A judge has dismissed a $4 million federal suit by a New York state woman who alleged her First Amendment rights were violated when she was told she needed special permission to be on school-district grounds, a condition she says effectively restricted her access to public meetings.
The ruling, a victory for Goldberg Segalla partner Patrick B. Naylon and associate Nicholas J. Pontzer and the firm’s clients, the school district and its superintendent, ended a civil-rights dispute that began with a confrontation outside the district high school March 11, 2016. That evening, the superintendent blocked the woman from an after-hours budget meeting he told her was confidential. When she refused to leave, he had her escorted off school property, and three days later he sent her a letter stating that she would need his permission in writing to enter any school-district office or building.
But the woman disregarded the letter because she thought it not legally binding and told school officials and police she planned to attend the next regular school board meeting. When she arrived, police officers arrested her on a charge of trespassing. Police also arrested her when she attended, without permission, one of the high school girls’ tennis team’s matches with her daughter, a former member of the team.
The woman, a mother of two who closely follows school-district business and regularly attended board meetings, filed suit over the restrictions, alleging the school district had infringed on her rights to free speech, free assembly, and due process. But, in July 2019, Pat and Nick, members of Goldberg Segalla’s Municipal and Government Law practice group, successfully moved for summary judgment and dismissal of the suit, arguing that the superintendent should be afforded qualified immunity—a doctrine that protects public officials when they make reasonable decisions, even if mistaken.
The defense team also argued that a municipality can be held liable only if the actions in question were taken pursuant to a municipal policy or custom. In this case, no such policy or custom existed.
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