A federal judge in Minnesota has permitted a first amendment and libel lawsuit filed by a high school student whose studies were postponed over a tweet of just two words to go on.
The offending words? “actually yes.”
Reid Sagehorn, then a high school student at Rogers High School, filed the lawsuit in June 2014 suing the principal of his former school, Elk River School District and two officials of the district for abusing his constitutional rights.
Sagehorn was the captain of the school’s basketball and football teams, and his disciplinary record was spotless.
Sagehorn, who was not willing to comment on the particulars of the story, is currently studying at the North Dakota State University.
The tweet, which was posted on January 2014, from Sagehorn’s currently locked account, was a reply to a tweet @Rogerconfession. The account on which the tweet appeared was created for rumors and “confessions” associated with the school.
The account posed the question: “did @R_Sagehorn3 actually make out with [name of female teacher redacted in court filings]? prolly not.”
Sagehorn’s response was: “actually yes.”
A week later, Sagehorn was called to the school head’s office, where he was reprimanded by the principle. The student insisted that the tweet was just a joke and not meant to be taken seriously.
Two days later he was given a five-day suspension, which was later prolonged to April 2014. His parents finally agreed to transfer him to a different school.
In the following weeks, Jeff Beahen, the Rogers Police Chief compared the remark to screaming “fire!” in a jam-packed theater.
Speaking to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Beahen said,” If you say something on a very public forum, there are consequences. This young, innocent teacher is the victim here.”
The local prosecutor later verified that Sagehorn had not committed any crime and the chief of police gave an apology. Sagehorn also said he had sent a written apology to the teacher in question: “I never meant to hurt anybody.”
In the civil complaint dated June 2014, Sagehorn seeks legal representatives’ fees, “punitive damages,” and an “expungement” of all penal measures on his school record. The lawsuit has been going on for over a year, with both parties asking for the court to rule on their argument for judgment on the pleadings.
John Tunheim, the U.S. District Judge did not believe the district’s allegation in his Tuesday view, “In sum, the Court concludes that Sagehorn has adequately pleaded a First Amendment claim. The School Defendants have not demonstrated that Sagehorn’s speech caused a substantial disruption, was obscene, was lewd or vulgar, or was harassing. Therefore, the School Defendants have not defeated Sagehorn’s claim by showing that they were permitted to regulate his speech.”
Neither Robert Bennett, one of Sagehorn’s lawyers, nor Amy Mace, one of the district’s advocates, were available for comment.