Facts: Lana Puckett sued on behalf of a young man, D.W., who was sexually molested by a teacher in the Clarksville ISD. The defendants included the district, Principal Nelson and the molester Randi Savage. Savage is now serving a prison sentence for her criminal conduct. At trial, the jury was called on first to determine whether Savage acted “under color of law” when she sexually abused the victim. The jury found against Puckett on this issue, which had to be resolved in her favor as a predicate for liability of the other defendants. Additionally, however, the jury found that Principal Nelson was not deliberately indifferent to the violation of D.W.’s constitutional rights and that no person in Clarksville ISD had knowledge of the abuse and failed to take proper corrective measures. When Puckett sought a new trial, the district court denied it on the ground that the jury had evidence going both ways on whether Savage acted “under color of law.” As a result, it could not be concluded that the jury verdict was against the great weight of the evidence.
Holding: The Fifth Circuit upheld the jury’s verdict finding no liability against the Principal. Evidence at trial showed that D.W. was never a student of Savage, and their relationship began and grew on Facebook and social media outside of school. The jury could also find that although Savage and D.W. had contact at school, a majority of the abusive conduct occurred off campus and outside of school time. Thus, the jury reasonably concluded that the evidence did not support liability against the Principal or the School District.