Court Finds that Evidence Supports Claim that South Hadley Resident’s First Amendment Rights were Violated
Last year, South Hadley resident Luke Gelinas filed a federal civil lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated when Chairperson Edward Boisselle removed him from a public meeting for criticizing the school’s handling of the Phoebe Prince case. On October 18, 2011, the Court issued a memorandum denying the defense motion for summary judgment and stating that Gelinas "has presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that Boisselle prevented him from speaking solely on the basis of his viewpoint, thereby violating his First Amendment rights."
During the public comment period of the school committee meeting on April 14, 2010, Gelinas was speaking from a prepared statement. Gelinas began to say that it was time for school officials, including Boisselle, to be held responsible for their role in the death of Phoebe Prince. Before he could finish, Boisselle ordered Gelinas to stop speaking and sit down. Gelinas was eventually escorted out of the meeting by police officers.
The defendants in this case, Boisselle and the two police officers, filed a motion for summary judgment seeking a ruling that there was no question that Boisselle removed Gelinas from the meeting for valid, viewpoint-neutral reasons.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Neiman was not persuaded by the defendants’ argument. Boisselle claimed that he had a valid reason to silence Gelinas because Gelinas had released personal details about Phoebe Prince. To this, the Court responded, “the statement that prompted Boisselle to cut Plaintiff off had nothing to do with personal details concerning the Prince family but, rather, the removal and censure of Committee members, including Boisselle.” The Court also did not find sufficient factual evidence to support Boisselle’s claims that he could legally silence Gelinas because Gelinas used up his 3-minute time limit and that he was out of order. The court noted that reasons given by Boisselle for silencing Gelinas in his memorandum were different from the reasons he gave at the meeting.
The Court allowed the defendants’ motion with regard to the two police officers who escorted Gelinas out of the meeting, finding that they did not violate Gelinas’s rights. Because the Court denied the parties’ motions for summary judgment as to the claims against Boisselle, the case against Boisselle will continue. The Court ruled that a reasonable jury could find that Gelinas’s First Amendment rights were violated, and therefore the case is headed to trial.
Gelinas is represented by Boston attorneys Howard Friedman and David Milton of the Law Offices of Howard Friedman, P.C. The case is Gelinas v. Boisselle, et al., C.A. No. 10-30192-KPN, in the United States District Court in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Here is a video from the press conference shortly after Mr. Gelinas's lawsuit was filed.