Student Speech

R.S. v. Minnewaska Area School District No. 2149

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Date: 

03/06/2012

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

R.S., a minor

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota

Case Number: 

0:12-cv-00588-MJD-LIB

Legal Counsel: 

ACLU of Minnesota; Lindquist & Vennum PLLP

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

On March 6, 2012, R.S., a minor, and R.S.'s mother S.S., filed suit in federal court in Minnesota against Minnewaska Area Middle School, the school district, the county, and a number of school and county employees (including the county Sheriff). All of the individuals were sued in both their individual and official capacities, except for the Chair of the County Board (who was sued only in his official capacity). The complaint alleges a series of incidents involving R.S.'s out-of-school Facebook use.

The first set of events alleged in the complaint involve Facebook posts R.S. wrote about one of the school's adult hall monitors. R.S. allegedly complained on Facebook about the hall monitor, and the post was brought to the attention of the school. The post was, according to the complaint, "purely off-campus speech," having been written off hours, involving no use of school equipment. R.S. was given detention, and required to write an apology to the hall monitor. R.S. then posted again on Facebook, wanting to know "who the f%$# told on [her]." This second post earned R.S. one day of in-school suspension.

A subsequent Facebook-related incident began when another student's mother called the school, concerned that "her son was communicating via his computer with R.S. about sex." Eventually, R.S. was called into a room with two school employees and a Deputy Sheriff, who "demanded" R.S.'s email and Facebook login information. R.S. "eventually" gave the information "involuntarily," and the school employees proceeded to search R.S.'s Facebook account on the Deputy's computer. Again, the complaint alleges that all of R.S.'s communications were made off-campus, without using school equipment.

R.S.'s lawsuit alleges a number of federal and state law claims:

  • 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims, alleging violations of R.S.'s First and Fourth Amendment rights under the Federal Constitution;
  • 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986 claims, for conspiracy to violate R.S.'s constitutional rights, and failure to prevent the violation of her rights;
  • Violations of R.S.'s Minnesota state constitutional free-speech and freedom-from-unreasonable-search rights; and
  • State common-law claims of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The complaint also seeks a declaratory judgment that R.S.'s constitutional rights were violated. For relief, the complaint seeks a mixture of injunctions, damages, changes to school policy and training, an apology, and costs/fees.

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

CMLP Notes: 

3/9/12: JS creating

Jurisdiction: 

Shawnee Mission East High School v. Sullivan

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Date: 

11/21/2011

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Emma Sullivan

Type of Party: 

Government
School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Publication Medium: 

Micro-blog

Status: 

Concluded

Description: 

The Shawnee Mission East High School in Kansas on Nov. 22, 2011, ordered Emma Sullivan, a student, to write an apology to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback after Sullivan tweeted criticism of Brownback during a school field trip to the Kansas state capitol.

During a Kansas Youth in Government field trip on Nov. 22, Sullivan tweeted "Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot." as a joke to her friends.  She did not actually speak to Brownback.

The next day, Shawnee Mission East Principal Karl Krawitz, who was notified of the tweet by members of Brownback's staff, called Sullivan into his office.  She told CNN that Krawitz told her that her tweet had embarrassed the school and the school district. He asked her to write an apology to Brownback.  Sullivan refused, citing her right to free speech and her parents' support.

After her situation came to media attention, the Shawnee East School District reviewed the situation.  The district determined that no apology was required and that no further action would be taken against Sullivan.  

On Nov. 28, 2011, Brownback also issued an apology, saying that "My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize." The Associated Press reports that he said "Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms."

Content Type: 

Priority: 

2-Normal

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Hannibal Public School District v. D.J.M.

Date: 

10/24/2006

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

D.J.M.

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri

Case Number: 

2:08CV63 JCH

Legal Counsel: 

Branson L. Wood III

Publication Medium: 

Email

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Dismissed (partial)

Description: 

In the fall of 2006, D.J.M. was a 10th grade student in the public school system in Hannibal, Missouri. On October 24 of that year, D.J.M. sent a series of messages to a fellow classmate, C.M., over an instant messaging platform. The messages allude to D.J.M.'s ability to obtain a gun, and during the conversation D.J.M. speculates as to who he would shoot and who he would not amongst his peers. Both D.J.M. and C.M. show amusement and levity during the conversation, frequently adding interjections such as "haha" and "lol."

