Sims v. Waln

Decision Date16 December 1974
Docket NumberCiv. No. 4526.
Citation388 F. Supp. 543
PartiesLeatha Benita SIMS, by her next friend and mother, Linda Gail Sims, Plaintiff, v. William WALN and Max Launder, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio

Clyde R. Ellis, Michael E. Geltner, American Civ. Liberties of Ohio, Inc., Columbus, Ohio, for plaintiff.

William H. Thornburg, Dayton, Ohio, Alfred J. Weisbrod (trial counsel), Dayton Ohio, Robert T. Baker and John C. Burkholder, Columbus Ohio, for defendants.

William J. Brown, Atty. Gen. of Ohio, Michael R. Grove, Asst. Atty. Gen. of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio, amicus curiae, for Martin Essex, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Ohio.


RUBIN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court following trial, presentation of evidence and testimony and a post trial memorandum. Plaintiff seeks damages, both compensatory and punitive, an injunction against defendants from discriminating against plaintiff or other black persons in the infliction of corporal punishment, and a declaratory judgment holding § 3319.41 Ohio Rev.Code to be unconstitutional.

In accordance with Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court does herewith submit its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.




Plaintiff, Leatha Benita Sims, is a minor age 15. In May of 1973 she was a student at Schaeffer Junior High School, Springfield, Ohio.


Among the disciplinary punishments used at Schaeffer Junior High School are "detention" and "corporal punishment." When punished by detention a student remains after school for a period of forty-five minutes. Corporal punishment is administered by a teacher or by the principal by use of a paddle, supplied by the Springfield Board of Education, on the buttocks of the student being disciplined. The maximum number of blows with the paddle, referred to at Schaeffer Junior High School as "cracks", never exceeds three. Corporal punishment may be administered by the principal of a school in accordance with § 3319.41, Ohio Rev.Code.1


On May 14, 1973, plaintiff Sims had been punished by imposition of a detention. She appeared at the office of the principal seeking to be relieved from detention and asserting that she was required to babysit. No note or previous information had been supplied to the school authorities and plaintiff Sims was required to make a telephone call to verify her obligation. She was unable to reach her mother for verification and was thereupon offered a choice by defendant Waln of detention or "two cracks." Plaintiff Sims declined to do either and fled from the principal's office. Contact was made between plaintiff and defendant Waln resulting in plaintiff slipping to the floor and sustaining an injury to her knee. No "cracks" were administered by defendant Waln.


Defendant Max Launder, Assistant Principal, had been requested by defendant Waln to serve as a witness. Other than observe the incident, defendant Launder did not participate. No evidence has been presented that he touched the person of the plaintiff or that he gave her any instructions.


A record of disciplinary action involving students at Schaeffer Junior High School is maintained in the office of the principal. During the school year 1972-73, plaintiff Sims was disciplined on forty occasions. On April 12, 1973, two "cracks" were inflicted after consultation with plaintiff's mother. During the school year 1973-74, plaintiff was disciplined thirty-six times without the administration of any "cracks." No conclusive probative evidence has been presented indicating that corporal punishment is administered in a discriminatory fashion, either by reason of sex or by reason of race.


This Court is met by a threshold question raised by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in the case of R. Brooks Bates v. Leslie Dause and Robert Garner, 502 F.2d 865 (1974). In the Dause case the Court considered a § 1983 claim as it related to demotion and transfer of principals of two elementary schools. Plaintiffs had asserted a deprivation of rights to support an action under § 1983 and pendant jurisdiction under the Kentucky Teachers Tenure Act. Dause teaches before a Federal Court can grant relief to a plaintiff, it must first determine that the federal claims have substance sufficient to confer subject matter jurisdiction on the court. United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 86 S. Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966); Price v. United Mine Workers of America 336 F.2d 771 (6th Cir. 1964); Patrum v. Greensburg, 419 F.2d 1300 (6th Cir. 1969), cert. den., 397 U.S. 990, 90 S.Ct. 1125, 25 L.Ed.2d 398 (1970).

The question of whether a claim has sufficient substance, or, in other words, whether it presents a "substantial question" that will confer subject matter jurisdiction on a federal court was recently discussed at length by the Supreme Court in Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 94 S.Ct. 1372, 1378, 39 L.Ed.2d 577 (1973). The Court said, per the majority opinion of Mr. Justice White2 that:

