Free Speech

Judge Temporarily Blocks Potential Eviction of UConn Students in the "Racial Ridicule" Case

"On the record before the Court, the movants have demonstrated 'sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation.'"

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

From this afternoon's decision by U.S. District Court Judge Michael P. Shea in Mucaj v. Univ. of Connecticut (see this post for the facts and for the plaintiffs' substantive argument, which the court did not have to fully resolve):

"[D]istrict courts may grant a preliminary injunction where a plaintiff demonstrates irreparable harm and meets either of two standards: '(a) a likelihood of success on the merits, or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation, and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the movant's favor.'" …

Based on the facts alleged in the complaint, the Plaintiffs' affidavits, and the documents submitted in support of the motion, the Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they will suffer irreparable harm should the disciplinary hearing proceed, specifically, from the chilling effect on speech and from the potential disciplinary sanction of the loss of their campus housing. The email from UCONN's general counsel to Plaintiffs' counsel also makes clear that the harm is imminent, because it states that any sanctions imposed at the conclusion of or following the hearing will be effective immediately and will not be stayed if Plaintiffs appeal the hearing officers' decision….

The plaintiffs allege that they are being disciplined solely because of their First Amendment protected speech. On the record before the Court, the movants have demonstrated "sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation."

In addition, the Plaintiffs have demonstrated that the balance of hardships tips "decidedly" in their favor should injunctive relief be denied. Any hardship the University defendants might suffer by postponing the hearing until after a preliminary injunction hearing is held is clearly outweighed by the injuries the Plaintiffs will sustain, including the loss of their housing, if injunctive relief is not granted….

Finally, the requested injunctive relief is in the public interest. "[S]ecuring First Amendment rights is in the public interest."

Accordingly, it is HEREBY ORDERED that the defendants, their officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, and any other persons who are in active concert or participation with them, are ENJOINED from conducting the Plaintiffs' disciplinary hearing scheduled for January 17, 2020, and are further ENJOINED from imposing any disciplinary sanctions against the Plaintiffs stemming from the October 11, 2019 incident including, without limitation, termination of the Plaintiffs' campus housing, until the Court rules on the Plaintiffs' alternative motion for preliminary injunction following a hearing scheduled for January 28, 2020….

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  1. Seriously…with all the time and blood and treasure we waste on this and other assorted sjw nonsense every day we could have been flying in UFOs over cities in Europa by now.

    1. You’re assuming the people responsible for the culture wars are smart enough to design UFOs. It’s been my experience that the people smart enough to study math, engineering, and the sciences don’t have time for much of the culture war nonsense.

  2. I would not have enjoined the disciplinary hearing. The plaintiffs’ at this point allegations at this point are ex parts and might prove to be. Being subjected to a heating doesn’t really hurt the plaintiffs. And if their allegations are true, the hearing officers might accept their arguments, and should be given an opportunity to do so.

    I would only have stayed the immediate application of sanctions. And perhaps only the worst sanctions, like being evicted from housing or expelled from school. And only until the next hearing when the school can present its case.

    1. I don’t think so. If I were to face a disciplinary hearing like this one, I’d rather know going in what the possible sanctions might be…as that might inform my legal strategy.

      1. He represented to the judge that he knows exactly what the possible sanctions might be, that was his basis for requesting the temporary restraining order. However, if the hearing completes but those sanctions are stayed, he is no longer in grave danger of sufffering an immediate injury, so the purpose of a TRO would be satisfied. That’s why there was no need for the TRO to enjoin the hearing itself.

        And the hearing officers could have decided, on their own, to dismiss the charges against him for failure to warrant discipline or on First Amendment grounds. If they did that, the lawsuit would likely have been mooted or at least substantially Motivated and reduced in scope. It’s not a judge’s job to exacerbate a dispute that could easily be mitigated or to enjoin mitigation of a plaintiff’s damages.

        1. Sorry substantially mitigated.

    2. “And if their allegations are true, the hearing officers might accept their arguments, and should be given an opportunity to do so.”

      The arguments are in he court briefs, and the school is free to drop the charges any time it wants, it doesn’t need a hearing.

      And the school is even less harmed than the students by being unable to do the hearing, so I guess the balance of hardships tips in favor of the students.

      1. Why is the school not harmed by being unable to do the hearing? For one thing they are being subjected to litigation that might be avoidable if they were free to act. If you think being hauled into a hearing hurts the students, then you must also accept that being hauled into federal court hurts the school. If the students’ theory is correct, the hearing might establish this.

        In addition, we only have the plaintiffs’ view of things. They might be lying. There might be another view or additional relevant facts. The hearing could air evidence tending to establish that the plaintiffs’ view of things isn’t correct or their version omits key parts of the story.

        1. They are free to act. They have the freedom to drop all charges as a violation of the consent degree and as a violation of both the US and Article I, Section 6 of the Connecticut constitution.

        2. And the school has a conflict of interest. Should they really be conducting a hearing that requires the plaintiff in the lawsuit, on pain of academic discipline, to make statements about the subject matter of the pending litigation?

    3. Being subjected to a heating doesn’t really hurt the plaintiffs.

      I don’t know, sounds pretty painful to me.

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