At some point during the conversation, C.M. became concerned and sent a transcript of the messages to an adult, who in turn contacted the principal of the high school. The principal called the district superintendent, who in turn called the police. The police visited D.J.M. that same evening, and placed him in juvenile detention; D.J.M. was later transferred to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. He remained under hospital supervision until November 28, 2006.

In the interim, the school district placed D.J.M. under a suspension for the rest of the school year. D.J.M.'s parents appealed the suspension to the Hannibal school board, who affirmed the suspension. D.J.M. returned to high school the following year, and graduated ahead of the rest of his class.

On March 14, 2007, D.J.M. brought suit in Missouri state court, alleging that the suspension of D.J.M. violated his First Amendment right to free speech under 42 U.S.C. 1983, and requesting administrative review of the suspension determination under state law. The case was removed to the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in November 2008.

On January 25, 2010, the district court granted summary judgment for the defendant school distrcit on the section 1983 claim, and remanded the state law claim to the Missouri circuit court. The district court found the messages communicated by D.J.M. to be a "true threat" under Watts v. United States, as applied in the school setting by an en banc panel the Eighth Circuit in Doe v. Pulaski County Special School District. In the alternative, the court found authority for the school to punish the student, notwithstanding the First Amendment, under the "substantial interference" test in the student-speech line of cases following Tinker v. Des Moines.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court on August 1, 2011. The court affirmed under both the "true threat" rationale, as examined under Doe, and under the "substantial interference" grounds of Tinker. The court expressly rejected D.J.M.'s claim that the question as to whether the threat was a "true threat" is an issue of material fact. The court also allowed the "substantial interference" test of Tinker to be applied off campus, following the Second Circuit in Wisniewski v. Weedsport Central School District.

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

RSS

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Intentional Grounding: Can Public Colleges Limit Athletes' Tweets?

An exercise we did Friday at Univeristy of Nevada, Reno's High School Journalism Day raised an interesting legal question: can a public university restrict its students' use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter?

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Keeping Online Speech Outside the Schoolhouse Gate

A freshman at Oak Grove High School in Missouri used Facebook last month to vent about another student: "Wow, [expletive] alert," wrote Megan Wisemore.

Subject Area: 

Smith-Green Community School Corp. v. T.V. & M.K. (minors)

Date: 

01/01/2009

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

T.V.; M.K.

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana

Case Number: 

1:09-cv-00290

Legal Counsel: 

Kenneth Falk-ACLU Indiana

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Lawsuit Filed

Description: 

High School Principal Austin Couch suspended two female high school sophomores from participating in extracurricular athletics after Couch obtained sexually-suggestive photos that the students took of themselves and posted to MySpace.  The students, T.V. and M.K., subsequently filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana alleging First Amendment violations by Couch and the Smith-County Community School Corporation, which operates the high school.

According to their complaint, T.V. and M.K. took photos of themselves at a slumber party in the summer before the 2009-2010 school year, including photos pretending to kiss and lick a novelty phallus-shaped lollypop and wearing lingerie with dollar bills stuck in their clothes.  After the students posted these photos to their MySpace pages, an unknown person gave them to Couch, who suspended the students from all extracurricular activities during the school year, including athletics.  The students agreed to attend three counseling sessions and apologize to an all-male panel of coaches in order to reduce their suspension to 25% of their fall extracurricular activities.

CMLP Notes: 

 

 

Priority: 

1-High

Subject Area: 

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Butler University v. Zimmerman

Date: 

01/08/2009

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Jess Zimmerman

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Marion Superior Court, State of Indiana

Case Number: 

49D020901PL001164

Legal Counsel: 

Dan Altman

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Material Removed
Subpoena Enforced
Withdrawn

Description: 

In January 2009, Butler University filed a "John Doe" defamation lawsuit against the pseudonymous author of the TrueBU blog, who signed his posts "Soodo Nym." The author later was identified as Butler University student Jess Zimmerman.

