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Doe v. Sevier County

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division

December 5, 2017

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.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 58], Defendants' Brief in Support of the Motion [doc. 59], Plaintiffs' Response [doc. 67], and Defendants' Reply [doc. 68]. For the reasons herein, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs 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 in the Sevier County Juvenile Court, which announced the terms of the agreement in open court and did not memorialize the specific terms of the agreement in a written order. [First Hr'g Tr., doc. 47, at 8:18-25, 9:1- 23; Second Hr'g Tr., doc. 69, at 18:8-19; see Juvenile Records, doc. 9-1, at 1-7].

         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], [1] and 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].

         John Does then brought this action against Sevier County, the School Board, and Superintendent Dr. Jack Parton (“Defendants”), alleging they violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by abridging their rights under the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. [Compl., doc. 1-1, ¶ 18].[2] 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. 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 at 1- 7]. The School Board has since filed these Orders with this Court, and they state:

Pursuant 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 School.

[Id. at 3-4, 6-7].

         Shortly 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. 29, at 1; First Hr'g Tr. at 1-59]. A few weeks later, the Court scheduled a second evidentiary hearing, to accommodate John Does' request to present additional evidence for an injunction. [Second Order, doc. 54, at 1]. Before the hearing could take place, however, Defendants filed for summary judgment, attacking the merits of John Does' case on evidentiary and legal grounds. The Court reserved ruling on their request for summary judgment, choosing to resolve the immediate issue before it- the need for a preliminary injunction-before reaching the merits of the case.

         The second hearing went on as scheduled. During the hearing, 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. Dr. Cline stated that the Sevier County School System has a policy of “open enrollment, ” which she described in the following way: “[I]f [a parent] is a resident of [Sevier] [C]ounty and his or her child resides in the home with that parent . . . he or she can select [any one of the five] school[s] in [Sevier County].” [Id. at 61:1-5]. After carefully ...

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