United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
T.S., a minor, by and through his parents and legal guardians, TROY STEPHENSON and MISTY STEPHENSON, Plaintiff,
TALLADEGA COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
T.S., a Childersburg Middle School student, wrote President
Donald Trump's name on Defendant Anita Foy's
classroom whiteboard two days after the 2016 presidential
election. Ms. Foy issued a disciplinary referral to T.S. for
violating a school rule limiting discussion of the election
to history class. The school's assistant principal,
Defendant Michael Bynum, punished T.S. by paddling him.
by and through his parents and legal guardians, filed this
lawsuit alleging that Ms. Foy, Mr. Bynum, and Defendant
Talladega County Board of Education (the “Board”)
violated his constitutional rights. The following claims
remain pending: (1) T.S.'s § 1983 free speech claim
against the Board, and Ms. Foy and Mr. Bynum in their
individual capacities (Count One); (2) T.S.'s § 1983
due process claim against the Board and Mr. Bynum in his
individual capacity (Count Two); and (3) state law assault,
battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress
claims against Mr. Bynum in his individual capacity (Counts
Three and Four).
the court are Defendants' motions for summary judgment.
(Docs. 36, 37). Because Ms. Foy and Mr. Bynum did not violate
T.S.'s constitutional rights, Ms. Foy and Mr. Bynum are
entitled to qualified immunity on T.S.'s § 1983
claims against them, and the Board is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. Therefore, the court WILL
GRANT the motions for summary judgment with respect
to T.S.'s § 1983 claims. In the absence of an
independent basis for jurisdiction over T.S.'s state law
claims against Mr. Bynum, the court will decline to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over the claims.
deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court
“draw[s] all inferences and review[s] all evidence in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party.”
Hamilton v. Southland Christian Sch., Inc., 680 F.3d
1316, 1318 (11th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted).
events giving rise to this lawsuit took place at Childersburg
Middle School in the days before and after the 2016
presidential election. (Doc. 38-1 at 20). In the weeks
leading up to the election, Assistant Principal Michael
Bynum “heard reports of disruptions and
unrest in other schools around the area in regards to the
election.” (Doc. 38-5 at 51). The day after the
election, Mr. Bynum received a report that students at
Childersburg Middle School were “wound up about the
election and were very loud and rowdy in the halls, ”
(doc. 38-7 at 3; see also doc. 38-5 at 40, 51),
causing “disruption in the hall regarding the election
results” (doc. 38-5 at 42). Mr. Bynum testified that
“[i]n an effort to make sure that the school was not
disrupted, ” he asked a school staff member to make
“a general announcement . . . that all discussions of
the election take place in only the history classroom so as
not to disrupt other classes or the hallways.” (Doc.
38-5 at 40; see also Doc. 38-11 at 2).
with Mr. Bynum's instruction, the staff member
“made an announcement over the school's public
address system that discussions of the presidential election
were to be limited to history class in order to avoid
disruptions in classes or in the hallways and that
disruptions would be treated as disciplinary
infractions.” (Doc. 38-11 at 2-3; see also
Doc. 38-12 at 3). T.S., then in 8th grade, was at school when
the announcement was made, but he does not remember hearing
the announcement. (Doc. 38-1 at 37; Doc. 38-3 at 27; Doc.
38-5 at 23).
Childersburg Middle School, students are expected to report
directly to their homeroom when they arrive at school. (Doc.
38-5 at 61; Doc. 38-12 at 3). A student's first period
class also serves as his homeroom. (Doc. 38-12 at 3). During
the homeroom period, teachers take attendance and make
announcements, and students work on academic assignments.
(Doc. 38-7 at 4; Doc. 38-8 at 3). T.S.'s assigned
homeroom and first period was in Dottie Montgomery's
history class. (Doc. 38-1 at 23-24; Doc. 38-12 at 2).
days after the election, instead of reporting to his assigned
homeroom period in Ms. Montgomery's classroom, T.S. went
directly to Ms. Foy's classroom without Ms. Foy's or
Ms. Montgomery's permission. (Doc. 38-7 at 3; Doc. 38-12
at 3). Upon entering, T.S. wrote “Trump 2016” on
Ms. Foy's whiteboard. (Doc. 38-1 at 28-30; Doc. 38-8 at
2-3). T.S. testified that he “heard a lot of arguing,
” and “a handful” of the 15 students in Ms.
