United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division
JOHN DOE #1, by and through his next friend, SUSAN LEE, and JOHN DOE #2, by and through his next friend, BILLY KING, Plaintiffs,
SEVIER COUNTY, TENNESSEE, SEVIER COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, and Superintendent DR. JACK PARTON in his official capacity, Defendants.
Jordan United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for
Preliminary Injunction [doc. 4], Plaintiffs' Brief in
Support of the Motion [doc. 5], Defendants' Response
[doc. 9], and Plaintiffs' Reply [doc. 12]. For the
reasons herein, the Court will deny the motion.
John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 (“John Does”) are
minors and former students at Sevier County High School in
Sevierville, Tennessee, where they were members of the
school's basketball team. [Lee Aff., doc. 12-1,
¶¶ 2-3; King Aff., doc. 12-2, ¶¶ 2-3].
Last year, while John Does were in their junior year, they
were arrested, jailed, and charged with aggravated rape. [Lee
Aff. ¶¶ 2-3; King Aff. ¶¶ 2-3].
“[A]s a condition of bond, ” they “[were]
restrained from attending high school at Sevier County High
School.” [Lee Aff. ¶ 3; King Aff. ¶ 3]. John
Does and the District Attorney's Office, however, reached
an eventual settlement agreement, which the Sevier County
Juvenile Court announced in open court and which resolved the
charges against them. [First Hr'g Tr., doc. 47, at
8:18-25 9:1-23; Second Hr'g Tr., doc. 69, 18:8-19]. Since
then, John Does have had the charges expunged from their
juvenile records, [Chief Deputy Clerk Letter No. 1, doc. 1-5,
at 1; Chief Deputy Clerk Letter No. 2, doc. 1-6, at 1],
attempted to re-enroll in Sevier County High School on three
separate occasions, [Second Hr'g Tr. at 8:23-25; 9:1-5].
The Sevier County School Board (“School Board”),
however, denied them the opportunity to re-enroll in Sevier
County High School, based on a concern that their settlement
agreement or the Sevier County Juvenile Court had barred them
from returning to that specific school. [Id.]. The
School Board instead offered them enrollment in any one of
their four other high schools in Sevier County. [Id.
at 61:19-25; 62:1-5].
Does then brought this action against Sevier County, the
School Board, and Superintendent Dr. Jack Parton (“Dr.
Parton”), alleging that they violated 42 U.S.C. §
1983 by abridging their rights under the First Amendment and
the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
[Compl., doc. 1-1, ¶ 18]. John Does also contemporaneously
filed a motion for a preliminary injunction under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 65, alleging that they “have
invested themselves tremendously in the athletic program at
Sevier County High School, ” that they are
“considered to [be] physically gifted, highly talented
within their skill set for their particular sport, ”
and that “transferring to any other school will cause
irreparable harm.” [Compl. ¶¶ 9-10;
see Mot. for Preliminary Inj., doc. 4, at 1].
Specifically, they claim that “opportunities that were
available to them for scholarships and to compete
collegiately have been damaged and/or are rapidly
diminishing” because they have been unable to attend
Sevier County High School and participate in its basketball
program. [Compl. ¶ 20]. Within days of John Does'
filing of this action, the School Board proceeded to the
Sevier County Juvenile Court, which, at the School
Board's request, memorialized the terms of John Does'
settlement agreements in written Orders. [See
Juvenile Records, doc. 9-1, at 1-7]. The School Board has
since filed these Orders with this Court, and they state:
to an agreement announced in Court on a separate case, and a
petition to this Court for entry of an Order memorializing
the agreement, the following is ORDERED that:
1. That the respondent[s] . . . shall have no contact,
directly or indirectly, with [the victim], a minor whose
identity is known to the parties, the Court and the Sevier
County School System.
2. No contact means respondent[s] shall not appear at any
location where [they] know [the victim] will be present.
3. Should inadvertent contact occur, the burden is on the
respondent[s] to cease the contact.
4. Respondent[s] shall not re-enroll in Sevier County High
[Id. at 3-4, 6-7].
after John Does brought this action, this Court scheduled an
evidentiary hearing, at which the parties presented evidence
and argument as to the propriety of a preliminary injunction.
