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Pollnow v. Glennon

March 12, 1985

OTTO POLLNOW, WILLIAM POLLNOW AND GERALDINE POLLNOW, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
JOHN E. GLENNON, DAVID M. PARK, PHYLLIS MURRAY, JOHN PARISI, JAMES ASHTON, JOAN BENDER, ROBERT BRENKER, GARY MOODY, LINDA ZINSMEYER, OWEN HILL, ADELAIDE ADAMS, BOARD OF EDUCATION, MILLBROOK CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, MILLBROOK, N.Y. 12545, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from a summary judgment in favor of defendants entered in the Southern District of New York, Richard Owen, District Judge, 594 F. Supp. 220 (S.D. N.Y. 1984) on the ground of qualified immunity in this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982).

Feinberg, Chief Judge, Timbers and Cardamone, Circuit Judges.

Author: Timbers

TIMBERS, Circuit Judge :

The central question presented on this appeal is whether the district court, Richard Owen, District Judge, 594 F. Supp. 220 (S.D.N.Y. 1984), in granting summary judgment in favor of defendant officials of the Millbrook (N.Y.) school system, including the school superintendent, properly held that they as state officials were entitled to qualified immunity in this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982). We affirm.

I.

We assume familiarity with the district court's opinion and its full statement of the facts. We shall summarize here only those facts believed necessary to an understanding of our rulings on the legal issues raised on appeal.

On April 22, 1981,*fn1 Otto Pollnow, then sixteen years old and a student at Millbrook High School, was arrested and charged with assaulting and attempting to stab Adeline Wormell, the mother of one of his teenage friends. The assault occurred at Mrs. Wormell's home during a school vacation. Classes resumed on April 27. When Otto arrived at school, he was met by John Glennon, the school superintendent, and Raymond White, administrative assistant to the principal of Millbrook High School. The three went to Glennon's office where Glennon and White questioned Otto about the alleged assault. Glennon later testified that, during the conversation, Otto admitted the attack and stated that it was brought about by his having smoked marijuana that had been laced, unbeknown to him, with "Angel Dust", a type of hallucinogen. Glennon suspended Otto from class for five days as authorized by New York Education Law § 3214 (McKinney 1981).*fn2

Glennon then notified Otto's parents by mail that a disciplinary hearing was scheduled for May 1, and that the hearing was intended to evaluate "allegations of conduct that endanger the health, safety and welfare of students." Otto and his parents attended the hearing, at which the hearing officer recommended that Otto be suspended indefinitely. Glennon adopted the recommendation.

Otto's parents protested at the hearing that they had received insufficient notice of the charges against Otto. Glennon became concerned and scheduled a second hearing for May 26. This time the notice of hearing specified that the assault on Mrs. Wormell would be the subject of the investigation. The Pollnows, meanwhile, had appealed to the New York Stat Commissioner of Education the determination made at the first hearing and requested a stay of proceedings until the criminal charges against Otto were resolved. They also requested that Otto be reinstated to class attendance in the interim.

The May 26 hearing was held as scheduled and before a different hearing officer. The Pollnows and their attorney attended but stayed just long enough to protest that Otto's participation jeopardized his privilege against self-incrimination and the they departed. The hearing proceeded in their absence. Proof of Mrs. Wormell's serious injuries was put into evidence. At the conclusion, the hearing officer recommended that Otto be suspended for the balance of that academic year and the first semester of the next. Glennon adopted this recommendation and notified the Pollnows accordingly on June 8. No appeal was taken from this second determination.

On June 15, the Commissioner of Education issued an "Interim Order"*fn3 on the appeal from the first hearing. Apparently unaware that the second hearing already had taken place, the Commissioner granted the Pollnows' request for a stay of the § 3214 proceedings pending disposition of the criminal prosecution and ordered that Otto be reinstated to class attendance pending completion of the disciplinary proceedings. Otto was not reinstated, however, because Glennon considered the Interim Order to be moot.

The following August Otto participated in football practice at Millbrook High School. He continued to do so until September 4 when Glennon asserted in a letter to Otto's parents that his suspension was still in effect. The Pollnows then appealed to the Board of Education on the basis of the Commissioner's Interim Order of June 15. The Board unanimously upheld Otto's continued suspension. The Pollnows then appealed the Board's ruling to the Commissioner who, on October 30, issued a second opinion and ordered Otto's immediate reinstatement. Otto was permitted to return to classes and did so on November 4.

On December 1, 1981, the Pollnows commenced this action in the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982), seeking $15,000 actual and $75,000 punitive damages against Glennon; $10,000 actual and $20,000 punitive damages against each member of the Board of Education individually; and $60,000 actual damages against the Board itself. Various motions were made and discovery proceedings took place during the next two and a half years.

On August 3, 1984, the court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment and denied appellants' motion for summary judgment. The court held that Otto was not entitled to a Miranda -type warning in the noncustodial context of his initial conversation with Glennon; that off-campus conduct is a proper basis for suspension under state law; and that a § 3214 hearing is permissible during the pendency of criminal charges involving the same conduct. 594 F. Supp. at 224. Finally, on the issue of Glennon's and the Board's failure to heed the Interim Order of the ...


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