Showing posts with label Educators. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Educators. Show all posts

State of Nebraska v. Drahota

STATUS: Reversed and Dismissed on 9/24/2010

Neb.: Fiery Political Emails Didn't Disturb the Peace

Courthouse News Service
The First Amendment protects a Nebraska man's right to send fiery emails accusing his former political science professor, then a state legislative candidate, of being an al-Qaida sympathizer, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled, overturning the former pupil's conviction for disturbing the peace.

Decision: State v. Drahota, 280 Neb. 627 (2010):

See also:
Angry Emails From Student To Professor Protected As Free Speech
Nebraska Supreme Court has overturned the lower court ruling and has said that the emails had First Amendment protections. The court has an interesting discussion of what constitutes "fighting words," and it's pretty clear these emails did not qualify for the kind of "fighting words" that get past First Amendment considerations.
Butler University v. Doe(?), No. _____ (Ind. Cir. Ct.? 2009).
Status: Withdrawn.

In January 2009, Butler University sued a blogger using the pseudonym "Soodo Nym," for posted comments disparaging two university administrators.

The university says that by subpoenaing Google to identify the user of a Gmail account, in June 2009 it determined that the blogger was Butler student Jess Zimmerman.  Zimmerman, who has admitted writing the blog, claims that the university determined his identity earlier, by monitorins his campus e-mail account.

Zimmerman's parents both work for the university, and the blog criticized what it alleged was disparate and unfair treatment of the school's employees.  "Soodo Nym"also sent an e-mail to the administrators that school officials characterized as a threat.

The university dropped the suit in October, but said that the matter would be handled internally.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman has started the "I am 'John Doe'" blog to publicize this case.

Links and Court Documents:
University's Libel Suit Highlights Growing Online Dilemma (The Indy Channel, Oct. 13, 2009)
Butler president defends school's choice to file lawsuit against blogger (Student Press Law Center, Oct. 16, 2009)
University Sues Student Blogger (Inside High Ed, Oct. 16, 2009)
Lawsuit dropped in Butler blogger case (Indianapolis Star, Oct. 27, 2009)
Butler drops libel lawsuit against student blogger (Student Press Law Center, Oct. 30, 2009)

Doninger v. Niehoff, No. HHB-CV-07-4014735-S (Conn. Super. Ct., filed July 16, 2007).

Doninger v. Niehoff, Civil No. 07-01129 (D. Conn. removed from state court July 26, 2007).

Status: Denial of preliminary injunction upheld; defense motion for summary judgment granted in part; appeal pending.

A high school student and her mother sued the principal of her daughter’s school and the superintendent of her school district after they barred the student from running for re-election as student secretary after she posted complaints to her blog about a student-planned concert that was canceled by school administrators.

The state case was moved to federal court in late July 2007. On Aug. 31, 2007, the federal trial court denied a preliminary injunction to force school administrators to allow the girl to run for office; the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this ruling on May 30, 2008. Doninger v. Dept. of Homeland Security, No. 07-CV-3885 (2d Cir. 2008).

The case then returned to the trial court, which partially granted a defense motion for summary judgment on Jan. 15, 2009, leaving only a claim alleging that the student’s speech was chilled when she was prohibited from wearing a t-shirt with a message on it at school. The student has appealed the partial grant of summary judgment.

Links and Court Documents:

Case information:

State complaint:

State docket:

Federal district court decision denying injunction:

Appellate decision affirming denial of injunction:

J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, Civil No. 2007-00585 (M.D. Pa. summary judgment granted Sept. 11, 2008).
Status: Appeal of summary judgment grant to defendants pending (argued June 2, 2009).

On a home computer, students J.S. and K.L. created and postred a fake MySpace page that appeared to be for the principal of their high school. The fake profile, which used the principal’s photograph but not his name, described him as a pedophile and a sex addict. The two girls were suspended from school for ten days.

One of the girls and her parents sued, arguing that the school could not discipline her for activity that occurred totally outside of school. The district court disagreed, holding that “as vulgar, lewd, and potentially illegal speech that had an effect on campus, we find that the school did not violate the plaintiff’s rights in punishing her for it even though it arguably did not cause a substantial disruption of the school.”

The plaintiffs appealed, and the case was argued before the court of appeals on June 2, 2009. No. 08-4138 (3rd Cir. appeal filed Oct. 6, 2008).

Links and Court Documents:
Opinion granting summary judgment:
Duffin v. MySpace, No. BC410118 (Cal. Super., Los Angeles County filed March 19, 2009).
Status: Withdrawn by plaintiff

Plaintiff Cyd Duffin, principal of Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska sued MySpace and several John Doe defendants in California, where the company is based, over a fake profile created on the social networking site in her name which claimed that she went to strip clubs after school hours and was a member of the Klu Klux Klan. Duffin dropped the suit after the creators of the fake profile confessed and were punished by the school.

