Eugene v. Alief Independent School Dist.

Decision Date05 October 1995
Docket NumberNo. 94-20352,94-20352
Citation65 F.3d 1299
Parties103 Ed. Law Rep. 591 Beryl EUGENE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ALIEF INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Paula Conley and R.F. Griffin, Individually and in their Official Capacities, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Laurence W. Watts, Watts & Assoc., Houston, TX, for appellant.

J. Benjamin Barlow, Jeffrey J. Horner, Bracewell & Patterson, Houston, TX, for appellees.

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

Before REYNALDO G. GARZA, HIGGINBOTHAM and PARKER, Circuit Judges.

REYNALDO G. GARZA, Circuit Judge:

Beryl Eugene filed this 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 suit against Alief Independent School District, Paula Conley and R.F. Griffin, claiming that she was wrongly arrested and prosecuted in violation of her state and federal constitutional rights. Holding that summary judgment in favor of Alief Independent School District was proper and that summary judgment in favor of Paula Conley and R.F. Griffin was improper, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

I. FACTS

Beryl Eugene's (Eugene) son attended Landis Elementary School in Alief Independent School District (A.I.S.D.) during the 1990-1991 school year. On September 28, 1990, Eugene attended a meeting at the school concerning her son. She voiced complaints because she believed that her son's placement in a special education program was racially motivated--he is black, and Alief is predominantly white. She also complained that her son's medication had been mishandled by school personnel. Her son's teacher, a special education counselor, the assistant principal, and the school nurse initially came to the meeting. The nurse left after a short time and the assistant principal, concerned that Eugene was angry, summoned the principal, Paula Conley (Conley), and a school security officer, R.F. Griffin (Griffin).

Eugene decided to withdraw her son from school and asked that someone go get her son. The counselor left the conference room to get her son from his class. Eugene stated that she needed to use the restroom, left the conference room and started down the hall toward the classrooms. Eugene claims that she did not know that the hall led to the classrooms, and that she was simply looking for a restroom. Conley told Griffin to stop Eugene. Conley then pushed Eugene, and again told Griffin to stop her. Eugene claims that, when pushed by Conley, she attempted to explain that she simply needed to go to the bathroom. Griffin then pushed Eugene, and Eugene pushed back. Griffin then tripped Eugene, pushed her to the ground, and tried to handcuff her. When she resisted, Griffin began to choke her. She then bit his hand to make him let go of her neck. Griffin then told Eugene that she was under arrest, and she allowed him to handcuff her. Eugene was not aware that Griffin was a police officer during the confrontation.

Eugene was charged with assault on a police officer and found guilty by a jury. The state district judge, however, entered a verdict of not guilty as a matter of law.

Less than one year after her acquittal, Eugene filed suit against A.I.S.D., Conley and Griffin in state district court, alleging violations of her constitutional rights under the Texas and federal constitutions, as well as state common law causes of action. 1 The

defendants removed the case to federal district court. A.I.S.D., Conley and Griffin then moved for summary judgment on five grounds: (1) Eugene did not assert any constitutional violations actionable under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983; (2) Eugene could not recover against A.I.S.D. because she did not show that an official policy or custom of A.I.S.D. caused her rights to be violated; (2) Conley and Griffin were entitled to qualified immunity; (4) no cause of action existed for violations of the Texas state constitution; and (5) Eugene's claims were barred by limitations. The district court granted Appellees' motion for summary judgment on the first four grounds, and entered judgment in favor of Appellees. Eugene appeals from that judgment.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This is an appeal from a summary judgment. Our review of the record is plenary, International Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir.1991), cert. denied 502 U.S. 1059, 112 S.Ct. 936, 117 L.Ed.2d 107 (1992), and "in reviewing a grant of summary judgment we use the same standard used by the district court." Dorsett v. Board of Trustees of State Colleges & Universities, 940 F.2d 121, 123 (5th Cir.1991). "Having delved through the record to set forth all of the facts in a light most favorable to Sanders, we must now consider whether an application of the relevant law to those facts will lead us to the inescapable conclusion that Appellees are entitled to judgment in their favor as a matter of law." Sanders v. English, 950 F.2d 1152, 1159 (5th Cir.1992).

