Court rejects LACCD motion to dismiss free speech lawsuit

The United States Central District Court of California denied LACCD’s motion to dismiss the free speech lawsuit filed by Pierce student Kevin Shaw, stating that outdoor, open areas of universities “are traditional public fora, regardless of Pierce’s regulations naming them non-public fora.”

Shaw filed a lawsuit on March 28, 2017 against the college, stating that the Pierce Free Speech Area is too small and the policies are “arbitrarily” enforced.

According to the court’s Order and Opinion for Motion to Dismiss, Pierce College, Shaw v. Burke, LACCD made a motion to dismiss the case on May 24, 2017, arguing that Shaw’s claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, which bars all claims of monetary damages against public officials.

LACCD also said Shaw has no standings to bring about the claim because he cannot prove that Pierce is likely to enforce district free speech policies, citing the permission of anti-Trump protests to be held on campus.

Shaw stated that allowing the protests to be held on campus proves the arbitrary nature of the policies, but LACCD argued that it acts as an example that “the threat of future enforcement is low.”

The court found that Shaw sufficiently argued the threat of future enforcement of these policies, citing the Pierce Student Standard of Conduct, which states that the college will enforce its free speech policies and it may result in disciplinary action.

The college district argued that certain defendants, who are being individually sued in civil court, have qualified immunity, which prevents public officials from liability of civil damages. Furthermore, LACCD argued that the lawsuit failed to state claims of individual liability for defendants Pierce President Kathleen Burke, Dean of Student Services William Marmolejo, Vice President of Student Services Earic Dixon-Peters and Dean of Student Engagement Juan Carlos Astorga.

The court rejected the motion to dismiss the case, but granted qualified immunity to defendants, citing a 2011 case, which set a precedent that administrators cannot be held individually responsible for restricting student’s rights.