S. O. v. Hinds County School District, No. 19-60650 (5th Cir. 2020)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Plaintiff filed suit on behalf of her 12 year old son, alleging that an assistant principal violated her son's Fourth Amendment rights by searching his pockets after a teacher caught him selling contraband candy. Plaintiff initially alleged that the principal had grabbed her son's genitalia. The district court denied the principal qualified immunity. After the undisputed record evidence later demonstrated that, at most, the principal had only searched the boy's pocket and did not grab his genitalia, the district court granted the principal qualified immunity.

On appeal, plaintiff complained that the district court misunderstood her earlier argument and that she never claimed that the principal grabbed her son's genitalia, but that he unreasonably searched the son's pockets. Accepting plaintiff's contention as true, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court should have granted qualified immunity to the principal earlier. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment.

The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on February 18, 2020.

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Case: 19-60650 Document: 00515302215 Page: 1 Date Filed: 02/07/2020 IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT No. 19-60650 Summary Calendar United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit FILED February 7, 2020 S.O., individually and on behalf of her minor son, B.O., Lyle W. Cayce Clerk Plaintiff - Appellant v. HINDS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT; PRINCIPAL BEN LUNDY, in his individual and official capacities; ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL TOMMY BRUMFIELD, in his individual and official capacities; ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL MICHELLE RAY, in her individual and official capacities, Defendants - Appellees Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi USDC No. 3:17-CV-383 Before HIGGINBOTHAM, HO, and ENGELHARDT, Circuit Judges. JAMES C. HO, Circuit Judge: S.O. brought this suit on behalf of her then twelve-year old son, B.O. She claims that Timothy Brumfield, an assistant principal at B.O.’s school, violated her son’s Fourth Amendment rights by searching his pockets after a teacher caught him selling contraband candy. When she first filed this suit, S.O. initially alleged that Brumfield had grabbed her son’s genitalia. So the district court denied Brumfield qualified immunity. But undisputed record evidence later demonstrated that, at most, Case: 19-60650 Document: 00515302215 Page: 2 Date Filed: 02/07/2020 No. 19-60650 Brumfield had only searched the boy’s pocket and did not grab his genitalia. Accordingly, the district court granted Brumfield qualified immunity. On appeal, S.O. complains that the district court misunderstood her earlier argument. She contends that she never claimed that Brumfield grabbed her son’s genitalia—only that Brumfield unreasonably searched his pockets. But accepting her contention as true, it only means that the district court should have granted qualified immunity to Brumfield even earlier. On the face of the appeal, then, it is patently obvious that there is no relief to which S.O. is entitled. We accordingly affirm. 1 In addition, Judge Ho would have directed S.O.’s counsel to explain why she should not be sanctioned for filing a frivolous appeal, see FED. R. APP. P. 38—if not also for “conduct unbecoming a member of the bar,” see FED. R. APP. P. 46(b)–(c). As explained above, the appeal is demonstrably frivolous on the face of counsel’s briefs. Moreover, those briefs not only contain countless misspellings and grammatical errors—they also appear to appeal to prejudice. Counsel’s opening brief repeatedly contends that “Brumfield was touching around in minors [sic] pocket, making minor believe the Defendant was gay.” Her reply brief then concludes that B.O. “believed that . . . Broomfield [sic] was gay, making the touch of the minor’s privacy area that more offensive.” That is circular logic: Brumfield searched B.O.’s pockets, so he must be gay—and because he is gay, he shouldn’t have searched B.O.’s pockets. And the demonstrable failure of counsel’s logic makes one wonder why counsel bothers to bring up sexual orientation at all. It should go without saying that members of the bar are expected to engage in legal argument—not prejudice. But cf. Glass v. Paxton, 900 F.3d 233, 238 (5th Cir. 2018) (quoting a professor’s declaration, which counsel urged district court to review, that she feared “religiously conservative” and “libertarian” students because they hold “extreme views,” are prone to “anger and impulsive action,” and are “more likely to own guns given their distaste for government”). 1 2
Primary Holding
School assistant principal was entitled to qualified immunity for searching a student's pockets for contraband candy.

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