The complaint alleged that Soodo Nym defamed the University and two of its administrators in at least five blog posts from October to December 2008. The posts criticized school officals in connection with the decision to dismiss the chair of the school's music department (who happens to be Zimmerman's stepmother). Specifically, the complaint cited the following statements, among others, as allegedly defamatory:

  • "Peter Alexander, Dean of the JCFA, is power-hungry and afraid of his own shadow.  He drives away talented administrators. He frustrates students within the departments.  He hurts the ability of the school to recruit talented students and faculty members.  He announces to the campus that the Butler Way, the ideals for which the school and everyone at it stands, means nothing." ¶ 17.
  • "Dean Alexander has misused his authority, is paranoid, and is unequivocally a poor leader of an otherwise promising college with Butler University.  Need more be said?  He says one thing and does another. . . .  [Dean Alexander] cannot deal with disagreements or conflict and instead uses the brute force of his authority as Dean to dictate what happens within the JCFA." ¶ 23.
  • "Dr. Comstock 'doesn't seem to care much for student opinion,' is 'unwilling to work with students unless she can see how the relationship will directly benefit her,' and seems to 'have some illusions of grandeur and a love for the power of her position.'" ¶ 11.

According to an October 13 statement from Butler President Bobby Fong, the school requested permission from the court in February and April to issue subpoenas seeking the blogger's identity.  In both cases, the court granted the request and issued the subpoenas.  (It does not appear from the record whether Zimmerman had notice of the subpoena requests or intervened to object.) According to Fong's statement, information obtained through the subpoena process led to Zimmerman. (Zimmerman says that the University told him it had proof he was Soodo Nym back in January.) In October, Zimmerman came forward publicly as the author of the blog, which had ceased operations on January 1 in response to the university's threat of a lawsuit.

On October 27, President Fong issued another statement, indicating that Butler had dropped the lawsuit and would "deal with Jess Zimmerman through the internal disciplinary process."

CMLP Notes: 

Stylianou Oct/09

Priority: 

1-High

Subject Area: 

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Finkel v. Facebook: Court Rejects Defamation Claim Against Facebook Premised on "Ownership" of User Content

Back in February, Denise Finkel, a 2008 graduate of Oceanside High School on Long Island, sued four of her former high school classmates and their parents after the students created a private Facebook group called "90 Cents Short of a Dollar," which allegedly contained false and defamatory statements about her. 

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Florida Nukes the Fridge: Facebook, the Bar, and the Latest Entry in the Social Network Hijacking Saga

It’s rarely a good sign when a series grows beyond a trilogy.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

“Crass and Uncouth” MySpace Posting not Grounds for Expulsion

Once again, the powers that be are all in a tizzy because of content on a social network.  Joining the ranks of city officials, private employers, and high school administrators in sanctioning speech online is the dean of a nursing school.  As in the Houston’s Restaurant case, however, her non-proportional response has been corrected by a court of law.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Pearl Public School District v. Jackson

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Date: 

09/10/2007

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Mandi Jackson

Type of Party: 

Individual
School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi

Case Number: 

3:09-CV-353

Legal Counsel: 

Rita Nahlik Silin

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

Mandi Jackson, a former cheerleader at Pearl High School, filed a lawsuit against Tommie Hill, her former cheerleading coach, and other school officials, claiming that Hill and other teachers punished and humiliated Jackson after accessing and disseminating the content of private conversations from her Facebook account.

Jackson alleges in her eight-count complaint that on September 10, 2007, Hill requested that she turn over her password to her Facebook account. Compl. ¶ 41. Jackson claims that she never accessed Facebook from a school computer or on school property. Compl. ¶ 42. On that same day, Hill "breached Jackson's Facebook" and "disseminated [her information] to fellow . . . teacher . . . Tiffany Durr, cheer trainer Corey Byrd, Principal Ray Morgigno, Superintendant John Ladner, and other unknown individuals." Compl. ¶¶ 43-44.

