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Media Alerts - Keefe v. Adams - Eighth Circuit
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December 19, 2016
  Keefe v. Adams - Eighth Circuit
Headline Eighth Circuit panel affirms summary judgment regarding removal of student from nursing program due to Facebook posts

Area of Law First Amendment

Issue(s) Presented Whether the district court properly granted summary judgment to defendant college administrators who removed plaintiff from the college nursing program due to student complaints about posts on plaintiff's Facebook page.

Brief Summary Plaintiff was a nursing student at Central Lakes College (CLC). Plaintiff posted to his Facebook page about his frustrations with and feelings toward other students in the program. Multiple students reported Plaintiff's posts to nursing program administrators because they found the posts threatening and were uncomfortable and nervous around plaintiff in class as a result. The Director of Nursing and the Dean of Students met with plaintiff to discuss the posts, and based on plaintiff's "lack of remorse, lack of concern" and failure to meet ethical standards of the nursing profession, the Director of Nursing removed plaintiff from the program.

After his administrative appeal was denied, plaintiff filed this lawsuit against CLC administrators alleging violations of his First Amendment and due process rights. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. On appeal, a panel of the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

The panel found that Plaintiff's First Amendment rights were not violated. Professional codes of ethics, such as the Nurses Association Code of Ethics CLC required its nursing students to uphold, are a legitimate part of a professional school's curriculum and do not run afoul of the First Amendment on their face. Further, college administrators in a professional school have discretion to require compliance with the recognized professional standards both on and off campus. Plaintiff's posts were found to be non-compliant with the professional ethical standards, and the First Amendment does not bar administrators from determining that, as a result, Plaintiff was unable to meet the professional demands of being a nurse.

The panel further found that the CLC administrators had not violated Plaintiff's due process rights. The US Supreme Court has adopted a deferential standard when reviewing academic dismissals, requiring a showing of arbitrariness or capriciousness. That standard was not met here. The decision to remove Plaintiff from the nursing program due to unethical and unprofessional behavior was a reasoned academic decision, and defendants allowed Plaintiff to remain at CLC and transfer his credits to another program. Procedurally, Plaintiff had notice, an explanation of why his behavior fell short of the standards of the program, a face-to-face meeting with administrators, an opportunity to respond to the allegations against him, and an chance to appeal the adverse decision. This was sufficient to meet the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Circuit Judge Kelly concurred in part and dissented in part.

The full text of the opinion may be found at http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/16/10/142988P.pdf

Panel Circuit Judges Kelly, Loken, and Shepherd

Date of Issued Opinion October 26, 2016

Decided Affirmed

Docket Number 14-2988

Counsel Jordan S. Kushner for Appellant and Kathryn Morrell Woodruff for Appellees

Author
Circuit Judge Loken

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor
Joelle Larson, University of Minnesota Law School

    Posted By: Joelle Larson @ 12/19/2016 12:54 PM     8th Circuit  

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