393 F.3d 608 (5th Cir. 2004), 04-30162, Porter v. Ascension Parish School Bd.

Docket Nº:04-30162.
Citation:393 F.3d 608
Party Name:Adam PORTER, et al., Plaintiffs, Adam Porter, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ASCENSION PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:December 10, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 608

393 F.3d 608 (5th Cir. 2004)

Adam PORTER, et al., Plaintiffs,

Adam Porter, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

ASCENSION PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 04-30162.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

December 10, 2004

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Dan Michael Scheuermann (argued), Law Offices of Dan M. Scheuermann, Baton Rouge, LA, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Gustave A. Fritchie, III, Alan Dabdoub (argued), Irwin, Fritchie, Urquhart & Moore, New Orleans, LA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Before KING, Chief Judge, and HIGGINBOTHAM and DAVIS, Circuit Judges.

PATRICK E. HIGGINBOTHAM, Circuit Judge:

This case highlights the difficulties of school administrators charged to balance their duty to provide a safe school with the constitutional rights of individual students when violence in schools is a serious concern. We must decide whether officials within the Ascension Parish School District responded appropriately in removing Adam Porter from East Ascension High School and requiring him to enroll in an alternative school for a sketch depicting a violent siege on the EAHS that he had drawn two years earlier, and was accidentally taken to school by his younger brother. We hold that the only defendant left in the case, EAHS principal Conrad Braud, is entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Adam's First Amendment claim, and affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment.

I

A

When Adam Porter was fourteen years old, he sketched a drawing of his school, East Ascension High School, in the privacy of his home. It was crudely drawn, depicting the school under a state of siege by a gasoline tanker truck, missile launcher, helicopter, and various armed persons. The sketch also contained obscenities and racial epithets directed at characters in the drawing, a disparaging remark about EAHS principal Conrad Braud, and a brick being hurled at him. After completing the sketch, Adam showed it to his mother, Mary LeBlanc, his younger brother, Andrew Breen, and a friend, Kendall Goudeau, who was living with the family at the time. The sketchpad was then stored in a closet in Adam's home.

Two years later, Andrew Breen, then age twelve, rummaged through the closet looking for something to draw on, and came upon Porter's sketchpad. Andrew drew a llama on a blank page in the pad, and then took the pad to his school, Galvez Middle School, to show his drawing to his teacher. On March 15, 2001, while riding the bus on his way home from school, Andrew allowed a fellow student to see his drawing. While flipping through the pages of the pad, the student came upon the two-year old drawing by Adam and showed it to the bus driver, Diane McCauley, exclaiming, "Miss Diane, look, they're going to blow up EAHS." McCauley immediately confiscated the pad. On the following morning, McCauley took the pad to Linda Wilson, the principal of Galvez Middle School, and Myles Borque, the in-school suspension coordinator. After viewing Adam's drawing, Wilson called Andrew

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to her office where he was questioned about the drawing and his book bag was searched. In response to questioning by Wilson and Borque, Andrew admitted that Adam had drawn the picture. Andrew was then suspended for possessing the drawing on school grounds.

The sketchpad was sent to EAHS where school resource officer Robert Rhodes interrupted a meeting to show the drawing to principal Conrad Braud and assistant principal Gwynne Pecue. Alarmed, Braud and Pecue immediately summoned Adam to Rhodes's office where he readily admitted that he had drawn the sketch two years earlier. School officials then searched Adam's book bag and his person and found a box cutter with a one-half inch exposed blade in his wallet. The officials also found notebooks in Adam's bag containing references to death, drugs, sex, depictions of gang symbols, and a fake ID. Adam explained that he used the box cutter in his after-school job at a local grocery store. Although unclear as to when, the record indicates that he later explained that the references to death were part of a homework assignment, and that the "gang symbols" referred only to a group of young men with whom Adam associated, and who Braud did not consider to be a threat.

