Keefe v. Adams et al
ORDER: Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket Nos. 37 & 50 ] is GRANTED. Keefe's motion to supplement [Docket No. 60 ] is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Keefe's claims against Adams, Frisch, and McCalla in Counts 1 and 2 of the Complaint are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. (Written Opinion) Signed by Judge Joan N. Ericksen on August 26, 2014. (CBC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Civil No. 13-326 (JNE/LIB)
Beth Adams, Connie Frisch, Kelly McCalla,
Larry Lundblad, and Steven Rosenstone,
Jordan S. Kushner, Law Office of Jordan S. Kushner, appeared for Craig Keefe.
Kathryn M. Woodruff and Tamar Gronvall, Office of the Minnesota Attorney General,
appeared for Beth Adams, Connie Frisch, and Kelly McCalla.
After his removal from Central Lakes College’s associate degree nursing program,
Craig Keefe brought this action against several individuals associated with the college or
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. He asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(2012), alleging that the defendants denied him due process, violated his right to free
speech, violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, violated his
right to privacy, and conspired to violate his constitutional rights. By stipulation, Keefe’s
claims against Larry Lundblad, the president of Central Lakes College, and Steven
Rosenstone, the chancellor and chief executive officer of Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities, as well as his claims of a conspiracy and of violations of his right to be free
from unreasonable searches and seizures and his right to privacy, were dismissed. The
remaining defendants—Beth Adams, Connie Frisch, and Kelly McCalla (collectively,
Defendants)—moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims. 1 Keefe moved to
supplement the record after Defendants had submitted their reply. For the reasons set
forth below, the Court grants Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Court
grants in part and denies in part Keefe’s motion to supplement.
Keefe completed the practical nursing program at Central Lakes College in June
2011. Later that month, he became a licensed practical nurse. In fall 2011, Keefe
enrolled in the college’s associate degree nursing program, which prepares licensed
practical nurses to become registered nurses. The associate degree nursing program
requires students to attain at least 80% grade level in all nursing courses. At the end of
the fall 2011 semester, Central Lakes College dismissed him from the associate degree
nursing program because he had failed to attain at least 80% grade level in all nursing
courses. After his dismissal, Keefe applied again for admission to the associate degree
nursing program, the college admitted him, and he enrolled in fall 2012. In October
2012, Keefe was placed on a student success plan, which acknowledged his potential
failure of at least one course. Toward the end of the fall 2012 semester, Central Lakes
College dismissed him from the associate degree nursing program. His second dismissal
from the program gave rise to this action.
As part of his enrollment in the fall 2012 semester, Keefe acknowledged receipt,
review, and understanding of the associate degree nursing program student handbook.
Keefe sued Adams, Frisch, and McCalla in their individual and official capacities.
The handbook states that “[a]ll current and future students are expected to adhere to the
policies and procedures of this student handbook as well as all policies of clinical
agencies in which the student is placed.” It asserts that student learning outcomes
“reflect the 4 program outcomes of the [National League for Nursing] Education
Competencies Model and include outcomes related to Human Flourishing, Nursing
Judgment, Professional Identity, and Spirit of Inquiry.” With respect to professional
identity, a graduate of the program is able to:
demonstrate development of personal/professional behaviors by
implementing one’s role as a nurse in ways that reflect integrity,
responsibility, ethical practices, and an evolving professional identity as a
nurse committed to evidence-based practice, life-long learning, service
learning/civic engagement, caring, advocacy, excellence, and safe quality
care for diverse patients within a family and community context.
Under “Student Removal from Nursing Program,” the handbook states that students who
fail to meet professional standards are not eligible to progress in the program:
Integral to the profession of nursing is a concern for the welfare of
the sick, injured, and vulnerable and for social justice; therefore students
enrolled in the Associate Degree (AD) Nursing Program at Central Lakes
College (CLC) accept the moral and ethical responsibilities that have been
credited to the profession of nursing and are obligated to uphold and adhere
to the professional Code of Ethics. The American Nurses Association
(2001) Code for Nurses with Interpretive Statements outlines the goals,
values, and ethical principles that direct the profession of nursing and is the
standard by which ethical conduct is guided and evaluated by the
profession. The AD Nursing Program at Central Lakes College has an
obligation to graduate students who will provide safe, competent nursing
care and uphold the moral and ethical principles of the profession of
nursing. Therefore, students who fail to meet the moral, ethical, or
professional behavioral standards of the nursing program are not eligible to
progress in the nursing program. Students who do not meet academic or
clinical standards and/or who violate the student Code of Conduct as
described in the Central Lakes College catalog and the AD Nursing Student
Handbook are also ineligible to progress in the AD Nursing Program.
