Hermitage School District v. Layshock

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Date: 

12/21/2005

Status: 

Concluded

Location: 

Pennsylvania

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
In December 2005, high school student Justin Layshock posted a fake MySpace page parodying his high school principal, Eric Trosch. Layshock posted a picture of Trosch and answered the questions asked by the site's profile template by riffing on the word "big"... read full description
Parties

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

Hermitage School District

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Justin Layshock

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Location of Party: 

  • Pennsylvania

Location of Party: 

  • Pennsylvania

Legal Counsel: 

Witold J. W Walczak - ACLU, Kim M. Watterson, Richard T. Ting - Reed & Smith
Description

In December 2005, high school student Justin Layshock posted a fake MySpace page parodying his high school principal, Eric Trosch. Layshock posted a picture of Trosch and answered the questions asked by the site's profile template by riffing on the word "big" because Trosch is apparently a large man. Answers included phrases like "big faggot," "big hard ass," and "big dick." To the question, "what did you do on your last birthday," Layshock answered "too drunk to remember." Layshock created the profile from a computer at his grandmother's home.

School officials discovered the profile, and the school distict suspended Layshock for 10 days, ordered him to finish high school in an "Alternative Education Program," and forbid him from attending graduation. The school backtracked on part of this disciplinary action, however, and Layschock was allowed to return to regular classes. He graduated in Spring 2006.

Layshock and his parents sued the school district and various school officials in federal district court in Pennsylvania, claiming (1) that the school's punishment violated his First Amendment rights, (2) that the school's policies and rules were vague and/or overbroad in violation of the First Amendment; and (3) that the school's punishment violated Layshock's parents' Fourteenth Amendment rights to raise, nurture, discipline and educate him.

In July 2007, the district court granted summary judgment to Layshock on his claim that that the school's punishment violated his First Amendment rights and ordered a trial to determine whether he is entitled to compensatory damages for that violation. The court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all other counts.

Eric Trosch subsequently sued Layshock and three other students in Pennsylvania state court for defamation based on this and two other fake MySpace profiles. (Please see the related CMLP Database entry for more information).

Update:

11/13/2007 - Parties jointly moved for final judgment and to stipulate damages of $10,000 to the Layshocks contingent on appeal.

11/14/2007 - Judge entered the judgment.

11/21/2007 - Hermitage School District filed notification of its intent to appeal.

11/30/2007 - Layshocks filed notification of their intent to cross appeal.

3/27/2008 - Hermitage School District filed its appellate brief.

5/22/2008 - Layshocks filed their appellate brief.

12/10/2008 - Case was argued before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.   

02/04/2010 - The Third Circuit upheld the lower court's rulings.

04/09/2010 - The Third Circuit granted the Hermitage School District's petition for an en banc rehearing on whether it violated Layshock's First Amendment rights.

06/03/2010 - Case was argued en banc before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals

06/13/2011 - The Third Circuit affirmed the lower court's grant of summary judgment to Layshock on his First Amendment claim. The Third Circuit noted that the School District did not, on appeal, challenge the district court's finding that there was no evidence of a "substantial disruption of the school environment," and further held that accessing the school's website for the principal's photo was insufficient to forge a nexus between the Hermitage School District and the profile Layshock created. The Court also found that while Layshock's speech reached much of the student body, it did not reach within the "schoolhouse gate."

10/14/2011- The Hermitage School District petitioned for a Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States on Layshock' First Amendment claim. The School District filed a single petition with Blue Mountain School District.

01/17/2012 - The Supreme Court denied Hermitage School District's petition for a Writ of Certiorari.

Details

Content Type: 

  • Photo
  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Subject Area: 

  • Student Speech
Court Information & Documents
CMLP Information (Private)

CMLP Notes: 

Status updated on 6/4/2008, case has moved to appeal. (AAB)

Updated 2/12/09 - VAF  

Updated 2/1/11, case still open.  (AAB)