[Order, doc. 13, at 1; First Hr'g Tr. at 1-59]. A few
weeks later, the Court held a second evidentiary hearing, to
accommodate John Does' request to present additional
evidence in support of a preliminary injunction. [Order, doc.
54, at 1; Second Hr'g Tr. at 1-99]. The Court received
testimony from several witnesses, including John Doe #1; John
Doe #2; John Doe #1's father; John Doe #2's father;
Assistant District Attorney Rolfe A. Straussfogel; Jackie
Renee Brown, who is John Does' homebound instructor; and
Dr. Debra Ann Cline (“Dr. Cline”), who is the
assistant superintendent and director of curriculum and
instruction for the Sevier County School System.
the hearings, John Doe #1's father described his son as
“not a star player” but a “good
player” who “stand[s] out” because of his
“demeanor” and “supportive role”
with the team. [First Hr'g Tr. at 25:25; 26:1-3; 27:2-4].
John Doe #2's father testified that his son currently has
no athletic scholarship offers from any collegiate
institution. [Second Hr'g Tr. at 25:3-6]. Even so, John
Does explained that they want to return to Sevier County High
School so they can continue to play for their former
basketball coach, Ken Wright (“Coach Wright”),
whom they consider to be their “ticket” to
college. [Id. at 6:13-17; 47:9-16; 50:13-16]. John
Does presented testimony to show that Coach Wright has
“placed folks in the college ranks” and
“may have sent [some]one to the NBA.”
[Id. at 31:2-5; 50:21-22]. Partly because of their
relationship with and esteem for Coach Wright, John Does have
declined the School Board's invitation to enroll in one
of Sevier County's four other high schools, all of which
have school-sponsored basketball teams. [Id. at
61:19-25; 62:1-5; 72:5-7; 88:15-20]. In light of this record
evidence, and the record evidence as a whole up to this
point, the Court will now address John Does' request for
a preliminary injunction.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65, the purpose of a
preliminary injunction is “merely to preserve the
relative positions of the parties until a trial on the merits
can be held.” Univ. of Tex. v. Camenisch, 451
U.S. 390, 395 (1981). A preliminary injunction, however, is
an “extraordinary remedy, ” and the movant has
“[the] burden of proving that the circumstances clearly
demand it.” Overstreet v. Lexington-Fayette Urban
Cty. Gov't, 305 F.3d 566, 573 (6th Cir. 2002)
(citation omitted). When considering whether to issue a
preliminary injunction, a court considers four factors: (1)
whether the movant has shown a strong likelihood of success
on the merits of the controversy, (2) whether the movant will
suffer irreparable harm without an injunction, (3) whether an
injunction would cause substantial harm to others, and (4)
whether an injunction would serve the public interest.
Id. The movant has to present “[e]vidence that
goes beyond the unverified allegations of the pleadings and
motion papers.” Salmon v. Old Nat'l Bank,
No. 4:08CV-116-M, 2010 WL 716232, at *4 (W.D. Ky.) (quotation
omitted), abrogated on other grounds by No.
4:08CV-116-M, 2010 WL 1463196 (W.D. Ky. Apr. 8, 2010);
see Leary v. Daeschner, 228 F.3d 729, 739 (6th Cir.
2000) (recognizing that “the proof required for the
plaintiff to obtain a preliminary injunction is much more
stringent than the proof required to survive a summary
judgment motion” (citations omitted)); but see
Univ. of Tex., 451 U.S. at 395 (“A party . . . is
not required to prove his case in full at a
four factors generally ought to “be balanced against
one another and should not be considered prerequisites to the
grant of a preliminary injunction.” Leary, 228
F.3d at 736 (citations omitted). When a court, however, is
able to determine the propriety of a preliminary injunction
by relying on fewer than all four of the factors, it may do
so. See Certified Restoration Dry Cleaning Network, LLC
v. Tenke Corp., 511 F.3d 535, 542 (6th Cir. 2007)
(“The district judge ‘is not required to make
specific findings concerning each of the four factors used in
determining a motion for preliminary injunction if fewer
factors are dispositive of the issue.'” (quotation
omitted)); Mascio v. Pub. Emps. Ret. Sys. of Ohio,
160 F.3d 310, 315 (6th Cir. 1998) (affirming the district
court's issuance of a preliminary injunction based on the
district court's conclusion that the plaintiff showed a
likelihood of success on the merits). In particular, under
the first factor, “a finding that there is simply no
likelihood of success on the merits is usually fatal.”
