Wooten v. Pleasant Hope R-VI School Dist., No. 00-3280-CV-S-1-ECF.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
Writing for the CourtWhipple
Citation139 F.Supp.2d 835
PartiesJana WOOTEN, Plaintiff, v. PLEASANT HOPE R-VI SCHOOL DISTRICT and Micki Stout, Defendants.
Decision Date28 November 2000
Docket NumberNo. 00-3280-CV-S-1-ECF.
139 F.Supp.2d 835
Jana WOOTEN, Plaintiff,
v.
PLEASANT HOPE R-VI SCHOOL DISTRICT and Micki Stout, Defendants.
No. 00-3280-CV-S-1-ECF.
United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division.
November 28, 2000.

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Kent L. Brown, Carson & Coil, Jefferson City, MO, for Plaintiff.

Stephanie L. Tueth, Mickes, Tueth, Keeney, Cooper, Mahan, St. Louis, MO, for Defendants.

ORDER

WHIPPLE, District Judge.


This case arises from a high school senior's expulsion from her school's softball team. Defendants Pleasant Hope R-VI School District ("Pleasant Hope") and Micki Stout ("Coach Stout"), (collectively "Defendants"), have moved to dismiss Plaintiff Jana Wooten's ("Wooten") constitutional and tort claims against them. Wooten alleges she was denied procedural due process when she was expelled from her high school's softball program "prior to being given notice of the charges against her, an explanation of the evidence against her, and a right to respond." Wooten also claims that in the process of terminating her from the team, Coach Stout, inter alia, defamed her and violated her privacy rights. The Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss Wooten's procedural due process claim, intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, prima facie tort claim, violation of privacy claim and defamation claim. The Court DENIES Wooten's motion for a de novo hearing.

I. FACTS

Wooten, a senior at Pleasant Hope High School, played for the high school's softball team and planned to go to college on a softball scholarship. On September 25, 1998, shortly before the end of her senior

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softball season, Wooten failed to appear for a game. Coach Stout inquired of the other softball players why Wooten was not present and one team member stated that she had heard that Wooten was attending the homecoming of another school. After discussing the situation with Wooten's team members, Coach Stout announced to the team that Wooten was no longer a member of the softball team.

Wooten learned that she had been expelled from the team the following morning when she was told by the mother of another student. On the following Monday, Wooten and her parents met with Superintendent Slagle, Principal Blackburn and Coach Stout to discuss her expulsion from the team. Wooten explained that she missed the game because she was running an errand for her mother. During the meeting, Coach Stout allegedly told Wooten that the other softball team members did not want her on the team, leading Wooten to surmise that, if she was reinstated, her return was unlikely to be warmly received by her teammates. Wooten, relying on Coach Stout's statement, indicated that she did not wish to be reinstated to the team. Wooten claims that Coach Stout's statement was incorrect and that her fellow team members did not indicate that they did not want her to resume playing for the team.

Approximately a month after this meeting, Wooten requested, pursuant to board policy, that the Board of Education hold a meeting regarding her expulsion from the softball team. When Wooten's request for a hearing was denied, she appealed and Superintendent Slagle and Principal Blackburn responded, stating that no hearing was necessary because Wooten waived her right to reinstatement at the September meeting.

Wooten has since graduated and currently attends Missouri Valley College on various softball scholarships.1 She filed this Complaint on or about June 9, 2000, claiming that the Defendants' actions caused her physical and psychological injury, caused her to incur medical expenses for treatment of these injuries, caused her to lose income, and caused her to lose the enjoyment of life and the enjoyment of competing effectively in softball.

II. STANDARD FOR MOTION TO DISMISS

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs Defendants' motion to dismiss. The Court will not consider any matters outside the pleadings. To succeed on their motion, Defendants must establish that Wooten can prove no set of facts in support of her claims that would entitle her to relief. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101-102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); May v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 752 F.2d 1301, 1303 (8th Cir.1985); Fusco v. Xerox Corp., 676 F.2d 332, 334 (8th Cir.1982). The Court must assume that the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint are true, and further, must construe those allegations in Plaintiff's favor. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 1686, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974); May, 752 F.2d at 1303. The issue is not whether Wooten will ultimately prevail, but rather whether she is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236, 94 S.Ct. at 1686.

