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Law School Case Brief

Doninger v. Niehoff - 527 F.3d 41 (2d Cir. 2008)


A party seeking a preliminary injunction ordinarily must show: (1) a likelihood of irreparable harm in the absence of the injunction; and (2) either a likelihood of success on the merits or sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation, with a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the movant's favor. When a movant seeks a mandatory injunction--that is, an injunction that will alter rather than maintain the status quo--she must meet the more rigorous standard of demonstrating a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits.


Plaintiff-Appellant Lauren Doninger (Doninger) sued Defendants-Appellees Karissa Niehoff and Paula Schwartz, the principal of Lewis Mills High School (LMHS) and the superintendent of the district in which LMHS is located, respectively, when her daughter, Avery, was disqualified from running for Senior Class Secretary after she posted a vulgar and misleading message about the supposed cancellation of an upcoming school event on an independently operated, publicly accessible web log (or blog). Doninger, alleging principally a violation of her daughter's First Amendment rights, moved for a preliminary injunction voiding the election for Senior Class Secretary and ordering the school either to hold a new election in which Avery would be allowed to participate or to grant Avery the same title, honors, and obligations as the student elected to the position, including the privilege of speaking as a class officer at graduation. The district court denied the motion, concluding that Doninger had failed to show a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits. Doninger appealed from that dismissal.


Did plaintiff show a likelihood of success on the First Amendment claim that would entitle her to a preliminary injunction against school officials?




The court found that Doninger failed to show a likelihood of success on the First Amendment claim. The blog contained the sort of language that properly could be prohibited in schools. Although it did not occur on school grounds, the blog was the type of student expression that could properly be prohibited on the basis that it would materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school. It was reasonably foreseeable that the posting would reach school property since it pertained to school events, and it created a risk of disruption by encouraging others to contact the school.

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