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Young v. Twin Rivers School Dist.

October 27, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wm. R. Wilson, Jr. United States District Judge


Plaintiff brought suit against Defendants after her son Zachary was paddled at school. Plaintiff argues that her son was deprived of due process in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act ("ACRA").*fn1 Defendants have moved for summary judgment (Doc. No. 13) and Plaintiff has responded (Doc. No. 16). Defendants motion is GRANTED.

I. Background

Plaintiff Sherry Young is the mother of Zachary Young who was a seventh grade student at Williford Junior High School in the Twin Rivers School District on April 16, 2004, at the time of the paddling. Defendant Evans was the Superintendent of the school district and administered the punishment.

After violating school policy, Zachary had the option of taking a three day suspension from school or be given three "licks." At the request of his mother, Zachary opted for the licks so that he would not get behind in his classes. Ms. Young was present when Zachary received his punishment, but was not allowed in the room. Anthony Burkhammer, a school employee, served as a witness to the paddling. According to both Defendant Evans and Mr. Burkhammer, the first lick was given with normal force, "not at all excessive," and the second and third licks were much lighter.*fn2 In the Complaint, Plaintiff claims that Zachary was "unable to sit down, use the bathroom, or ambulate without difficulty for several days . . . ."*fn3

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact, so that the dispute may be decided on purely legal grounds.*fn4 The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial -- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.*fn5 The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has cautioned that summary judgment is an extreme remedy that should only be granted when the movant has established a right to the judgment beyond controversy.*fn6 Nevertheless, summary judgment promotes judicial economy by preventing trial when no genuine issue of fact remains.*fn7 I must view the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.*fn8 The Eighth Circuit has also set out the burden of the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion:

[T]he burden on the party moving for summary judgment is only to demonstrate, i.e.,"[to point] out to the District Court," that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is then the respondent's burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that burden, summary judgment should be granted.*fn9 Only disputes over facts that may affect the outcome of the suit under governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.*fn10

III. Analysis

As an initial matter, ACRA does not apply to this case because there is no allegation that either Plaintiff is a part of a protected class. Nevertheless, the burdens of proof for claims brought under § 1983 and ACRA are identical;*fn11 therefore, even if Plaintiff's ACRA could be sustained, the § 1983 claims would be considered as including the ACRA claims.

For government conduct to amount to a violation of substantive due-process, a plaintiff must show that the conduct shocks the conscience.*fn12 The government action must be more than merely arbitrary or capricious.*fn13 "Substantive due process 'is concerned with violations of personal rights . . . so severe . . . so disproportionate to the need presented, and . . . so inspired by malice or sadism rather than a merely careless or unwise excess of zeal that it amounted to brutal and inhumane abuse of official power literally shocking to the conscience.'"*fn14

In corporal punishment actions, the Eighth Circuit has developed a four factor test to determine whether the action shocks the conscience.*fn15 The factors are: "(1) the need for the application of corporal punishment; (2) the relationship between the need and the amount of punishment administered; (3) the extent of injury inflicted; and (4) whether the punishment was administered in a good faith effort to maintain discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm."*fn16 Applying this test, the Wise court concluded that, "[m]inor discomfort and hurt feelings do not make a federal case."*fn17

In view of the Eighth Circuit standards, Defendants' conduct does not shock the conscience. Zachary was punished for fighting at school. Three licks is not disproportionate to the school's need to discourage fighting. In addition, when given the choice, Plaintiff decided that Zachary should receive a paddling rather than a three-day suspension. Defendants administered the punishment at the behest of Plaintiff, acting within school policy and under Arkansas law.*fn18 Plaintiff has not submitted evidence that Defendants acted ...

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