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III. DISCUSSION

A. Due Process Violations

Wooten's claim that Defendants violated her Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process right is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides, in part, that:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress[.]

A school district is considered a "person" for purposes of § 1983 liability. See Stephenson v. Davenport Community Sch. Dist., 110 F.3d 1303, 1306 n. 2 (8th Cir. 1997) (citing Keckeisen v. Independent Sch. Dist., 612, 509 F.2d 1062, 1065 (8th Cir.1975), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 833, 96 S.Ct. 57, 46 L.Ed.2d 51 (1975)).

To establish a procedural due process violation, a plaintiff must first establish that a protected liberty or property interest is at stake. See Marler v. Missouri State Bd. of Optometry, 102 F.3d 1453, 1456 (8th Cir.1996). To have a property interest in a benefit or position a person must have more than a unilateral expectation of it; the person must have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it. See Belton v. Board of Police Comm'rs. of Kansas City, 708 S.W.2d 131, 136-37 (Mo. 1986) (en banc). Property interests are not created by the Constitution — they are created and delineated by existing rules or understandings that stem from state law. See Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 541, 105 S.Ct. 1487, 1491, 84 L.Ed.2d 494 (1985); see also Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 344, 96 S.Ct. 2074, 48 L.Ed.2d 684 (1976) (finding that property interests are defined by state law).

Once the plaintiff establishes that a property interest exists, she must then demonstrate that the defendant deprived her of this interest without due process of law. See Marler, 102 F.3d at 1456. The extent of the due process required by the United States Constitution is largely determined by the importance of the alleged deprivation. The Supreme Court directs courts to employ a balancing test in which the private interests, the governmental interests, and the likely value of additional procedural safeguards are weighed against each other to determine what due process is constitutionally necessary. See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976).

It is well-established that a student's entitlement to public education is a protected property interest that may not be not be interfered with until minimal due process requirements are satisfied. See Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 574, 95 S.Ct. 729, 42 L.Ed.2d 725 (1975). Although the right to attend school and receive an education is a legitimate property interest, not every single component of the educational process creates a property interest subject to constitutional protection. See Haverkamp v. Unified Sch. Dist. No. 380, 689 F.Supp. 1055, 1057 (D.Kan.1986) (citing Albach v. Odle, 531 F.2d 983, 985 (10th Cir. 1976)).

The prevailing view in most jurisdictions is that no federally-protected property interest exists in a student's participation in extracurricular activities. See L.P.M. v. Sch. Bd., 753 So.2d 130, 132-33 (2000) (finding that "[a]lthough there is some authority to the contrary, the prevailing view in the country is that no such federally[-]protected property interest exists"); see also, Haverkamp, 689 F.Supp. at 1057 (observing that "[t]he majority of cases discussing interscholastic athletics and other extracurricular activities have

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rejected the existence of a federally-protected property right").

Several courts have held to the contrary, however, concluding that students have constitutionally-protected interests in extracurricular activities such as athletic programs. Some courts find it significant that a student's participation in interscholastic athletics can lead to lucrative professional opportunities. One Arkansas court reasoned that because a student's status as a member of an athletic team can be "very important to [the student's] development educationally and economically in the future" the "privilege of participating in interscholastic athletics must be deemed a property interest protected by the due process clause." Boyd v. Bd. of Directors, 612 F.Supp. 86, 93 (E.D.Ark.1985). Other courts view interscholastic athletics as an integral part of the total education process and find that the denial of this right may implicate constitutional violations. See Palmer v. Merluzzi, 868 F.2d 90, 98-99 (3rd Cir.1989). In Palmer, the Third Circuit found that the defendant school's football program was an integral part of its educational program and implicitly acknowledged that students have a property interest in extracurricular activities. See id. at 99. The Palmer court found, however, that the due process hearing the student had been given prior to his 10-day academic suspension was sufficient to also satisfy the minimal due process requirements of his 60-day extracurricular...

