Student settles with St. Augustine’s College in lawsuit over Facebook discipline

St. Augustine’s College and a former student recently came to a confidential settlement, almost eight months after a Facebook post got the student barred from attending his commencement ceremony.

Roman Caple graduated May 2, but not with his classmates. He received his degree though his car window from a campus police officer – not what he had in mind when he decided to attend St. Augustine’s, a private college in Raleigh, N.C.

The situation arose in April, when Caple went on the school’s Facebook page and criticized the way St. Augustine’s handled the aftermath of a tornado in Raleigh. The college punished him for what it termed a “negative social media exchange.”

Caple sued in July, asking for upwards of $10,000 in damages and a graduation ceremony of his own. Aside from claiming the university violated his freedom of expression rights, Caple said it also committed negligence and caused intentional emotional distress.

As a private university, St. Augustine’s is not confined by the First Amendment. However, Caple’s lawsuit claimed the school promised him freedom of speech in its own policies, and that his punishment breached that contractual agreement.

Brandon Atwater, Caple’s attorney, said the matter was settled out of court in late December. The specifics, he said, are private; however, he said Caple was “very pleased” with the resolution.

See the Student Press Law Center’s July story for background on the case.