Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

11th Circuit: Nominal Damages Resulting From Unconstitutional Arrest Of 9-Year-Old On School Grounds Not Sufficiently Exceptional To Justify Award Of Attorney’s Fees

By Michael Brodheim

The Eleventh Circuit has vacated the award of attorney’s fees where the prevailing party, a nine-year-old Alabama child who in 2003 was handcuffed and arrested by a deputy on school grounds, was awarded only $1.00 in nominal damages by a jury in a suit filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

While in fourth grade, the child, Laquarius Gray, was reprimanded by her (male) gym teacher for failing to complete an assigned set of exercises. She responded by threatening the gym teacher. A nearby (female) gym teacher diffused the situation, but the school’s resource officer, Antonio Bostic, a Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputy, decided to take the matter into his own hands; he handcuffed and arrested Gray.

Through her mother Toniko Alexander, Gray filed suit against Bostic alleging violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure. Ultimately, the district court granted judgment as a matter of law against Bostic because he “lacked even arguable probable cause to arrest Gray.” After a jury awarded Gray $1.00 in nominal damages, she moved for attorney’s fees (and costs) and the district court awarded her $70,532.93. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit found that the reasoning employed by the district court to support its award of attorney’s fees was “flawed.”

The Eleventh Circuit explained that an award of attorney’s fees to plaintiffs who win only nominal damages must be justified by exceptional circumstances. It held that the point of law established by the case, namely that the handcuffing of a compliant nine-year-old child “for purely punitive purposes” constitutes an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, was “hardly earthshattering. “ It remanded the case to the district court to consider whether other exceptional circumstances existed to warrant the award of fees. See: Gray v. Bostic, 570 F.3d 1321 (11th Cir. 2009), No. 08-15152, June 12, 2009.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Gray v. Bostic