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Robinson v. Hunt County

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

February 28, 2018

DEANNA J. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
HUNT COUNTY, TX., RANDY MEEKS HUNT COUNTY SHERIFF, in his Individual and official capacity, and JOHN DOES 1-10, in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ED KINKEADE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint [ECF No. 21] (“Motion to Dismiss”), filed on April 28, 2017 by Defendants Hunt County, Texas (“Hunt County”), Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks (“Meeks”), Jeffrey Haines (“Haines”), Destiny Tweedy (“Tweedy”), and Jacob Smith (“Smith”) (collectively, “Defendants”). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 21] is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on February 23, 2017 alleging that her constitutional rights were violated because her comments on the Hunt County Sheriff's Office (“HCSO”) Facebook page were removed and she was banned from posting comments on this page. Compl. 1 & 8, ECF No. 1. Plaintiff's Original Complaint named as Defendants Hunt County, Meeks, and John Does 1-10. Compl. 1, ECF No. 1. On April 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint identifying additional defendants Haines, Tweedy, and Smith, and seeking relief against John Does 1-5. Am. Compl. 1, ECF No. 18. The Amended Complaint alleged the following causes of action: First Cause of Action - Freedom of Speech pursuant to the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) against Meeks, Haines, Tweedy, Smith, and John Does 1-5 in their individual and official capacities; Second Cause of Action - Due Process pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Section 1983 against Meeks, Haines, Tweedy, Smith, and John Does 1-5 in their individual and official capacities; Third Cause of Action - Monell Claim pursuant to the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Section 1983 against Hunt County; and Fourth Cause of Action - Supervisory Liability pursuant to the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Section 1983 against Meeks, Haines, and John Does 1-5 in their individual and official capacities. Am. Compl. 16-28, ECF No. 18. Plaintiff has not identified and served John Does 1-5.

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint states that Defendants created and operate the official HCSO Facebook page, that Defendants frequently post matters of public concern on this page, and that Defendants encourage and permit the public's expression on this page. Am. Compl. 7, ECF No. 18. Plaintiff states that Defendants specifically encouraged the public to (1) make comments, “like, ” and share Defendants' posts regarding matters of public concern; and (2) reply to and “like” comments made by the public on the HCSO Facebook page. Am. Compl. 7, ECF No. 18. The “About” section of the HCSO Facebook page states the following:

The purpose of this site is to present matters of pub[l]ic interest within Hunt County[, ] Texas. We encourage you to submit comments, but please note that this is NOT a public forum. Comments posted to this page will be monitored. The Hunt County Sheriff's Office reserves the right to delete comments that: contain false information, obscene language or sexual content, threaten or defame any person or organization including the Hunt County Sheriff's Office, support or oppose political candidates, political organizations or ballot propositions, promote illegal activity, commercial services or products, infringe on copyrights or trademarks or are not topically related to the particular posting. In addition, should you (the end user) be formally charged with a criminal offense or arrested in connection with a criminal offense, your image may be displayed on our page. By “LIKING” or INTERACTING” with our page you agree to the above terms[.]

Am. Compl. 7, ECF No. 18; Ex. A, ECF No. 18-1 at 2.

         On January 18, 2017, Defendants made the following post on the HCSO Facebook page:

We find it suspicious that the day after a North Texas Police Officer is murdered, we have received several anti-police calls in the office, as well as people trying to degrade or insult police officers on this page. ANY post filled with foul language, hate speech of all types and comments that are considered inappropriate will be removed and the user banned. There are a lot of families on this page, and it is for everyone, and therefore, we monitor it extremely closely. Thank you for understanding.

Am. Compl. 9, ECF No. 18. Plaintiff states that the following post she made on January 18, 2017 in response to Defendants' post was deleted:

Degrading or insulting police officers is not illegal, and in fact has been ruled time and time again, by multiple U.S. courts, as protected First Amendment speech. Just because you consider a comment to be “inappropriate” doesn't give you the legal right to delete it and/or ban a private citizen from commenting on this TAX PAYER funded social media site. No police officer was “murdered” yesterday. Imagine how wonderful it would have been if the private citizen hadn't been confronted on private property and a stand off hadn't been created unnecessarily . . . the terrorist pig with a shiny badge would still be alive today. Just imagine . . . . HCSO is a bunch of idiots, led by the biggest idiot in the entire country - if your moderators delete comments or ban people, you're just setting yourselves up perfectly for a First Amendment rights violation law suit. Thank you for your understanding.

Am. Compl. 9-10, ECF No. 18; Ex. C, ECF No. 18-1 at 13.

         Plaintiff seeks the following requests for relief:

(1) A declaratory judgment that Defendants' administration and maintenance of the HCSO Facebook page and their official policy and/or longstanding custom governing the same violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution;
(2) A declaratory judgment that Defendants' administration and maintenance of the HCSO Facebook page and their official policy and/or longstanding custom governing the same violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution;
(3) A declaratory judgment that Defendants' ongoing ban of Plaintiff from the HCSO Facebook page, where Defendants imposed the ban because Plaintiff expressed viewpoints that are critical of and unfavorable to Defendants, constitutes an impermissible prior restraint under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution;
(4) Preliminary and permanent injunctive relief enjoining Defendants and their employees, agents, servants, officers, and persons in concert with Defendants from removing, censoring, or otherwise restricting protected speech on the HCSO Facebook page, including, but not limited to, restricting and removing comments based on their expressed viewpoint(s);
(5) Preliminary and permanent injunctive relief enjoining Defendants and their employees, agents, servants, officers, and persons in concert with Defendants from banning users who engage in protected speech on the HCSO Facebook page; including, but not limited to, banning individuals based on their expressed viewpoint(s);
(6) Preliminary and permanent injunctive relief compelling Defendants and their employees, agents, servants, officers, and persons in concert with Defendants to restore Plaintiff's comments to the HCSO Facebook page, and to restore Plaintiff's ability to comment and otherwise participate on the HCSO Facebook page;
(7) Preliminary and permanent injunctive relief compelling Defendants and their employees, agents, servants, officers, and persons in concert with Defendants to develop, ratify, and execute, and make publicly-available a policy for monitoring, maintaining, and administering the HCSO Facebook page that protects the First Amendment rights of speakers, including but not limited to (1) permitting comments that express dissenting, critical, or unfavorable viewpoints on matters of local public interest and (2) posting on the HCSO ...

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