Student Speech

Finkel v. Facebook

Date: 

02/16/2009

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Facebook, Inc.; Michael Dauber; Jeffrey Schwartz; Melinda Danowitz; Leah Herz; Richard Dauber; Amy Schwartz; Elliott Schwartz; Martin Danowitz; Bari Danowitz; Alan Herz; Ellen Herz

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Large Organization

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York

Case Number: 

102578-2009

Legal Counsel: 

Lisa T. Simpson and Aaron G.R. Rubin - Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP (for Facebook); Lina C. Rossillo - Morris Duffy Alonso & Faley (for Elliot, Jeffrey, and Amy Schwartz)

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

Teenager Denise Finkel sued four of her former high school classmates, their parents, and Facebook after the students created a private Facebook group called "90 Cents Short of a Dollar," which allegedly contained false and defamatory statements about her. 

The complaint alleges that statements appearing on the private Facebook group asserted or implied that she "was a woman of dubious morals, dubious sexual character, having engaged in bestiality, an 'IV drug user' as well as having contracted the H.I.V. virus and AIDS." Cmplt. ¶ 23.  The postings are attached as an exhibit to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Facebook should be held liable for publishing the defamatory matter, explaining that it "should have known that such statements were false and/or have taken steps to verify the genuineness" of the statements. Id. ¶ 28.  

The complaint also alleges that the students' parents are liable for negligently failing to supervise their children.

Update:

9/15/09 - Court granted Facebook's motion to dismiss, finding that Facebook is immune from liability under Section 230 of the CDA.  Court rejects plaintiff's argument that Facebook's Terms of Use which grant it an "ownership interest" in the allegedy defamatory content makes Section 230 inapplicable.

 7/22/10 - After removal to state court, state judge dismissed the remaining claims, writing that, "Taken together, the statements can only be read as puerile attempts by adolescents to outdo each other" (slip op. at 7).

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Source: Newsday

  • Supreme Court Records On-Line Library - Docket for Finkel v. Facebook (search for Index Number 102578-2009)  THIS DOCKET SEARCH IS NOT CURRENTLY PULLING UP ANYTHING -- NEED TO CHECK AND RE-POST WHEN IT IS WORKING.
  • CR- Searching by Plaintiff=Finkel works.  The case number is correct, but the search doesn't pull up the case
  • avm 6/10/09 - pulled up case fine, uploaded motions to dismiss and attorney info, no rulings yet

 

Priority: 

1-High

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Pennsylvania Student Sent to Jail For Lampooning Assistant Principal on MySpace

The Associated Press is reporting that two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Another Victory for the "Douchebags"

A federal district court in Connecticut has granted qualified immunity to the high school principal and the school district superintendent who punished a student for calling school administrators "douchebags" on her blog.  Doninger v. Niehoff, No. 3:07-cv-1129 (D. Conn. filed Jan.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

State of Utah v. Ian Lake

Date: 

05/18/2000

Threat Type: 

Criminal Charge

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Ian Lake

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Fifth District Juvenile Court, Beaver County, State of Utah

Case Number: 

No. 20010159 (Utah Supreme Ct.)

Legal Counsel: 

Stephen C. Clark, Janelle P. Eurick, Richard A. Van Wagoner, Robert J. Shelby

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

In May 2000, Beaver County Utah deputies seized Ian Lake’s computer and arrested the 16-year-old Milford High School student.  Lake was charged with one count of criminal libel in violation of Utah Code section 76-9-502 and one count of criminal slander for imputing unchastity to a female in violation of Utah Code section 76-9-507 after posting derogatory comments on a website that he created at home. Lake referred to several students’ sexual history and also accused his high school principal of being the “town drunk” and having an affair with the school secretary, according to filings in the case.

Utah's criminal libel statute states that "a person is guilty of libel if he intentionally and with a malicious intent to injure another publishes or procures to be published any libel." The crime, a misdemeanor, carries a penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.  Lake spent seven days in a juvenile detention facility. The state later dropped the slander charge but continued to pursue a libel conviction.   

On July 31, 2001, the ACLU of Utah filed a motion to dismiss Lake’s criminal charges on the ground that Utah’s criminal libel statute is unconstitutional on its face.

