Federal appellate court rules Wisconsin district did not violate former student’s due process rights by banning him from school property
Hannemann v. Southern Door Cnty. Sch. Dist., No. 11-2529 (7th Cir. Mar. 15, 2012)
Abstract: A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that a school district did not violate a former student’s procedural due process by indefinitely banning him from school property. The panel concluded that the former student, as member of the public, did not have a protected liberty interest in accessing school grounds and, therefore, the school district had no duty to provide him with due process related to imposing the ban.
The panel found that the ban did not violate a protected liberty interest based on damage to his “good name, reputation, honor, or integrity,” plus loss of a previously held right under state law. It also found that the ban did not interfere with his right to intrastate travel, violating a liberty interest arising out of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Lastly, it noted that while qualified immunity does not applied to an action for injunctive relief, all defendants, including the individual ones, prevailed on the merits of the suit.
During the 2005-2006 school year, Derek Hannemann was expelled until his 21st birthday from Southern Door County High School (SDCHS) for violation of Southern Door County School District’s (SDCSD) weapons policy. He was reinstated for the 2006-2007 school year on the condition there were no further “incidents of gross misconduct described in the student handbook.”
After an incident April 2007, another in May 2007, and a third involving punching a student, Hannemann was suspended and then permanently expelled. Although the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) overturned the expulsion, Hannemann never returned to SDCHS, in part because of his enrollment in a private school and because SDCSD had indicated it would appeal WDPI’s decision.
Even though Hannemann was no longer a student at SDCHS, he continued to enter the campus to pick up friends and use the weight room. In May 2008, a teacher observed him using the weight room. Hannemann subsequently received a letter from school officials that he was “no longer to enter upon the property of the Southern Door County School district for any purpose effective immediately.” The letter explained that any entry would be considered a trespass. Hannemann was not provided with notice or opportunity to be heard concerning this ban.
Hannemann filed suit against SDCSD and various school officials alleging claims dating backing to the first expulsion, reinstatement and subsequent expulsion. Before the Seventh Circuit, Hannemann only appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on his procedural due process claim for equitable relief from the ban from school property.
The district court held that a school is permitted to ban indefinitely a non-student from its property because members of the public have no constitutional right to access public schools. The court also held that the right to intrastate travel is not unlimited and does not provide a right to access school property. Finally, the court held that the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity as an alternative basis for granting summary judgment as to them because even if the court erred by failing to find a constitutional violation, the law was not clearly established.
Ruling/Rationale: The Seventh Circuit panel affirmed the lower court’s decision. It rejected Hannemann’s contention that school officials had violated his right to procedural due process by banning him from school property without notice and an opportunity to be heard. Noting that in the lower court he had asserted his status as a student, the panel made it clear he had lost such status when he was expelled. It acknowledged that Hannemann had abandoned the “student status” portion of his argument on appeal, instead arguing the violation of due process right as a member of the public.
The panel agreed with the district court’s framing of the issue “as whether a school district can constitutionally ban a non-student from its property until further notice without a hearing.” It stated that when a party asserts a procedural due process claim, the court engages in a two-fold analysis: (1) the court determines whether the individual was deprived of a protected interest, either in liberty or property; and (2) if the individual has established a protected interest, the court must determine what type of process is due.
Before determining if Hannemann had established that he has a protected interest, the panel, like the district court, concluded that that the ban from school property was indefinite but not permanent. It then examined his claim that the ban resulted in a a deprivation of a protected liberty interest because it damaged his “good name, reputation, honor, or integrity,” known as the “stigma plus” framework. It concluded that Hannemann had waived the stigma plus argument because he failed to raise it in the district court based on his status as a member of the general public and only raised it on appeal for the first time.
In addition, the panel found that even if he had not waived the argument, Hannemann’s claim would fail on its merits because he would be unable to prove either the “stigma” or “plus” prongs. Regarding stigma, Hannemann “had not identified any statements made by the school district that would constitute defamatory statements if false.” Regarding the plus element, he had not shown “any defamatory statements have caused an alteration in his legal status.” The panel emphasized that because SDCSD retained the discretion to bar members of the public from school property, “Hannemann is unable to establish the loss of a previously recognized right.” It also found “[c]ase law … supports our holding that members of the public do not have a constitutional right to access school property.”
The panel then turned to Hannemann’s contention that a liberty interest arose from the Due Process Clause itself based on his right to intrastate travel. “We agree,” stated the panel, “with the district court’s well-reasoned analysis, and we hold that Hannemann’s ban from school property does not violate his right to intrastate travel.” It concluded that Hannemann had failed to demonstrate that “the ban actually violates his right to intrastate travel” because there was no allegation the ban “inhibits his ability to move from place to place within Door County.” The panel pointed out that while Hannemann argued the ban prevented him from entering school property to participate in certain activities, he had argued that the ban prevented him from travelling through parts of the county to participate in those activities.
The panel also determined, “[e]ven if we construe Hannemann’s intrastate travel claim as arguing that he has the right to enter public facilities and remain there, his claim fares no better. . . The right to intrastate travel protects the right to move from place to place, not the right to access certain public places.”
The panel rejected Hannemann’s argument based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in City of Chicago v. Morales 527 U.S. 41(1999), stating “the freedom to loiter for innocent purposes is part of the ‘liberty’ protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The panel did not view this “dicta as compelling our recognition of a liberty interest in unfettered access to school grounds.” It also noted that even if the panel ”recognized some liberty interest in the right to loiter, it would not follow that this right confers unfettered access to all public places.” The panel, therefore, concluded it was ”not prepared to recognize a right for members of the public to loiter on school grounds based on the broad language in Morales.”
Finally, while acknowledging that qualified immunity was not available to individual defendants where a plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, the panel found that the defendants all prevailed on the merits. “Hannemann has failed to establish that defendants’ imposition of an indefinite ban from school grounds deprived him of any constitutionally protected interests,” the court explained.
Hannemann v. Southern Door Cnty. Sch. Dist., No. 11-2529 (7th Cir. Mar. 15, 2012)
[Editor's Note: The panel cited decision from other circuits holding that members of the public, including parents, do not possess a constitutionally protected right to access school grounds.
In September 2011 Legal Clips summarized a decison by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Schmidt v. Des Moines Pub. Sch. holding that a school district did not violate a noncustodial parent’s substantive due process, procedural due process, or equal protection rights when school officials denied her access to her children during school hours and denied her access to their educational records. The panel concluded that it was not clear that a parent’s liberty interest in a child’s care, custody and management includes unfettered access to the child during the school day.]