PHILADELPHIA — A federal judge on June 19 declined a request to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) and the board members that alleges retaliation against the plaintiffs for exercising their First Amendment rights.
U.S. District Judge Jan DuBois of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania wrote the court's memorandum opinion.
The suit was filed by Simon Campbell and the Pennsylvanians for Union Reform against the PSBA and its 10 voting members earlier this year.
PSBA President Michael Faccinetto | psba.org
The opinion said Campbell sent a Right to Know Law (RTKL) request to most public schools in Pennsylvania in March 2017. He filed a second RTKL request in May 2017. When the PSBA learned of the requests, it allegedly told every school to require Campbell to travel to each district to collect the requested documents.
The opinion said the second RTKL request asked the school districts that are members of the PSBA "for information regarding PSBA’s use of funding it receives from its member school districts." The first request was sent to most school districts in the commonwealth, including those that were not PSBA members.
When Campbell found out about the PSBA's directive, the opinion said he posted a photo on his website "lampoon[ing] PSBA's executive director, Nathan Mains...with 'criticism directed at PSBA.'"
"The image depicted Mains as stating, 'Now (expletive) and drive to the school district if you want public records,'" according to the memorandum.
The court said Campbell replaced the controversial image with PSBA's logo after he received a cease and desist letter from PSBA counsel.
"The court concludes that plaintiff’s verified complaint states claims against defendants under § 1983 for First Amendment retaliation and that nothing in that complaint warrants striking," DuBois said in the memorandum opinion.
The PSBA filed its complaint against Campbell on July 17, 2017. Campbell's lawsuit against the PSBA was filed on Feb. 28 and claimed that the PSBA suit was filed in retaliation for the expression of his First Amendment rights through publication of the removed image. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss Campbell's lawsuit on April 27.
In addition to denying the defendants' motion to dismiss Campbell's suit, DuBois ruled that the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity.