621 F.2d 607 (4th Cir. 1980), 78-1553, Hall v. Tawney

Docket Nº:78-1553.
Citation:621 F.2d 607
Party Name:Faye Elizabeth HALL, as next friend and mother of Naomi Faye Hall, a minor, and Faye Elizabeth Hall and Bervin E. Hall in their own rights, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Appellants, v. G. Garrison TAWNEY, Individually; Bernard Claywell, Individually; John Kingery, former Superintendent of Schools for Roane County, in hi
Case Date:May 09, 1980
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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621 F.2d 607 (4th Cir. 1980)

Faye Elizabeth HALL, as next friend and mother of Naomi Faye

Hall, a minor, and Faye Elizabeth Hall and Bervin E. Hall in

their own rights, on behalf of themselves and all others

similarly situated, Appellants,


G. Garrison TAWNEY, Individually; Bernard Claywell,

Individually; John Kingery, former Superintendent of Schools

for Roane County, in his individual capacity; Myles Spencer,

Jo Ann Moore, Melvin Smith, Cecil Taylor, and Harry Taylor,

Members of the Board of Education of Roane County, in their

individual capacities; and Lonnie Canterbury, Superintendent

of Schools for Roane County, in his individual capacity, Appellees.

No. 78-1553.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

May 9, 1980

Argued May 7, 1979.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Daniel F. Hedges, Charleston, W. Va., for appellant.

Richard E. Rowe, Charleston, W.Va. (Joseph R. Goodwin, Goodwin & Goodwin, Charleston, W. Va., on brief), Monty Preiser, Charleston, W.Va. (Stanley E. Preiser, Frederick D. Fahrenz, Preiser & Wilson Legal Corp., Charleston, W. Va., on brief), for appellees.

Before WINTER, BUTZNER and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.


Plaintiffs Naomi Faye Hall, a minor, and her parents, Faye Elizabeth Hall and Bervin E. Hall appeal the dismissal of their action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various officials and employees of the school system of West Virginia, for alleged violation of their constitutional rights by the infliction of disciplinary corporal punishment upon Naomi, a student in the system. We affirm in part, reverse and remand in part.


The action arose from an incident occurring on December 6, 1974 in which Naomi, then a student at Left Hand Grade School in West Virginia, was paddled by a teacher in that school. In four counts, the complaint alleged resulting violations of Naomi's constitutional rights as secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to procedural and substantive due process, to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, and to equal protection of the laws; and of the parents' substantive due process rights. Joined as defendants in respect of each of these constitutional counts were G. Garrison Tawney, the teacher who administered the paddling; Bernard Claywell, principal of the school, who authorized part of the paddling; John Kingery, former superintendent of the county school system; Lonnie Canterbury, superintendent at the time; and County Board of Education members, Myles Spencer, Jo Ann Moore, Melvin Smith, Cecil Taylor, and Harry Taylor. 1

On defendants' joint motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and (6), the district court dismissed the entire action, essentially upon the authority of Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 97 S.Ct. 1401, 51 L.Ed.2d 711 (1977), decided after commencement of the action. On this appeal, conceding that Ingraham has effectively foreclosed their procedural due process and cruel and unusual punishment claims, 2 plaintiffs press only

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the substantive due process claims of Naomi and of the parents respectively. 3 We take these in reverse order.


Plaintiffs argue that Naomi's paddling violated the right of her parents to determine the means by which Naomi could be disciplined. They had told school officials, including Tawney, that they did not want Naomi corporally punished.

This issue was decided adversely to plaintiff's claim in Baker v. Owen, 395 F.Supp. 294 (M.D.N.C.) (three judge court), aff'd, 423 U.S. 907, 96 S.Ct. 210, 46 L.Ed.2d 137 (1975). There the plaintiff parents had told officials that they did not want their child spanked. Despite this he was given two licks with a drawer divider slightly thicker than a ruler. The court agreed that the parental rights involved came within the protection of the Constitution, but held that they were overborne by the countervailing interest of the state:

(O)pinion on the merits of the rod is far from unanimous. On such a controversial issue, where we would be acting more from personal preference than from constitutional command, we cannot allow the wishes of a parent to restrict school officials' discretion in deciding the methods to be used in accomplishing the not just legitimate, but essential purpose of maintaining discipline.

