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Mother Unsuccessfully Sues School After School Expels Child For Alleged Marijuana Use
On October 4, 2022, Raven Griffin, who did not have a lawyer and was representing herself, filed a complaint against the Shining Star Christian Schools and the School’s executive director after her son was expelled from the School for allegedly using marijuana. Griffin filed a motion for leave to proceed without prepaying the filing fee.
On October 24, 2022, the trial court denied the motion without prejudice because the motion was incomplete. The trial court gave Griffin the option of amending her motion or paying the filing fee in full. At this time, the trial court also preliminarily screened Griffin’s complaint and explained to Griffin that she could not represent her minor son for the alleged violation of her son’s rights.
On December 1, 2022, Griffin filed a motion for an extension of time to retain an attorney, which the trial court granted. On December 21, 2022, the court received Griffin’s amended complaint, but not an amended motion for leave to proceed without prepaying the filing fee nor payment for the filing fee.
In her amended complaint, Griffin removed her minor son from the caption and sought one million dollars from the School under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act on the ground that the School expelled her son and intentionally discriminated against Griffin. Specifically, Griffin alleged that prior to the expulsion, her son complained to her that two school employees (not named as defendants) picked on him and released confidential information about him to other students. Griffin did not allege that she brought this to the School’s attention. Griffin insisted that her son was negative for drug testing and cited the Shining Star Handbook, which states that a meeting will take place within five days of a student’s removal from the School. Griffin argued that she suffered stress, anxiety, embarrassment, and emotional damage and that she reported the misconduct to the Wisconsin Religious & Independent Schools Accreditation.
In regard to the filing fee, the trial court expressed concern that Griffin’s income and expenses were inconsistent across her several filings across the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Griffin had not paid the filing fee in one case and in three different filings, and her filings indicate different numbers of children in her household and different amounts of household expenses. The court concluded that Griffin was making deliberate misrepresentations and inconsistencies about her income and expenses. The court noted that alone is enough to dismiss the case.
However, even if the court did not dismiss the complaint for failure to comply with the court’s order, the trial court still would dismiss the complaint. In order to file suit under Title VI, the plaintiff suing must be a participant or beneficiary in the program at issue, and the program or activity at issue must be a recipient of federal funding. Here, Griffin did not allege that she was excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of a program receiving federal financial assistance. Griffin’s allegation was that as a single black mother, she suffered because her black son was singled out, targeted, and kicked out of school with no recourse. Griffin failed to allege that Shining Stars Christian Schools is a recipient of federal funding.
Griffin also alleged violations of her constitutional rights, particularly due process right based on the School’s failure to abide by the Student Bill of Rights or Student Handbook. The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids state actors from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, but Griffin did not allege a due process violation by a state actor. Griffin had the opportunity to amend her complaint and did not allege that either the School or its executive director acted under the authority of the state.
Finally, Griffin alleged general negligence and emotional distress, which are state law claims. The federal court hearing this case declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claims. The court dismissed the case for failure to comply with the court’s order of paying the filing fee or filing an amended motion.
Griffin v. Mattek (E.D. Wis., May 2, 2023) 2023 WL 3212863.
Note: This case shows that the technicalities and costs of filing a complaint against a school can be burdensome for parents. It is possible that the school in this case did not follow its processes in expelling the student, but without a properly pleaded complaint, the case was dismissed.