United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
JESSICA McKINNEY, as next friend and legal guardian of K.P., a minor PLAINTIFFS
HUNTSVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT, and ROXANNE ENIX in her individual capacity as Principal of HUNTSVILLE HIGH SCHOOL and JOHN DOES 1-10 in their individual capacities DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS DISTRICT JUDGE.
pending before the Court are a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 10)
and Brief in Support (Doc. 11) filed by Defendants Huntsville
School District, Roxanne Enix, and John Does 1-10 (Huntsville
School Board members). Plaintiff Jessica McKinney, as next
friend and legal guardian of K.P., has submitted a Response
in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 17). The Court
heard oral argument on the Motion during a hearing held on
July 19, 2018, at which time it GRANTED
Defendants' Motion from the bench. This Opinion and Order
memorializes that ruling. To the extent anything written here
differs from the Court's pronouncements from the bench,
this Opinion and Order controls.
Saturday evening, February 24, 2018, K.P., a student at
Huntsville High School, posted to social media a photograph
of himself wearing a trench coat and beanie while posing with
an assault rifle. The photograph did not include a caption.
The next morning, after reading several comments mentioning
school shootings, K.P. removed the photo and posted a second
photograph of himself in the same clothing without the
assault rifle. This time, however, he included a caption that
read, at least in part, "If I wanted to make an impact I
would choose a much more high profile crowd th[a]n a bunch of
hicks and jocks who are never going to be anything of
particular value." (Doc. 6, p. 13). In the interim,
other students from the school viewed the photo and commented
on it, and school officials were notified. Over the next
several days, concerned parents, students, and teachers
contacted the school, requesting to know how the school was
going to handle the perceived threat and whether it was safe
to come to work or to bring a pupil to the school.
response to these events, K.P. was initially suspended for
ten days. Subsequently, the School Board expelled him for 365
days. As part of this year-long expulsion, K.P. will be
allowed to take the classes necessary for graduation through
an online program called A, provided to him by the District.
This will ensure that he remains eligible to graduate
on-time, and any credits that he earns from the program will
appear on his transcript and will not note that they were
earned through this program while he was expelled.
Complaint contends that Defendant Huntsville School District
("District") violated K.P.'s free speech (Count
I), procedural due process (Count II), and substantive due
process rights (Count III). Plaintiff also claims that
Defendant Enix (the Huntsville High School Principal)
violated K.P.'s free speech rights (Count IV) and also
defamed him (Count V). Additionally, Plaintiff claims that
John Doe School Board Defendants violated K.P.'s free
speech rights (Count VI).
filed a Motion to Dismiss Counts 111, IV, V, and VI pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 10). They
argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for substantive
due process violations (Count III) because, in punishing
K.P., the District did not act arbitrarily and capriciously
but rather in accordance with its legitimate interest in
school order and safety. (Doc. 11 at 4). Defendants also
argue that qualified immunity protects Enix and the School
Board members from damages and therefore request that Counts
IV and VI be dismissed. Finally, Defendants argue that the
defamation claim (Count V) against Enix should be dismissed
due to qualified privilege.
survive a motion to dismiss, a pleading must contain "a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).
The purpose of this requirement is to "give the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The Court
must accept all of a complaint's factual allegations as
true and construe them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, drawing all reasonable inferences in the
plaintiff's favor. See Ashley Cnty., Ark. v. Pfizer,
Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009).
the complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Id. "A
pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or
'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it
tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further
factual enhancement.'" Id. In other words,
while "the pleading standard that Rule 8 announces does
not require 'detailed factual allegations,' ... it
demands more than an unadorned, the
defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id.
Count III: Substantive Due Process
due process claims may be stated in two different ways.
First, a plaintiff may allege that the government has
infringed her fundamental liberty interests. These claims are
generally limited to protecting recognized liberty interests
such as "matters relating to marriage, family,
procreation, and the right of bodily integrity."
Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 272 (1994).
Second, the Supreme Court has also recognized substantive due
process claims when government actions "shock the
conscience." See Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis,
523 U.S. 833, 846-53 (1997); Mendoza v. U.S. ICE,
849 F.3d 408, 420-21 (8th Cir. 2017); Moran v.
Clarke, 296 F.3d 638, 645, 647 (8th Cir. 2002).
when a specific constitutional amendment provides an
"explicit textual source of constitutional protections
against a particular sort of government behavior, that
Amendment, not the more generalized notion of substantive due
process, must be the guide for analyzing those claims."
Stewart v. Wagner,836 F.3d 978, 983 (8th Cir. 2016)
(quoting Lewis, 523 U.S. at 842) (quotation marks
omitted). For example, a claim of arrest without probable
cause, "even if labeled a claim of malicious
prosecution, 'must be judged' under the Fourth
Amendment, not substantive due process." Id.
(quoting Albright v. Oliver,510 U.S. 266, 270-71
& n.4 (1994)); see also Brandenburg v. Hous. Auth.