Behaviors that violate academic, moral, and ethical standards include, but
are not limited to, behaviors described in the College Catalog Student Code
of Conduct as well as:
• unsafe behavior in a clinical setting;
• academic dishonesty (see examples outlined in college catalog);
• behaviors that violate the Student Code of Conduct (see
examples outlined in college catalog);
• transgression of professional boundaries;
• breaching of confidentiality/HIPAA (including any type of social
• behavior unbecoming of the Nursing Profession.
Students who fail to adhere to the CLC Student Code of Conduct and the
moral and ethical standards outlined in the handbook are ineligible to
progress in the Nursing Program. See CLC student catalog for procedures
related to Grade Appeals and Student Grievance policies and procedures.
Reports about statements Keefe had made on his Facebook page started the
process that culminated in Keefe’s second dismissal from the associate degree nursing
program. In November 2012, a student, who was enrolled in a lecture course with Keefe,
expressed concerns to the instructor, Kim Scott, about statements Keefe had made online.
The student regarded the statements as threatening and related to the classroom. Scott
responded that she could not assess the statements without knowing exactly what Keefe
had said. The next day, the student returned with a few pages that contained Keefe’s
statements. After reviewing them, Scott, who has almost 30 years’ experience in the
nursing field as a nurse, an instructor, and an administrator, concluded that they should be
brought to the attention of Connie Frisch, the college’s dean of nursing since July 2012
and its director of nursing since 2009. 2
Within a few days, a different student, who was enrolled in a clinical course with
Keefe, approached Scott at the start of a clinical shift and asked to speak to her in private.
Scott and the student stepped outside, and the student stated Keefe had made statements
online that made the student upset, nervous, and uncomfortable. The student did not
think she could function in the same space as Keefe. Scott separated the student from
Keefe during the clinical shift. Later, the student sent to Scott an e-mail that contained
Keefe’s statements. Scott regarded the statements as very derogatory, inappropriate, and
unprofessional. She forwarded the statements, as well as those that the first student had
given to her, to Frisch.
The following statements were among those forwarded to Frisch:
Can someone, anyone tell me wtf I need to continue to do a
compentency and be evaluated on it. If I do a compentency such as
write a care plan and get signed off on it that it is thorough and I
have a great understanding about them than why must I continue or
better yet what is the incentive to get it signed off. Controlling
freaks. I cant wait for this shit to be done.
Glad group projects are group projects. I give her a big fat F for
changing the group power point at eleven lastnight and resubmitting.
Not enough whiskey to control that anger.
Very interesting. Apparently even if a male student has his Dr. Send
letters to the instructors and director of the nursing program for test
taking considerations they dont get them. But if your a female you
can go talk to the instructors and get a special table in the very back
Frisch has worked for the college for several years. Before she became the dean
of nursing, she was a practical nursing faculty member for 17 years and an associate
degree nursing faculty member for a few years.
of the class with your back facing everyone and get to wear ear
plugs. And behind me at bat. And you really shouldnt go around
telling everyone that you beat the system and didnt need to follow
the school policy and get a medical diagnosis to get special
considerations. I think its just one more confirmafion of the
prejudice in the program. Im taking notes thou….
Doesnt anyone know or have heard of mechanical pencils. Im going
to take this electric pencil sharpener in this class and give someone a
hemopneumothorax with it before to long. I might need some anger
LMAO, you keep reporting my post and get me banded. I don’t
really care. If thats the smartest thing you can come up with than I
completely understand why your going to fail out of the RN program
you stupid bitch…. And quite creeping on my page. Your not a
friend of mine for a reason. If you don’t like what I have to say than
dont come and ask me, thats basically what creeping is isn’t it. Stay
off my page….