On January 23, 2001, Fifth District Juvenile Court Judge Joseph E. Jackson denied the motion to dismiss, but acknowledged that it “raises serious and substantial questions about the facial validity of Utah’s criminal libel statute, that there is some merit for the position that the statute is unconstitutional, and that there is no just reason for delay in certifying the court’s denial of the Motion to Dismiss for immediate appeal.”  He referred the case to the Utah Supreme Court.  

On November 15, 2002, the Utah Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state’s criminal libel law was unconstitutional.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

Court Filings

Subject Area: 

Federal Appeals Court Examines Two MySpace Student Speech Cases

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog and the Legal Intelligencer report that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has before it two appeals testing the limits of school authority to punish student speech on the Internet.  The two cases have remarkably similar facts, but the trial courts that decided them came to completely opposite conclusions

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Blue Mountain School District v. J.S.

Date: 

03/01/2007

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

J.S.; K.L.; Terry Snyder; Steven Snyder

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania; United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Case Number: 

3:07-cv-00585 (trial court); 08-4138 (appellate court)

Legal Counsel: 

Mary E. Kohart; Christopher T. Leahy; Meredith W. Nissen; Mary Catherine Roper

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Material Removed

Description: 

In March 2007, the Blue Mountain School District suspended two eighth-grade students after they created a fake MySpace profile for James McGonigle, principal of the Blue Mountain Middle School in Pennsylvania. The MySpace page did not identify McGonigle by name, but it included his picture from the school district's website and identified the person depicted as a "principal." According to court documents, the profile characterized the principal as a sex-obsessed pedophile, and it was laced with profanity and other negative comments about McGonigle and his family.

The school determined that, based on the creation of the fake profile, the two students had violated the school discipline code, which prohibits making false accusations against school staff members. It also determined that the students violated the school's computer use policy, which informs students that they cannot use copyrighted material without permission, by obtaining McGonigle's photo from the school district's website. As a result, the school suspended the two students for ten days out-of-school.

One of the students, going by the initials "J.S.", sued the school district, McMonigle, and the school district superintendent for violating her First Amendment rights. She argued, among other things, that the school could not constitutionally punish her for out-0f-school speech that did not cause a disruption of classes or school administration. The court denied her request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, and later granted summary judgment to the school district, ruling that the school could discipline lewd and vulgar off-campus speech that had an effect on campus, even if this effect didn't amount to a "substantial disruption" under Tinker v. Des Moines Ind. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969).

J.S. has appealed the ruling to United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Update:

02/04/2010 - The Third Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision granting summary judgment to the school district. The Third Circuit held "... that Tinker applies to student speech, whether on or off campus, that causes or threatens to cause a substantial disruption of or material interference with school or invades the rights of other members of the school community."

04/09/2010 - The Third Circuit granted J.S.'s petition for an en banc rehearing of her appeal.

06/03/2010 - The case was argued before the Third Circuit en banc.

06/13/2011 - The Third Circuit en banc reversed the District Court's grant of summary judgment to the School District on the student speech claims and remanded to the District Court. The court, en banc, held that an exception to Tinker set forth in Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986), holding that a school district can discipline students for lewd, vulgar, and offensive speech, if it has an effect on the school and educational mission of the district, did not apply to this case.  Accordingly, the Third Circuit concluded "that the Fraser decision did not give the School district the authority to punish J.S. for her off-campus speech."

10/18/2011 - The School District filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.  

01/17/2012 - The Supreme Court denied the School District's Petition for Certiorari. 

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Updated 2/23/09 - VAF

aVM 6/12/09- appeals case was argued a few days ago, put up link to article about its implications, will check back later

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

Blog Post

Subject Area: 

Subject Area: 

Pembroke Pines Charter High School v. Evans

Date: 

12/08/2008

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Katherine Evans

Type of Party: 

Individual
School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida (Ft. Lauderdale)

Case Number: 

0:08-cv-61952

Legal Counsel: 

Maria Kayanan, Randall C. Marshall - ACLU; Matthew David Bavaro - Bavaro Legal, LLC

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

Katherine Evans, a former student at Pembroke Pines Charter High School, filed a federal lawsuit against the school's principal, alleging that he violated her First Amendment rights by suspending her for creating a Facebook group in which she criticized one of her teachers.  According to her complaint, Evans posted a photograph of her Advanced Placement English teacher on November 9, 2007, after school hours and from her home computer, in order to create a group for students to express their opinion about the teacher.  Evans herself wrote that the teacher is "the worst teacher I've ever met!"  She also asked classmates to "express your feelings of hatred" by posting comments on the page.