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5 practice notes
  • Taylor v. Enumclaw School Dist. No. 216, No. 55704-1-I.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • May 1, 2006
    ...873, 540 P.2d 882 (1975)). 17. Albach v. Odle, 531 F.2d 983, 985 (10th Cir. 1976). 18. See Wooten v. Pleasant Hope R-VI Sch. Dist., 139 F.Supp.2d 835 (W.D.Mo.2000), aff'd by, 270 F.3d 549 (8th 19. See, e.g., Seamons v. Snow, 84 F.3d 1226, 1235 (10th Cir.1996); see also Albach, 531 F.2d at 9......
  • Bloodman v. Kimbrell, 4:11CV00818 JMM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Eastern District of Arkansas
    • August 17, 2012
    ...neither a parent nor a student have a property interest in playing interscholastic sports. See Wooten v. Pleasant Hop R-VI Sch. Dist., 139 F. Supp. 2d 835 (W.D.Mo. 2000); Peterson ex re. Peterson v. Ind. Sch. Dist. No. 811, 999 F.Supp. 665 (D.Minn. 1998). But see Boyd v. Bd. of Dir. Of McGe......
  • National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Willis, No. 01-20723.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • June 25, 2002
    ...facts as alleged in such pending or prior litigation, and thus are expressly excluded from the coverage of the [2000] policy." Willis, 139 F.Supp.2d at 835. We agree with the district court. All three policies define "Claim" as "a civil Page 342 proceeding ... which is commenced by service ......
  • Smith v. Chippewa Falls Area Unified School Dist., No. 01-C-678-C.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. Western District of Wisconsin
    • May 29, 2002
    ...552 F.2d 681, 682 (6th Cir.1976); Pegram v. Nelson, 469 F.Supp. 1134, 1139 (M.D.N.C.1979); Wooten v. Pleasant Hope School Dist., 139 F.Supp.2d 835 (W.D.Mo.2000); William D. Valente, Education Law 167 Plaintiff does not develop his argument that he has a protected interest in participating i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Taylor v. Enumclaw School Dist. No. 216, No. 55704-1-I.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • May 1, 2006
    ...873, 540 P.2d 882 (1975)). 17. Albach v. Odle, 531 F.2d 983, 985 (10th Cir. 1976). 18. See Wooten v. Pleasant Hope R-VI Sch. Dist., 139 F.Supp.2d 835 (W.D.Mo.2000), aff'd by, 270 F.3d 549 (8th 19. See, e.g., Seamons v. Snow, 84 F.3d 1226, 1235 (10th Cir.1996); see also Albach, 531 F.2d at 9......
  • Bloodman v. Kimbrell, 4:11CV00818 JMM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Eastern District of Arkansas
    • August 17, 2012
    ...neither a parent nor a student have a property interest in playing interscholastic sports. See Wooten v. Pleasant Hop R-VI Sch. Dist., 139 F. Supp. 2d 835 (W.D.Mo. 2000); Peterson ex re. Peterson v. Ind. Sch. Dist. No. 811, 999 F.Supp. 665 (D.Minn. 1998). But see Boyd v. Bd. of Dir. Of McGe......
  • National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Willis, No. 01-20723.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • June 25, 2002
    ...facts as alleged in such pending or prior litigation, and thus are expressly excluded from the coverage of the [2000] policy." Willis, 139 F.Supp.2d at 835. We agree with the district court. All three policies define "Claim" as "a civil Page 342 proceeding ... which is commenced by service ......
  • Smith v. Chippewa Falls Area Unified School Dist., No. 01-C-678-C.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. Western District of Wisconsin
    • May 29, 2002
    ...552 F.2d 681, 682 (6th Cir.1976); Pegram v. Nelson, 469 F.Supp. 1134, 1139 (M.D.N.C.1979); Wooten v. Pleasant Hope School Dist., 139 F.Supp.2d 835 (W.D.Mo.2000); William D. Valente, Education Law 167 Plaintiff does not develop his argument that he has a protected interest in participating i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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