So . . . are you saying that you have never said Laura likes me I will
make it, or She will let me do it for the test. Just wondering why and
for what reason you were creeping on my page. Its really not your
fault that the whole sexism thing happens in the nursing program.
But its really bull shit that you say the door distracts you on your test
and there was four other seats in the classroom that was in normal
position not to mention that you choose to sit where you sit. I
moved, but not that I still sit like the rest of the class, and I followed
the guidelines of the college and still wasn’t able to do what you did.
Which is fine. I am way better than that. I don’t need to grasp for
straws. Without your faithful sidekick you aint shit. You tried
coming up to me when your sidekick wasnt there on your clinical
and asking me how to give your solu-medrol WTF read your MAR.
How can you give it is the first thing I would have asked myself, but
of course you didnt even know the drug existed. Its a very common
drug. Im going to tell you one more time. Dont come on my page
and try to justify your shit. I was kind enough to not put names in
and ID individuals, but you ID yourself. You creeped my page.
Spend your spare time studying, you could use it. Don’t make me
go where I don’t need to or want to cuz I will. Leave it alone.
After reviewing the statements and confirming that Keefe had made them on his
Facebook page, which was not restricted, 3 Frisch contacted Kelly McCalla, the college’s
vice president for academic affairs. McCalla stated that Frisch should meet with Keefe.
In early December 2012, Frisch set up a meeting with Keefe and McCalla. It was
scheduled to take place on December 6. Frisch did not tell Keefe that students had
reported his statements on Facebook to Scott.
Late on December 3, Keefe asked Frisch via e-mail about the meeting:
Im just dropping you an email in regards to our meeting. Im not sure
what situation or what exactly we are referring to. I as anyone, am sitting
here thinking and thinking of what and when I would have stepped out of
my professional boundary as I continuously strive to meet my professional
guidelines. Just am wondering if you can give me some sort of idea what
situation we are referring to so I can give my mind a break.
The next morning, Frisch responded to Keefe:
I am sorry that you are distressed or worried about our meeting. Thank you
for quick response yesterday in returning my call and scheduling a meeting
time for this Thursday . . . with VP Kelly McCalla. I am cc’ing Mr.
McCalla on my response here to keep him in the loop as well.
As I said on the phone, I prefer to review the topic with you in
person at that time rather that via phone or email.
Please be assured that you do not need to prepare in anyway for our
meeting, and though I appreciate that this is somewhat worrisome for you,
we will discuss this on Thursday. The topic of professional boundary is
Frisch explained how she confirmed Keefe made the statements:
I have a Facebook account, but I am not “friends” with Plaintiff on
Facebook, so with respect to his page I am like a member of the public. By
performing a simple search of Plaintiff’s name on the Facebook web page, I
was able to see Plaintiff’s Facebook page, fully visible to the public,
including the posts that the students had brought to Instructor Scott’s
central to the role of the nurse and I am sure you appreciate the delicacy of
Later on December 4, Frisch rescheduled the meeting to take place on December 5
in response to a report from Scott that a student had expressed concern about potential
retaliation by Keefe. At his deposition, Keefe acknowledged that he “would have” said
there would be “hell to pay for whoever complained about” him. During his conversation
with Frisch, Keefe asked again about the purpose of the meeting. According to Keefe’s
deposition testimony, Frisch reiterated that she would not explain it over the phone or via
e-mail, but she did say that the meeting related to the college handbook’s policy about
due process. After rescheduling the meeting, Frisch forwarded an e-mail, sent by Scott,
to McCalla and another vice president. Scott’s e-mail reported a student’s concern about
the potential for retaliation by Keefe. Frisch also described her conversation with Keefe:
I did talk with the student and he will meet with us tomorrow at
10:00 at your office Kelly. He sounded upset, and victimized saying he is
being accused of things he did not do. This was in response to my asking
him to move the meeting up a day,I have not mentioned any content or
even used the word accusation. I did reassure him that we would be
following due process and that his rights would be protected and that he
would get the chance to speak and we would listen. I am not sure if
security should be around?
