SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A federal appeals court ruled this week that the Springfield School District did not violate students’ constitutional rights when a drug-detection dog sniffed their belongings. The ruling follows a lawsuit against the district by a Springfield city council member, Doug Burlison, and his wife, on behalf of their son.
The lawsuit followed a search for drugs at Central High School in April 2010 by two Greene County sheriff’s deputies and a dog. School administrators required students to leave their backpacks, purses and other belongings behind in classrooms during the search.
During a five-minute search of one classroom, the dog didn’t alert to any drugs. A son of Doug and Mellony Burlison was a freshman at the time and a student in that classroom. He says he thinks his backpack was unzipped and searched, although deputies and school administrators denied that.
The Burlisons sued the district and the sheriff’s department. They said the search was an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A federal district judge dismissed the lawsuit and the Burlisons appealed, leading to the ruling on Monday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which is based in St. Louis.
In an e-mail message on Wednesday afternoon, Doug Burlison said he would have no comment on the appeals court's ruling until he'd had a chance to talk to his attorney.
Edited news release from the Springfield School District:
On March 4, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Doug and Mellony Burlison against Springfield School District, superintendent Norm Ridder, Central High School principal Ron Snodgrass and Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott.
The lawsuit alleged the school district's use of drug-detection dogs in its school buildings to sniff student possessions constituted an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The Appeals Court specifically found the procedure used by the district, which required students to leave their possessions in a classroom for a short period of time while a drug-detection dog walked through the room, did not constitute an unreasonable seizure of the student's possessions. The Court stated: "Requiring students to be separated from their property during such a reasonable procedure avoids potential embarrassment to students, ensures that students are not targeted by dogs and decreases the possibility of dangerous interactions between dogs and children."
The Appeals Court further found the school district's use of drug detection dogs was "minimally intrusive, and provided an effective means for adducing the requisite degree of individualized suspicion to conduct further, more intrusive searches" if needed.
The district's legal counsel Ransom Ellis said the Court complimented the district's policies and procedures governing the use of drug-detection dogs in its schools and the methods used during the drug dog walk-through at Central High School.
View the court's ruling: Judgment from Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals