Barnes v. Zaccari

669 F.3d 1295 (11th Cir. 2012)

Thomas Barnes, a student at Valdosta State University, was expelled in 2007 by the school’s president without any warning or a chance to contest the decision. Barnes had written a letter to the editor in the school’s student newspaper protesting a new parking garage that he believed would be environmentally unsound. He also posted about the parking garage, which Zaccari championed, on Facebook. Zaccari decided to “administratively withdraw” Barnes, a decision that functioned as an expulsion. Zaccari claimed that Barnes presented a “clear and present danger” to the campus, but mental health experts certified that Barnes was not a threat to himself or others and no staff reported his behavior as threatening.

Barnes appealed the expulsion and was ultimately reinstated, but not before he missed a semester’s worth of class. He sued Zaccari in January 2008, arguing that his First Amendment and Due Process rights were violated. The district court agreed, and the school appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

In 2011, the SPLC filed a brief in support of Barnes, arguing that he was engaged in a constitutionally protected activity and before he could be dismissed for having engaged in that activity, he had a right to a full and fair hearing.

The Court of Appeals found that Barnes was entitled to remain enrolled at the university under Georgia law, and that withdrawing him without a hearing violated his rights to Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment.