Yeasin v. Durham, No. 16-3367 (10th Cir.) January 5, 2018.
University of Kansas student Yeasin was said to have restrained his girlfriend in his car when she broke up with him. Kansas charged Yeasin with criminal assault and deprivation of property. A restraining order issued precluding contact with his former girlfriend. Soon thereafter, the university initiated disciplinary proceedings against Yeasin for violation of its student conduct norms and issued its own no-contact order.
While both state and university orders were in effect, and notwithstanding warning from the university’s administration, Yeasin persisted in publishing multiple Twitter messages about his former friend.
The university expelled Yeasin, but he was reinstated when the Supreme Court of Kansas held that the university lacked capacity to discipline Yeasin for off campus conduct.
Yeasin sued the administrator who expelled him, claiming violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. He alleged violation of First Amendment and substantive due process rights.
The Tenth Circuit has dismissed Yeasin’s claim. The Tenth Circuit observed:
At the intersection of university speech and social media, First Amendment doctrine is unsettled. Compare Keefe v. Adams, 840 F.3d 523, 525-26 (8th Cir. 2016) (concluding that college’s removal of a student from school based on off-campus statements on his social media page didn’t violate his First Amendment free-speech rights), with J.S. v. Blue Mountain. Sch. Dist., 650 F.3d 915, 920 (3d Cir. 2011) (holding that a school district violated the First Amendment rights of a plaintiff when iit suspended her for creating a private social media profile mocking the school principal and containing adult and explicit content).
Where there is doubt concerning the capacity of universities to impose discipline for online behavior, there exists no clearly established First Amendment right which the university might have violated. As such, the administrator remained entitled to qualified immunity. Moreover, the substantive due process claim failed, as it could not be said the university’s discipline was arbitrary, lacked a rational basis, or was shocking to the conscience.