United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
ISABELLA A. a minor, by her parents David A. and Kiersten A., Plaintiff,
ARROWHEAD UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT, ARROWHEAD UNION HIGH SCHOOL BOARD OF EDUCATION, ARROWHEAD UNION HIGH SCHOOL BOARD OF EDUCATION PERSONNEL COMMITTEE, RYAN MANGAN, and LAURA MYRAH, Defendants.
Stadtmueller, U.S. District Judge
is a student at Arrowhead Union High School
(“Arrowhead”) and a member of the girls'
soccer team. She brings this action against the school
administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, complaining
that she was denied due process and equal protection of the
law when she was suspended from participating in four soccer
games. The suspension was handed down after she hosted a
party at her home during which her fellow students consumed
alcohol. The action was originally filed in Waukesha County
Circuit Court and was thereafter removed to this Court.
collectively referred to herein as “Arrowhead, ”
have moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state any
viable claims for relief. (Docket #15). The motion is fully
briefed and, for the reasons stated below, it will be granted
in part and the case will be remanded to state court.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move to
dismiss a complaint on the ground that it fails to state a
viable claim for relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To state a
claim, a complaint must provide “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In other words, the
complaint must give “fair notice of what the. . .claim
is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The
allegations must “plausibly suggest that the plaintiff
has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a
speculative level[.]” Kubiak v. City of Chi.,
810 F.3d 476, 480 (7th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). In
reviewing the complaint, the Court is required to
“accept as true all of the well-pleaded facts in the
complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
plaintiff.” Id. at 480-81.
following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's complaint.
Plaintiff is a sophomore at Arrowhead. As a member of the
girls' soccer team, Plaintiff agreed to act in accordance
with the school's Parent/Athlete & Co-Curricular Code
of Conduct. The code of conduct warns that a student athlete
will be suspended from participation in school athletics if,
among other things, the student possesses, consumes, or sells
alcohol or engages in “criminally related activity,
” including violations of state law or municipal or
county ordinance. (Docket #1-1 at 22). The code provides that
for a first offense, the student will be suspended from
thirty percent of the games of the current season.
Id. at 23.
the weekend of February 10, 2018, Plaintiff invited
approximately a dozen fellow students over to her home for a
party. Some of them brought alcohol and consumed it at the
party. Plaintiff did not possess, provide, distribute, or
consume any alcohol at the party, nor did she ask anyone to
bring alcohol or know that it would be brought.
administration officials became aware that underage drinking
had occurred at Plaintiff's home. According to a
transcript of a voicemail left for Plaintiff's father by
school administrator Laura Myrah (“Myrah”),
Arrowhead officials found photographs depicting Plaintiff
posing with others at the party with beer cans visible in the
background. Id. at 29. Additionally, interviews with
other students who attended the party confirmed the presence
of alcohol there. Id.
February 22, Arrowhead Activities Director Ryan Mangan
(“Mangan”) and Associate Principal Debra
Paradowski met with Plaintiff to present their belief that
she had hosted a drinking party and to gauge her response to
the allegations. Plaintiff ultimately admitted that she
hosted the party and that alcohol was present. As a result,
Mangan informed Plaintiff that she was suspended from
athletics and that he would contact her
February 23, Mangan notified Plaintiff and her parents in
writing that she had been suspended from participating in
thirty percent of the soccer games that season due to her
violation of the Code of Conduct. That amounted to four
games' worth of suspension. Mangan's letter stated
that she had been suspended for “hosting and possessing
alcohol the weekend of February 10.” Id. at
27. Upon receiving the letter, Plaintiff appealed the
suspension in accordance with the Code of Conduct to the
March 20, the Appeal Committee held a hearing to consider
Plaintiff's appeal. The school district and
Plaintiff's father and her attorney presented evidence
and testimony at the hearing. The Appeal Committee upheld the
suspension. Plaintiff alleges that the decision was based on
her hosting of the February 10 party rather than possession
of alcohol, as the photographs discussed above were not
submitted during that hearing.
then appealed the Appeal Committee's decision to the
Personnel Committee. Plaintiff had the opportunity to provide
written submissions to the Personnel Committee. On March 28,
the Personnel Committee met to consider Plaintiff's
appeal of her suspension. Plaintiff was notified by letter on
April 9 that the Personnel Committee upheld the suspension.
receiving the April 9 letter, Plaintiff's father called
Myrah to demand further explanation for the suspension
decision. She left him a voicemail in response, noting that
the evidence they considered included the interview with
Plaintiff, interviews with other student attendees, the
photograph of the February 10 party, and another photograph
showing Plaintiff and another student on a separate occasion
pretending to drink wine from a wine bottle. Myrah explained
that the suspension was appropriate both because of the
code's prohibition on the possession of alcohol and its
prohibition on criminal activity, which in this case was
contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Further, said
Myrah, the suspension could be justified because hosting a
party where alcohol was consumed by minors was unbecoming a
advances three related constitutional claims. First, she
alleges that Arrowhead's conduct during the suspension
process violated her right to procedural due process under
the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Second,
applying principles of substantive due process under the
Fourteenth Amendment, she alleges that she was arbitrarily
deprived of her constitutionally protected interest in
participation in high school athletics. Third, she claims
that Arrowhead violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal
Protection Clause when it suspended her but not the other,
similarly situated students at the party. The Court will
address each claim in turn. Finally, the Court will consider
Plaintiff's remaining claim under Wisconsin state law for
a writ of certiorari.
Procedural Due Process
procedural due process claim arises under the Fourteenth
Amendment, which prohibits state officials from depriving
individuals of life, liberty, or property without due process
of law. Colon v. Schneider, 899 F.2d 660, 666 (7th
Cir. 1990). Such a claim requires Plaintiff to establish
“(1) a cognizable liberty or property interest; (2) the
deprivation of that interest by some form of state action;
and (3) the failure to employ constitutionally adequate
procedures.” Dietchweiler by Dietchweiler v.
Lucas, 827 F.3d 622, 627 (7th Cir. 2016).
Plaintiff's case falters on the first element, as she
enjoys no constitutionally protected property interest in
participation in interscholastic athletics.
entitled to due process, a plaintiff must have a liberty or
property interest at stake; not every deprivation rises to
the level of constitutional concern. Protectible interests
“are not created by the Constitution. Rather, they are
created and their dimensions defined by an independent source
such as state statutes or rules entitling the citizen to
certain benefits.” Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S.
565, 572-73 (1975). Further, when examining these sources for
qualifying interests, the Supreme Court has instructed that
“a person clearly must have more than an abstract need
or desire for [a benefit]. He must have more than a
unilateral expectation of it. He must, instead, have a
legitimate claim of entitlement to it.” Bd. of
Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972). “A
‘legitimate claim of entitlement' is one that is
legally enforceable-one based on statutes or regulations
containing ‘explicitly mandatory ...