817 F.2d 650 (10th Cir. 1987), 85-1641, Garcia by Garcia v. Miera

Docket Nº:85-1641.
Citation:817 F.2d 650
Party Name:Teresa GARCIA, a minor, by her next friends Max and Sandra GARCIA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Theresa MIERA, J.D. Sanchez, Edward Leyba, Judi Mestas, and Felix Duran, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:April 28, 1987
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 650

817 F.2d 650 (10th Cir. 1987)

Teresa GARCIA, a minor, by her next friends Max and Sandra

GARCIA, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Theresa MIERA, J.D. Sanchez, Edward Leyba, Judi Mestas, and

Felix Duran, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 85-1641.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

April 28, 1987

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John B. Roesler of Wolfe, Roesler, Romero & Lamar, Santa Fe, N.M., for plaintiff-appellant.

Daniel H. Friedman of Simons, Cuddy & Friedman, Santa Fe, N.M., for defendants-appellees.

Before HOLLOWAY, Chief Judge, LOGAN, Circuit Judge, and BOHANON, District Judge. [*]

LOGAN, Circuit Judge.

In this appeal we review a district court's grant of summary judgment, finding that school officials involved in two incidents of corporal punishment were insulated from liability under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 by qualified immunity.

Teresa Garcia, an elementary school pupil in New Mexico, by her parents and next friends, Max and Sandra Garcia, sued the defendants in their individual capacities for denying her substantive due process in violation of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 because of two beatings 1 suffered at their hands. After considerable discovery, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court granted. The district court concluded that the defendants were shielded from liability "by the defense of good faith immunity," R. I, 306, because the "law governing whether excess corporal punishment can give rise to a substantive due process claim is not clearly established." Id. at 308. Garcia has appealed the court's order, contending that at the time of the beatings excessive corporal punishment by school officials did violate her clearly established substantive due process rights.

In 1982 Garcia was a nine-year-old student in the third grade at the Penasco Elementary School in Penasco, New Mexico. On February 10, 1982, defendant-appellee Theresa Miera, the school principal, summoned Garcia to her office for hitting a boy who had kicked her. Miera instructed Garcia to go to her chair to be paddled. Garcia refused and told Miera that her father had said that "Mrs. Miera had better shape up." 2 R. I, 136.

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Miera responded by calling defendant J.D. Sanchez, a teacher at the school, for assistance. Sanchez held Garcia upside down by her ankles while Miera struck Garcia with a wooden paddle. Id. at 105. The paddle "was split right down the middle, so it was two pieces, and when it hit, it clapped [and] grabbed." Id. at 165. Miera hit Garcia five times on the front of the leg between the knee and the waist. Id. at 277-78. After the beating, Garcia's teacher, Ruth Dominez, "noticed blood coming through [Garcia's] clothes," id. at 106, and, on taking Garcia to the restroom, was shocked to see a "welt" on Garcia's leg. Id. at 268. The beating made a two-inch cut on her leg, id. at 176, that left a permanent scar. Id. at 145. Shortly after this incident, Garcia's mother and father told Miera "not to spank Teresa again unless we were called, to make sure it was justified, and [Miera] said okay, no problems." Id. at 285.

The second beating at issue occurred on May 13, 1983. Miera summoned Garcia to her office for saying that defendant Judy Mestas had been seen kissing a student's father, Denny Mersereau, on a school bus during a recent field trip and that Mestas had sent love letters to Mersereau through his son. 3

Miera proceeded to strike Garcia two times with the paddle on the buttocks. Garcia then refused to be hit again. Miera responded by calling defendant Edward Leyba, an administrative associate at the school. Leyba pushed Garcia toward a chair over which she was to bend and receive three additional blows. Garcia and Leyba struggled and Garcia hit her back on Miera's desk, from which she suffered back pains for several weeks. R. I, 106, 150-52. Garcia then submitted to the last three blows. The beating caused severe bruises on Garcia's buttocks, which did not stop hurting for two to three weeks. Id. at 160. The report of the school nurse indicates that as a result of the beating Garcia's "buttocks [were] bright red with [a] crease across both." Id. at 109. Dr. Albrecht, a physician who treated Garcia, stated: "I've done hundreds of physicals of children who have had spankings ... and I have not seen bruises on the buttocks as Teresita had, from routine spankings ... [T]hey were more extensive, deeper bruises...." Id. at 271. Betsy Martinez, a nurse who examined Garcia, stated that if a child had received this type of injury at home she "would have called [the police department's] Protective Services." Id. at 270. The extent and severity of Garcia's bruises is independently supported by photographs of Garcia's buttocks taken on May 13 and May 18. Id. at 108-a, 113. Throughout the May 13 incident, Garcia kept asking Miera to allow her to call her mother. The principal refused, saying that she knew the law. R. I, 155.

Some of these allegations were disputed by defendants in their affidavits and testimony. For purposes of reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants, however, we must determine whether the allegations and facts recited above, if believed by the trier of fact, would establish a constitutional wrong for which plaintiff could recover.


We first consider whether corporal punishment of a school child, in any degree of excessiveness, can violate substantive rights under the Due Process Clause. Despite the Supreme Court's explicit disclaimer that it was deciding that issue in Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 97 S.Ct. 1401, 51 L.Ed.2d 711 (1977), 4 we believe that Ingraham requires us to hold that, at some point, excessive corporal punishment violates the pupil's substantive due process rights. Rejecting the four dissenters'

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views that corporal punishment could violate the Eighth Amendment, the majority found the Due Process Clause applicable. The Court declared that "corporal punishment in public schools implicates a constitutionally protected liberty interest." Id. at 672, 97 S.Ct. at 1413. It recognized that among the liberty interests " 'long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men' " is the "right to be free from, and to obtain judicial relief for, unjustified intrusions on personal security," including "bodily restraint and punishment." Id. at 673-74, 97 S.Ct. at 1413-14. (quoting Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399, 43 S.Ct. 625, 626, 67 L.Ed. 1042 (1923)). "[W]here school authorities, acting under color of state law, deliberately decide to punish a child for misconduct by restraining the child and inflicting appreciable physical pain, we hold that Fourteenth Amendment liberty interests are implicated." Id. 430 U.S. at 674, 97 S.Ct. at 1414 (footnote omitted). This language plainly indicates that the infliction of corporal punishment can affect a fundamental right susceptible to substantive due process protection. See id. ("It is fundamental that the state cannot hold and physically punish an individual except in accordance with due process of law.") (emphasis added); see also Bowers v. Hardwick, --- U.S. ----, ----, 106 S.Ct. 2841, 2844, 92 L.Ed.2d 140 (1986) (noting alternative definitions of fundamental rights as "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," or "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition").

Although the Ingraham opinion focuses on procedural due process, it discusses the history of corporal punishment in the law and applies a balancing test between the child's interest in personal security and the traditional view that a school may need to be able to impose "limited" or "reasonable" corporal punishment: "[T]here...

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