Id. at 301.

Plaintiffs question the precedential value of the Supreme Court's summary affirmance of Baker. The Court itself, however, has left little doubt as to the significance it attributes to its disposition of the case. In Ingraham it cites its summary affirmance of Baker as holding "that parental approval of corporal punishment is not constitutionally required." Ingraham, 430 U.S. at 662 n.22, 97 S.Ct. at 1408 n.22.

Even without the imprimatur of the Supreme Court, however, we would be inclined to accept the reasoning of Baker. The state interest in maintaining order in the schools limits the rights of particular parents unilaterally to except their children from the regime to which other children are subject. The very cases upon which plaintiffs rely recognize that the "concept of ordered liberty precludes allowing every person to make his own standards on matters of conduct in which society as a whole has important interests." Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 215-16, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 1533, 32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1972).

Here plaintiffs allege that the corporal punishment inflicted was not "reasonable," but "severe." See Baker, 395 F.Supp. at 301. We do not believe, however, that any constitutional right of parents to choose the means by which their child should be disciplined can be made to turn on the severity of the punishment. The reasons advanced in Baker for finding no parental constitutional rights implicated apply alike to all degrees of punishment.

We therefore conclude that the parents' claim was rightly dismissed.


In Ingraham, the Supreme Court denied review to the question, "Is the infliction of severe corporal punishment upon public school students arbitrary, capricious and unrelated to achieving any legitimate educational purpose and therefore violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?" Id. at 659 n.12, 97 S.Ct. at 1406 n.12. Therefore, the Court said, "(w)e have no occasion in this case . . . to decide whether or under what circumstances corporal punishment of a public school child may give rise to an independent federal cause of action to vindicate substantive rights under the Due Process Clause." Id. at 679, n.47, 97 S.Ct. at 1416 n.47.

The Supreme Court's denial of review to the substantive due process issue in Ingraham presents an initial awkwardness

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to decision here that must frankly be recognized at the outset of our discussion. Without resolution of that issue, Ingraham of course stands directly only for the propositions that school paddlings of the kind there and here in issue violated neither procedural due process nor Eighth Amendment rights. But from the direct holding that these two rights were not violated it might be possible to imply a holding that neither could there have been violation of any substantive due process right. 4 That this implication is not compelled, however, seems manifest to us from the fact and form of the Court's express reservation of the issue. Indeed, from this reservation the opposite implication seems compelled: that substantive due process rights might be implicated in school disciplinary punishments even though procedural due process is afforded by adequate state civil and criminal remedies, and though cruel and unusual punishment is not implicated at all. 5 That question, unresolved and reserved in Ingraham is squarely presented for decision on this appeal. For reasons that follow we conclude that there may be circumstances under which specific corporal punishment administered by state school officials gives rise to an independent federal cause of action to vindicate substantive due process rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We further conclude that whether those circumstances existed in the instant case could not properly be determined as to the defendants directly involved in the paddling on the motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and that the case must therefore be remanded for further proceedings in respect of Naomi's substantive due process claim. Despite the dangers of expounding constitutional doctrine on the basis of bare-bones pleadings, 6 we find it necessary in ordering remand here to give shape to the substantive due process right we recognize.

We start with the proposition that disciplinary corporal punishment does not per se violate the public school child's substantive due process rights. This is of course implicit in Ingraham 's holding that

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the protectible liberty interest there recognized admits of some corporal punishment, which in turn is based upon a recognition that corporal punishment as such is reasonably related to a legitimate state interest in maintaining order in the schools the critical inquiry in substantive due process analysis. Appellants here concede this much, but contend that the constitutional right is violated at the point where a specific punishment exceeds in severity that reasonably related to the interest.

The Fifth Circuit addressed this construction when it decided Ingraham, and held that federal constitutional right could not be made to turn upon relative levels of severity of specific, perhaps unauthorized, incidents of corporal punishment:

Having determined that corporal punishment itself and corporal punishment as circumscribed by the guidelines (of the school board) . . . is not arbitrary, capricious, or unrelated to legitimate educational goals, we refused to look at each individual instance of punishment to determine if it has been administered arbitrarily or capriciously. We think it a misuse of our judicial power to determine, for...

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