Links and Court Documents:
Odelson v. Doe, No. 2007-L-008807 (Ill. Cir. Ct., Cook County filed Aug. 21, 2007).
Status: Pending

Attorneys Burton Odelson and Mark Sterk sued over statements in the anonymous Proviso Insider blog (; no archive before 2008) that they were going to be indicted for advising a local school board member on how to lie to a grand jury. Although originally filed against a John Doe defendant, the plaintiffs amended the suit to claim that the statements were written by District 209 School Board President Emanuel "Chris" Welch. While Welch says that he contributes to the blog, he denies writing the statements at issue in the suit. On June 26, 2008, Welch filed his own suit against Odelson and Sterk, as well as his former employer, alleging that they conspired to fire him after removing Odelson and Sterk’s law firm as counsel to the school board.

Links and Court Documents:

Waters v. Miller, No. 2006 CA 002690 SC (Fla. Cir. Ct. settled Jan. 2007).

Status: Settled?

High school teacher Lee Waters is suing over sexual comments posted along with her photo by a North Port High School student on his MySpace profile page. The student was suspended from school, and other disciplinary action was taken. The case was dismissed, apparently due to a settlement, in January 2007.

Links and Court Documents:

Case docket:

New School of Orlando, Inc. v. McSween, Civil No. 2007-CA-014312-O (Fla. Cir. Ct., Orange County filed Oct. 28, 2007).

Status: Settled

A private school sued the mother of a former student over comments criticizing the school that the mother posted on her AOL Hometown web site (apparently, no longer operational). After receiving a letter threatening legal action over the comments, Sonjia McSween moved her comments to a new site (, then another ( In February 2008, the parties apparently reached a settlement.

Links and Court Documents:

Case docket:

Evans v. Bayer, Civil No. 08-61952 (S.D. Fla. filed Dec. 8, 2008).
Status: Motion to dismiss pending.

Katherine Evans was suspended for three days from Pembroke Pines Charter high school in November 2007 after she created a Facebook page that criticized one of her teachers as “the worst teacher she had ever had,” and solicited comments about the teacher. Evans’ site received three comments supporting the teacher, and she removed the page. A defense motion to dismiss, filed in March 2009, is pending.

Links and Court Documents:
ACLU press release:
Cruse v. 451 Press LLC, No. CV 08-1462 (Ark. Cir. Ct., Baxter County filed May 15, 2008), removed to federal court, Civil No. 08- 03031 (W.D. Ark. June 18, 2008), remanded back to state court (W.D. Ark. Sept. 3, 2008).
Status: Dismissed

A former special education teacher who was acquitted of misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a minor sued over comments on the Teacher Smackdown web site (, which she alleges falsely reported that she had pleaded guilty to the charge. On March 19, Circuit Court judge Gary Isbel dismissed the suit on the grounds that Arkansas courts did not have personal jurisdiction over the out-of-state defendants. The plaintiff said she would appeal this ruling.

Links and Court Documents:

CRIMINAL CASE: Arrest of James Buss (Madison, Wis. Nov. 29. 2007).
Status: No charges filed.

On Nov. 16, 2007, James Buss, a high school chemistry teacher, pseudonymously posted comments on a conservative blog covering Wisconsin politics that seemed to support the shooters who killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

Assuming the persona of a teacher-hating conservative commenting on a school funding proposal dispute, Buss wrote, “We’ve got to get in back of the kids who have had enough of lazy, no good teachers and are fighting back. Kids like Eric Harris and Dylen Klebold.” Buss was arrested two weeks later. On Dec. 4, the local prosecutor announced that he would not file criminal charges against Buss because his comments were protected by the federal and state constitutions.

Links and Court Documents:

Port Arthur Independent School District v. Klein & Associates Political Relations, No. ______ (Tex. Dist Ct. Jefferson County 200_).
Status: Summary judgment for defendants affirmed, 92 S.W.3d 889 (Tex.App. - Beaumont 2002, pet'n den'd).

The school board of Port Arthur, Tex. sued Klein & Associates Political Relations after its political blog, “Southeast Texas Political Review” blog (, published a story stating that a “huge gang fight” had broken out at a Thomas Jefferson High School prom. The trial court judge granted summary judgment to the defendants on several grounds, including the finding that the school board, as a government entity, could not sue for libel. The judge reaffirmed this after the board filed a motion for a new trial. An appeals court affirmed (70 S.W.3d 349 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2002, no. pet.)). The blog author also countersued the district for libel and other claims; the trial court granted summary judgment for the school district on these claims, and an appeals court affirmed (92 S.W.3d 889 (Tex.App. - Beaumont 2002, pet'n den'd)).
Galveston Independent School Dist. v. Tetley (threatened lawsuit)
Status: Threated suit; Not filed

In late October 2007, the Galveston Independent School District had its attorney send a letter to the operator of the Galveston Alliance for Neighborhood Schools blog site (, threatening to sue over comments accusing school board members of various improprieties. The threat gained national attention after the Drudge Report website linked to articles about the dispute. The following week, the school board announced that it would not sue, saying that the threat had shifted the district’s focus away from its educational mission.