Gonzales v. Nat'l Bd. of Med. Exam'rs, 225
F.3d 620, 625 (6th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted); see
Mich. State AFL-CIO v. Miller, 103 F.3d 1240, 1249 (6th
Cir. 1997) (“While, as a general matter, none of these
four factors are given controlling weight, a preliminary
injunction issued where there is simply no likelihood of
success on the merits must be reversed.”); see also
Hall-Bey v. Ridley-Turner, 154 F. App'x 493, 494
(7th Cir. 2005) (“If the party seeking the injunction
cannot establish such a likelihood, the court ends its
inquiry and denies the request.” (citation omitted)).
Court begins by addressing some housekeeping matters to
clarify and frame the legal issues in this case. The Court
notes that John Does' claim, on the merits, is a claim
under § 1983, which creates liability against
“[e]very person who, under color of [state law],
subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen . . . to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured
by the Constitution[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The
statutory language “under color of [state law]”
means that § 1983 is not a safeguard against private
misconduct, no matter how objectionable. Am. Mfrs. Mut.
Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50 (1999). Rather,
§ 1983 “prevent[s] state officials from
using the cloak of their authority under state law to
violate” federally protected rights. Lugar v.
Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 948 (1982) (Powell, J.,
dissenting) (emphasis added) (footnote omitted). In this same
vein, § 1983's purpose “is to deter state
actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive
individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to
provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails, ”
Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992) (citation
omitted), and it offers injunctive relief as a remedy to this
failure, City of L.A. v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 133
n.23 (1983); Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436
U.S. 658, 690 (1978).
bringing a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff has to
specify whether the claim is against a state official in his
official or his individual capacity. Beil v. Lake Erie
Corr. Records Dep't, 282 F. App'x 363, 367 (6th
Cir. 2008). In an individual-capacity claim, liability
attaches to a state official personally for the alleged
wrongdoing, whereas in an official-capacity claim, liability
attaches only to the government entity itself. Essex v.
County of Livingston, 518 F. App'x 351, 354 (6th
Cir. 2013). In this case, John Does name three
defendants-Sevier County, the School Board, and Dr.
Parton-and they identify their claim against Dr. Parton as an
official-capacity claim. [Compl. at 1]. Dr. Parton, in his
official capacity, is merely an agent of the School Board,
and he is therefore a redundant party because the School
Board is already a defendant in this action. See Faith
Baptist Church v. Waterford Twp., 522 F. App'x 322,
327 (6th Cir. 2013) (“Having sued . . . the entity for
which [the defendant] was an agent, the suit against [the
defendant] in his official capacity was superfluous.”);
Cady v. Arenac County, 574 F.3d 334, 342
(6th Cir. 2009) (“In an official capacity action, the
plaintiff seeks damages not from the individual officer, but
from the entity for which the officer is an agent.”
(quotation omitted)); see also Williams v. Alhambra Sch.
Dist. No. 68, No. CV-16-00461-PHX-GMS, 2017 WL 568351,
at *3 (D. Ariz. Feb. 13, 2017) (“A suit against a
school board member in his or her official capacity is
equivalent to a suit against the school district.”
(citing Ctr. for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. L.A. Cty.
Sheriff Dep't, 533 F.3d 780, 799 (9th Cir.
short, John Does' § 1983 claim, properly
characterized, is one for municipal liability against Sevier
County and the School Board. That is to say, a local
governing body, like every other individual, “can be
sued directly under § 1983 for . . . injunctive
relief.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 690. A plaintiff
is entitled to injunctive relief against a municipality when
he satisfies a two-pronged inquiry:
A municipal liability claim against [a] [c]ounty and [a]
[s]chool [b]oard must be examined by applying a two-pronged
inquiry: (1) Whether the plaintiff has asserted the
deprivation of a constitutional right at all; and (2) Whether
the [c]ounty and/or the [s]chool [b]oard is responsible for
that violation. ...