On December 1, 2010, plaintiffs, high school students in the Birmingham City Schools (BCS), filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the Birmingham Board of Education (BOE) and the Birmingham Police Department (BPD), and several BPD . The plaintiffs alleged that the School Resource Officers (SROs), police officers who worked in the high schools, had repeatedly used pepper spray on students in order to enforce school discipline. The plaintiffs, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, brought a class action suit, on behalf of all current and future BCS high school students, for declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that pepper spraying students on campus violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well as state tort law. They asked the court to enjoin the defendants from continuing this practice. In addition to the class claims, plaintiffs also brought individual claims for compensatory damages as a result of being pepper sprayed.
The case was initially assigned to Chief Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn who recused herself on May 19, 2011. It was reassigned to Judge Abdul K. Kallon. On July 20, 2011, Judge Kallon dismissed a few claims against the assistant high school principal and dismissed all remaining claims against the BCS Superintendent and the BOE, by granting in part and denying in part the school defendants' motion to dismiss. In light of that decision, that same day, the court denied plaintiffs' motion for class certification without prejudice, allowing the plaintiffs to refile the motion with an amended complaint.
On August 31, 2012, the Judge Kallon granted plaintiffs' motion for class certification. 2012 WL 3849032. The Chief of the BPD and the SROs petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit for permission to appeal the class certification order.
On September 25, 2012, Judge Kallon denied the police defendants' motion to stay further class action proceedings pending the resolution of the appeal. However, the court decided, on its own, to stay all proceedings in the case because it planned to deny police defendants' and the assistant high school principal's earlier motions for summary judgement based on immunity grounds. Staying the proceedings, the court reasoned, would give the defendants the opportunity to appeal their qualified immunity defenses. On October 3, 2012, as promised, Judge Kallon denied the motions for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, while granting summary judgment on a few claims against the Chief of the BPD.
Both the assistant principal and the police defendants appealed the district court's partial denial of the motions for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Meanwhile, on December 20, 2012, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied permission to the police defendants to appeal the class certification order. This meant that the class action claims could continue.
A few months later, the assistant high school principal reached a settlement with the plaintiffs settling all district court claims and all claims and issues on appeal. Both sides bore their own costs. As a result, on February 22, 2013, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the assistant principal's appeal of the district court order denying summary judgment on immunity grounds. And on April 16, 2013, the District Court (Judge Abdul K. Kallon) dismissed the claims against the assistant principal; the only remaining defendants were the Chief of the BPD and the SROs.
On September 19, 2013, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision that the SROs were not entitled to qualified immunity and dismissed the remaining claims for lack of appellate jurisdiction. J.W. v. Roper, 541 Fed. Appx. 937 (11th Cir. 2013) (per curiam). The parties resumed discovery in the district court on plaintiffs' remaining claims.
Judge Kallon held a twelve day bench trial in late January and early February 2015. As of March 15, 2015, the district court has not issued a decision in the case.David Hamstra - 03/14/2015