Brown v. Houston School Dist., No. 95-CA-00268-SCT

CourtMississippi Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtDAN LEE; McRAE; BANKS; McRAE; McRAE; BANKS; McRAE
Citation704 So.2d 1325
Parties123 Ed. Law Rep. 990 Elemetric BROWN v. The HOUSTON SCHOOL DISTRICT; Frank Alford, Betty Atkinson, Joe Harper, Bill Klauser and Robin Mathis, Members of the School Board of Trustees; Betty Holcombe and Lisa Hester, Individually and in their Official Capacities; and C.L. Stevenson, Superintendent, Individually and in his Official Capacity.
Decision Date18 December 1997
Docket NumberNo. 95-CA-00268-SCT

Page 1325

704 So.2d 1325
123 Ed. Law Rep. 990
Elemetric BROWN
v.
The HOUSTON SCHOOL DISTRICT; Frank Alford, Betty Atkinson,
Joe Harper, Bill Klauser and Robin Mathis, Members of the
School Board of Trustees; Betty Holcombe and Lisa Hester,
Individually and in their Official Capacities; and C.L.
Stevenson, Superintendent, Individually and in his Official Capacity.
No. 95-CA-00268-SCT.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
Dec. 18, 1997.

Barbara Lee Clark, Moore & Clark, Knoxville, TN, for Appellant.

Rex F. Sanderson, Houston, for Appellees.

En Banc.

DAN LEE, Chief Justice, for the Court:

SUMMARY

¶1 Elemetric Brown appeals a February 21, 1995, order of the Chickasaw County Circuit Court granting the Houston School District's motion for summary judgment in a wrongful death action, as well as for claims made pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400. The circuit court found that her claims were barred by as a matter of law by sovereign immunity and qualified immunity. Brown has provided no basis for the federal claims raised, and her wrongful death claim is barred by sovereign immunity.

Page 1326

Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Chickasaw County Circuit Court granting summary judgment to the Houston School District and its employees.
STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

¶2 Eight-year-old Corey Lynn Jones ("Corey") was a special education student at the Houston Elementary School. Corey had a history of behavior problems which, although improved since he started kindergarten, continued to be addressed by his teachers.

¶3 On the morning of April 29, 1991, Corey was more "boisterous" in class than usual. His teacher, Lisa Hester ("Hester"), stated in her affidavit that he then started throwing things and threatened to hit Hester and take her glasses. As Hester was holding Corey's hands to keep him from hitting her, the acting principal, Betty Holcombe ("Holcombe"), came in to help. They took him to Holcombe's office, where he was paddled. Holcombe kept him in her office, as was her practice when he was upset.

¶4 While Corey was in the principal's office, Holcombe heard a car horn blowing and went to see what was wrong. Before going outside, she told him to stay in the chair where he was seated and asked the secretary to watch him. Moments later Holcombe went back inside, where she learned from the secretary that Corey had just snuck out of the office.

¶5 Teresa Oswalt ("Oswalt"), a teacher's assistant who was acquainted with Corey, saw him run out of the principal's office as she was walking down the hall to get supplies. She grabbed his arm, but he broke away, laughing and looking back to see if she was following him. She noted that Corey was very strong for his age and size and doubted that she could have caught up with him. Oswalt said that he ran down to the end of the hall and out the door to the south side of the building. She went on to the principal's office, where she advised Holcombe that Corey had gotten away from her. The day was very rainy and they immediately began looking for Corey, both inside and outside the building.

¶6 The search for Corey continued throughout the rest of the day and into the night. The next morning, Corey's body was found in a creek not far from the school. The record does not indicate any other circumstances surrounding the child's death.

¶7 Brown filed a complaint in the Chickasaw County Circuit Court on April 29, 1992, against the Houston Municipal Separate School District, members of its Board of Trustees and various District employees for the April 29, 1991, death of her son, Corey Lynn Jones. She sought damages for the wrongful death of the child as well as for emotional distress. Brown raised federal court claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for violation of the child's civil rights, and 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq., for failure to meet his needs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). She further sought punitive damages.

¶8 In response to the state court claims, the District raised the defenses of sovereign immunity and qualified immunity on behalf of itself and the other defendants. As to the federal court claims, the District affirmatively stated that Corey Lynn Jones was properly placed in the Houston Elementary School and that the school was in compliance with the IDEA in providing for his education and instructional needs.

¶9 On February 21, 1995, after reviewing the pleadings, affidavits, discovery materials and briefs submitted by the parties in support of the various motions, the circuit court granted the District's motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the circuit court found that Brown's complaint contained "allegations of acts of the Defendants on April 1[sic], 1991, at a time when Section § 11-46-1 et seq. of Mississippi Code of 1972 Annotated barred claims against the Houston School District." It further found that the complaint was barred by the defendants' qualified immunity and that the pleadings and discovery material showed no genuine issue of material fact. Accordingly, the circuit court granted the District's Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment and its Supplemental Motion for Summary Judgment.

Page 1327

DISCUSSION OF THE LAW

¶10 Brown construes the circuit court's order as finding that all of her claims, both state and federal, are barred by either sovereign immunity or qualified immunity. The District focuses on Brown's failure to appeal what it considers to be the circuit court's primary reason for granting summary judgment--the finding that there was no genuine issue of material fact raised by the pleadings or the discovery materials filed with the court.