The meeting took place on December 5. Keefe, Frisch, and Beth Adams, the
college’s dean of students, attended. McCalla did not. Before the meeting, Adams
advised McCalla that he should not attend the meeting because he would hear any appeal
At her deposition, Frisch testified that she opened the meeting by reading a
disciplinary policy from a student handbook. Next, she articulated how the meeting
would progress: (1) notification of the charge; (2) presentation of evidence supporting the
charge; (3) opportunity to respond; (4) notification of the consequences; and (5)
information about the appeal process. Frisch explained the charge in terms of boundary
issues and professionalism. She told Keefe the charge related to statements on his
Facebook page. Frisch reviewed the significant parts of a few pieces of paper that
contained his statements on Facebook. She did not hand the pieces of paper to him, and
she did not review each statement with him. To Frisch, Keefe’s statement about a
hemopneumothorax 4 was the most disturbing. His “not enough whiskey to control that
anger” statement did not bother her as much, but she did find it unprofessional. Some of
his other statements contributed to her concerns about him. Frisch afforded Keefe an
opportunity to respond. According to Frisch, Keefe was surprised that his statements
were publicly available; he characterized at least some of the statements as a joke; and he
was not receptive to the message, conveyed by both Frisch and Adams, that his
statements were unprofessional. Based on Keefe’s lack of remorse, lack of concern, and
lack of recognition, Frisch decided to remove him from the associate degree nursing
program. Because the semester was almost over, Frisch stated that Keefe could take his
final examinations, that he was excused from any remaining clinical shifts, and that he
would not be allowed to continue in the associate degree nursing program. After
informing him of her decision, Frisch told Keefe about the appeals process.
According to Keefe’s deposition testimony, a hemopneumothorax “is a punctured
lung with air being allowed into the lung pleural cavity along with blood.” It is not a
At her deposition, Adams testified that she met with Frisch for approximately 30
minutes before their meeting with Keefe. Frisch told Adams about Keefe’s statements on
Facebook, Adams reviewed them, and Adams validated Frisch’s concern about them.
Frisch was considering Keefe’s removal from the associate nursing degree program, but
she wanted to hear from him before making a decision. After Keefe arrived, Frisch
reviewed the allegation against him, showed copies of his statements on Facebook to
him, and allowed him an opportunity to respond. Adams recalled that Frisch had
expressed concerns about his statements as they relate to standards for nursing students in
the nursing profession and that his statement about whiskey and anger stood out because
he became argumentative during the discussion about it.
At his deposition, Keefe gave the following description of his meeting with Frisch
and Adams. Frisch notified Keefe that the meeting related to transgression of
professional boundaries and conduct unbecoming of the profession. She read from a
student handbook the potential disciplinary action that could be taken. The actions
included probation, suspension, removal from the program, and removal from the
campus. Frisch stated that there were inappropriate comments on Keefe’s Facebook
page. Keefe asked her to identify the statements of concern, and she mentioned only the
“stupid bitch” statement and the “not enough whiskey to control that anger” statement.
Keefe explained that his Facebook page had been “hacked” a couple of weeks before the
meeting, 5 that he did not intend to offend anybody, that his page included a lot of jokes,
Keefe acknowledged that he had made the statements of concern. He knew of no
changes to his page except to his list of contacts.
and that he called his fellow student a “stupid bitch” only after the student had attacked
him on his Facebook page. Keefe testified that he was neither given nor shown any of
the statements of concern, that Frisch had a stack of paper, that he saw only the top page
of that stack, and that the top page contained the “stupid bitch” statement and the “not
enough whiskey to control that anger” statement. Frisch informed Keefe of her decision
to remove him from the associate degree nursing program and to allow him to complete
the semester’s courses. Frisch also told him that he could appeal the decision. After
informing Keefe of his removal from the program, Frisch held up a stack of papers, stated
she had reviewed his Facebook page that morning, indicated she found the page
disturbing, and said he had anger issues. Keefe stated his page is private and mentioned
the First Amendment. Frisch cut him off, acknowledged his right to free speech under
the First Amendment, and stated the issue goes beyond it. Adams commented that she
was disturbed by the “not enough whiskey to control that anger” statement. Keefe
replied that it was a quote from a television show. Later that day, Keefe informed Frisch
that he had decided to complete his courses.
