Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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D.S. and S.P are high school students. D.S. (who is black and has learning disabilities) was charged with violating South Carolina’s Disturbing Schools Law, S.C. Code 16-17-420(A), “after becoming involved in a physical altercation which she did not initiate and in which she was the only person" injured. S.P. (who is white and suffers from disabilities) was charged with violating the Disorderly Conduct Law, S.C. Code 16-17-420(B), after she cursed at a student who had been teasing her and refused to leave as instructed. Other Plaintiffs include young black adults who were previously arrested and charged with violating the Disturbing Schools Law when they expressed concerns about police conduct and an afterschool program serving at-risk youth with two members (Latina and black girls) who were charged under the Disturbing Schools Law. The Fourth Circuit vacated the dismissal, for lack of standing, of a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging the laws as unconstitutionally vague. At least some of the plaintiffs do not rely on conjecture or speculation; they attend schools where they were previously arrested and charged under the statutes, and they do not know which of their actions at school will be interpreted to violate the statutes in the future. Plaintiffs also allege that the laws chill their exercise of free expression, forcing them to refrain from exercising their constitutional rights or risk arrest and prosecution. View "Kenny v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a school resource officer in an action brought by an elementary school student under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and several state laws. The officer decided to handcuff the student for fighting with another student three days prior. The court held that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer's actions were not objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances where the student was a ten year old girl who was sitting calmly and compliantly in a closed office surrounded by three adults and was answering questions about the incident at issue. Although the officer used excessive force, the student's right not to be handcuffed under the circumstances was not clearly established at the time of her seizure. Therefore, the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. The court also held that there was insufficient evidence in the record for a reasonable jury to conclude that the officer acted maliciously or with gross negligence when she handcuffed the student. View "E.W. v. Dolgos" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an action alleging that plaintiff's suspension, investigation, and recommendation of dismissal from his job as a high school teacher were in retaliation for his political speech. The court held that the school board was not subject to municipal liability and defendant was unable to present a prima facie case against the remaining defendants. In this case, the school and its administrators were investigating and taking disciplinary action for the legitimately inappropriate behavior to which plaintiff has admitted. View "Penley v. McDowell County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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M.L. was born in 2003 with Down Syndrome and is a “child with a disability” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 20 U.S.C. 1401(3)(A). He and his family are members of the Orthodox Jewish faith and reside in an Orthodox Jewish community in Montgomery County, Maryland. In 2009, M.L. was enrolled, at his parents’ expense, in Sulam, “a special education program that serves the Orthodox Jewish community.” In 2012, his parents and school officials met to form an individualized education program (IEP) for M.L. so that he could attend classes in the public school district. After expert assessments of M.L.’s capabilities, the school determined that M.L. “is able to learn despite his severe intellectual disability, but he needs constant repetition and consistency.” M.L.’s parents rejected the school's proposed IEP “because it does not provide functional instruction to prepare [M.L.] for life in the Orthodox Jewish community.” The district responded that such instruction was “not part of the curriculum, too specific, religious, or not compatible with [M.L.’s] present levels.” The Fourth Circuit affirmed the rejection of the parents’ claims on summary judgment. The IDEA does not mandate that a school instruct a student in his preferred religious practices as part of a “free appropriate public education.” View "M.L. v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Free Speech Clause does not protect speech expressed in an admissions interview from admissions consequences in a competitive process. After he was denied admission in the Radiation Therapy Program (RTP) at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), plaintiff filed suit alleging that points were deducted from his application score and that he was denied admission because of the expression of his religious beliefs during his interview in violation of the Free Speech Clause, the Establishment Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's claim under the Free Speech Clause where plaintiff's speech was not protected. After applying the Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), test to plaintiff's Establishment Clause claim, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants because CCBC had a secular purpose in identifying the best qualified candidates; none of CCBC's actions inhibited religion; and there was no excessive government entanglement. View "Buxton v. Kurtinitis" on Justia Law