A. The Wrongful Death Claim

¶11 Miss.Code Ann. § 11-46-1 et seq. provides legislative sovereign immunity to the State and its political subdivisions, including local school districts. Richardson v. Rankin County School District, 540 So.2d 5, 8 (Miss.1989). Thus, Brown's claim against the School District is barred by sovereign immunity. Apparently Brown concedes this point when she states in her brief that "[t]he plaintiff asserts that § 46-46-1 et Seq (sic) of Mississippi Code of 1972 Annotated only immunizes the State and its political subdivisions as well as its employees, trustees, officers, or agents from liability and suit for torts and torts of employees." Additionally, we take this opportunity to reinforce our "prospective only" application of Presley v. Mississippi State Highway Comm'n, 608 So.2d 1288 (Miss.1992). In Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866 (Miss.1995), we held that Presley was to be applied prospectively only, announcing that "[w]hat we have stated indirectly we now say directly. Presley has no retroactive application." Robinson, 655 So.2d at 868 (emphasis added). The incident giving rise to Elemetric Brown's wrongful death claim occurred prior to our decision in Presley, thereby making Presley inapplicable to the instant case. The Houston School District was under the protective umbrella of sovereign immunity, thereby ending our inquiry and making summary judgment appropriate.

¶12 As to her assertion that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity, Brown refers only to language in Pruett v. City of Rosedale, 421 So.2d 1046, 1051-52 (Miss.1982), which discusses the applicability of the reasonable man standard to governmental decision-making in the context of sovereign immunity. She provides absolutely no authority to support either side of the question she raises of whether qualified immunity should be extended to public school teachers. Absent any meaningful argument or citation of authority, this Court will not consider the assignment of error. Smith v. Dorsey, 599 So.2d 529, 532 (Miss.1992); R.C. Petroleum, Inc. v. Hernandez, 555 So.2d 1017, 1023 (Miss.1990).

B. The § 1983 Action

¶13 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1994) provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects or causes to be subjected, any citizen of...

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5 practice notes
  • John A. v. Board of Education, No. 132, Sept. Term, 2006.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 30, 2007
    ...public education, not to provide a forum for tort-like claims of educational 929 A.2d 154 malpractice"); Brown v. Houston Sch. Dist., 704 So.2d 1325, 1328 (Miss. 1997) (holding no valid IDEA claim for failure to meet a child's educational needs where a special education student, who was sen......
  • Mitchell v. Parker, No. 2000-CA-00210-COA.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • September 25, 2001
    ...show that a clearly established constitutional right 804 So.2d 1074 was violated under color of state law. Brown v. Houston School Dist., 704 So.2d 1325, 1327 (Miss.1997). The right claimed here is the deprivation of property without due process of law. U.S. CONST. AM. 5. Even had Mitchell ......
  • Reid ex rel. Reid v. American Premier Insurance Company, No. 2000-CA-01791-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • April 18, 2002
    ...of Walker in his brief. He does not even discuss it. The Court is, therefore, not required to consider it. Brown v. Houston Sch. Dist., 704 So.2d 1325, 1327 (Miss.1997). We decline to do CONCLUSION ¶ 27. For these reasons, the judgment of the circuit court dismissing this action is affirmed......
  • Chamberlin v. City of Hernando, No. 96-CA-00600-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 18, 1998
    ...to make clear, our 1992 decision in Presley, declaring § 11-46-6 to be unconstitutional, is prospective. Brown v. Houston Sch. Dist., 704 So.2d 1325, 1327 (Miss.1997); Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866, 868 (Miss.1995). The practical effect of § 11-46-3 is that it prevents redress for wron......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • John A. v. Board of Education, No. 132, Sept. Term, 2006.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 30, 2007
    ...public education, not to provide a forum for tort-like claims of educational 929 A.2d 154 malpractice"); Brown v. Houston Sch. Dist., 704 So.2d 1325, 1328 (Miss. 1997) (holding no valid IDEA claim for failure to meet a child's educational needs where a special education student, who was sen......
  • Mitchell v. Parker, No. 2000-CA-00210-COA.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • September 25, 2001
    ...show that a clearly established constitutional right 804 So.2d 1074 was violated under color of state law. Brown v. Houston School Dist., 704 So.2d 1325, 1327 (Miss.1997). The right claimed here is the deprivation of property without due process of law. U.S. CONST. AM. 5. Even had Mitchell ......
  • Reid ex rel. Reid v. American Premier Insurance Company, No. 2000-CA-01791-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • April 18, 2002
    ...of Walker in his brief. He does not even discuss it. The Court is, therefore, not required to consider it. Brown v. Houston Sch. Dist., 704 So.2d 1325, 1327 (Miss.1997). We decline to do CONCLUSION ¶ 27. For these reasons, the judgment of the circuit court dismissing this action is affirmed......
  • Chamberlin v. City of Hernando, No. 96-CA-00600-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 18, 1998
    ...to make clear, our 1992 decision in Presley, declaring § 11-46-6 to be unconstitutional, is prospective. Brown v. Houston Sch. Dist., 704 So.2d 1325, 1327 (Miss.1997); Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866, 868 (Miss.1995). The practical effect of § 11-46-3 is that it prevents redress for wron......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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