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Case Name J.W. v. Roper PN-AL-0004
Docket / Court 2:10-cv-03314-AKK ( N.D. Ala. )
Additional Docket(s) 12-90035  [ 12-90035 ]
12-15551  [ 12-15551 ]
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) Policing
Attorney Organization Southern Poverty Law Center
Case Summary
On December 1, 2010, plaintiffs, high school students in the Birmingham City Schools (BCS), filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The plaintiffs sued the Birmingham Board of Education (BOE), the Birmingham Police Department (BPD), and several ... read more >
On December 1, 2010, plaintiffs, high school students in the Birmingham City Schools (BCS), filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The plaintiffs sued the Birmingham Board of Education (BOE), the Birmingham Police Department (BPD), and several BPD officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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 sought an injunction enjoining the defendants from continuing this practice. In addition to the class claims, the 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 the 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 the 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. The court decided on its own, however, 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. On September 30, 2015, the court released its findings of fact and conclusions of law. 143 F. Supp. 3d 1118 (N.D. Ala. 2015). First, the court found that two of the plaintiffs succeeded on the merits of their individual excessive use of force claims because neither resisted arrest or posed a danger to anyone, whereas the other plaintiffs all exhibited grounds for use of the chemical spray. The court awarded these two plaintiffs $5,000 in damages each. Next, the court found that the six plaintiffs who the SROs directly sprayed succeeded on the merits of their excessive force claim for the SROs' failure to decontaminate them. The court also awarded these six plaintiffs $5,000 in damages each. Finally, on the class claims, the court concluded that the Fourth Amendment violations occurred pursuant to a policy or custom of the BPD and that the plaintiffs are entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief. Rather than issue a permanent injunction, however, the court ordered the parties to meet and confer to devise a training and procedure plan to improve the policies related to the use of chemical spray in Birmingham schools. Thus, the district court granted the plaintiffs relief on most of their claims.

On October 16, 2015, the defendants appealed the following district court decisions to the Eleventh Circuit: the order granting class certification, the rulings on the parties' motions in limine, the interlocutory orders denying qualified immunity, the evidentiary rulings during the trial, and the final order issued on September 30. Specifically, the SROs found liable on the decontamination claims argued that they were entitled to qualified immunity on the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims. Additionally, Chief Roper appealed the district court's ruling on the class claims. The defendants did not appeal the district court's award of $5,000 to two of the plaintiffs who succeeded in their excessive use of force claims.

After extensive review of the lengthy trial transcript and documentary evidence, the Eleventh Circuit issued its opinion on September 24, 2018. 904 F.3d 1248 (11th Cir. 2018). The appeals court found that the SROs were entitled to qualified immunity on the plaintiffs' decontamination claims because the relevant law was not clearly established at the time of their conduct in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Further, the appeals court held that the class-based claims for declaratory and injunctive relief with respect to the use of the chemical spray and the decontamination policy failed for lack of standing.

Thus, on December 14, 2018, Judge Kallon entered judgment for the two plaintiffs for $5,000 each on their excessive force claims and entered judgment for the defendants on all other claims. The court dismissed the case with prejudice and the case is now closed.

David Hamstra - 03/14/2015
Eva Richardson - 01/21/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Unreasonable search and seizure
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Law-enforcement
General
Aggressive behavior
Assault/abuse by staff
Excessive force
Failure to train
Juveniles
Pepper/OC spray
Restraints : chemical
Plaintiff Type
City/County Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Defendant(s) Birmingham Board of Education
Birmingham Police Department
Plaintiff Description The class includes all current and future high school students in the Birmingham City Schools. A few current high school students also filed individual claims.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Southern Poverty Law Center
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Damages
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Filing Year 2010
Case Closing Year 2018
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
2:10-cv-03314 (N.D. Ala.)
PN-AL-0004-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/14/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PN-AL-0004-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/01/2010
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 48] (N.D. Ala.)
PN-AL-0004-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/20/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 50] (N.D. Ala.)
PN-AL-0004-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/20/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Opinion Order [ECF# 187] (2012 WL 3849032 / 2012 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 124183) (N.D. Ala.)
PN-AL-0004-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 08/31/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Corrected Third Amended Complaint [ECF# 188]
PN-AL-0004-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/10/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 196] (N.D. Ala.)
PN-AL-0004-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/03/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Per Curiam Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 212-1] (541 Fed.Appx. 937)
PN-AL-0004-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/19/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law [ECF# 282] (143 F.Supp.3d 1118)
PN-AL-0004-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/30/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [Ct. of App. ECF# 316-1]
PN-AL-0004-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/27/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Black, Susan Harrell (M.D. Fla., Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-0007
Edenfield, Berry Avant (S.D. Ga.) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-0007
Kallon, Abdul K. [Karim] (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-0003 | PN-AL-0004-0004 | PN-AL-0004-0005 | PN-AL-0004-0006 | PN-AL-0004-0008 | PN-AL-0004-9000
Martin, Beverly Baldwin (N.D. Ga., Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-0007
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bauer, Mary C. (Virginia) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-0001 | PN-AL-0004-0002 | PN-AL-0004-9000
Graunke, Kristi L. (Georgia) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Howard, Ebony G. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-0001 | PN-AL-0004-0002 | PN-AL-0004-9000
Johnson, Jadine (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-0002 | PN-AL-0004-9000
Katzerman, Jerri (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Menschel, Brooke (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Morris, Maria V. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-0002 | PN-AL-0004-9000
Nong, Dominique (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Bentley, Thomas III (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Boardman, Mark S. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Carr, Clay Richard (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Choy, Michael K K (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Fullerton, Frederic L II (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
King, Nicole E. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Latta, Forrest S. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Lawson, Mark M. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Patton, Javan J. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Ramey, Edward T. (Colorado) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Relfe, Julien Mitchell (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Rutherford, Robert H. Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000
Shirley, Elizabeth Bosquet (Alabama) show/hide docs
PN-AL-0004-9000

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