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Coaches' Paddlings of High School Basketball Player Upheld

A federal appeals court today upheld frequent paddlings of a high school basketball player in Memphis by his coaches over missed practices, tardiness, poor grades, and even, allegedly, for missed shots during basketball games.

Noting that Tennessee law permits corporal punishment by teachers "for good cause in order to maintain discipline and order within the public schools," a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled unanimously that "a reasonable juror could conclude that the paddlings administered by [the two coaches] were for disciplinary purposes, and were not 'excessive' in severity, frequency, motivation, or means."

The case brought by Martin Nolan, a student at Hamilton High School in Memphis from 2001 to 2004, against the two basketball coaches, school administrators, and the Memphis district alleged that the paddlings violated his 14th Amendment right to substantive due process of law.

At trial, the coaches denied paddling Nolan for missing shots, saying he may have been paddled for demonstrating poor technique on the court. But they acknowledged paddling him for disciplinary reasons and, on a few occasions, for poor grades. The district's then-superintendent testified that she believed one of the coaches paddled basketball players for missing shots and that she suspended him from coaching as a result.

The coaches said they did not use much force in paddling Nolan, and the defendants presented evidence that the student did not suffer any serious injuries. The jury ruled for the defendants on all claims.

In its ruling in Nolan v. Memphis City Schools, the 6th Circuit panel said the paddlings "did not amount to a brutal and inhumane abuse of official power that shocks the conscience."

"The Nolans contend that paddling a high school student for a nondisciplinary
reason cannot be tolerated in a civilized society," the court said. "The jury, however, was entitled to draw a different conclusion."

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