Noblesville High School seeks dismissal of lawsuit filed by pro-life student

Noblesville School District and Noblesville High School are asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a freshman who alleged her rights were violated because she was not allowed to start a student pro-life club.

The motion to dismiss in E.D., a minor, b/n/f Michael Duell, as parent and next friend, et al. v. Noblesville School District, et al., 1:21-cv-03075, asserts the allegations in the amended complaint “do not plausibly suggest a right to relief against the Defendants.”

Church Church Hittle & Antrim is representing the defendants. Charitable Allies are representing the plaintiffs.

E.D. and her co-plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana after Noblesville High School declined to let her start the Noblesville Students for Life club. The school had concerns the organization was not student-led but actually being controlled by adults pushing a political agenda.

The plaintiffs’ amended complaint is 68 pages with 135 pages of exhibits and asserts 19 causes of action against 14 defendants. The amended complaint was filed after the plaintiffs tried unsuccessfully to have Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker removed from adjudicating the case. 

In the brief in support of their motion to dismiss, defendants call for the complaint to be tossed because the plaintiffs did not comply with the Indiana Tort Claims Act and the Indiana Claims Against Public Schools Act. Both statutes require claimants to first notify the public school of the problem and give the school an opportunity to respond with a remedy for moving forward with filing a lawsuit.

“The claims in the Amended Complaint are based in tort and all seek to impose liability based on conduct taken within the scope of the teacher’s or administrator’s employment with the School District,” the defendants state in their motion to dismiss. “Plaintiffs must show they complied with the notice provision of the ITCA and CAPSA. They did not do so.”

Nodding to alleged violations of the Constitution, the plaintiffs asserted, “NHS is teaching its students that the First Amendment does not apply to some government actors, granting them unbridled discretion to discriminate against student speech because of their viewpoint.”

The defendants counter that a school cannot exclude speech based on its viewpoint, but it can bar speech that is inconsistent with the purpose of the limited public forum created at the school.

Pointing to the amended complaint, the defendants assert the allegations show the school approved the E.D.’s club knowing the organization’s pro-life viewpoint and allowed E.D. to provide students with information about the club and recruit members. Rather the club’s status was revoked after E.D.’s mother attended two meetings related to the club and NHS became concerned the club was not a student-led organization.

“With full knowledge of the club’s viewpoint on abortion, the club was allowed to form, attend the club fair, provide information about the club to students, recruit students, and work towards advertising its call out meeting,” the defendants argue. “The only fact alleged to have changed is that E.D. requested to hang a sign that was denied based on political content and instead of changing the sign, E.D.’s mom attended a meeting with E.D. and Dean (Jeremy) Luna – a different administrator than who denied the signs – to request approval of the signs from a different individual. Revoking the club’s status after forum-shopping administrators and after developing concerns that the club was not truly a student-led club, does not provide a sufficient factual based to show viewpoint discrimination.”

Likewise, the defendants hold the other claims of violating Due Process and Equal Protection rights must be dismissed for failing to state a claim and failing to show a similarly situated club was treated more favorably. Also, the defendants assert the alleged violation of the Equal Access Act must also be dismissed.

“The facts alleged in the Amended Complaint show that the basis for denying the club the ability to meet at school was based on the club’s conduct, not the religious, political, philosophical or other content of the club’s speech at meetings,” the defendants argue. “As shown in the Amended Complaint, the school knew the religious, political, or philosophical content of the club’s intended speech the entire time.”

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