Amanda Tatro, who fought free speech battle against the University of Minnesota, dead at 31

Amanda Tatro, who less than a week ago lost a high-profile First Amendment case in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court, was found dead in her apartment Tuesday morning, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed.

She was 31.

A friend of Tatro’s told a City Pages blog that her husband had found her lying on the couch unresponsive when he woke up Tuesday morning. The cause of death could not immediately be confirmed.

Tatro, whose married name was Amanda Rand, battled for years with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a chronic pain condition that commonly affects the arms or legs.

Jordan Kushner, who served as Tatro’s attorney, said the condition rendered her completely immobile for earlier periods of her life.

“Given her circumstances, her accomplishments were extraordinary,” Kusher said. “That she was able to obtain a rigorous professional degree and fight for her rights at the same time was incredible.”

Kushner added that Tatro was a “very impressive person. She was extremely outgoing and positive.”

Tatro brought suit against the University of Minnesota following a series of Facebook posts she made in late 2009. She was formerly a student in the school’s mortuary science program.

Among other things, Tatro wrote that she wanted to “stab a certain someone in the throat” with an embalming tool. Although Tatro claimed that the posts satirically referred to an ex-boyfriend, the school disciplined her. It assigned her a failing grade in the course and placing her on academic probation for the remainder of her undergraduate career.

Wednesday’s ruling by the state Supreme Court upheld that discipline but came with several caveats.

The decision made clear that a public university can restrict student speech only when that speech takes place in a “professional program” that has clear, codified standards.

The court also rejected the application of either the Tinker or Hazelwood standard to off-campus speech, instead emphasizing how the opinion was narrowly tailored to “established professional conduct standards.”

The case marked the first time that a state Supreme Court has considered the off-campus speech rights of college students.

Tatro’s death rules out the possibility of an appeal to U.S. Supreme Court. The decision is now binding to students in Minnesota who bring up claims in state court.