In the case of Stanford v. Northmont City School Dist., S.D.Ohio No. 3:19-cv-399 (Feb. 8, 2023), a federal district court dismissed the unlawful search, discipline, and discrimination federal claims brought by two minority high school students as the students failed to show that either the school board or any of its officials acted unlawfully after a school administrator and school resource officer directed the students to empty their pockets and backpacks upon receiving multiple complaints that the students smelled of marijuana and, ultimately, issued each student a ten-day suspension.
In this case, the students alleged that the school board and its officials unlawfully (1) searched the students in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as simply smelling like marijuana did not give rise to reasonably suspecting that the students possessed marijuana given the widespread prevalence of marijuana, (2) disciplined the students in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by issuing suspensions without further factual inquiries, and (3) discriminated against the students in violation of both the Equal Protection Clause to the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by issuing disparately harsher punishments to the students in comparison to their white peers. In response, the school board and its officials alleged that (1) the students were lawfully searched as the smell of marijuana is enough to establish even the higher level of probable cause, (2) the students were lawfully disciplined as the students were provided with notice that they smelled of marijuana in violation of school policy and given an opportunity to be heard as to these allegations before their suspensions were issued, and (3) the students were not unlawfully discriminated against as any differences in punishments between the students and their white peers was explained by non-racial factors. The federal district court agreed with the school board and its officials.
In support of its decision in favor of the school board and its officials as to the federal search claims, the federal court explained that, regardless of whether marijuana use is widespread, schools still have an interest in “eradicating narcotics from their halls” and, notwithstanding the well-settled law that probable cause is not even needed for a student search (Opinion at 9), the district court refused to “carve out an exception to the rule that scent of marijuana provides probable cause to search” — assuming such a higher level applied in the first place (Opinion at 11).
In support of its decision in favor of the school board and its officials as to the federal discipline claims, the federal court explained that the students received all the process that the Fourteenth Amendment demands as the students were given notice that they smelled of marijuana, which was corroborated by multiple witnesses, and the students were given an opportunity to respond.
In support of its decision in favor of the school board and its officials as to the federal discrimination claims, the federal court explained that — assuming, arguendo — disciplining students for marijuana usage has a “disproportionately adverse effect upon a racial minority,” such discipline is not unlawful, in this case, as the student failed to prove that this “impact can be traced to a discriminatory purpose.” Opinion at 19.
To read this case, click here.
NOTE: As the federal district court dismissed all the federal claims, the court refused to exercise supplemental jurisdiction and remanded all the state claims to the state court for further consideration.
Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.
Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.