Take 5

Principal Granted Qualified Immunity in Student Search Case

In a recent case, a principal at Collinsville Middle School was granted qualified immunity following a lawsuit over a student search. The student, identified as D.J., was involved in a monetary exchange of about $10.00 with another student on school premises. The exchange was to reimburse the cost of going to a skate park the previous week and had no connection to drugs or weapons.

The principal, Snow, conducted a search of D.J. based on the cash transfer. The plaintiff, D.J.’s parent, filed a lawsuit alleging that the search violated D.J.’s Fourth Amendment rights. The plaintiff also claimed that D.J. was embarrassed and humiliated by being removed from the classroom in front of his classmates.

In response, Principal Snow argued that he had reasonable suspicion based on the transfer of cash to conduct a limited search and that the search was reasonable in scope. He also claimed that he was entitled to qualified immunity, an affirmative defense that shields government officials from liability for civil damages where their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.

The court granted Principal Snow’s motion to dismiss, stating that the plaintiff had not shown that the law was clearly established such that a reasonable principal had fair warning that a relatively brief, non-invasive search of D.J. based on a report of a monetary exchange between students was unconstitutional. The court concluded that Principal Snow is entitled to qualified immunity.”

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