Meury v. Eagle-Union Community School Corp.

Citation714 N.E.2d 233
Decision Date30 June 1999
Docket NumberNo. 06A01-9803-CV-117.,06A01-9803-CV-117.
PartiesEric J. MEURY, Herman G. Meury and Carol A. Meury, Appellants-Plaintiffs, v. EAGLE-UNION COMMUNITY SCHOOL CORPORATION, Russell E. Hodgkin, Jack Schroeder and Jean Keneipp, Appellees-Defendants.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

William V. Barteau, Speedway, Indiana, Jan B. Berg, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorneys for Appellants.

James S. Stephenson, Michael R. Morow, Stephenson Daly Morow & Kurnik, Indianapolis, Indiana, Jack G. Hittle, Church Church Hittle & Antrim, Noblesville, Indiana, Attorneys for Appellees.



Eric J. Meury and his parents, Herman G. Meury and Carol A. Meury (collectively the Meurys), appeal the trial court's dismissal of their action against Eagle-Union Community School Corporation, Russell E. Hodgkin, Jack Schroeder, and Jean Keneipp (collectively the Defendants). As restated, the Meurys present one issue on appeal:

Was their amended complaint subject to Ind. Trial Rule 12(B)(6) dismissal for failure to state a claim?
We affirm.

The facts, as alleged in the Meurys' amended complaint and as gathered from the record as a whole, disclose that during the relevant time period, Russell Hodgkin was principal at Zionsville Community High School, Jack Schroeder was the director of the guidance department, and Jean Keneipp was the secretary at the guidance office. Eric was a student at the high school.

In October 1994, Eric's parents1 wrote a letter to "Dr. Hodgkin [and] To all Staff of EUSC (present & future)". Record at 18. The handwritten portion of the letter urges that disclosure of some information contained in Eric's school records would violate his privacy under federal statutes. The letter refers to removing Eric from one teacher's class due to philosophical differences, and a "resolution [as] to Eric's immature judgement. . . (written information on Behavior Modification)", stemming from Eric giving a student a flyer regarding an event which contained "art work of the event's interpretation by another student". Record at 18. In the upper left corner of the letter appears a typewritten excerpt of unreferenced material regarding review of school records for inaccurate, damaging, or misleading information and the right to request the removal of such material or request a hearing.

Sometime later Eric contacted colleges and scholarship granting organizations which required copies of his school transcripts. The Meurys discovered that the letter was sent with transcript information when requests were made. According to the Meurys' complaint, Schroeder and Keneipp informed them that Hodgkin attached to the letter a note stating "put in Eric's file and sent (sic) it out with transcripts." Record at 14 and 57.

In April 1997, the Meurys filed their complaint requesting damages, punitive damages, and an injunction. In an apparent effort to establish a malicious intent for including the letter with Eric's transcripts, the complaint provides background information on Carol and Herman's strained relationship with Hodgkin and the school system. The letter is attached to the original complaint and forms the basis for the Meurys' assertion that their privacy rights were violated under common law, statutory provisions, and constitutional provisions. They specifically complain that their rights were violated under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)2 and its amendments.

After requesting extensions to file an answer, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, pursuant to T.R. 12(B)(6), for failure to state a claim. The Defendants have not filed an answer. The Defendants's motion to dismiss particularly noted that FERPA does not provide for a private cause of action, but instead is enforceable by the United States Secretary of Education by means of funding sanctions. In response to the Defendants's motion to dismiss, the Meurys filed their "First Amended Complaint" on October 14, 1997. Record at 53.

