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R.M.B. v. Bedford County (Virginia) School Board

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

March 11, 2016

R.M.B., ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
Bedford County (Virginia) School Board, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORMAN K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

efore the Court upon Defendants’ motion for summary judgment (docket no. 53) and Plaintiffs’ cross-motion for summary judgment (docket no. 76).

Plaintiffs in this suit are R.M.B., an 11-year- old boy who was enrolled as a student at Bedford Middle School (“BMS”) for the 2014-15 school year; his father, Robert Bays, a retired schoolteacher; and his mother, Linda Bays, a schoolteacher employed by the Bedford County School Board (“BCSB”). Defendants are Brian Wilson, an assistant principal at BMS; Dr. Frederick M. Duis Jr., the Chief Operations Officer for Bedford County Public Schools (“BCPS”); and M. M. Calohan, a law enforcement officer employed as a deputy of the Bedford County Sheriff, and who was assigned to BMS as a school resource officer.

Plaintiffs’ suit contains three claims: a Virginia state law claim of malicious prosecution; a claim of deprivation of due process; and a claim of deprivation of substantive due process. For the following reasons, I will grant Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and deny Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.

I. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is warranted if the Court concludes that no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, based on the totality of the evidence, including pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and affidavits. Whiteman v. Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C., 729 F.3d 381, 385 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). A genuine issue of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To demonstrate that a genuine issue of material fact exists, a party may not rest upon his own mere allegations or denials. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Rather, the party must “proffer[] sufficient proof, in the form of admissible evidence, that could carry the burden of proof of his claim at trial.” Mitchell v. Data Gen. Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1316 (4th Cir. 1993). To this end, a district court has an “affirmative obligation . . . to prevent ‘factually unsupported claims [or] defenses’ from proceeding to trial.” Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24).

II. Undisputed Facts

A. Initial Reports to Calohan

Calohan received a report on September 19, 2014, from Christy Martin, a parent of a student at BMS. Martin reported that R.M.B. “was telling people at school he was selling brownies and cookies with marijuana [baked inside].” Docket No. 54, Ex. 1, at 6 (hereinafter “Calohan Dec.”); see also Docket No. 77, Ex. 4, at 2:10-15 (“[M]y daughter had heard . . . about a child bringing marijuana cookies in and offering it to students.”) (hereinafter “Martin Dep.”).

Calohan received a similar report the following Monday morning, September 22, 2014. A female sixth grade student, identified as M.S., went to Calohan’s school office and told her that R.M.B. “brought this leaf to school that he said was marijuana.” Docket No. 77, Ex. 6, at 20:10- 15 (hereinafter “M.S. Dep.”). M.S. also reported that R.M.B. had a lighter, rolled cigarette paper into a cigarette and lit the end of it, and that he and a high school student were selling marijuana on his bus. Calohan Dec. 6.

B. Wilson’s Investigation

Calohan relayed these reports to Wilson later that morning, and he retrieved R.M.B. from class. Docket No. 54, Ex. 2, at 4 (hereinafter “Wilson Dec.”); Docket No. 77, Ex. 1, at 9:11-17 (hereinafter “R.M.B. Dep.”); Docket No. 77, Ex. 5, at 4:22-5:1 (hereinafter “Wilson Dep.”). While walking to his office, Wilson asked R.M.B. if he had anything in his cinch sack that he should not have, to which R.M.B. responded “No.” R.M.B. Dep. 10:5-6; Wilson Dep. 5:2-6.

Once in his office, Wilson decided to search R.M.B.’s cinch sack. Officer Calohan was responding to a call at the elementary school at the time, and so Wilson called the school nurse into his office to witness the search. Wilson Dec. 4; Wilson Dep. 5:1-2. Wilson and R.M.B. emptied R.M.B.’s cinch sack, and Wilson discovered in the front pocket of the sack what appeared to be a crumpled marijuana leaf and a lighter. R.M.B. Dep. 10:22-11:4; Wilson Dep. 5:6-10; see also Docket No. 54, Ex. 3, at 2-4 (hereinafter “Photo Ex.”).

Wilson asked R.M.B. how he came to possess the items, and R.M.B. told him that a high school student, identified as J.T., gave him the leaf and the lighter. R.M.B. Dep. 12:3-4; Wilson Dec. 4. R.M.B. stated that he did not purchase the leaf from J.T., but instead that it was given to him to keep. Wilson Dec. 4.

C. Calohan’s Investigation and R.M.B.’s Criminal Charge

Wilson called Calohan into his office when she returned to school, and she examined some of R.M.B.’s possessions. She observed that R.M.B. had a picture of a cannabis plant on the welcome screen of his phone, which was overlaid with the text “F*** YOU.” Calohan Dec. 7; Photo Ex. 4.

She also inspected the leaf. She “observed [the leaf] visually, noticed that it was five leaves coming off an individual stem, each leaf being serrated on the edge which was consistent with that of marijuana.” Calohan Dep. 15:11-14. She also “observed the odor of the leaf, which [she] knew through [her] training to be the odor of marijuana, consistent with that of marijuana.” Id. at 15:14-16. Based on her training and experience, ...


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