Ninth circuit dismisses student's restraint and seclusion case
On December 24, 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in A.T. v. Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District, et al. This case concerns A.T., a boy who was repeatedly subjected to restraints and seclusion during the course of three years, ending in 2009 when he was in second grade. It is undisputed that A.T. was severely emotionally disturbed and regularly displayed aggressive and violent behavior toward school staff and other students.
A.T. and his guardian argued before the court that the use of restraints and seclusions exceeded what was allowed under his elementary school's policies, and under his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and thereby violated his Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Court narrowed the question at issue to be whether clearly established law prohibited the defendants from using restraints and seclusion to address A.T.'s severe emotional and behavioral issues, including aggression toward staff and students, when the specific uses and durations of the restraints and seclusion were often in excess of what was prescribed in A.T.'s IEP.
The school district and the other defendants, including teachers and staff who had inflicted restraints and seclusions on A.T. or who had supervised and approved their use, successfully moved to dismiss the case against them on the grounds of qualified immunity.
The court decided that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because they did not violate clearly established law at the time of the alleged violations. It was not enough that they knew what they were doing was wrong and not in conformance with A.T.'s IEP. In previous cases, the court had recognized that even public officials who know that what they are doing is morally wrong are protected by qualified immunity, so long as they did not have clear notice that their actions violated the Fourth Amendment or other relevant law.
Education Attorney Molly Watson
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