how to sue your school

Lets suppose that you really liked the previous Hot or Not contest (or the Issaquah May Madness contest) and you don’t particularly like any of my proposed solutions.  Lets suppose you like the idea of just using the photos of some of the girls, perhaps without asking them and you have doubts that the school has the power, constitutionally speaking, to shut down the contest.  After all, the Issaquah school district stated in the news that they believed that they could not shut down the Issaquah May Madness cause the organizers knew the First Amendment and did things in a way the school administration could not shut things down, except perhaps by various forms of intimidation and exposure.

Lets suppose that you don’t like the Mount Si HS having told people that if they participate in the Hot or Not contest, they will be disciplined or not allowed to graduate or subjected to other penalties.

Ok, what can be done?  The first thing is to decide if things are worth it to disagree.  Maybe it is; maybe it is not.  Maybe instead you would like to use some of my ideas as solutions and wait and see if the school tries to shut you down for them.  (I don’t think that the school can, by the way. . . generally speaking.)  I personally believe that if you use photos which are produced with the consent of the girl involved, you are going to be on strong ground, but I am not a lawyer, and that is generally.  (Of course, it helps to avoid using photos of s*888l conduct by any girls in photos of them in a contest.)

Anyway, lets suppose you like the old way of the contest and you wish to preserve it and you don’t like my suggested alternative solutions.  And lets suppose you don’t mind a little extra work and it could be fun to sue.

What do you do?  The first thing is to talk to your mom or dad if she or he is a lawyer.  But if they are not, become friends with or say hi to the guys on the debate team.  Several members of the debate team are probably thinking of becoming lawyers, and even if they are not, they know the process of writing an argument.  Or, raise $100 and pay for some time with a lawyer to give you some guidance, even for half an hour.

Moreover, some lawyers are really nice and will talk to you for 30 minutes for free.  They can tell you if they believe you have a good case or a bad case.  They could give you guidance on items to include if you or a friend is writing a complaint.

Some lawyers will write a complaint for you with some basic information and they might do it for less than $600.

One possibility is that someone on the debate team supports your cause and even would like to be a “plaintiff” with you.  But maybe one of them will simply help you for free, simply as a project.  He will probably make some mistakes, but I think he could help you for free in terms of writing a complaint, which is a kind of argument, to include certain items. The guys on the debate team spend several hours a day, some days, working on gathering evidence and writing up arguments for and against various ideas.  They are not lawyers and I am not a lawyer, but you have a chance that one of them would write a “complaint” for you.  One of them might even enjoy the project; some of these debaters like learning things.

Of course, the easiest thing would be if one of the debate team members liked the contest and doesn’t mind learning the process of suing the school.  Of course, if the ACLU loved your cause, they would help you to sue, but there is no guarantee that they would sue on your behalf.

Disclosure: I am not a lawyer and this is not personalized law advice . . .

You and maybe the guy or gal on the debate team probably need to read the Tinker decision and the Leal decision and it may help to read some others related to First Amendment standing to sue.

You usually must have standing and state why you have standing.  Your standing would probably be that the school is suppressing your speech, which you regard as protected free speech, or words to that effect.   The fact that the school says it can shut down the speech of the contest is fine in terms of your having standing.  If you have a friend on the debate team, ask him or her to find out why a person can having standing, in a case re free speech, without having been arrested or charged with a crime.

Disclosure: I am not a lawyer and this is not personalized law advice . . .

Standing is an actual or alleged injury.  Claiming this injury gives you the “right” to sue.  It does not mean that you are right or that the court will rule in your favor.  It means you have a claim.  Your being required to change your speech or conduct which is speech by suppressing speech you desire to engage in can be a form of injury.

You could file in either state court or federal court, given that this kind of thing would be a free speech case, if that is the kind of case you wish to bring.

The Superior court for King County allows for people who are not making much money, or any money, to file the complaint without paying a filing fee.  Whether that would apply to you I do not know.  Since many of you are not making a lot of money, it might apply to you and “filing the complaint” may cost nothing.

There is a form a person can read to figure that out.

You file the “complaint” and then you “serve” the complaint and summons on the defendant by having a sheriff deputy or other similar person take a copy (of the complaint, the summons and a case information schedule or whatever it is called) to the defendant.  The sheriff deputy taking your complaint to defendant tends to cost between $50 and $120.

Disclosure: I am not a lawyer and this is not personalized law advice . . .

In some instances, for certain cases, you can file anonymously.  For example, there is Roe v Wade which was a case that became the court decision on abortion.  Norma McCorvey signed as Jane Roe.

