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Sunday, July 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tenn. School Not Liable |for Handcuffing Child

NASHVILLE (CN) - The parents of an unruly second-grader who was handcuffed in the principal's office for nearly an hour don't have a claim against the school, a federal judge ruled.

Gregory and Camie Hoskins sued the South Cumberland Elementary School and the Phoenix School last year on behalf of their minor child, T.H.

T.H. had to be pulled out of kindergarten because of behavioral problems and he was diagnosed with separation anxiety, the ruling states. The child was put on "homebound status" during first grade and received a mood disorder diagnosis.

He was later transitioned back into the Cumberland County, Tenn. elementary school for second grade, but on Feb. 27, 2012, T.H. threaten to hit his teacher, and he was placed in the alternative school for three days.

T.H., who was eight years old at the time, allegedly swung at a teacher during his time at the Phoenix School and was escorted to the principal's office, where "the child drew back his fist and threatened to strike the principal" and a school police officer, the ruling states.

The second-grader was handcuffed in the principal's office for 45 minutes before he was released to his parents. The Hoskins sued nearly a year later, claiming unreasonable seizure, due process violation, assault, battery, infliction of emotional distress and negligence.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp dismissed the Hoskins' federal and state claims last week. While the court found Officer John Tollett's 45-minute handcuffing of T.H. to be unreasonable, he is entitled to qualified immunity for the unreasonable seizure claim, the judge ruled.

"Based on the record before the court, plaintiffs have not demonstrated that Officer Tollett is not entitled to qualified immunity," Sharp wrote. "Accordingly, Officer Tollett's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claim of unlawful seizure will be granted on the basis of qualified immunity."

The Hoskins' due process claims don't hold up because they did not prove - under the Rehabilitation Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - that T.H. was in fact disabled. They also failed to exhaust administrative procedures, the judge ruled.

"[The Hoskins] have not identified the nature of the purported disability or shown that it substantially limits any major life activity. Nor is there any proof that T.H.'s parents perceived him to be disabled," Sharp wrote in the 32-page opinion.

The federal court declined to exercise jurisdiction over state-law claims and dismissed them without prejudice.

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