Jackson claims that Hill, Durr, Byrd, Morgigno, and Ladner "publicly repremanded, punished and humiliated [her] for a private discussion between [her] and another . . . student on Facebook." Compl. ¶ 45.  Her punishment including being "forced to sit out of cheer and dance training and [to] refrain from participation at school sponsored events." Compl. ¶ 46.

Jackson contends that Hill and the other school employees violated her rights to privacy, to free association, to free speech, and to due process. Further, Jackson claims that Hill and other school employees engaged in the intentional infliction of emotional distress, cruel and unusual punishment, defamation, and conspiracy.

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Priority: 

1-High

CMLP Notes: 

 

 

Jurisdiction: 

Educators Reprimand Student for Private Facebook Messages

The Supreme Court once famously said that public school students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”  Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Content Type: 

Principal Censors School Paper: Claims "Old English" Font Promotes Gang Activity

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Tenth Circuit Upholds Restrictions on Student Speech

In a recent decision, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Colorado District Court’s rejection of a student’s First Amendment and Equal Protection claims over a forced apology resulting from her valedictory address.  The case, Corder v

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Search Warrant Quashed in Boston College "Hacker" Case

On May 21, 2009, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court quashed a search warrant for the computers, electronic equipment, and digital storage devices of a Boston College computer science student and ordered the seized items returned.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Boston College Campus Police v. Calixte

Date: 

04/10/2009

Threat Type: 

Criminal Investigation

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Riccardo Calixte

Type of Party: 

Government
School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Trial Court of Massachusetts, District Court Department, Newton Division

Case Number: 

0912SW03

Legal Counsel: 

Lawrence K. Kolodney, Adam J. Kessel, Thomas A. Brown - Fish & Richardson P.C.; Jennifer Stisa Granick, Matt Zimmerman - Electronic Frontier Foundation

Publication Medium: 

Email
Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Subpoena Quashed

Description: 

On March 30, 2009, Detective Kevin Christopher of the Boston College Police Department applied for a search warrant to seize computers, computer equipment, and digital storage devices belonging to Riccardo Calixte, a Boston College (BC) computer science major and employee of BC’s IT department.  Christopher asserted that there was probable cause to believe that these items had been used in, or were evidence of, criminal activity, to wit obtaining computer services by fraud or misrepresentation and unauthorized access to a computer system.  (Warrant Aff. ¶ 1, 4h.)  Probable cause was based upon allegations of one of Calixte’s ex-roommates, with whom he was having domestic issues at the time, that Calixte:
  • Is considered a “master of the [computer science] trade” and has a “reputation as a ‘hacker’”;
  • Often appears with “unknown laptops which [Calixte] says are given to him by Boston College for field testing or he is ‘fixing’ for other students”;
  • “[U]ses two different operating systems to hide his illegal activities,” one of which was described as “a black screen with white font which he uses prompt commands on”;
  • Has “hack[ed] into the B.C. grading system that is used by professors to change grades for students”;
  • Has “‘fixed’ computers so that they cannot be scanned by any system for detection of illegal downloads and illegal internet use”;
  • “‘Jail breaks’ cell phones”;
  • Has “a cache of approximately 200+ illegally downloaded movies as well as music from the internet”; and
  • Has “personally implicated himself in illegal activity to [his ex-roommate] on previous occasions.”

(Warrant Aff. ¶ 4b.)  The search warrant application also alleges that Calixte was the author of a mass email to the BC community that stated that his ex-roommate is gay, and included a link to a profile on adam4adam.com, a gay-oriented website, created in his ex-roommate’s name.  (Warrant Aff. ¶ 4d–4f.)

