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Eugene Suggs v. Lowndes County School District

April 11, 2011

EUGENE SUGGS PLAINTIFF
v.
LOWNDES COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sharion Aycock United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before the Court is Defendant, Lowndes County School District's, Motion for Summary Judgment [38]. After reviewing the motion, response, rules, and authorities, the Court finds as follows:

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, an African-American male, was terminated from his position as a middle school teacher with the Lowndes County School District after allegedly using excessive force during an altercation with one of his students. On April 28, 2008, a student in Plaintiff's Applied Technologies class apparently started playing with a Gatorade bottle and "banging" it on his desk. Plaintiff took the bottle away from the student and put it in his desk drawer. Sometime after class or towards the end of class, the student walked towards Plaintiff's desk. It is unclear as to whether the student was attempting to retrieve the Gatorade bottle or whether he was simply throwing something in the trash. However, Plaintiff contends that the student opened the desk drawer and "jerked it back" into Plaintiff's knee. Plaintiff further alleges that the student then "raised his hand in a threatening move" towards the Plaintiff.

After this altercation ensued, Plaintiff grabbed the student's left arm and put it behind his back, forcing the student towards the door. The sequence of events occurring after Plaintiff grabbed the student's arm is disputed. Plaintiff asserts that while he was attempting to force the student towards the door, the student tripped and fell down. The student, however, denies making any threatening move and contends that the Plaintiff threw him down on the floor and would not let him get up.

The principal of Caledonia Middle School, Karen Pittman, learned of this altercation almost immediately. Pittman told the other students to remain in class, and she gave them each a sheet of paper, instructing each student to write down what they witnessed. Pittman also spoke with both the student and the Plaintiff. After this, Pittman notified the Superintendent of the Lowndes County School District, Mike Halford. Halford then came to Caledonia Middle School the following day. Halford spoke with each student who had witnessed the incident and reviewed each witness statement. Halford also spoke with the Plaintiff, the student, and the student's mother regarding the altercation.

Based on Pittman's recommendation and his own investigation of the incident, Halford concluded that Plaintiff's use of force was excessive and unjustified, causing Plaintiff's actions to be grounds for termination. Halford met with Plaintiff to inform him of the termination decision. Halford also provided Plaintiff with a letter setting forth the reasons for the decision and advising of the right to a due process hearing.

A due process hearing was held on June 20, 2008. Plaintiff hired an attorney to represent him at the hearing, and several witnesses were called. It is undisputed that Plaintiff had an opportunity to present a full defense and to cross examine each witness. It is also undisputed that there was a neutral hearing officer presiding over the hearing. At the conclusion of the due process hearing, the hearing officer issued a written report summarizing the testimony given at the hearing. Plaintiff received a copy of this report.

On August 1, 2008, Plaintiff and his attorney went before the school board in order to proffer Plaintiff's side of the story. After hearing the arguments made by Plaintiff and reviewing the due process hearing report, the Lowndes County School Board voted to approve the actions of Superintendent Halford. As such, on August 8, 2008, the Lowndes County School Board voted to terminate Plaintiff's employment.

Plaintiff subsequently filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The EEOC issued Plaintiff a right to sue letter, and Plaintiff filed suit on February 25, 2009, asserting four separate claims: (i) racial discrimination in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) a violation of the procedural Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (3) a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (4) breach of contract in violation of Mississippi state law. On November 22, 2010, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to all of Plaintiff's claims.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(c) when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings and designate "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324, 106 S. Ct. 2548. Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc).

In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, "but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Id. In the absence of proof, the court does not "assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." Id.

III. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION

Title VII and Section 1981 Race ...


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