MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER*fn1
This case concerns the constitutionality of a school district's communications protocol, which is alleged to restrict protected speech in violation of the First Amendment. The case was brought by Linda Price ("Price"), a former teacher with Defendant Saugerties Central School District ("Defendant" or the "District"), together with three self-described community activists Brittany Turner, Timothy Mathews and Jane Van De Bogart (with Price, "Plaintiffs").
The Court previously heard a case involving Price and the District, in which this Court determined that the District's speech protocol at the time unconstitutionally restricted teachers' protected speech. Price v. Saugerties Cent. Sch. Dist. ("Price I"), 1:05-CV-0465 (LEK/DRH), 2006 WL 314458, at *1-2 (N.D.N.Y. 2006) (Kahn, D.J.). The protocol in effect at that time required that, if teachers "disagree with or take exception to some aspect of the procedures, decisions, assignments, etc., at [their] school," they must address them first with their immediate supervisor, before taking the issues up the chain of supervision or to the public. Id. at *4-5. In that case, this Court enjoined enforcement of the District's communications protocol because it restricted the avenues and timing for speech, including matters of public concern, and inhibited an even broader range of protected speech. Id. at *5.
In response to the Court's decision in Price I, the District changed their protocol so that, as of January 2, 2007, the protocol now reads:
"If you disagree with or take exception to some aspect of the procedures, decisions, assignments, etc at your school relating to your personal employment situation, you must speak first with your immediate supervisor. If you are not satisfied with the result of the first communication, you may then speak with the next level of school or district authority. If you do not raise the issue first with your immediate supervisor prior to proceeding to the next level of authority, then that next level of authority will direct you to raise the issue with your immediate supervisor before addressing the issue you raise."
Plntfs' Mem. of Law (Dkt. No. 8, Attach. 4) at 1 (emphasis added). Plaintiffs assert that this new protocol still poses an unconstitutional restriction to freedom of speech. Id.
The facts surrounding this case differ in a few significant ways from Price I . Prior to filing Price I, Price had sent an e-mail to her colleagues, complaining about "the teachers' union, harassment of teachers, and the scheduling of parent-teacher conferences," sent a letter to the District's Board of Education, complaining about the District's support of new teachers, and contacted the Saugerties Police Department about an incident at school, which she believed that the District did not investigate seriously enough. Price I, 2006 WL 314458, at *1. The District had criticized Price for "chos[ing] to go outside the protocol process" and warned her that failure to follow the communications protocol in the future would result in discipline. Id. at *2. In the present case, no Plaintiffs face imminent discipline under the protocol; indeed, no Plaintiffs are even employees of Defendant. Price retired from her employment with Defendant prior to filing this claim and the other Plaintiffs do not assert ever having been or intending to be employed by Defendant.
Currently before the Court are Defendant's Motion for summary judgment and Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for summary judgment
A. Standing and Timing Issues
Defendant argues that this Court cannot assert jurisdiction over this case because the case is not justiciable, meaning that Plaintiffs do not have proper standing to bring this case and the matter has not reached the level of an actual case or controversy. Deft's Mem. of Law (Dkt. No. 8, Attach. 4) at 7, 11. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975) (defining justiciability as "whether the plaintiff has made out a 'case or controversy' between himself and the defendant within the meaning of Article III"). Because proper standing and timing are both prerequisites to a federal court's Article III jurisdiction, they must be decided before approaching the merits of a case. Lerman v. Bd. of Elections in City of New York, 232 F.3d 135, 142 (2d Cir. 2000).
For a plaintiff to have standing sufficient to support jurisdiction, three elements must be met: actual or imminent injury that is not merely hypothetical, a connection between the plaintiff's injury and the defendant's conduct, and redressability of the injury with the requested relief. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 102-104 (1998). When a plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, as in this case, they "cannot rely on past injury to satisfy the injury requirement but must show a likelihood that he or she will be injured in the future." McCormick v. Sch. Dist. of Mamaroneck, 370 F.3d 275, 284 (2d Cir. 2004). The injury asserted must be personal to the plaintiff and involve the plaintiff's own rights. See Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 472-474 (1982).
No Plaintiffs are in a position to have their speech stifled by the protocol.*fn2 However, Plaintiffs argue that they nonetheless have standing because they are potential recipients of the protected stifled speech and because First Amendment jurisprudence allows for a more relaxed interpretation of standing, ...