High School Football Players Tossed from Summer Camp, Then from Court
(The following is an excerpt from Sports Litigation Alert, a subscription-based newsletter that publishes 24 times a year and features a searchable archive of more than 3,000 articles and case summaries, the vast majority of which are original content). To subscribe, visit here.)
By Jeff Birren, Senior Writer
In 2016, high school football players attended a summer camp at a university campus. They stayed in a dormitory and received on-field instruction. The university had a concurrent high school cheerleading camp, and those participants were in a neighboring dormitory. During the camps, a female cheerleading coach believed that she had seen people in a nearby window “observing her” and possibly photographing her while she undressed in her dorm room. She reported it and university police investigated. Ultimately seven players were dismissed from the camp. Two of the players subsequently sued members of the university’s police department alleging various federal claims, including unreasonable search and seizure. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss. The District Court denied the motion and the defendants appealed. The Eighth Circuit recently reversed the District Court in a 2-1 opinion, (T.S.H. v. Green, Case No. 19320, 2021 U.S. App, LEXIS 13828, W.L. 1878155 (5-11-21)).
The camp was held in June 2016 at Northwest Missouri University. The participants were supervised by their high school coach and received on-field instruction by university coaches. The school also hosted a cheerleading camp and they stayed in a “neighboring dormitory.” A female cheerleading coach reported to resident assistants that she “had seen people in a nearby window, and possibly photographing her, while she undressed in a dormitory room.” That was forwarded to University Police. Clarence Green, head of campus police, and Officer Anthony Williams, investigated the incident (Id. at 5).
They “inferred” that the window in question belonged to one of two dormitory rooms that were assigned to seven football camp participants. The officers filed an “offense report” that included the students’ names. According to the Complaint, Williams “directed their high school coach to gather the seven players in a room and hold them there for ‘interrogation’ about the incident.” The coach, “acting at the officers’ direction” and “in submission to” the officers’ perceived authority, brought the players into a room and “told them they were being investigated.” The coach “kept the players in the room ‘for a period of hours’” to question them.
He asked to see the photographs on their cell phones, and this was done, in “submission” to the officers’ “perceived authority.” No one confessed, and the players “were expelled from the camp.” Two of the participants, identified by their initials” “T.S.H.” and “H.R.J.”, sued Officers Green and Williams in federal court. They claimed that the defendants violated their rights “against unreasonable searches under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.” They asserted that they were subjected to an unlawful seizure because their coach “confined” them at the officers’ direction. They further alleged that the officers “denied them certain statutory rights to due process and privacy that are accorded to juveniles in federal delinquency proceedings.” They also claimed that the officers “conspired to violate their civil rights” (Id. at 6).
The defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint “based on qualified immunity.” The District Court denied the motion, holding that the Complaint “adequately alleged violations of clearly established constitutional rights” and that “qualified immunity could not be established ‘on the face of the complaint.’” The defendants appealed. The Circuit had “jurisdiction to consider their interlocutory appeal addressing purely legal issues.”
- The Circuit’s Analysis
The Court began by stating that …