A federal judge has dismissed the claims of a high school football player, who alleged that he was wrongfully expelled from the school after he attacked his coach during a game.
Specifically, Joshua Davis, a senior at Wicksburg High School, had argued that the attack of his coach was related to a concussion he had suffered earlier in the night during the game.
The incident took place on September 16, 2005. At some point in the first half of the game, Davis suffered a head injury that may have resulted in temporary loss of consciousness. However, Davis continued to play.
Early in the third quarter, the WHS coaches decided Davis was not playing well and took him out of the game. Coach Brad Smith explained to Davis why he had been removed from the game. Afterwards, when the WHS offense retook the field, Davis tried to join them, but the coaches made him return to the sidelines.
As he was returning to the sideline, Davis hit Coach Smith with his shoulder pad as he walked by. Smith grabbed Davis and told him that hitting a coach would not be tolerated. According to witnesses, Davis went “ballistic” and started flailing his arms and yelling. The Board also claims that Coach Clay Carter attempted to break up the confrontation and calm Davis down. But when he approached Davis, the plaintiff swung his fist and hit Coach Carter in the left eye, knocking his hat and eyeglasses off his head. Davis also reportedly threw his helmet at Coach Smith. The coaches then called for police and Davis was escorted off the field.
On September 19, 2005, Davis saw Dr. Jeffrey Tamburin, who informed him that he might have suffered a concussion during the football game, and that it was possible his “erratic behavior” was caused by the concussion.
Nevertheless, the Houston County Board of Education conducted a disciplinary hearing regarding Davis and his behavior at the football game. The principal and superintendant both recommended he be expelled. Greg Davis, the father of Joshua Davis, filed a claim on October 20, 2006, arguing that the Board’s expulsion of his son violated his right to equal protection.
The Board then moved for summary judgment.
In considering the motion, the court examined whether the plaintiff established a prima facie case of a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The court noted that the “Equal Protection Clause requires government entities to treat similarly situated people alike. Equal protection claims are not limited to individuals discriminated against based on their membership in a vulnerable class. Rather, it protects any individual’s right to be free from intentional discrimination at the hands of government officials. Campbell v. Rainbow City, 434 F.3d 1306, 1313-14 (11th Cir. 2006). Because there is nothing before this Court to inform it of what race any of the individuals involved in this case are, this Court must, by necessity, analyze Plaintiff’s claim as a ‘class of one’ claim.
“The Supreme Court has recognized the equal protection clause is implicated in ‘class of one’ claims ‘where the plaintiff alleges that he has been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment.’ Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564, 120 S. Ct. 1073, 145 L. Ed. 2d 1060 (2000) (per curiam). The Board argues that Plaintiff has failed to show any similarly situated student treated differently than Joshua Davis.”
To this point, the court noted that the plaintiff offered two other individuals that he claims are similarly situated, but were not expelled. The first comparator, L.H., was a WHS student who kicked the school custodian in the buttocks. “The Board presented evidence that L.H. and the custodian had established a relationship of ‘horseplay’ with each other, which L.H. took ‘too far’ when he kicked Sanders.
“The Court does not believe that L.H. is similarly situated to Davis. This is because the Board has presented evidence that the difference in punishment is due to individualized circumstances of the two cases. Davis was found to have struck two school officials whereas L.H. only struck one. Moreover, Davis hit Coach Carter in the face in the course of a confrontation between Davis and the coaches, whereas L.H. kicked Sanders in the buttocks in the course of horseplay. These facts are enough to prevent Davis from being considered similarly situated to this student.”
The second comparator offered by the plaintiff is C.L. who, was a sixth grade student at WHS. “Officials received a report that C.L. had locked another student inside a bus. When an official confronted C.L. about this he walked away from her. The official told C.L. to stop, then caught up with him and placed her hand on his shoulder. At this point, C.L. turned around, put his hands in the air and called the official a profanity. Ultimately, C.L. was disciplined by corporal punishment.
“The Court finds that C.L. is not a similarly situated student to Davis. Importantly, the mere fact that C.L. was a sixth grader at the time of the incident is by itself sufficient to make the two incidents substantially different. See Hammock ex rel. Hammock v. Keys, 93 F. Supp. 2d 1222, 1232 (S.D. Ala. 2000). Moreover, the Board has presented evidence in the form of sworn affidavits that C.L. never struck any school official, and the plaintiff has provided no evidence to the contrary. Accordingly, C.L. is not similarly situated to Davis and can not be used to establish a prima facie case of a violation of equal protection.”
Greg Davis v. Houston County, Alabama, Board Of Education; M.D. Ala.; CASE NO. 1:06-cv-953-MEF (WO), 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10767; 2/13/08
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Malcolm Rance Newman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Malcolm R. Newman, Attorney at Law, PC, Dothan, AL. (for defendant) James Kevin Walding, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jere C. Segrest, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hardwick, Hause, Segrest & Walding, Dothan, AL.