263 F.3d 833 (8th Cir. 2001), 01-1048, Doe v Pulaski County Special Sch. Dist.

Docket Nº:01-1048
Citation:263 F.3d 833
Party Name:JOHN DOE, A MINOR, BY HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND, JANE DOE, APPELLEE, v. PULASKI COUNTY SPECIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANT.
Case Date:August 28, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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263 F.3d 833 (8th Cir. 2001)

JOHN DOE, A MINOR, BY HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND, JANE DOE, APPELLEE,

v.

PULASKI COUNTY SPECIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANT.

No. 01-1048

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 28, 2001

Submitted: March 12, 2001

As amended August 29, 2001.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

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Before Hansen and Heaney, Circuit Judges, and Tunheim1, District

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Judge.

Heaney, Circuit Judge.

J.M. was expelled from the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) based on certain writings he composed that allegedly threatened an eighth-grade classmate. J.M., through his parents, challenged his expulsion in district court,2 which concluded that J.M.'s composition had not been a true threat, and voided his expulsion. PCSSD appeals. The primary issue before us is whether the district court erred in its application of the "true threat" analysis. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the well-reasoned decision of the district court.

I. Background

The following facts were found by the district court and are uncontroverted on appeal. When he was in seventh grade, J.M. moved to Pulaski County, Arkansas and enrolled at Northwood Junior High School in PCSSD for the 1999-2000 school year. Throughout that school year, J.M. "went with" K.G., a classmate and member of his church. Sometime after the 1999-2000 school year, during summer vacation, K.G. "broke up" with J.M. because she wanted to spend time with another boy. Upset, J.M. wrote two drafts of a composition3 at home. The compositions appear to be of the same genre as the violent, misogynistic, and profane lyrics of rap artists such as Eminem, Juvenile, and Kid Rock. Both versions of the composition contain references to killing K.G. J.M. did not intend that either version be delivered to K.G., and he did not deliver either version to K.G.

About a month before the 2000-01 school year began, J.M.'s friend, D., found one of the compositions in J.M.'s bedroom. J.M. first took his writing away from D., but then allowed him to read it. He refused to give D. a copy of the composition when D. requested one. Days after D. found the composition, K.G. and J.M. spoke on the phone at least two or three times. On one occasion, K.G. called J.M. to say that she had heard about the contents of the "songs" that he had written, and asked if she could read them. J.M. refused the request. J.M. told her that the compositions contained statements about killing her.

A week before school started, and upon K.G.'s request,4 D. visited J.M.'s home a second time and took one of the compositions without J.M.'s permission. J.M. did not know that the letter was missing until sometime after D. had taken it. D. called K.G. and said that he had the letter, then read her portions of it. She asked D. to bring her the letter.

On the second day of school, D. gave K.G. the letter. According to K.G.'s testimony, one of K.G.'s friends notified the school resource officer, James Kesterson, that K.G. was worried about the contents of the letter. He reported the letter and the persons involved to the school administrators. After meeting with J.M., D., and K.G., Bob Allison, the principal, recommended that J.M. be expelled for one year for one count of "terroristic threatening"

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as described in Rule 36 of the PCSSD Student Handbook for Student Conduct and Discipline.5

On August 23, 2000, J.M. and his parents attended a conference with Dr. Welch, the Director of Student Services for PCSSD, and Mr. Calhoun, the Assistant Principal. Dr. Welch recommended that J.M. be suspended for one semester and that he attend an alternative school, Alpha Academy, during the period of his suspension. J.M. attended the alternative school from August 29 to September 12, 2000. He and his parents appealed the suspension recommendation to the PCSSD Board on September 12, 2000. Outraged at J.M.'s conduct, the Board extended J.M.'s expulsion to the end of the school year and denied him the right to attend Alpha Academy.

J.M., through his parents, filed suit in district court against PCSSD, claiming that the expulsion violated his rights. On November...

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