Links and Court Documents:
Draker v. Schreiber, No. 06-08-17998-CV (Tex. Dist. Ct., Medina County dismissed)
Status: Trial court dismissal affirmed, No. 4-07-00692-CV, 2008 WL 3457023 (Texas App. -- San Antonio Aug. 13, 2008).

A high school assistant principal sued two students and their parents over a page that the students posted on the website that appeared to be the principal’s personal page and falsely said that she was a lesbian. The trial court dismissed the case, and the dismissal was affirmed after the principal appealed.

One of the students was also charged criminally as a juvenile with retaliation and fraudulent use of identifying information, both misdemeanors.

Links and Court Documents:
Plaintiff’s complaint:
Appellate docket:
Trosch v. Layshock, No. _____ (Pa. C.P., Mercer County filed April 2007).
Status: Claims against three defendants withdrawn; claims against one defendant remain

A high school principal sued four former students over three fake profiles posted on that portrayed him as obsessed with sex, that he had sex with students, that he drank at work, and that he smoked marijuana.

One of the students, Justin Layshock, had already filed a federal lawsuit after he was suspended and placed in an alternative education program as punishment for creating one of the profiles. In that case, in July 2007 a federal judge found the suspension unconstitutional and ordered a jury trial on damages (Layshock v. Hermitage School District, Civil No. 06-00116 (W.D. Pa. summary judgment granted July 10, 2007)).

In December 2007, Judge Christopher J. St. John denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the state case, but held that the statements were not made with actual malice and that the principal could not recover punitive damages. In November 2008, the principal dropped the claims against three of the defendants, leaving only the claims against Layshock.

Links and Court Documents:
Snyder v. Millersville University, Civil No. 07-1660 (E.D. Pa. bench verdict Dec. 3, 2008).
Status: Bench verdict for defendants

Millersville University refused to grant a B.S. in education to plaintiff Stacey Snyder after college officials and the supervisors of her full-time student-teaching assignment discovered a photo on her MySpace page showing her dressed in costume and drinking from a plastic cup, labeled “Drunken Pirate." Based on this and prior poor evaluations of Synder’s conduct and knowledge, the student-teaching supervisors barred her from completing the program, causing the university to refuse to grant her a degree.

She sued to force the university to grant the degree, and on First Amendment grounds. But after a three-day bench trial, the judge ruled that any order forcing granting the degree would violate public policy, since such a degree would indicate that Snyder had successfully completed the program. On the First Amednment claim, he ruled that Synder’s sudent-teaching under the university’s auspices, while unpaid, essentially made her an employee of the university, who was protected on free speech grounds only for statements regarding public issues, which the MySpace posting was not.

Links and Court Documents:
Bench ruling:
Wagner v. Miskin, No. ____ (N.D. Dist. Ct. jury verdict 2002), aff’d, 660 N.W.2d 593, 2003 ND 69 (N.D. May 6, 2003), reh’g denied (N.D. June 3, 2003), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1154 (2004).
Status: $3 million award for plaintiff affirmed

(NOTE: This award predates the award in Banks v. Milum, above, and involves a web site which would now be considered a blog.)

Former University of North Dakota student Glenda Miskin created a website,, that criticized the university and its professors. Miskin was suspended from the university in 1990 after an internal disciplinary committee found that she had stalked UND physics professor John L. Wagner. But the site alleged that Wagner had harassed Miskin with sexually provocative phone calls. Wagner sued, and won $2 million for libel, $500,000 for slander, and $500,000 for interference with his business relationships. The North Dakota Supreme Court upheld the award, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Links and Court Documents:
North Dakota Supreme Court opinion:

Archdiocese of Indianapolis v. Doe, Civil No. 49D120805CT20682 (Ind., Super. Ct., Marion Co. filed May 8, 2008).

Status: Order issued requiring Facebook to disclose information

Tim Puntarelli, Dean of Students at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, sued Facebook to determine the IP address of the person who posted a fake profile on the site in his name and sent “inappropriate” messages from the profile. He and the school sought information on the poster from Facebook, and he filed suit when Facebook responded that he needed to obtain a court order. The court issued the order the day after the suit was filed.

Links and Court Documents:,0,7111434.story