Former Valdosta student settles First Amendment lawsuit for $900K

Valdosta State University (VSU) student was expelled over eight years ago and has just now winning his battle for free speech on campus.

Hayden Barnes was a student at Valdosta State University in 2007 when he was expelled because he expressed unfavorable opinions about the VSU administration using $30 million in student fees to build two parking garages on campus.

Barnes had concerns that the building project was bad for the environment and that it was being fueled by faculty self-interest. He took to Facebook to express his personal opinion by posting a satirical collage of the parking garage, former president Zaccari, and pro-environmentalist pictures in an attempt to highlight his personal opinion on the controversial campus issue.

The now-former President Ronald Zaccari labeled Barnes’s post a “threatening document” and stated that the student was a “clear and present danger.”

With help from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education (FIRE), Barnes filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2008 against Zaccari and VSU administrators, as well as the Board of Regents of the Georgia University System.

In 2012, the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that Zaccari could be held personally liable for directly violating Barnes’s right to due process. The court held that because Zaccari ignored Barnes’s “constitutional right to notice and a hearing before being removed from VSU,” Zaccari was not allowed to use his status as a state employee against liability in the lawsuit.

In late July, more than eight years after Barnes’s expulsion and the start of litigation, the two sides settled to the tune of $900,000.

According to FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff, Barnes has endured one of the worst abuses to a student’s rights that the organization has ever seen. Stating that, “would-be censors at public universities nationwide have 900,000 new reasons to respect the free speech and due process rights of their students.”

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