Court Dismissed Constitutional Claims Against Teacher for Grabbing Student’s Arm During a Discipline Incident

The student’s lawsuit alleged injuries sustained after a band teacher grabbed his arm while attempting to discipline the student.  The trial court dismissed federal constitutional claims brought under the Fourteenth and Fourth Amendments.

Fourteenth Amendment due process claims may be premised on a student’s liberty interest in their bodily integrity.  Physical abuse by a school employee may violate that right.  Procedural due process is satisfied when the state provides adequate post-deprivation remedies.  And when state law provides such adequate procedural remedies, student discipline, even if excessive, will not give rise to a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim based on a liberty interest in bodily integrity.  Since Texas provides remedies through the Texas Education Code and Texas Penal Code prohibiting excessive corporal punishment, the student’s allegations did not state a valid Fourteenth Amendment claim.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures and can apply in the school context.  The Fifth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Texas, has declined to recognize a Fourth Amendment violation in the corporal punishment context on facts far more egregious than those presented in this case.

The Fifth Circuit has held that maintaining discipline in schools allows for control over students, and the allegation that the teacher momentarily grabbed the student’s arm while trying to discipline him did not rise to the level of a valid Fourth Amendment claim.  The constitutional claims were dismissed against the teacher. Morones v. Harlingen Consolidated Ind. Sch. Dist., No. 1:20-CV-050, 2020 WL 6163237 (S.D. Tex. Oct. 2, 2020), report and recommendation adopted sub nom. Morones a/n/f L.A.M. v. Harlingen Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 1:20-CV-00050, 2020 WL 6161404 (S.D. Tex. Oct. 21, 2020).

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