The amended complaint in six counts contains an introductory statement with an historical background, a factual background, and a section designated "Malicious distribution of harmful document by Defendants". Record at 56. As in the original complaint, the amended complaint is based upon dissemination of the letter.3 The allegations are substantially the same as in the original complaint, except the amended complaint invokes 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as a means to enforce FERPA. The amended complaint requests damages, punitive damages, and an injunction in order to redress: the lost opportunities, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, the violations of state and federal privacy rights, and the violation of the "educational policy" of Indiana. The complaint includes a request for a permanent injunction on behalf of all students and parents of Eagle-Union to prevent future conduct similar to that which forms the basis for the complaint. Because the amended complaint is crucial to this appeal, it is prudent to reproduce substantive portions here:


* * *
22. The conduct of Hodgkin, Schroeder and Keneipp, acting in their individual capacity and as agents and employees of [Eagle-Union], was in violation of Plaintiff's (sic) rights under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended. (20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g) as well as the common law and constitutional privacy right of the Plaintiffs under the laws and Constitution of the United States.
23. Said conduct was calculated to and did harm Eric, Carol and Herman, by interfering with Eric's opportunity to attend college; by harming his opportunity to obtain scholarship aid from colleges and universities and private organizations that grant scholarship aid; and by injuring his reputation in the academic communities to which he aspired.
24. Plaintiffs believe that the inclusion of the October 14, 1994 letter with Eric's transcript cost him a swimming scholarship at the University of Indianapolis; and caused him to lose scholarships offered by various private organizations, all to their damage in the amount of $28,200.00.
25. As a result of Defendants' actions, Plaintiff (sic) Eric, Herman and Carol each suffered mental anguish and suffering, as well as monetary loss, for which they are entitled to damages from Defendants in [an] amount sufficient to compensate them for their losses.
26. The conduct of Defendants was conducted under color of State law.
27. This action is brought under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. Sec.1983 et seq.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs pray for judgment against Defendants in [an] amount sufficient to compensate them for their losses, for their attorneys fees, costs, and all other relief proper in the premises.
* * *


* * *
29. The acts and actions of Defendant Hodgkin were taken purposely, intentionally and maliciously so as to injure Eric, well knowing that such injury to Eric would cause extreme mental anguish to his parents, Carol and Herman, all in retaliation against Carol and Herman for their activities in the Zionsville Community High School community.
30. Hodgkin well knew that including material such as the October 14, 1994 letter with the transcript was in violation of statutory and common law and in violation of the privacy rights of Eric, Carol and Herman.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff (sic) pray for punitive damages against Hodgkin in such amount as will punish him for his conduct and will deter him from taking such action against other students in the future; for their attorneys fees and costs, and for all other relief proper in the premises.
* * *
* * *
32. The conduct of [Eagle-Union] constituted a violation of Plaintiffs' rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended, and violated the privacy rights of the Plaintiffs under the Constitution of the United States.
33. Unless restrained, [Eagle-Union] will continue to violate the rights of students by including extraneous, harmful information in the copies of transcripts sent to colleges, universities and other institutions.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs pray for a permanent injunction against [Eagle-Union] enjoining said corporation from so violating the rights of their students and the parents of said students, for their costs and attorneys' fees, and for all other relief proper in the premises.

* * *


* * *
35. The conduct of Defendants, and each of them, was in violation of Plaintiffs' rights under the common law, statutes and Constitution of the State of Indiana, and of the educational policy of the State of Indiana, including the right of confidentiality and privacy.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs pray for damages against Defendants and each of them in [an] amount sufficient to compensate them for their losses, for their attorneys fees, costs and all other relief proper in the premises.
* * *

Record at 57-61. Count V against Hodgkin incorporates allegations contained in Counts I and II and reiterates the prayer for punitive damages. Count VI against Eagle-Union incorporates allegations contained in Count I, alleges violations of common law, statutes and Indiana's Constitution, and reiterates Plaintiffs' requests for an injunction, costs, and attorney fees.

The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the first amended complaint. After motions in response and a hearing, the trial court granted the Defendants's motion stating "the First Amended Complaint is dismissed for failure to state a cause of action under Indiana Trial Rule 12." Record at 112.

When reviewing the dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim under T.R. 12(B)(6), this court views the pleadings in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs and draws every reasonable inference in favor of the plaintiffs. Ratliff v. Cohn, 693 N.E.2d 530 (Ind.1998). This court will not assess the sufficiency of facts supporting the complaint, but determines if the complaint states any set of allegations upon which the trial court could grant relief. McDonald v. Smart...

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