CHICAGO — A federal appellate panel has ruled that an investigation into an alleged incident in which a former Hinsdale Township school board member was accused of allegedly bullying a student did not violate the school board member's constitutional rights, as judges said the U.S. Constitution does not require government officials to take into account the feelings or emotional well-being of those subjected to a government action.
Circuit Judge David F. Hamilton authored the opinion, and judges Frank H. Easterbrook and Ilana Rovner concurred in the decision filed May 10 in the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case revolves an alleged altercation between Claudia Manley, a former school board member, and a student outside of a high school play. The incident allegedly “escalated rapidly” and Hinsdale Township High School District 86 subsequently launched an investigation into whether Manley had bullied the student, according to the appellate court’s decision.
Manley and her husband, Noel, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in an effort to halt the investigation, but they failed. The couple then filed another suit against the board and its superintendent, claiming they had violated their constitutional rights “by conducting the investigation and publicly criticizing the board member for her handling of the dispute with the student,” according to the appellate court’s decision.
Both the plaintiffs and the defendants filed for summary judgment, and the lower court sided with the defendants.
“The [trial] court found that the plaintiffs failed to offer evidence of a required element of a due process claim: the deprivation of a constitutionally recognized liberty or property interest,” Hamilton wrote in the appellate court’s decision. “The district court also found that Noel Manley lacked standing to assert his federal claims.”
The Manleys appealed, but the appellate panel ruled against them.
“The Manleys argue here that the investigation and reprimand impaired three interests that should be protected under the Due Process Clause: a feeling of fair dealing on the part of the government, their mental and emotional well‐being and entitlement to processes mandated by the state and the district itself,” Hamilton wrote in the appellate court’s decision. “Each of these interests fails at least one of the requirements for a viable due process claim.”
The appellate panel held the lower court was correct in deciding the plaintiffs failed to “base any claim on any substantive aspect of due process.”
“As far as we know, no court has gone so far as to say, as the plaintiffs argue, that the United States Constitution requires state and local government officials to avoid upsetting other public officials and candidates affected by their actions or words,” Hamilton wrote in the decision. “This unprecedented theory’s threat to robust public debate is obvious. The district court properly rejected it.”
The appellate panel also found emotional well-being is not covered by the Due Process Clause.
“Emotional well‐being, unlike the more elusive subjective feeling of fairness, is recognized in state law, at least in some situations,” Hamilton wrote in the appellate court’s decision. “This limited interest has not been recognized as an independent liberty interest protected by due process.”
The appellate justices also sided with the lower court, finding that Noel Manley had no standing “to assert federal claims.”
“It is clear that Claudia Manley has standing and that Noel’s claims all derive from hers,” Hamilton wrote in the decision. “…No relief is available to Noel under federal law.”
According to federal court records, the Manleys are represented by attorney Bruce Davidson, of Hinsdale.
The school district is represented by attorneys Babak Bakhtiari and Robert E. Swain, of Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn LLP.