After the meeting, Frisch sent a letter to Keefe. Adams had reviewed it and
suggested revisions. In the letter, which is dated December 5, 2012, Frisch stated that
Keefe had been removed from the associate degree nursing program “as a consequence of
behavior unbecoming of the profession and transgression of professional boundaries” and
that the charges were based on the content of his Facebook page. She continued by
quoting the section entitled “Student Removal from Nursing Program” in the associate
degree nursing program’s student handbook. Frisch noted that Keefe had the right to
appeal the decision, that he could complete his current courses, and that he would be
officially removed from the program upon the completion of the semester. Frisch
admonished Keefe not to retaliate against any students. She closed by stating that he was
ineligible for admission to the program in the future and that his ineligibility extended
only to the associate degree nursing program.
Keefe decided to appeal the decision to remove him from the associate degree
nursing program. Before filing his appeal, he met with McCalla for a few minutes.
Keefe asked for copies of his statements on Facebook that led to the decision to remove
him from the program. According to his deposition testimony, McCalla “shared the
essence” of the statements with Keefe, but McCalla declined “to share the document
with” Keefe. Keefe reviewed his Facebook page, did not see any statements on it that he
found “that extreme,” and knew that the “stupid bitch” and “not enough whiskey to
control that anger” statements were at issue.
On December 11, 2012, Keefe submitted his appeal to McCalla. In it, he asserted
that his removal from the associate degree nursing program was too harsh, that he was
not aware of some comments on his Facebook page, that he nevertheless took
responsibility for them, that he had removed “these offensive comments that offended
individuals viewing [his] page as well as not displaying my professional image as a
nursing student as well as CLC’s nursing program,” and that he had not previously been
subject to any discipline at the college. He described how he would conduct himself if
allowed to continue in the program. He closed his appeal by apologizing for his
“unethical and unprofessional behavior.” McCalla reviewed the “academic disciplinary
policy,” information received from Frisch, and Keefe’s appeal. McCalla testified that he
was “reasonably sure” that he had also reviewed a nursing association’s professional
standards. At his deposition, he was unable to “recall the specific standards on the
website if [he] did in fact go look at them.” McCalla testified that he “saw nothing in Mr.
Keefe’s appeal that led [McCalla] to believe that [Keefe] had not violated that
professionalism standard.” On January 2, 2013, McCalla called Keefe and left a message
that informed Keefe of the denial of the appeal. Approximately one month later, Keefe
brought this action.
Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(a). To support an assertion that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed, a
party must cite “to particular parts of materials in the record,” show “that the materials
cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute,” or show “that an
adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(c)(1)(A)-(B). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider
other materials in the record.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3). In determining whether
summary judgment is appropriate, a court must view genuinely disputed facts in the light
most favorable to the nonmovant, Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009), and
draw all justifiable inferences from the evidence in the nonmovant’s favor, Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
Defendants asserted that they did not violate Keefe’s rights under the First
Amendment by academically disciplining him for the statements he made on Facebook.
They also maintained that Keefe received “constitutionally-appropriate due process.”
Even if Keefe could establish a violation of his constitutional rights, Defendants asserted
that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, Adams asserted that Keefe’s claims
against her should be dismissed because she did not decide to remove him from the
associate degree nursing program, did not consider his appeal, and did not decide what
procedures to follow. In response, Keefe argued that qualified immunity does not apply
insofar as he seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, that Defendants are not entitled to
qualified immunity, that his removal from the associate degree nursing program violated
his rights to due process and free speech, and that Adams is liable to him. In reply,
Defendants reiterated that Keefe had not submitted any evidence that raised a genuine
issue of material fact as to whether they had violated his constitutional rights, that
qualified immunity applied were Keefe able to establish a violation of his constitutional
rights, 6 and that his claims against Adams should be dismissed because she did not cause
any of the alleged violations of his constitutional rights.
Defendants also argued that Keefe had not shown he is entitled to injunctive or
declaratory relief. After Defendants had submitted their reply, Keefe moved to
supplement the record. He sought to submit material that he had cited but inadvertently
failed to include in his response, as well as material to counter Defendants’ assertion that
he is not entitled to injunctive or declaratory relief. To the extent Keefe sought to
supplement the record with material that he had inadvertently failed to include in his
response, the Court grants the motion. The Court otherwise denies his motion and
declines to consider the parties’ arguments about whether Keefe is entitled to injunctive
or declaratory relief. See D. Minn. LR 7.1(c)(3)(B).
