional rights. He subsequently telephoned the principal, learned the name of the employee who drafted the letter, and then phoned her, both at her office and at her home, complaining about the letter's contents. As a result, the principal sent Lovern a follow-up letter on December 15, 1997, to explain that this established procedure was for the purpose of maintaining an orderly school atmosphere, and was not intended in any respect to limit Lovern's access to information about his children's education.5

On December 10, 1997, Lovern attended a meeting of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors and alleged to the Board that an investigation performed by his business had discovered that HCPS officials were misusing public funds. He asserted that HCPS's long history of paying litigation costs of its board members and school officials was illegal and corrupt.6 Lovern requested an official investigation, and was referred to the HCPS Board.

The next week, on December 18, 1997, Lovern attended an HCPS Board meeting, publicly raised the same "corruption" allegations, and requested a private meeting with the Board members. By letter on January 9, 1998, the HCPS Board referred Lovern to the HCPS administration. Lovern then contacted Superintendent Edwards,

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and also called a number of other HCPS officials, to talk about his corruption allegations against HCPS. On January 14, 1998, Superintendent Edwards informed Lovern in writing that he was barred from HCPS's property, due to his continuing "pattern of verbal abuse and threatening behavior towards school officials, including staff and School Board members."7

B.

Lovern reacted to the Edwards Letter by threatening to publicly expose "corruption" by HCPS's officials and threatening to initiate legal action against a variety of public entities and officials. On March 9, 1998, Lovern sent a letter jointly addressed to Henrico County Officials, the County Attorney, and the Henrico County School Board, among others. In this letter, he complained that:

Mr. Edwards [sic] letter is nothing more than an attempt to shut me up in a public setting (school board meeting, sporting event, etc..) [sic], where other parents will hear about [the corrupt school / county officials'] indiscretions and incorrigible behavior. . . . .

If you do not [totally rescind your threats of trespass by 4:00 p.m. today] I will immediately forward a legal demand letter for monetary damages. If those demands are not met I will file suit in federal court ASAP seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages including punitives in the amount of Twenty Five Million Dollars ($25,000,000.00).

J.A. 109-113 (emphasis in original). The letter's list of courtesy copies included the Department of Justice's "Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section."

Two days later, on March 11, 1998, Lovern sent a purported "demand letter" to the County Attorney. This letter named various public entities and nine individuals as potential defendants in his lawsuit. The proposed defendants included the local police chief, who had apparently informed Lovern that the police would enforce the county's trespass laws against him. In this letter, Lovern also accused Superintendent Edwards and unnamed county officials of several criminal acts, and complained that:

There has been a cover-up of illegal activity.

. . I now provide you with this demand letter. You have until noon Friday, March 13, 1998 to settle the claims. . . .

You can contact me with any offer you wish to make as I am lead counsel on this case. No initial offers will be made by me as I will not negotiate against myself.

J.A. 114-16 (emphasis added).8

Two weeks later, on March 25, 1998, having already named the Henrico County Board of Supervisors as potential defendants in the "demand letter" for his purported lawsuit, Lovern wrote to the Board of Supervisors on business letterhead of Trial Management Associates, Inc., to propose that he assist their investigation of his "corruption" allegations:

I wish that the Board had taken me seriously in December as this is going to be a great embarrassment to the county.

If you would like my help on this matter I will consider such depending on your request, and its effect on the [sic]

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my other claims. I hope you do the right thing before the County's integrity is completely destroyed.

J.A. 117-18.

Simultaneously, in a March 25, 1998 letter to Superintendent Edwards, Lovern accused Edwards of "using [Lovern's] children in [Edwards'] incorrigible web of deceit and corruption." The letter also informed Edwards that:

Your decision [excluding me from the school's property] is another overt act in furtherance of your conspiracy, actionable in Federal Court. I will amend my law suit again.

For you to call yourself an educator is unbelievable. I hope your children never find out the kind of person you really are. I can assure you Mr. Edwards that because you have intentionally inflicted pain on my children, who are innocent pawns in your devious game of public corruption, I will spend the rest of my life using the legal system to make you accountable, using civil litigation to take from you every penny you have ever earned.

In addition your actions today give me the necessary evidence to go forward with a criminal complaint . . . punishable up to ten years in prison. You should be ashamed of yourself.

J.A. 79-80.

Thereafter, on March 30, 1998, Lovern sent another letter on the letterhead of Trial Management Associates, Inc.,...

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