III. VALIDITY OF EUGENE'S SECTION 1983 CAUSE OF ACTION

We first address whether the district court erred in holding that Eugene's allegations of malicious prosecution, retaliation, false arrest and bodily harm were not actionable under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 (Section 1983). Whether such acts are actionable is a question of law; consequently, we apply a de novo standard of review.

This circuit has explicitly held that malicious prosecution, false arrest and bodily harm are actionable under Section 1983 because they violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Sanders v. English, 950 F.2d 1152, 1159 (5th Cir.1992). See Doe v. Taylor Indep. Sch. Dist., 15 F.3d 443, 450-51 (5th Cir.1994), cert. denied --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 70, 130 L.Ed.2d 25. Thus, the district court erred when it held that such claims were not actionable. This case is complicated, however, by the Supreme Court's decision in Albright v. Oliver, --- U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994), which was decided while the instant case was on appeal. Albright held that pretrial deprivations of liberty, such as malicious prosecution, are not actionable under the Fourteenth Amendment, but left open the possibility that such claims would be actionable under the Fourth Amendment. Id. at ----, 114 S.Ct. at 813. Because Eugene's Section 1983 claims were based on violations of her Fourteenth Amendment rights, her petition no longer states a claim after Albright.

While we do not question Albright, we will not affirm the summary judgment based on that case. Had the district court followed this circuit's case law when it decided the motion for summary judgment, it would have found that Eugene had a cause of action. When Albright was decided, Eugene would then have been able to amend her complaint to base her Section 1983 action on violations of the Fourth, rather than the Fourteenth, Amendment. Thus, to the extent that Eugene's summary judgment evidence establishes a fact issue as to whether she can maintain suit against Appellees, 2 she

should be able to amend her complaint to base her claims on the Fourth Amendment.

IV.

EUGENE'S CLAIMS AGAINST A.I.S.D.

Eugene's summary judgment evidence failed to create a fact issue as to whether A.I.S.D. can be held liable under Section 1983. A.I.S.D. cannot be held liable under Section 1983 on a theory of respondeat superior for the actions of its employees. See Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690-94, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2035-37, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978); Johnson v. Moore, 958 F.2d 92, 93 (5th Cir.1992). Eugene must show that her Constitutional rights were violated through the execution of an official policy by A.I.S.D. Id. This circuit has defined official policy as:

1. A policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision that is officially adopted and promulgated by the [district] ... or by an official to whom the [district] ha[s] delegated policy-making authority; or

2. A persistent, widespread practice of [district] officials or employees, which, although not authorized by officially adopted and promulgated policy, is so common and well settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents [district] policy. Actual or constructive knowledge of such custom must be attributable to the governing body of the district or to an official to whom that body had delegated policy-making authority.

Johnson, 958 F.2d at 94. Eugene advances two arguments to support her claim that her rights were violated by the execution of an official A.I.S.D. policy. First, she argues that force is a policy of A.I.S.D., and that excessive force is an accepted practice. Second, she argues that, under the site-based management philosophy adopted by the Texas Education Agency, A.I.S.D. delegated final decision-making authority on the Landis school campus to Conley. Because Conley ordered Griffin to arrest her, she argues, the arrest and subsequent prosecution were official policies of the school district.

Eugene's summary judgment evidence failed to create a fact issue as to whether the use of excessive force against parents was an official policy of A.I.S.D. In support of her argument, Eugene presented evidence of a school manual allowing teachers to use physical force against children that were out of control, and of evidence of two alleged incidents of A.I.S.D. officials using excessive force against students. This evidence, however, is only indicative of A.I.S.D.'s policy of using force against unruly students; it does not show that A.I.S.D. had a policy to use excessive force against parents.

Eugene also failed to raise a fact issue as to whether Conley had the type of final policy-making authority that would subject A.I.S.D. to liability under Section 1983. Only the actions of district officials with final policy-making authority subject the district to such liability. St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 128, 108 S.Ct. 915, 926-27, 99 L.Ed.2d 107 (1988). Whether Conley had final policy-making authority is a question of state law. Id. If she can show that Conley had...

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