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7th Circuit: No First Amendment rights violation

May 22, 2008

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld summary judgment in favor of a northern Indiana school board regarding prior restraint and First Amendment retaliation claims made by a teacher.

In Gregory G. Samuelson v. LaPorte Community School Board, et al., No. 06-4351, Gregory Samuelson filed an action under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against his employer LaPorte Community School Corporation (LSC), alleging violations of the First and 14th Amendments, and the Indiana Constitution, following his removal by the school board as coach of the girls' varsity basketball team.

Samuelson claimed his contract as coach was not renewed because he publicly expressed his views about issues relating to the school without following the school's bylaws for chain-of-command policy.

Both parties filed for summary judgment on the claims; Samuelson's response abandoned his 14th Amendment and Indiana Constitution violation claims. The U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division, granted summary judgment in favor of the school corporation.

The 7th Circuit affirmed the ruling, finding Samuelson's First Amendment rights were not violated because the school corporation's chain-of-command policy doesn't constitute prior restraint because it doesn't restrict speech protected by the First Amendment. The speech addressed in the policy is speech grounded in the public employee's professional duties and is not protected, wrote Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook.

Samuelson couldn't present concrete evidence to show his contract as basketball coach wasn't renewed as a result of his circumventing the chain-of-command policy on various school-related issues, so summary judgment on his claim in favor of LSC was correct, wrote Chief Judge Easterbrook.

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