In copies of the comments attached as an exhibit to the complaint, it appears that three of her classmates posted comments, all of which praised the teacher and criticized Evans for creating the group.  "Mrs. Phelps is one of the most amazing teachers I've ever had and there's plenty of people who agree with me," one student wrote. "Whatever your reasons for hating her are, they're probably very immature."  Two days after posting the information, Evans took it down.

When Principal Peter Bayer learned of the Facebook group, he suspended Evans for three days, stating that she had engaged in "cyber-bullying harassment towards a staff member" and "disruptive behavior," according to Evans' complaint.  As a result, Evans claims that the school pulled her from her advanced placement classes and forced her into "lesser-weighted honors classes [and] unjustifiably besmirched Plantiff's academic record."

Evans, who is represented by the ACLU of Florida, is seeking "nominal damages," expungement of the suspension from her permanent school record, and attorneys' fees.

CMLP Notes: 

via HowAppealing

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

Blog Post

Subject Area: 

Jurisdiction: 

State of Ohio v. Ellison

Date: 

10/10/2008

Threat Type: 

Criminal Charge

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Ripley C. Ellison

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Hamilton County Municipal Court; Court of Appeals of Ohio, First Appellate District, Hamilton County

Case Number: 

07CRB-33168 (trial level); C-070875 (appellate level)

Legal Counsel: 

Michael W. Welsh

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

The state of Ohio brought criminal charges of telecommunications harassment against Ripley Ellison, a high school student, who stated on her MySpace page that her classmate and former friend had molested her (Ripley's) younger brother.

The Hamilton County Municipal Court convicted Ellison under Ohio Rev. Code § 2917.21(b) after a bench trial.  The Ohio Court of Appeals reversed, holding the evidence was not sufficient to support her conviction.  Specifically, the appellate court found that (1) the state had failed to establish that Ellison made a communication with the purpose to harass; (2) Ellison had posted the accusation for the legitimate purpose of warning others of what she believed to be criminal behavior; and (3) Ellison never directed the communication to her classmate, despite the opportunity to do so.  

The majority opinion did not address Ellison's First Amendment challenge to her conviction. But Judge Painter stated in his concurring opinion that "the First Amendment would not allow punishment for making a nonthreatening comment on the Internet, just as it would not for writing a newspaper article, posting a sign, or speaking on the radio."

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Might also be a disclipinary action threat in here as well. {MCS}

Source: Volokh Conspiracy, via RSS

Priority: 

1-High

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

RSS

Subject Area: 

Schools Lack Authority to Punish Online Student Speech

One of the major issues facing schools is whether they have authority to discipline their students for speech on the Internet.  In an article I wrote that will appear in the December 2008 issue of the Florida Law Review, I argue that public secondary schools have virtually no authority under the First Amendment to punish students for online speech.  I decided to write this article after hearing about cases all over the country where

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Puntarelli v. Does

Date: 

05/08/2008

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

John Does

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Superior Court, Marion County, Indiana

Case Number: 

No. 49D120805CT20682

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Material Removed
Subpoena Enforced

Description: 

Tim Puntarelli, Dean of Roncalli High Scool in Indianapolis, filed a defamation lawsuit against an anonymous Facebook user (or users) who allegedly created a fake profie for him and used it to send inappropriate messages to students.  According to one press report, the lawsuit also claimed that the user engaged in harassment and identity theft.  Puntarelli sought information about the anonymous user or users from Facebook, which resisted this effort. 

The court ultimately ordered Facebook to produce identifying information for its user(s). Facebook removed the profile at Puntarelli's request before the lawsuit was filed.

Jurisdiction: 

Priority: 

2-Normal

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

MLRC

Subject Area: 

Wisconsin v. Bachert

Date: 

06/14/2007

Threat Type: 

Criminal Charge

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Joshua W. Bachert

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Waukesha County Circuit Court, Wisconsin

Case Number: 

2007CM001559

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

$312.00

Legal Counsel: 

Glen B. Kulkoski

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Settled (total)

Description: 

Wisconsin authorities criminally prosecuted Joshua Bachert after he created a fake MySpace profile for a high school police officer. In August 2007, authorities agreed to defer prosecution if Bachert stayed out of trouble for one year. Instead, Bachert will pay a fine for a noncriminal citation.

