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Law School Case Brief

Mellen v. Bunting - 327 F.3d 355 (4th Cir. 2003)

Rule:

For the purposes of the issue of a defendant's entitlement to qualified immunity, a court must take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs.

Facts:

Plaintiff cadets sued the Superintendent of the school, alleging that a daily supper prayer violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.  The Superintendent established a policy whereby all cadets desiring to eat supper at the first seating were required to participate in formation, march into the mess hall, and listen to the supper prayer. The district court granted declaratory and injunctive relief, but found the Superintendent was entitled to qualified immunity from an award of damages.

Issue:

Does the defense of good faith entitle a superintendent to qualified immunity in an action for violation of the establishment clause?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court vacated in part and the injunctive relief was mooted by the cadet’s graduation. While the court found that the coercive prayer violated the Establishment Clause, the defense of qualified, good faith immunity applied, because no Supreme Court opinion specifically addressed or prohibited prayer at a state university.

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