WOOD V. STRICKLAND, 420 U. S. 308 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308 (1975)

Wood v. Strickland

No. 73-1285

Argued October 16, 1974

Decided February 25, 1975

420 U.S. 308


Respondent Arkansas high school students, who had been expelled from school for violating a school regulation prohibiting the use or possession of intoxicating beverages at school or school activities, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioner school officials, claiming that such expulsions infringed respondents' rights to due process and seeking damages and injunctive and declaratory relief. The District Court directed verdicts for petitioners on the ground that they were immune from damages suits absent proof of malice in the sense of ill will toward respondents. The Court of Appeals, finding that the facts showed a violation of respondents' rights to "substantive due process," since the decisions to expel respondents were made on the basis of no evidence that the regulation had been violated, reversed and remanded for appropriate injunctive relief and a new trial on the question of damages.


1. While, on the basis of common law tradition and public policy, school officials are entitled to a. qualified good faith immunity from liability for damages under § 1983, they are not immune from such liability if they knew or reasonably should have known that the action they took within their sphere of official responsibility would violate the constitutional rights of the student affected, or if they took the action with the malicious intention to cause a deprivation of such rights or other injury to the student. But a compensatory award will be appropriate only if the school officials acted with such an impermissible motivation or with such disregard of the student's clearly established constitutional rights that their action cannot reasonably be characterized as being in good faith. Pp. 420 U. S. 313-322.

2. When the regulation in question is construed, as it should have been and as the record shows it was construed by the responsible school officials, to prohibit the use and possession of beverages containing any alcohol, rather than as erroneously construed by the Court of Appeals to refer only to beverages containing in excess of a certain alcoholic content, there was no absence of evidence to prove the charge against respondents, and hence the

Page 420 U. S. 309

Court of Appeals' contrary judgment is improvident. Section 1983 does not extend the right to relitigate in federal court evidentiary questions arising in school disciplinary proceedings or the proper construction of school regulations, and was not intended to be a vehicle for federal court correction of errors in the exercise of school officials' discretion that do not rise to the level of violations of specific constitutional guarantees. Pp. 420 U. S. 322-326

3. Since the District Court did not discuss whether there was a procedural due process violation, and the Court of Appeals did not decide the issue, the Court of Appeals, rather than this Court, should consider that question in the first instance. Pp. 420 U. S. 326-327.

485 F.2d 186, vacated and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in Parts I, III, and IV of which all other Members joined, and in Part II of which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BLACKMUN and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 420 U. S. 327.

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