BAKERSFIELD, CA -- A federal judge has dismissed a civil rights case brought by the parents of a nut-allergic child, holding that "serving a child a peanut butter cookie is not an inherently violent act."
U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger said South Fork Union Elementary, a school in rural Wheldon, Calif., did not intentionally harm Lawrence and Darlene McCue's son by failing to keep him in a nut-free environment.
The McCues claimed school principal Robin Shive refused to ban nuts and nut products from the school or to otherwise properly accommodate their son's allergy to peanuts. Initially Shive said the McCues' son would have to eat lunch at a nut-free table in the cafeteria; later the McCues were told their son would have to eat his lunch in the school office.
But neither of those approaches worked. On Feb. 28, 2008, the child was sent to the hospital after he ate a peanut-butter cookie given to him at a school event.
The McCues also said Shive reported them to Child Protective Services in retaliation for reporting the cookie incident to the State Board of Education.
In his ruling, Wanger found no proof that Shive and other school officials had tried to harm the McCues' son by refusing to prohibit nuts, or that they "set in motion a series of acts that they reasonably knew would cause the constitutional injury plaintiffs complain of."
"A refusal by school administrators to abolish all nut products from a school's campus is not the type of statement that would reasonably tend to produce fear in an ordinary listener," Wanger wrote.
"Mere negligence by state officials in the conduct of their duties does not trigger the substantive due process protections of the Fourteenth Amendment," the judge continued.
Wanger also noted that nowhere in the case did it show that anyone had ever threatened to intentionally expose the McCues' son to nuts, or that the person who gave their son the cookie even knew about his allergy.