The search warrant was granted and Calixte’s iPods, cell phones, computers, external hard drives, and other digital equipment were seized.  In response, Calixte filed a motion to quash the warrant and for the return of his property, claiming that the search was illegal due to lack of probable cause, based on the fact that none of his alleged conduct constituted criminal activity and that the witness was unreliable.  (Calixte Mem. 6–8, 10, 13–14.)  In their opposition memo, the police stated that Calixte's use of the BC computer system to send a mass email "outing" his ex-roommate and create a "fraudulent profile" on adam4adam.com constituted access for "unauthorized uses" in violation of Massachusetts law.  (Opp'n Mem. 4–6.)  On April 22, 2009, First Justice Dyanne J. Klein of the Newton District Court denied Calixte’s motion, noting that the alleged unauthorized access to the BC grading system to change students’ grades constituted a crime, although the suspected “outing” of his ex-roommate via email over the BC list server did not.  (Trial Ct. Order 1–2.)

On May 21, 2009, in response to Calixte’s appeal, Justice Margot Botsford of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts overturned the Newton District Court’s decision and ordered that “all ongoing forensic analysis of the items seized from Calixte must cease . . . and all items must be returned forthwith.”  Justice Botsford ruled that the search warrant affidavit failed to establish probable cause, citing the “troublingly weak evidence of . . . [the ex-roommate’s] reliability” and an insufficient nexus between the items seized and evidence relating to the allegation of unauthorized access.  Finally, she noted that sending an email "outing" another student would not constitute a criminal offense, even if it violated a BC internet use policy.  (Sup. Jud. Ct. Order 6, 9–10.)

CMLP Notes: 

Source: Slashdot

LB 06/02/2009

Priority: 

1-High

Subject Area: 

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Esfeller v. The Daily Reveille

Date: 

03/16/2009

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Board of Supervisors for Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College; Michael Martin; Dr. John Hamilton; James Shelledy; Melissa Moore; The Daily Reveille; Kyle Whitfield; Tyler Batiste; Gerri Sax; Alex Bond

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization
School

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

19th Judicial District Court, Louisiana

Case Number: 

575395

Legal Counsel: 

Taylor Carroll (for Louisiana State University)

Publication Medium: 

Print
Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

In March 2009, Terrance Esfeller filed a defamation lawsuit in Louisiana state court against Louisiana State University, its student newspaper The Daily Reveille, faculty advisers to the newspaper, and its top student editors. The lawsuit revolves around anonymous comments posted on the newspaper's website in response to the newspaper's coverage of an ongoing legal dispute with LSU.  After filing suit, Esfeller amended his complaint to include allegations based on a March 12 story the newspaper published about the lawsuit, which republished several of the comments in question.  In the suit, Esfeller sought money damages and an injunction ordering the removal of the comments and preventing further comments about him in the future.

Judge Todd Hernandez dismissed the case March 31, 2009.  He concluded that the newspaper and its operators were protected from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for comments made by the website's users.  Esfeller told the Student Press Law Center that he intends to pursue a case directly against the anonymous commenter or commenters and to use discovery to obtain IP addresses and other identifying information.

CMLP Notes: 

Source: Student Press Law Center

Need to check for appeal

Priority: 

1-High

Subject Area: 

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Duffin v. Does

Date: 

03/01/2009

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

John Does; MySpace, Inc.

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Material Removed
Settled (partial)
Withdrawn

Description: 

Cyd Duffin, principal of Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska sued MySpace, Inc. and John Doe defendants for defamation and invasion of privacy over the posting of a fake MySpace profile, which falsely depicted her "as a drug-using racist with a sexually transmitted disease who insults disabled students and likes books about pornography, anarchy and the Ku Klux Klan," according to the Anchorage Daily News.  The Anchorage Daily News also reported that Duffin dismissed MySpace from the case after the company agreed to cooperate by turning over records related to the creation of the fake profile.  

UPDATE:

7/14/2009 - Duffin dismissed the suit after two students confessed to authoring the fake profile. Though the two students were punished, Duffin did not disclose the severity of their punishment.

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Threat Source: 

RSS

CMLP Notes: 

Source: Anchorage Daily News

checked 6/18/09; no new info - CMF

UPDATED 7/16/09 AVM added information on dismissal

Priority: 

1-High

Jurisdiction: 

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