Ingraham v. Wright, No. 73--2078

Decision Date08 January 1976
Docket NumberNo. 73--2078
PartiesEloise INGRAHAM, as next friend, etc., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Willie J. WRIGHT, I, Individually, etc., et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Alfred Feinberg, Miami, Fla., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Frank A. Howard, Jr., Thomas G. Spicer, James A. Smith, Miami, Fla., for defendants-appellees.

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


LEWIS R. MORGAN, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiffs James Ingraham and Roosevelt Andrews, two junior high school students in Dade County, Florida, filed a complaint containing three counts on January 7, 1971. Counts one and two were individual actions for compensatory and punitive damages brought under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981--88, with jurisdiction claimed under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1343. Plaintiffs claimed that personal injuries resulted from corporal punishment administered by certain defendants in alleged violation of their constitutional rights, in particular their right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically, plaintiff Ingraham alleges in count one that on October 6, 1970, defendants Principal Wright and Assistant Principals Deliford and Barnes struck plaintiff repeatedly with a wooden instrument, injuring plaintiff and causing him to incur medical expenses. Plaintiff testified that this paddling was precipitated by his and several other children's disruption of a class over the objection of the teacher. Defendant Wright removed plaintiff and the other disruptive students to his office whereupon he paddled eight to ten of them. Wright had initially threatened plaintiff with five blows, but when the latter refused to assume a paddling position, Wright called on defendants Deliford and Barnes who held plaintiff in a prone position while Wright administered twenty blows. Plaintiff complained to his mother of discomfort following the paddling, whereupon he was taken to a hospital for treatment. Plaintiff introduced evidence that he had suffered a painful bruise that required the prescription of cold compresses, a laxative, sleeping and pain-killing pills and ten days of rest at home and that prevented him from sitting comfortably for three weeks.

Plaintiff Andrews alleges two incidents of corporal punishment as the basis for his claim for damages in count two of the complaint. Plaintiff alleges that on October 1, 1970, he, along with fifteen other boys, was spanked in the boys' restroom by Assistant Principal Barnes. Plaintiff testified that he was taken by a teacher to Barnes for the offense of tardiness, but that he refused to submit to a paddling because, as he explained to Barnes, he had two minutes remaining to get to class when he was seized and was not, therefore, guilty of tardiness. Barnes rejected plaintiff's explanation and, when plaintiff resisted punishment, struck him on the arm, back, and across the neck.

Plaintiff Andrews was again spanked on October 20, 1970. Despite denials of guilt, plaintiff was paddled on the backside and on the wrist by defendant Wright in the presence of defendants Deliford and Barnes for having allegedly broken some glass in sheet metal class. As a result of this paddling, plaintiff visited a doctor and received pain pills for the discomfort, which lasted approximately a week.

Count three is a class action brought by plaintiffs Ingraham and Andrews as representatives of the class of students of the Dade County school system who are subject to the corporal punishment policies issued by defendant members of the Dade County School Board. This count seeks final injunctive and/or declaratory relief against the use of corporal punishment in the Dade County School System and can be divided into three constitutional arguments. First plaintiffs claim that infliction of corporal punishment on its face and as applied in the present case constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in that its application is grossly disproportionate to any misconduct in which plaintiffs may have engaged. Second, plaintiffs claim that because it is arbitrary, capricious and unrelated to achieving any legitimate educational goal, corporal punishment deprives all students of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs also allege that the failure of defendants to promulgate a list of school regulations and corresponding punishments increases the capriciousness of the punishment. Finally, plaintiffs claim that defendants' failure to provide any procedural safeguards before inflicting corporal punishment on students, including adequate notice of alleged misconduct, hearing, examination and cross-examination, representation and notice of rights, constitutes summary punishment and deprives students of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Plaintiffs presented their evidence in count three of the complaint in a week-long trial before the district court without a jury. At the close of plaintiffs' case, defendants moved for dismissal under Rule 41(b), F.R.Civ.P. which provides in part:

After the plaintiff, in an action tried by the court without a jury, has completed the presentation of his evidence, the defendant, without waiving his right to offer evidence in the event the motion is not granted, may move for a dismissal on the ground that upon the facts and the law the plaintiff has shown no right to relief. The court as trier of the facts may then determine them and render judgment against the plaintiff or may decline to render any judgment until the close of all the evidence. If the court renders judgment on the merits against the plaintiff, the court shall make findings as provided in Rule 52(a). Unless the court in its order for dismissal otherwise specifies, a dismissal under this subdivision and any dismissal not provided for in this rule, other than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, for improper venue, or for failure to join a party under Rule 19, operates as an adjudication upon the merits.

By agreement of the parties the court considered the evidence offered to support count three as having been offered on counts one and two and as if upon motion for directed verdict for these two counts. The district court then dismissed count three of the complaint and, concluding that a jury could not lawfully find that either of the plaintiffs sustained a deprivation of constitutional rights, likewise dismissed counts one and two.

I. Jurisdiction.

Defendants assert that there is no federal jurisdiction over count three under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981--1988 and 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1343 because the Dade County School Board and the Superintendent of Schools, Edward L. Whigham, are not 'persons' and hence are not amenable to suit. Defendants rely on City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507, 93 S.Ct. 2222, 37 L.Ed.2d 109 (1973), in which the Supreme Court held that a municipality was not a 'person' within the meaning of § 1983. While it is well-settled that a school board is not a 'person' and thus cannot be sued under § 1983, it is clear that a school superintendent is a 'person' amenable to suit. Sterzing v. Fort Bend Independent School District, 496 F.2d 92, at 93, n. 2 (5th Cir. 1974). We, therefore, hold that jurisdiction was improperly granted against the Dade County School Board and, accordingly, that part of the complaint must be dismissed. Jurisdiction to proceed against Edward L. Whigham, Superintendent of Schools, was, however, properly granted.

II. Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

Plaintiff-appellants allege that the infliction of corporal punishment on public school children on its face, and as applied in the instant case, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment sufficient to entitle plaintiffs to damages and injunctive relief against the Dade County School Board under § 1983. We do not agree. It is the opinion of the majority of this court that the Eighth Amendment does not apply to the administration of discipline, through corporal punishment, to public school children by public school teachers and administrators.

The Eighth Amendment states: 'Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.' Not only the connotation of the words 'bail,' and 'fine,' but the legislative history 1 concerning enactment of the bill of rights supports an argument that the Eighth Amendment was intended to be applied only to punishment invoked as a sanction for criminal conduct. 2 Indeed, Supreme Court decisions which have interpreted the Amendment have focused on the inherent cruelty of penalties 'inflicted by a judicial triibunal in accordance with law and retribution for criminal conduct.' Negrich v. Hohn, 246 F.Supp. 173 (W.D.Pa.1965), affirmed on other grounds, 379 F.2d 213 (3rd Cir. 1967) (emphasis added). E.g., Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972) (death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment); Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 82 S.Ct. 1417, 8 L.Ed.2d 758 (1962) (state's imprisonment of narcotics addict as cruel and unusual punishment); Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 30 S.Ct. 544, 54 L.Ed. 793 (1910) (disproportionate punishment of fifteen years to hard labor for conviction of strict liability offense as cruel and unusual punishment).

Although the Supreme Court has not yet discussed the applicability of the Eighth Amendment to corporal punishment administered in the public schools, a few lower courts have considered the issue and divided on its resolution. 3 We concur with the approach taken by the two district courts that have held the Eighth Amendment to be inapplicable to corporal punishment in public schools. In Sims v. Waln, supra, the court...

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