Update:

09/15/2008 - According to the docket charge details, Bachert fulfilled his obligations under the agreement with the authorities, and paid a $312 fine on a citation for disorderly conduct.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

06/15/2009 - updated (LB)

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

MLRC

Subject Area: 

Lafayette High School v. Glover

Date: 

12/06/2007

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Logan Glover

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri

Case Number: 

4:07-cv-02044-RWS

Legal Counsel: 

Mark Sableman (for Glover)

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Description: 

Logan Glover, a student at Lafayette High in Missouri, used a digital camera to take photos of his teacher during class, which despicts fellow classmates in the background smiling and giving thumbs-ups. He later posted those photos to his Facebook page. The school suspended him on December 7, 2007, for taking and posting the photos, claiming that he disrupted the school environment by calling on classmates to pose for the photograph, taking their minds away from schoolwork.

Glover and his parents unsuccessfully attempted to appeal the suspension to the principal of the school. His father later filed a lawsuit against the Rockwood School District and the principal, associate principal, and assistant principle of Lafayette on Logan's behalf, arguing that the suspension violated his son's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The complaint, which was heard the day before the end of Glover's suspension, cites the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District 393 U.S. 503 (1969), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that students retain their First Amendment rights when attending school, to the extent that the exercize of those rights does not materially disrupt the educational process.

In their memorandum in opposition to Glover's motion for temporary restraining order which would have allowed him to return to school, the defendants claimed that Glover was suspended for a breach of school policies in accordance with Missouri law, and that the Tinker decision does not protect Glover's conduct which, in the school's opinion, was disruptive.

After the court denied Glover's motion for a temporary restraining order, he moved to voluntarily dismiss the case, which the court granted on August 19, 2008.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Jill Button editing

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

University of Minnesota Duluth v. Varsity Athletes

Date: 

04/01/2007

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Student Athletes

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Description: 

During the 2006-07 academic year, the University of Minnesota Duluth banned student-athletes from using popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace. The University asked students to stop using the sites after an online posting resulted in disciplinary action.

After the 2006-07 academic year, the University lifted the ban and replaced it with a Student-Athlete Conduct Policy that athletes were required to sign. The policy does not completely ban participation in any social networking sites, but it does prohibit "the posting on any internet web site of any remarks that can be considered as inflammatory, degrading or in poor taste toward any other UMD student, student-athlete, coach, faculty or staff member."

It does not appear that any disciplinary action has been taken against individual students in relation to this policy.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

State of Indiana v. A.B.

Date: 

03/02/2006

Threat Type: 

Criminal Charge

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

A.B. (a minor)

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Putnam Circuit Court; Court of Appeals of Indiana; Indiana Supreme Court

Case Number: 

67A01-0609-JV-372 (circuit court); No. 67A01-0609-JV-372 (appeals court); No. 67S01-0709-JV-373 (supreme court)

Legal Counsel: 

James R. Recker

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Verdict (defendant)

Description: 

The State of Indiana filed a delinquency petition against a Greencastle Middle School student who had posted derogatory and "vulgar" criticism of the school's anti-body-piercing policy on the social networking site MySpace. The student, referred to in court documents as A.B., critized administrators and created a publicly accessible group entitled "Fuck Mr. Gobert and GC Schools." The state's claims included harassment and identity deception, the latter arising from A.B.'s creation of a fake MySpace account for Gobert, the principal of Greencastle Middle School.

On June 27, 2006, the juvenile court declared A.B. a "delinquent child" and placed her on nine months probation. The court found that A.B.'s MySpace postings, if committed by an adult, would constitute the criminal offense of harassment. A.B. appealed, and the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the juvenile court's decision. The appeals court concluded that A.B.'s postings were political speech protected by the Indiana Constitution and that her conviction for harassment thus contravened her right to speak.