Is it possible that a judge would allow you or someone to sue using a name such as John Roe?  It is possible, but not being a lawyer, I am not making any promises.

The most important thing in winning an argument or a case in court is being right before you begin.   Don’t waste time making arguments you know are bad, but questionable arguments at times win.  Even a questionable argument may at times help clarify the facts and issues of a case.

If you have a good argument and want to present it to the court, it is worth considering suing.

Personally, I have large doubts that the school is in a strong position constitutionally speaking.  (In fact, I suspect that they would lose completely because of being unable to directly attached the harm they allege to the conduct of some people participating in the game.)

The reason is that the “contest” was done off of school property and what is more, any harm alleged to be the result of the contest was not actually the result of the contest, but of other individuals reporting to some girls their standing in the contest.

Or, at best, it was because of how the contest was run, and not because of the contest itself.

An unrelated 3rd person could have made up fabrications about a nonexistent contest and this false allegation would have caused some of the same hurt feelings and grief to girls.  And, if girls did in fact go to the website (which per the news was private or by invitation only), they did so of their own free will for their own information.  Either they or unrelated 3rd parties seem to be the proximate cause of the girls hurt feelings, if any, and not the organizer (or even most of the participants/raters/judges) of the contest–at least from what I have read.

Now, I am not saying that the contest was ethically and morally great.  I am saying that a guy at school having some photos of some girls at school and choosing some of them as more hot than others appears strongly to me to be constitutionally protected.  It does not harm the school and it does not do any reasonable meaningful harm to the girls that a guy thinks some of them–as depicted in a dozen photos or several dozen photos–are more pretty, interesting or hot than others.

If one guy at school can possess and personally judge for himself that some photos of some girls are more appealing, beautiful or hot than others–and if that is constitutionally protected as it certainly is–can he then tabulate or record his results?  Yes?  If so, can 4 or 5 or a dozen of them do so and discuss and compare and tabulate the results of their views of some photos?  Yes.  Constitutionally speaking, that seems to me to be protected.

If a particular girl doesn’t wish to know that there is a photo of her which is considered less hot, interesting or beautiful than a photo of some of the cheerleading squad, you folks (as a contest or organizer or “participating judge”) simply don’t bother her with that information.  If an unknown 3rd party were to do so, constitutionally speaking, I don’t see 1) that that information is a cause of reasonable harm to her or the school since it is to be expected; or 2) that it is even something that you as an organizer or participant in the contest caused!

The question really is, Did the contest as such in 2015 damage the learning environment of the school in an unreasonable way?  If not, you have a reasonable chance at victory from suing.  If the school was injured in an unreasonable way . . . If things did damage the school, the school wins.

One thing that probably works in your favor is that you may be able to require the school to produce testimony or affidavits of the harm they are alleging the contest has caused to the learning environment of the school.  If they are shutting down a private contest based on alleged harm to the discipline or learning environment of the school, they may have to prove it, or their claim to have the right to shut down the contest may fall apart.

In a case of shutting down free speech, usually the burden is on the persons who desire to shut down the speech to prove the harm, and not upon you as a participant to prove that the contest was without harm.  If you talk to the debate team, they will tell you there is a “burden of proof.”  In the case of shutting down a contest that some would consider free speech.  The school has the “burden of proof.”  The fact that the school has a burden of proof before the court in order for the school to shut down the contest or to have that right constitutionally approved means that the school would have work to do–work that they might not wish to do or might not be able to do.

Disclosure: I am not a lawyer and this is not personalized law advice . . .

If you sue and lose, the result would tend to be that the court issues a decision saying the school has the power to shut down the contest.  If you sue and win, you would have the ability, legally, to do the things that the court approves . . .

The debate team makes arguments every day and they lose some and they win some and it is a fact of life.

If you still wish to sue and you have considered these alternatives and wish another alternative, I would consider being a co-plaintiff with you in a complaint against the school district.

Disclosure: I am not a lawyer and this is not personalized law advice . . .

Here is an example of complaint filed in King County Superior court against the city of Seattle.  If you were to file a complaint against the school district, your complaint might be similar except that your complaint would allege a violation of your 1st Amendment rights to free speech and anything similarly protected by the Washington state constitution.

If you were to file a complaint against a local school district, your complaint would tend to have the same kinds of information in the same places.

Moreover, there are even some lawyers who might read over your complaint and tell you what they think of it for free.  I know at least one, depending on the case.

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