Foy's class were “upset” about what he wrote
on the board. (Doc. 38-1 at 33-34). When other students
complained, T.S. “argued a bit” with them and
“rub[bed] it in their face [that President Trump
won].” (Doc. 38-1 at 34-35).
left Ms. Foy's classroom and went to the restroom. (Doc.
38-1 at 42). When he left the restroom, Ms. Foy approached
him in the hallway and told T.S. that he should not have
written “Trump 2016” on her whiteboard because
“it started a lot of fights and argument.” (Doc.
38-1 at 43-44). Ms. Foy did not say anything else about the
presidential candidates during this discussion with T.S.
(Doc. 38-1 at 44- 45).
walked T.S. back to Ms. Montgomery's classroom and told
Ms. Montgomery what happened. (Doc. 38-1 at 45). Ms. Foy then
issued a discipline referral to T.S. (Doc. 38-1 at 45). The
discipline referral form states:
Students were told on yesterday because of the sensitivity of
the matter, not to discuss the election unless it was in
History class. They were told any discussion would result in
an office referral. T. decided to write “Trump”
on my board this morning, disregarding others that were in
the classroom. This resulted in some upset students. I
informed student that the name (it could have been the name
of the other candidate) wasn't the issue. But it was the
nature of everything behind it.
(Doc. 38-2 at 2).
sent T.S. to the school office, and T.S. met with Mr. Bynum.
(Doc. 38-1 at 47-49). Mr. Bynum told T.S. he was written up
for causing a commotion in Ms. Foy's classroom. (Doc.
38-1 at 50, 53; Doc. 38-5 at 24-25, 52). Mr. Bynum did not
say anything about the presidential candidates themselves.
(Doc. 38-1 at 50-51).
Bynum called T.S.'s father and explained what T.S. had
done and that as punishment, Mr. Bynum planned to paddle T.S.
or give him in-school suspension. (Doc. 38-3 at 34-35; Doc.
38-5 at 25-26). T.S.'s father told Mr. Bynum that he did
not believe that T.S. should be punished for what happened,
but that if Mr. Bynum needed to take action right away, then
T.S. could decide which punishment he wanted to receive.
(Doc. 38-3 at 36-38; Doc. 38-5 at 27, 54). T.S. chose the
paddling because he “felt like it'd be easier just
to get it done with.” (Doc. 38-1 at 56-57).
Bynum gave T.S. two licks with the paddle. (Doc. 38-1 at 61,
65). T.S. testified that the first lick hurt “[a] good
bit, ” but he didn't say anything to Mr. Bynum
between the first and second lick. (Doc. 38-1 at 65). T.S.
did not cry during the paddling, and when asked during his
deposition how hard the licks were, T.S. testified that
“it wasn't too bad.” (Doc. 38-1 at 69,
time Mr. Bynum dismissed T.S. from the office, first period
had ended. (Doc. 38-1 at 66). T.S. reported to his second
period class in Ms. Foy's classroom. (Doc. 38-1 at 66;
Doc. 38-8 at 4). On his own initiative, T.S. apologized to
Ms. Foy for his behavior. (Doc. 38-1 at 67; Doc. 38-8 at 8).
According to Ms. Foy, when T.S. returned to class, he did not
appear to be in any discomfort and his demeanor and
interaction with other students were normal. (Doc. 38-8 at
4). Shortly after Ms. Foy's class began, T.S. was called
to the office because his mother had come to the school to
check him out for the day. (Doc. 38-1 at 68; Doc. 38-4 at
was not in pain when he left school. (Doc. 38-1 at 69). He
did not have bruises, and he could walk normally. (Doc. 38-1
at 69-70; Doc. 38-3 at 39-40). T.S. did not need medical
treatment or counseling. (Doc. 38-1 at 76, 84; Doc. 38-3 at
returned to school the next school day. (Doc. 38-1 at 76;
Doc. 38-3 at 61). He finished the school year at Childersburg
Middle School and did not have any further problems with Mr.
Bynum or Ms. Foy. (Doc. 38-1 at 76-80).