On May 13, 2008, the Indiana Supreme Court declined to adopt the appeals court's rationale and instead reversed the juvenile court on another ground. The court ruled that the dilenquency finding could not stand because the state had failed to prove the statutory elements of criminal harasssment. Specifically, the court determined that the state had not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that A.B. posted with the intent "to harass, annoy, or alarm" Gobert with "no intent of legitimate communication." It found that certain comments were not actionable because A.B. had posted them on her personal MySpace page, to which Gobert did not have access. With regard to other comments on the pubicly accessible group page, the court held that she had posted the comments as a legitimate expression of her anger and criticism of Gobert and the school, rather than with an intent to harass, annoy, or alarm.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Valdosta State University v. Barnes

Date: 

05/07/2007

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

T. Hayden Barnes

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia

Case Number: 

108-CV-0077

Legal Counsel: 

Robert Corn-Revere (for Barnes)

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Withdrawn

Description: 

T. Hayden Barnes, a student at Valdosta State University, expressed opposition on environmental grounds to the planned construction of two parking garages on the University campus. His campaign included a cut-and-paste collage that he posted on his FaceBook page depicting a garage, a globe flatten by a tire tread, and the University's president, as well as text such as "more smog." He also posted flyers around campus, sent e-mails to administrators and students, and wrote a letter to the editor in the campus paper.

Barnes was expelled from the university for these actions. The university stated that he presented a "clear and present danger" to the university.

Barnes appealed his expulsion to the university's Board of Regents. When his hearing was delayed several times, he filed a lawsuit against the University, its president and the Board claiming that his expulsion violated his First Amendment freedom of speech rights. He also alleged that the University had failed to respect his right to due process under the Georgia Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, and had failed to follow the procedures for dismissals in the University student handbook or the Board's policies.

On January 16, 2008, the Board reversed Barnes' expulsion.

Update:

11/19/2008 - The federal court granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion to dismiss Barnes' complaint.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Jill Button editing

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Students Shown Drinking on Facebook Banned From School Activities

School officials at Eden Prairie High School outside of Minneapolis punished 13 students after discovering photographs of them drinking on Facebook.com. As punishment, the students were banned from their sports teams or other extracurricular activities.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Some parents are reportedly considering legal action because they view the school's action as too harsh. But legal experts say the area is muddy, because the mushrooming popularity of social networking sites is so new, challenges have yet to work their way up through the courts.

In the words of one student, the idea of school administrators nosing around social networking websites might be "creepy," but it is not necessarily unconstitutional. In this case, the school punished students for underage drinking, not their expression, and the athletes who were punished had signed a pledge not to drink as a condition of playing in the Minnesota State High School League. In addition, it is unlikely that the school violated the students' privacy rights by looking at pictures available to the public on the Internet.

It would be much more problematic if public schools tried to ban their students from using social networking sites altogether. Such a policy is not as unlikely as it may seem. Last spring, the University of Minnesota at Duluth announced a new policy barring all of its student athletes from participating in social networking websites such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com on the theory that the content of such websites placed the student-athletes and the school in a negative light.

If a university is banning its student-athletes from using social networking sites, a similar policy on the high school level is just around the corner.

As ridiculous as such a policy might sound, it is arguably constitutional under current case law. Several lower courts have held that students do not have a constitutional right to participate in extracurricular activities, and in 2002, the Supreme Court rejected a Fourth Amendment challenge to a public school rule requiring all students who participated in extracurricular activities to submit to random drug testing. See Pottawatomie County v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002). Based on these cases, it would be no small leap for a court to conclude that it would be constitutional for a public school to condition its students' participation in extracurricular activities on the forfeiture of their First Amendment rights.

This is not to say that such a policy should be constitutional, or that it would be a good idea. Banning students entirely from social networking sites in order to crack down on underage drinking and drug use would not prevent students from engaging in the unlawful activities and instead would simply cut them off from an essential forum for communication. And practically speaking, such a policy would be next to impossible to enforce.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

West Lafayette High School v. Casseday

Date: 

10/05/2007

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Caitlyn Casseday

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Status: 

Concluded

Description: 

West Lafayette High School student Caitlyn Casseday received a one-day in-school suspension on October 5, 2007, for calling assistant principal Ron Shriner an "ass" on Facebook. The criticism was posted in a Facebook group set up to support another West Lafayette student, who was suspended for his involvement in an altercation in the school computer laboratory that was videotaped and posted on Facebook as well.

According to an article about the suspension on the Student Press Law Center:

Rocky Killion, the West Lafayette School Corporation superintendent, could not speak about Casseday's case specifically. But he said the district makes a "case-by-case determination" on when to punish students for off-campus speech.