Adam's mother, Mary LeBlanc, was contacted, and after arriving at EAHS, was told that Adam was being recommended for expulsion. Adam and his mother were then allowed to leave carrying a written recommendation for expulsion and instructions for Adam to remain at home until a hearing could be held. No hearing date was immediately set. Shortly thereafter, Officer Rhodes obtained a warrant to arrest Adam for "terrorizing" EAHS, and Adam was held for four nights at the Donaldsonville jail on charges of terrorizing the school and carrying an illegal weapon.

A week later, on March 23, 2001, Mary LeBlanc met with Linda Lamendola, hearing officer for the Ascension Parish School Board. LeBlanc was advised that expulsion hearings were regularly decided in the school's favor, and that Adam could immediately enroll in the Ascension Parish Alternative School and continue his education if she waived the hearing. LeBlanc signed the waiver form provided by Lamendola, and Adam was enrolled in the alternative school. The following August, Adam was allowed to re-enroll at EAHS, but dropped out in March, 2002.

B

Mary LeBlanc filed suit on behalf of Adam and Andrew against the Ascension Parish School Board, Robert Cloutare in his official capacity as superintendent of the School Board, Conrad Braud, individually and in his official capacity as Principal of EAHS, and Linda Wilson, individually and in her official capacity as principal of Galvez Middle School. The suit, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleged violations of the First, Fourth, and Eighth Amendments, and a denial of equal protection and procedural due process and rights secured by 20 U.S.C. § 1415. 1 Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that no constitutional violation could be shown as a matter of law and claiming the defense of qualified immunity.

The district court dismissed without objection plaintiffs' equal protection, Eighth Amendment, and § 1415 claims, and plaintiffs agreed to dismiss all claims against Linda Wilson. The district court analyzed

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Adam's First Amendment claim, and concluded that his drawing was not entitled to protection under any of three different standards. 2 The court then disposed of Adam's Fourth Amendment claim, finding that the school's search and detention of him was reasonable. 3 The court next found that Adam's procedural due process claim was unavailing based on Adam's admission that he had drawn the sketch and that the items found in his book bag and on his person belonged to him, and LeBlanc's signed waiver of his right to a hearing. 4 Next, the court found that even if Adam had established a violation of his rights, Braud was entitled to qualified immunity. 5 Finally, the court held that Adam had produced no evidence of a policy or custom on the part of the Ascension Parish School Board leading to a violation of his rights, precluding his official capacity claims against Braud and Cloutare. 6

Based on these findings, the district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. Adam filed a timely notice of appeal from this judgment.

II

"We review the grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo." 7 Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings and the evidence demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." 8 In the present case, the district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on grounds that plaintiffs had failed to raise a material fact issue with respect to any of their constitutional claims, and on the alternative ground that defendant Braud was entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity. 9

Although denominated in the alternative, these holdings follow our analysis for determining whether a state official is entitled to qualified immunity. When reviewing a grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity, we must first determine whether a plaintiff successfully alleged facts showing the violation of a constitutional right by state officials, and whether there is a genuine issue of material fact that the violation occurred. 10 "If

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there is no constitutional violation, our inquiry ends." 11

If we determine that the plaintiff's alleged facts make out a constitutional violation, we then ask whether the right allegedly violated was "clearly established" such that "it would be clear to a reasonable [official] that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." 12 We have found that a "right can be said to have been clearly established only if all reasonable officials in the defendant's position would have concluded that the challenged state action was unconstitutional." 13

Even if we find that the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation, however, a defendant will still be entitled to qualified immunity if the defendant's conduct was "objectively reasonable in light of 'clearly established' law at the time of the violation." 14 The reasonableness of an official's actions must be assessed in light of "the facts available to him at the time of his action and the law that was clearly established at the time of the alleged illegal acts." 15

A

1

Adam first claims that EAHS violated the First Amendment in removing him from school based on the contents of his drawing. Uncertain as...

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