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Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rules that school resource officers were entitled to qualified immunity in civil rights case

On September 24, 2018, in JW v. Birmingham Board of Education, No. 15-14669, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judgment against six school resource officers (SROs) who were sued in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights case by students who had been subjected to chemical spraying. The district court denied the claim by the SROs that they were entitled to qualified immunity, found the SROs liable for failing to adequately decontaminate the students following the spraying and awarded the students monetary damages and injunctive relief.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the award of money damages against the SROs, finding that the defendants were acting within their discretionary authority at the time of the alleged civil rights violations, and that there was insufficient proof that that law governing the appropriate decontamination protocols was clearly established at the time of the wrongful conduct. See White v. Pauly, 137 S. Ct. 548, 551 (2017) (in actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the doctrine of qualified immunity offers complete protection for government officials whose conduct “does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”

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