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Layshock v. Hermitage Sch. Dist. - 650 F.3d 205 (3d Cir. 2011)

Rule:

Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The district court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. However, the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment. The appellate court operates under the same legal standards as the district court. 

Facts:

Justin Layshock used his grandmother's computer to access a popular social networking internet web site where he created a fake internet "profile" of his Hickory High School Principal, Eric Trosch. The profile included a photograph of the principal that Layshock had copied from the district's website. The district suspended Layshock, placed him in an alternative education program, and banned him from certain activities. His parents then filed this action under 42 U.S.C.§ 1983. The suit alleged, inter alia, that the School District's punishment transcended Justin's First Amendment right of expression. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Justin on his First Amendment claim. 

Issue:

Did the District Court err in granting summary judgment in favor of Layschock?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Appellate Court determined that the district's response to the student's conduct transcended the protection of free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment because the district could not establish a sufficient nexus between his speech and a substantial disruption of the school environment. The First Amendment could not tolerate the district stretching its authority into his grandmother's home and reaching him while he was sitting at her computer after school in order to punish him for the expressive conduct that he engaged in there. Layshock’s use of the district's web site did not constitute entering the school and the district was not empowered to punish his out of school expressive conduct under the circumstances.

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