The principle applied by the Court of Appeals — that a "substantial" question was necessary to support jurisdiction — was unexceptionable under prior cases. Over the years this Court has repeatedly held that the federal courts are without power to entertain claims otherwise within their jurisdiction if they are "so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit," Newburyport Water Co. v. Newburyport, 193 U.S. 561, 579 24 S.Ct. 553, 557, 48 L.Ed. 795 (1904); "wholly insubstantial," Bailey v. Patterson, 369 U.S. 31, 33 82 S.Ct. 549, 550-551, 7 L.Ed.2d 512 (1962); "obviously frivolous," Hannis Distilling Co. v. Baltimore, 216 U.S. 285, 288 30 S.Ct. 326, 327, 54 L.Ed. 482 (1910); "plainly unsubstantial," Levering & Garrigues Co. v. Morrin, 289 U.S. 103, 105 53 S.Ct. 549, 550, 77 L.Ed. 1062 (1933); or "no longer open to discussion," McGilvra v. Ross, 215 U.S. 70, 80 30 S.Ct. 27, 31, 54 L. Ed. 95 (1909). One of the principal decisions on the subject, Ex Parte Poresky, 290 U.S. 30, 31-32 54 S.Ct. 3, 4-5, 78 L.Ed. 152 (1933), held, first that "in the absence of diversity of citizenship, it is essential to jurisdiction that a substantial federal question should be presented"; second, that a three-judge court was not necessary to pass upon this initial question of jurisdiction; and third, that "the question may be plainly unsubstantial, either because it is `obviously without merit' or because `its unsoundness so clearly results from the previous decisions of this court as to foreclose the subject and leave no room for the inference that the question sought to be raised can be the subject of controversy.' Levering & Garrigues Co. v. Morrin, supra; Hannis Distilling Co. v. Baltimore, 216 U. S. 285, 288 30 S.Ct. 326, 54 L.Ed. 482; McGilvra v. Ross, 215 U.S. 70, 80 30 S.Ct. 27, 54 L.Ed. 95."
Only recently this Court again reviewed this general question where it arose in the context of convening a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2281:
"`Constitutional insubstantiality' for this purpose has been equated with such concepts as `essentially fictitious,' Bailey v. Patterson, 369 U.S., at 33 82 S.Ct. 549, at 551, `wholly insubstantial,' ibid.; `obviously frivolous,' Hannis Distilling Co. v. Baltimore, 216 U.S. 285, 288 30 S.Ct. 326, 327, 54 L.Ed. 482 (1910); and `obviously without merit,' Ex Parte Poresky, 290 U.S. 30, 32 54 S.Ct. 3, 4-5, 78 L.Ed. 152 (1933). The limiting words `wholly' and `obviously' have cogent legal significance. In the context of the effect of prior decisions upon the substantiality of constitutional claims, those words import that claims are constitutionally insubstantial only if the prior decisions inescapably render the claims frivolous; previous decisions that merely render claims of doubtful or questionable merit do not render them insubstantial for the purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2281. A claim is insubstantial only if `"its unsoundness so clearly results from the previous decisions of this court as to foreclose the subject and leave no room for the inference that the questions sought to be raised can be the subject of controversy."' Ex Parte Poresky, supra, at 32 54 S.Ct. 3, at 4, quoting from Hannis Distilling Co. v. Baltimore, supra 216 U.S., at 288 30 S.Ct. 326, at 327; see also Levering & Garrigues Co. v. Morrin, 289 U.S. 103, 105-106, 53 S.Ct. 549, 550, 77 L.Ed. 1062 (1933); McGilvra v. Ross, 215 U.S. 70, 80 30 S.Ct. 27, 31, 54 L.Ed. 95 (1909)." Goosby v. Osser, 409 U.S. 512, 518 93 S.Ct. 854, 858-859, 35 L.Ed.2d 36 (1973).
The substantiality doctrine as a statement of jurisdictional principles affecting the power of a federal court to adjudicate constitutional claims has been questioned, Bell v. Hood, 327 U. S. 678, 683 66 S.Ct. 773, 776, 90 L. Ed. 939 (1946), and characterized as "more ancient than analytically sound," Rosado v. Wyman, supra, 397 U.S. 397, at 404, 90 S.Ct. 1207, at 1214, 25 L.Ed.2d 442. But it remains the federal rule and needs no reexamination here, . . ." Hagans v. Lavine, supra, at 536-538, 94 S.Ct. at 1379.

To fully evaluate the substantiality of the federal claims we shall first consider the broad general principles of applicable law; secondly, the relevant law in the State of Ohio; and thirdly, the relevant federal case law.

First, a review of the general legal principles applicable to corporal punishment indicates clearly and conclusively that such is generally permissible.

A teacher is responsible for the discipline in his school, and for the progress, conduct, and deportment of his pupils. It is his duty to maintain good order and to require of his pupils a faithful performance of their duties. To enable him to discharge such a duty effectually, he must have the power to enforce prompt obedience to his lawful commands. For this reason in proper cases, he may inflict corporal punishment on refractory pupils.
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3 cases
  • Ingraham v. Wright
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • January 8, 1976
    ...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 dismissed an action for damages and injunctive relief arising out of facts similar to those present in the instant case, Regard......
  • Milazzo v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of California
    • January 16, 1984
    ...not civil fines. See Powell v. Texas, 392 U.S. 514, 531-32, 88 S.Ct. 2145, 2153-2154, 20 L.Ed.2d 1254 (1968); Sims v. Waln, 388 F.Supp. 543, 549 (S.D.Ohio 1974), aff'd 536 F.2d 686, 688 (6th Cir.1976), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 903, 97 S.Ct. 1693, 52 L.Ed.2d 386 (1977). The courts have long re......
  • Sims v. Waln
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • June 15, 1976
    ...Clause. The district judge held a full trial, hearing witnesses and taking testimony. He thereafter issued a memorandum opinion, 388 F.Supp. 543 (S.D.Ohio, 1974), in which he concluded that plaintiff's cause of action stated no substantial federal question under § 1983. Judgment was entered......

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