880 F.2d 305 (11th Cir. 1989), 87-7617, Arnold v. Board of Educ. of Escambia County Ala.

Docket Nº:87-7617.
Citation:880 F.2d 305
Party Name:Helen H. ARNOLD, individually, and as Mother and next friend of John Doe, a minor unemancipated child, and, further as putative grandmother and next friend of that certain unborn child conceived by the said John Doe with one Jane Doe, and is more fully described herein, and Charles Davis, individually, and as Father and next friend of Jane Doe, a m
Case Date:August 10, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 305

880 F.2d 305 (11th Cir. 1989)

Helen H. ARNOLD, individually, and as Mother and next friend

of John Doe, a minor unemancipated child, and, further as

putative grandmother and next friend of that certain unborn

child conceived by the said John Doe with one Jane Doe, and

is more fully described herein, and Charles Davis,

individually, and as Father and next friend of Jane Doe, a

minor unemancipated child, Plaintiffs-Appellants,



individually and in her official capacity as guidance

counsellor for the said Board of Education of Escambia

County, Alabama, Melvin Powell, individually and in his

official capacity as an employee of the Board of Education

of Escambia County, Alabama, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 87-7617.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

August 10, 1989

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George Huddleston, Lynn E. Quinley, Huddleston, Powell & Quinley, Daphne, Ala., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Susan Williams Reeves, Birmingham, Ala., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.

Before FAY and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges, and HENDERSON, Senior Circuit Judge.

FAY, Circuit Judge.

Two unemancipated minors and their parents brought this suit against the Escambia County School Board in Alabama and two school officials. The plaintiffs allege that the two school officials coerced the minor female into undergoing an abortion which violated certain rights protected by the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. The plaintiffs allege violations of their first, thirteenth and fourteenth amendment rights as well as claims under 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1981, 1983 and 1985. In federal district court, the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint arguing that the complaint failed to state grounds upon which relief could be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The district court granted the motion and dismissed the suit as to all the defendants. The plaintiffs now appeal the dismissal. Since we find that the plaintiffs sufficiently allege a cause of action against some of the defendants, we reverse in part, affirm in part and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

On October 17, 1986, Helen Arnold and her minor son John Doe initiated this action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Later, these plaintiffs amended the complaint to join Charles Davis and his minor daughter Jane Doe as plaintiffs. The complaint names as defendants the Escambia County School Board, Kay Rose and Melvin Powell. At the time of the alleged events, the school board employed Kay Rose as a school guidance counselor and Melvin Powell as the high school's vice principal. The plaintiffs sue these school officials in both their individual and official capacities.

The complaint alleges the following facts. On March 10, 1986, Jane Doe and John Doe discovered that Jane was pregnant. On March 27, 1986, Kay Rose summoned Jane to her office for counseling. After speaking with Jane, Rose summoned

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John Doe to her office where he admitted paternity. At the expense of the school board, Rose procured a pregnancy test for Jane which proved positive. Rose informed Powell of Jane's pregnancy on April 2, 1986.

The counselors then allegedly coerced the children to agree to abort the child. Because the children were financially unable to afford the medical services attendant to an abortion, the school officials paid Jane and John to perform menial tasks for them. On May 8, 1986, Powell allegedly gave $20.00 to the individual who drove the children to the medical facility in Mobile, Alabama where Jane obtained the abortion.

The complaint alleges that Rose and Powell "coerced" the children "in diverse respects and so fundamentally imposed their wills upon the children that the children were unable to exercise any freedom of choice with regard to the decision whether or not to agree to the termination of the pregnancy." Further, the plaintiffs allege that the school officials "coerced these children to refrain from notifying their parents regarding the matter" and "to maintain the secrecy of their plan" to obtain an abortion for Jane.

Finally, John Doe and his mother maintain that on November 12, 1986, the school board suspended John Doe for three days for violating a school rule. John Doe protested and attempted to explain the circumstances to school officials, but was afforded no meaningful opportunity to be heard. He alleges that he did not violate any school rule and that the suspension was in retaliation for filing a law suit against the school board and the school officials.

The plaintiffs argue that the above allegations state eight causes of action. They assert several claims under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 that the various defendants violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights of due process, free exercise of religion, privacy and equal protection under the first and fourteenth amendments and freedom from involuntary servitude under the thirteenth amendment. The plaintiffs also allege a claim for civil conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1985(3) (1982). After the plaintiffs filed several amended complaints and the parties conducted discovery, the defendants filed a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim for relief. 1 The district court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint. The plaintiffs now appeal the complaint's dismissal.

II. Pleading Sec. 1983 Claims

To state a claim for relief, Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure merely requires " 'a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). It is well established that a complaint is not subject to dismissal unless it appears to a certainty that no relief can be granted under any set of facts that can be proved in support of the complaint's allegations. Id. at 45, 78 S.Ct. at 101. Generally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set forth in detail the facts upon which he bases his claim. Id. at 47, 78 S.Ct. at 102. Rather, cases in which the facts do not establish a true controversy are more properly disposed of through summary judgment. However, in an effort to eliminate nonmeritorious claims on the pleadings and to protect public officials from protracted litigation involving specious claims we, and other courts, have tightened the application of Rule 8 to Sec. 1983 cases. 2 Johnson v. Wells, 566 F.2d

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1016 (5th Cir.1978). 3 Typically, Rule 8 is applied more rigidly to allegations of conspiracy and absolute immunity, and to claims plead against a local government that the challenged conduct constitutes its official policy or custom. S. Nahmod, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Litigation, the Law of Section 1983 Sec. 1.16 at 31 (2nd ed. 1986). Using this framework, we examine the allegations of the appellants' complaint and in doing so, express no view regarding whether the facts which the plaintiffs can establish in this case will be sufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment.

III. Section 1983 Claims

Section 1983 creates a private right of action for damages and injunctive relief against individuals and governmental bodies whose conduct under the color of state or local law deprives a plaintiff of rights, privileges or immunities "secured by the Constitution or laws." 42 U.S.C.1983 (1982). To state a prima facie Sec. 1983 claim grounded on a constitutional violation, a plaintiff must allege that 1) the defendant's conduct caused the constitutional violation, and 2) the challenged conduct was "under color of state law." 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 (1982). The color of law inquiry is similar to the state action requirement under the fourteenth amendment. For instance, when state action is present, the color of law requirement is also met. S. Nahmod, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Litigation, the Law of Section 1983 Sec. 2.01 at 73 (2nd ed. 1986).

In addition, to state a claim against a local governmental body, the complaint must allege that the challenged conduct "implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers." Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2035, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Thus, in this case, the constitutionally violative conduct must have been the product of an official school board custom or policy. The theory of respondeat superior is insufficient to impose liability on the school board. Id. at 691, 98 S.Ct. at 2036. We now address all of these questions for each of the alleged Sec. 1983 violations. 4

A. Constitutional Rights

1. The Right to Privacy

Both Jane Doe and her father claim that the school officials coerced Jane into having an abortion. We find that coercing a minor to abort a child violates the minor's constitutionally protected freedom to choose whether to abort or bear her child. Further, the allegations in the complaint are sufficient to state a cause of

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action on behalf of Jane Doe. Any cause of action alleged by Charles Davis as the father of Jane Doe can only be stated in terms of an impermissible interference with family relations which we will discuss later in this opinion. Here we address Jane Doe's cause of action.

Students in our educational system do not leave their constitutionally protected freedoms at the schoolhouse door. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506, 89 S.Ct. 733, 736, 21 L.Ed.2d 731 (1969). Indeed, the Supreme court has recognized...

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