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J.S. v. Blue Mountain School Dist.

March 29, 2007

J.S., A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HER PARENTS, TERRY SNYDER AND STEVEN SNYDER, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THEIR DAUGHTER, PLAINTIFFS
v.
BLUE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL DISTRICT; DR. JOYCE E. ROMBERGER, SUPERINTENDENT BLUE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL DISTRICT; AND JAMES S. MCGONIGLE, PRINCIPAL BLUE MOUNTAIN MIDDLE SCHOOL, BOTH IN THEIR OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition is the plaintiffs' motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in this case asserting a middle school student's right to freedom of speech. A hearing on this matter was held on March 29, 2007, and it is ripe for disposition.*fn1

Background

Plaintiff J.S. is a fourteen-year-old eighth grade student at Blue Mountain Middle School located in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 3). Defendant James S. McGonigle is the principal of the middle school. (Compl. ¶ 7).

On or about March 18, 2007, Plaintiff J.S. and a fellow student created a profile for Defendant McGonigle on a website called "MySpace.com." (Compl. ¶ 14). MySpace is a popular website among young people where they can create profiles for themselves and share, inter alia, photos, journals and interests. (Id.). In the profile they created for Defendant McGonigle, the students indicated that he is a married, bisexual man whose interests include "fucking in [his] office" and "hitting on" students and their parents." (Pl. Ex. 3). It also indicates that he is a "sex addict" who loves children and any kind of sex. (Id.). The profile also makes disparaging comments regarding McGonigle's wife and children.*fn2 The profile contained Defendant McGonigle's photograph, which the students copied off of the school district's website. (Compl. ¶ 16). The profile was located at URL www.MySpace.com/kidsrockmybed. (Comp. ¶ 21 & Pl. Ex. 3).

Word of the fake profile spread, and students at the school eventually told McGonigle about it. After a brief investigation, McGonigle determined that Plaintiff J.S. and another student were responsible for the profile. As he found the content of the profile very upsetting, the principal suspended Plaintiff J.S. from school for ten (10) days.*fn3

Plaintiffs then instituted the instant case. They assert that the First Amendment precludes the school district from excluding a student from classes for two weeks for the profile which is non-threatening, non-obscene and a parody. They claim that the Constitution prohibits the school district from disciplining a student's out-of-school conduct that does not cause a disruption of classes or school administration. They further allege that the defendants' actions violate Plaintiff Terry and Steven Snyder's rights as parents to determine how best to raise, nurture, discipline and educate their children in violation of their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs bring suit pursuant to the Civil Rights Statute of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Upon filing the complaint plaintiffs also filed the instant motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for constitutional violations we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.").

Discussion

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has outlined four factors that a court ruling on a motion for a preliminary injunction must consider: (1) whether the movant has shown a reasonable probability of success on the merits; (2) whether the movant will be irreparably injured by denial of the relief; (3) whether granting preliminary relief will result in even greater harm to the nonmoving party; and (4) whether granting the preliminary relief will be in the public interest. Crissman v. Dover Downs Entertainment Inc., 239 F.3d 357, 364 (3d Cir.2001). These same factors are used to determine a motion for a temporary restraining order. Bieros v. Nicola, 857 F. Supp. 445, 446 (E.D.Pa.1994).

An injunction is "an extraordinary remedy, which should be granted only in limited circumstances." Novartis Consumer Health, Inc. v. Johnson & Johnson-Merck, 290 F.3d 578, 586 (3d Cir. 2002). The injunction should issue only if the plaintiff produces evidence sufficient to convince the district court that all four factors favor preliminary relief. Duraco Products, Inc. v. Joy Plastic Enterprises, Ltd., 40 F.3d 1431, 1438 (3d Cir. 1994). We will address each injunction factor separately.

1. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

Plaintiffs brings this claim under the First Amendment asserting that she was improperly punished for ...


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