UW Officials Again Ask for Partial Dismissal in First Amendment Case

Administrators claim Laramie church elder is making general statements, not strong arguments

UW President Ed Seidel (pictured) and Director of Students Ryan O'Neil have again asked a U.S. District Court judge to partially dismiss the lawsuit filed against them by a Laramie church elder. (Credit: Twitter/Ed Seidel)

By Ellen Fike

Special to the Wyoming Truth

A week after a Laramie church elder again asked a judge to consider his request for a preliminary injunction against University of Wyoming administrators, the president and dean of students have again asked to have the lawsuit against them partially dismissed.

In a four-page court filing submitted on Monday, attorneys for UW President Edward Seidel and Dean of Students Ryan O’Neil argued that Todd Schmidt’s generalized statements were not enough to overcome qualified immunity, to which they claim O’Neil is entitled.

“[Schmidt] has wholly failed to meet the burden required to overcome a qualified immunity defense,” Cheyenne attorneys Robert E. Jarosh and Erin E. Berry wrote in a reply to Schmidt’s response from July 31. “A plaintiff cannot rely on generalized statements of constitutional law to overcome a qualified immunity defense.”

Schmidt was banned from the student union in December after he posted a sign on his table that read “God created man and woman and Artemis Langford is a man.”

Langford, a transgender UW student and employee at the student union, has gained national attention over the last year due to her membership in the Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) sorority. Six current and former KKG members have since filed a lawsuit against the sorority and Langford for allegedly breaking its bylaws and allowing the transgender woman to join.

Schmidt, an elder at Laramie Faith Community Church, had been a regular at the student union for 17 years, the initial lawsuit stated.

In June, Schmidt sued both UW officials for allegedly violating his constitutional rights when they initiated the ban last December. 

Schmidt is asking U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal to grant him a preliminary injunction against Seidel and O’Neil, which would allow him to resume table privileges at the student union. He has argued O’Neil is not eligible for qualified immunity because she was the person who censored his message and enforced his table ban.

“…a reasonable official is not on notice that asking an individual not to target a student based solely on her membership in a protected class could constitute a violation of law,” Jarosh and Berry wrote on Monday.

Schmidt claimed in late July court filings that he was banned from the campus because of “unwelcome” views, rather than committing harassment or discrimination.

“[Schmidt] wants to share his viewpoint on a public issue in a public place but O’Neil disallows his speech due to university disagreement with his opinion,” Schmidt’s attorneys argued in the recent filing. “O’Neil should know viewpoint discrimination is unconstitutional…but she committed this discrimination against Schmidt anyway, with the censorship and table ban.”

Schmidt’s attorneys also argued that he is entitled to undefined nominal damages from O’Neil in her individual capacity. According the court filing, Schmidt is experiencing “two-fold irreparable harm” due to the ban, while no harm at all would be caused to UW officials should his ban be rescinded.

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