Wynar v. Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist., No. 11-17127 (9th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
Landon Wynar, a sophomore high school student, was suspended from school after he made a string of increasingly violent and threatening instant messages sent from home to his friends. Landon and his father sued the school district and others (collectively, "Douglas County") for violations of Landon's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983, as well as for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The court held that, when faced with an identifiable threat of school violence, schools could take disciplinary action in response to off-campus speech that met the requirements of Tinker v. DesMoines. In this instance, the court concluded that it was reasonable for Douglas County to interpret the messages as a real risk and to forecast a substantial disruption. Further, Landon's messages threatening the student body as a whole, and targeted specific students by name, impinged on the rights of the students to be secure and to be let alone. Accordingly, the court held that Douglas County's actions did not violate the First Amendment. The court also held that Landon received adequate due process before both his 10-day suspension and his 90-day expulsion. The court rejected plaintiffs' remaining claims and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the school district.
Court Description: Civil Rights. The panel affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by a high school student and his father after the student was temporarily expelled for sending violent and threatening instant messages from his home to his friends about planning a school shooting. The panel held that the messages, which threatened the safety of the school and its students, both interfered with the rights of other students and made it reasonable for school officials to forecast a substantial disruption of school activities. The panel held that when faced with an identifiable threat of school violence, schools may take disciplinary action in response to off-campus speech that meets the requirements of Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969). Under the circumstances, the panel concluded that the school district did not violate the student’s rights to freedom of expression or due process.