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Doninger v. Niehoff

Doninger v. Niehoff


What is Doninger v. Niehoff?

Doninger v. Niehoff was a famous United States Court of Appeals case which revolved around a High-Schooler and her disqualification from running for Senior Class Secretary following the posting of a crudely-worded critical blog about school officials.

The area of law that Doninger v. Niehoff focused on was the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and specifically the right to free speech.


Doninger v. Niehoff: The Issues

Doninger v. Niehoff examined whether a school’s administrators were entitled to immunity on a student’s claims that they violated free speech rights by not letting her run for senior Class Secretary after she called them crude and immature names on her blog. Also, the case of Doninger v. Niehoff questioned whether said administrators had the authority to bar her or other students from wearing shirts to the student council election assembly that supported her cause.   


Doninger v. Niehoff: Summary

During the Spring of 2007, Avery Doninger was Junior class Secretary at a High School in suburban Connecticut. Under this role, Ms. Doninger helped plan a school battle-of-the-bands. After scheduling problems ensued, Doninger posted a message from her publicly accessible blog stating that the show was cancelled due to “expletives” in central office. Moreover, the blog encouraged readers to contact school administrators to voice their complaints. The administrators allegedly received a number of complaints as a result.

The scheduling conflicts with “Jamfest” were resolved, but when the school principal heard of the blog post, she disqualified Doninger from running for Senior Class Secretary. Additionally, when students showed up to the election assembly wearing shirts that read “Team Avery” the principal instructed them to remove their shirts.

Although Doninger won the vote via the write-in, the principal awarded the position to the listed candidate with the most votes. In response, Doninger’s mother filed suit against the high school principal and school superintendent, requesting that the election be voided and a new election be held in which Doninger could run. The Connecticut District Court denied this motion for a preliminary junction; however, the Second Circuit Court allowed it to be heard.

After graduating from high school, Doninger became the plaintiff where she sought monetary damages on the grounds that the defendants had violated her rights to free speech by 1.) disqualifying her from running for election and 2) prohibiting her and her classmates from wearing “Team Avery” t-shirts to the election. The district court ultimately ruled with the defendants on the first claim, but suggested that the second claim go to trial.

On appeal, the Second Circuit Court held that the defendants were entitled to immunity on both claims. In Doninger v. Niehoff, the court stated that Donninger’s disqualification from elective office was not unreasonable for the principal had the right to claim—because of the blog post—that Doninger was not fir for holding the position. And as for the prohibition of the t-shirts, the court similarly held that school administrators had the right to carry-out such a barring because the t-shirts may significantly disrupt the assembly. Following this rendering, the court—in Doninger v. Niehoff—went onto to affirm the district court’s dismissal of Doninger’s other claims.