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Dennis v. Board of Education of Talbot County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 8, 2014

GRAHAM DENNIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TALBOT COUNTY, et al., Defendants

Page 498

For Graham Dennis, Casey Edsall, Plaintiffs: John R Garza, LEAD ATTORNEY, Garza Regan and Associates PC, Rockville, MD.

For Board of Education of Talbot County, a body politic and corporate, Karen Salmon, in her individual capacity, Lynne Duncan, in her individual and official capacities, David Stofa, in his individual and official capacities, Sherry Bowen, in her individual and official capacites, Defendants: Andrew W Nussbaum, LEAD ATTORNEY, Nussbaum Law LLC, Clarksville, MD.

OPINION

Page 499

MEMORANDUM OPINION

George L. Russell, III, United States District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendants', Board of Education of Talbot County (the " Board" ), Karen Salmon, Lynne Duncan, David Stofa, and Sherry Bowen, Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 3). Plaintiffs, Graham Dennis and Casey Edsall, are suing Defendants for constitutional violations arising from when they suspended Dennis and Edsall for possessing weapons on school property. Having reviewed the pleadings and supporting documents, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2011). For the reasons outlined below, Defendants' Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

Dennis and Edsall were students at Easton High School in Talbot County, Maryland,

Page 500

and members of the school's lacrosse team.[2] On April 12, 2011, the Department of Juvenile Services informed Duncan, then the Board Student Services Supervisor, that a parent had alleged Easton High lacrosse team members had concealed alcohol in water bottles and consumed it on the bus to and from athletic events. After discussions with senior staff members, Duncan decided to search the lacrosse team bus prior to its departure for an athletic event.

On April 13, 2011, Duncan, Stofa and Bowen, Easton High's principal and assistant principal, respectively, and other security staff boarded the bus and announced to the lacrosse team that they would be conducting a search. While giving the students stickers to mark their belongings, but before any belongings were searched, Dennis told Assistant Principal Bowen he had a pocketknife in his bag. She told Dennis to retrieve it. He complied. Dennis surrendered a two-and-a-half-inch blade to Assistant Principal Bowen, who instructed him to leave his bag on his seat and exit the bus. A subsequent search of his bag returned a Leatherman tool with three tiny blades. Similarly, Edsall left his bag on his seat and exited the bus. When searching Edsall's bag, Assistant Principal Bowen found a butane lighter.

Talbot County Public Schools staff contacted police and handed over the small knives and butane lighter when they arrived. The police arrested Dennis at the scene for possessing the pocketknife on school property.

Following the incident, Principal Stofa suspended Dennis and Edsall for possessing dangerous weapons on school property. Dennis received a ten-day suspension and was further recommended for expulsion from school. Edsall only received a one-day suspension. Dennis and Edsall appealed their suspensions to Salmon, then the Superintendent of Talbot County Public Schools. Superintendent Salmon affirmed Dennis's ten-day suspension but declined to expel him from school. She also affirmed Edsall's one-day suspension.

Dennis and Edsall then appealed their suspensions to the Board, arguing the small knives and butane lighter were tools routinely used to maintain their lacrosse sticks. The Board affirmed their suspensions nonetheless. Undeterred, Dennis and Edsall appealed to the Maryland State Board of Education (the " State Board" ). On April 10, 2012, the State Board reversed Dennis and Edsall's suspensions, and ordered that their records be expunged.

A year and a half later, Dennis and Edsall filed this action against Defendants in this Court, alleging unreasonable searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Count I) and Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count II). (ECF No. 1). They also allege a violation of procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Count III) and Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count IV). They bring the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and ask the Court to take pendent jurisdiction of the state constitutional claims. Notably, in addition to the Board, Dennis and Edsall are suing Superintendent Salmon in her individual capacity, and Duncan, Principal Stofa, and Assistant Principal Bowen in their individual and official capacities. Defendants now move to dismiss. (ECF No. 3).

Page 501

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review


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