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Melerine v. Jefferson Parish School Board

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

February 8, 2017

MIRANDA MELERINE, MR. AND MRS. MELERINE, BRENDON MAJOR, MR. AND MRS. MAJOR, ET AL
v.
JEFFERSON PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, JUDY GARDNER, GERMAIN GILSON, ET AL

         ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 658-309, DIVISION "E" HONORABLE JOHN J. MOLAISON, JR., JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, MIRANDA MELERINE, ET AL James E. Shields, Sr.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, JEFFERSON PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL Michael G. Fanning Glenn D. Price, Jr.

          Panel composed of Susan M. Chehardy, Marc E. Johnson, and Stephen J. Windhorst

         REVERSED AND REMANDED

         MEJ

         SMC

         SJW

          MARC E. JOHNSON JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs appeal the granting of summary judgment in favor of Defendants, dismissing the claims of all Plaintiffs except Miranda Melerine and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Melerine. For the following reasons, we reverse.

         On April 10, 2008, twenty-two plaintiffs and their parents filed suit against the Jefferson Parish School Board, Judy Gardner and Germain Gilson claiming they were arbitrarily denied entry into their 2007 senior prom at L.W. Higgins High School ("Higgins"). Plaintiffs alleged that Ms. Gardner, a teacher at Higgins, and Ms. Gilson, the principal at Higgins, refused to allow them into the prom by negligent and discriminatory enforcement of an illegal dress code. Plaintiffs asserted they had a constitutional right to attend prom and that Ms. Gardner and Ms. Gilson arbitrarily and capriciously denied them of this constitutional right.

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment claiming they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Plaintiffs would not be able to show: (1) they were deprived a cognizable liberty or property interest so as to establish a violation of a constitutional right; (2) the parish-wide dress code was illegal, or that it was implemented without authority or was arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory; or that (3) Defendants breached any duty to Plaintiffs in enforcing the dress code so as to establish a negligence claim.

         In support of their summary judgment, Defendants attached the 2006-2007 Jefferson Parish School Board's Procedure and Policies Handbook for Parents and Students ("the Handbook"), a memo addressed to the Senior Class of 2007 with a copy of the Higgins' dress code for formal dances attached, and the depositions of Ms. Gilson and Ms. Gardner. According to Ms. Gilson, the Handbook, which is given to every public school student in the parish, sets forth a parish-wide policy for public schools that governs the attire for formal dances. Ms. Gilson stated that the dress code set forth in the Handbook was the only policy that existed and was the policy followed by her and her staff at prom. She explained that no one was denied entrance to prom for any reason other than the fact their attire violated the dress code set forth in the Handbook. Ms. Gilson further stated that alterations were available, including pins, needle and thread, and shawls, but not all students were amenable to alterations.

         Plaintiffs opposed the motion and attached several exhibits to their opposition, including the depositions of Ms. Gilson and Ms. Gardner; the affidavits of two plaintiffs, Miranda Melerine and her father, Wayne Melerine, which stated that Miranda obtained approval of her dress prior to prom but was nonetheless denied entry to prom; and the affidavit of Rebecca Frickey, who was a senior at Higgins in 2007 and was allowed entrance into the prom. Plaintiffs argued that the dress code was vague and that Ms. Gardner did not apply the dress code in a uniform manner to all students. In support of their argument, Plaintiffs relied on portions of Ms. Gardner's deposition where she indicated certain dresses in photographs presented to her did not meet the dress code policy, but according to the affidavit of Rebecca Frickey, she was allowed entrance to the prom even though Ms. Gardner testified in her deposition that ...


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