Hunt v. State

69 A.3d 360 (Del. 2013)

 

RULE:

A seizure occurs for Fourth Amendment purposes when a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.

FACTS:

After an elementary school vice principal asked Delaware State Trooper (SRO officer) to come to the school and talk to a small group of students about bullying, the vice principal was told the about a bullying incident on a school bus where an autistic student's money had been taken from him. He then obtained permission from the mother of the alleged bully to talk to him. The SRO followed up on the student's claim that someone else had taken the money despite being virtually certain that he was the perpetrator. Thereafter, the SRO took the second student (child) to a reading room where the first student perpetrator was waiting. The SRO closed the door and told the boys what would happen to them if they lied. After the second student was on the verge of crying, the first finally admitted that he took the money. Plaintiffs, child by his mother, appealed a judgment by trial court that granted summary judgment to defendants, school resource officer (SRO) and others, in their action for violation of 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983. The judgment was affirmed as to the battery claim, and was otherwise reversed.

ISSUE:

Whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgement to defendants.

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The state supreme court found, inter alia, that the child was seized for Fourth Amendment purposes. A seizure occurs for Fourth Amendment purposes when a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave. As it could reasonably be inferred that the SRO used the child to elicit the student's confession, the seizure was unreasonable. Accordingly, he was not entitled to summary judgment on the child's § 1983, false arrest, and IIED claims. However, as the child did not remember ever being touched by the SRO, was not harmed, and did not object to the alleged contact, the trial court correctly entered summary judgment in favor of the SRO on the battery claim.

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