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Beverly v. Watson

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 13, 2015

PHILIP BEVERLY and ROBERT BIONAZ, Plaintiffs,
v.
WAYNE WATSON, PATRICK CAGE, and JANELLE CARTER, Defendants

Page 718

For Phillip Beverly, Plaintiff: Jessica Tovrov, Tovrov Law Offices LLC, Chicago, IL; Lisa Beth Zycherman, Robert Corn-Revere, Ronald Gary London, PRO HAC VICE, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Washington, DC.

For Robert Bionaz, Plaintiff: Jessica Tovrov, Tovrov Law Offices LLC, Chicago, IL; Robert Corn-Revere, Ronald Gary London, PRO HAC VICE, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Washington, DC.

For Wayne D. Watson, Patrick Cage, Janelle Carter, Defendants: Douglas F. McMeyer, Lisa Janice Parker, Husch Blackwell, LLP, Chicago, IL.

Page 719

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Joan B. Gottschall, United States District Judge.

The defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction [36] is denied.

I. Background

Plaintiffs Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz are two professors at Chicago State University (" CSU" ). The defendants are Wayne Watson (CSU's President), Patrick Cage (CSU's Vice President of Labor and Legal Affairs and CSU's General Counsel), and Janelle Carter (CSU's Associate General Counsel).[1] All three defendants were sued in their official and individual capacities.

The plaintiffs are regular contributors to a blog called CSU Faculty Voice that criticizes the administration at CSU (www.csufacultyvoice.blogspot.com). According to the plaintiffs, the CSU Faculty Voice blog is not hosted on CSU's servers. The plaintiffs assert that the defendants violated their First Amendment rights by trying to shut down the blog and adopting a " Cyberbullying Policy" that prohibits electronic communications that may have an " adverse impact on the work environment of a CSU faculty member or employee." (Complaint at ¶ 2.)

The Cyberbullying Policy prohibits " deliberate or repeated conduct" that " harasses [or] intimidates an individual . . . or has the effect of substantially disrupting the individual's daily life via the use of

Page 720

electronic information and communication devices; [] the use of information and communication technologies to support a deliberate, repeated, and hostile course of conduct that is intended to harm others; or [] intentional and repeated harm through the use of computers, cell phones, and electronic devices." (Dkt. 1, Page ID# 42.) The Cyberbullying Policy applies to " electronic speech," including " [e]xpressive conduct" in any form that is conveyed via any means (e.g., tweets, blog postings, and text messages), regardless of whether it is associated with CSU computers.

The plaintiffs also challenge CSU's " Computer Usage Policy," which requires electronic communications, " including websites and blog posts on the university server," to " adhere to the University standards of conduct which prohibit any communication which tends to embarrass or humiliate any member of the community." ( Id. at ¶ 24.) In addition, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants wrongly asserted trademark claims relating to the CSU Faculty Voice blog to chill the plaintiffs' First Amendment expression. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants sought to prevent the plaintiffs from speaking by claiming, without basis, that the use of CSU's name and trademarks on the ...


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