"There's not a cookbook approach that says 'If you do this we'll do that,'" he said.

Casseday has indicated that she does not intend to sue over the suspension.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

University of Delaware v. Murakowski

Date: 

04/20/2007

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

University of Delaware

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Maciej Murakowski

Type of Party: 

Government
School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware

Case Number: 

1:07CV00475

Legal Counsel: 

William E. Manning, James D. Taylor, Jr., Jennifer M. Becnel-Guzzo

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

Maciej Murakowski, a nineteen year-old student at the University of Delaware, created a website in June 2005 on the university's servers that included violent and sexually graphic material. According to the complaint Murakowski subsequently filed, in one post, titled “Talking About Sex,” he wrote about various types of imaginary sexual acts, including:

"The Sociopath . . . On a Friday night, leave her a trail of rose petals leading to a hot bath. Wash her gently, using oils and scented soaps where appropriate. Dry her, then take her into the bedroom for a sensual massage (be careful, you are not kneading dough!) Kiss her and tell her she is beautiful. Slowly let your hands explore her body. Kiss her some more. Then make sweet gentle love to her for hours. After you both climax, hold her and let her fall asleep in your arms. Then set her on fire," and "The John F. Kennedy . . . Position your partner halfway on the bed, facing up, so that her legs are hanging off the edge. You stand facing her, lift her legs, put her ankles on your shoulders, and lean forward as far as you can. Then you kill the President." The piece ends with referring to disposing of the dead body of a sex partner.

On April 20, 2007, Cynthia Cummings, the Vice President of Campus Life at the University of Delaware notified Murakowski that the university had received complaints that his website contained racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic statements and that his actions violated the university's Disruptive Conduct policy and Responsible Computing and Use of University Computing Resources policy.

At a disciplinary hearing, the university suspended Murakowski and forbid him from attending classes or visiting his dorm room. Following a required psychiatric evaluation, where he was deemed not to be a threat to himself or others, Murakowski was allowed, after fall 2007, to attend classes after being readmitted, but remained unable to access his dormitory.

On August 1, 2007, Murakowski filed a lawsuit in federal court in Delaware claiming that the university's actions violated his First Amendment rights. He also alleged that the hearing violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights. Murakowski sought reinstatement, credit for the classes he would miss, and punitive damages. 

Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The university argued that Murakowski's postings were not subject to First Amendment protection because they constituted threating speech and caused disruption. Murakowski argued that the speech did not contain any "true threats."

On September 04, 2008, the court granted summary judgment to Murakowski on his First Amendment claim but found in favor of the university on the Fourteenth Amendment claim. The court's lengthy discussion of the First Amendment issues at stake emphasized that educational institutions may restrict speech in some cases in order to protect the educational environment and the wellbeing of its students. However, the court found that the university had not presented evidence sufficient to show that Murakowski's postings caused such a disruption and posed such a threat that the First Amendment would allow restriction.

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CMLP Notes: 

Updated 09/16/08. {MCS}

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Al-Azhar University v. Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suliman

Date: 

03/14/2006

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suliman, a.k.a. Kareem Amer

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Verdict (plaintiff)

Description: 

Egyptian law student Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suliman ("Kareem"), using the psuedonym Kareem Amer, posted a series of articles critizing the Islamic faith, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Al-Azhar University to his blog and websites, Modern Discussion and Copts United. Some of his posts critized the operations of Al-Azhar, where he was then a student, for its allegedly strict religious policies and gender discrimination. In October 2005 he was arrested and detained by Egyptian police for his postings, but he ultimately was released without criminal charge.

On March 14, 2006, Kareem was called before a discipinary panel at Al-Azhar University, Damanhour Campus. According to Kareem's blog (partially translated into English), he was accused of defaming the university and libeling the Grand Imam (the head of the Supreme Council that runs Al-Azhar). Kareem did not deny that he had written the posts and did not apologize, instead asserting a right to critize the university. Days later, Kareem was expelled from Al-Azhar.

The university submitted copies of Kareem's blog posts to the Egyptian government, which ultimately led to criminal charges being brought against him. In Feb. 2007, Kareem was sentenced to four years in prison. (For more information and continuing developments, see the CMLP database entry, Egypt v. Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suliman).

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

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