Procedural due process
For present purposes, Defendants assumed that Keefe had a valid property interest
in his enrollment in the associate degree nursing program. Cf. Monroe v. Ark. State
Univ., 495 F.3d 591, 594 (8th Cir. 2007) (“[W]e assume without deciding that Monroe’s
interest in pursuing his education constitutes a constitutionally protected interest.”);
Richmond v. Fowlkes, 228 F.3d 854, 857 (8th Cir. 2000) (“Assuming, without deciding,
the existence of a property or liberty interest, we conclude that Richmond received all the
process that he was due.”); Hennessy v. City of Melrose, 194 F.3d 237, 249-50 (1st Cir.
1999) (“[T]he claim to such a property interest is dubious, and in this case it seems
especially tenuous because Salem State did not expel the appellant, but merely precluded
him from continuing in a particular program.” (footnote omitted) (citation omitted)).
Defendants asserted that Keefe was dismissed from the program for academic reasons
and that he received all the process that he was due. Keefe asserted that he was dismissed
for disciplinary reasons and that he was not afforded sufficient due process without
regard to the characterization of his dismissal as academic or disciplinary.
“The term ‘academic’ in this context is somewhat misleading” because “[c]ourts
have frequently held that an academic dismissal may be properly based on more than
simply grades, particularly in a medical-professional context.” Yoder v. Univ. of
Louisville, 526 F. App’x 537, 550 (6th Cir.) (unpublished table decision), cert. denied,
134 S. Ct. 790 (2013); see, e.g., Bd. of Curators v. Horowitz, 435 U.S. 78, 91 n.6 (1978)
(“The record, however, leaves no doubt that respondent was dismissed for purely
academic reasons . . . . Personal hygiene and timeliness may be as important factors in a
school’s determination of whether a student will make a good medical doctor as the
student’s ability to take a case history or diagnose an illness.”); Fenje v. Feld, 398 F.3d
620, 625 (7th Cir. 2005) (“The nexus between Dr. Fenje’s lack of candor in the
application process and his capacity to be trusted with patient care clearly pushes this
decision into the realm of an academic dismissal.”); Ku v. Tennessee, 322 F.3d 431, 43536 (6th Cir. 2003) (concluding decision to place medical student on leave of absence
based in part on student’s “inability to interact with others in a basic professional
manner” constituted an academic decision); Shaboon v. Duncan, 252 F.3d 722, 731 (5th
Cir. 2001) (“Although Shaboon’s intransigence might suggest that her dismissal was
disciplinary, her refusal to acknowledge and deal with her [mental] problems furnished a
sound academic basis for her dismissal.”); cf. Monroe, 495 F.3d at 595 (“[C]ourts have
considered dismissals ‘academic’ in similar scenarios when the student’s deficiencies,
while arguably warranting disciplinary action, also bear on academic performance.”).
Keefe’s removal from the associate degree nursing program is properly regarded as an
“To satisfy the Fourteenth Amendment, a student who is dismissed for academic
reasons from a public university must be afforded notice of faculty dissatisfaction and
potential dismissal, and the dismissal decision must be careful and deliberate. A formal
hearing is not required for an academic dismissal.” Richmond, 228 F.3d at 857 (citation
omitted); see Horowitz, 435 U.S. at 85; Monroe, 495 F.3d at 595; Schuler v. Univ. of
Minn., 788 F.2d 510, 514 (8th Cir. 1986) (per curiam).
The record reveals that two of Keefe’s fellow students separately brought
statements that Keefe had made on Facebook to the attention of their instructor. Scott
was concerned that the statements violated rules of professional conduct and forwarded
them to Frisch. After confirming that Keefe had made the statements, Frisch scheduled a
meeting with Keefe. She did not provide any details about the subject of the meeting to
him. At the meeting, Frisch informed Keefe that the meeting related to transgression of
professional boundaries and conduct unbecoming of the profession. She read from a
student handbook the potential disciplinary action that could be taken, including removal
from the associate degree nursing program. Frisch stated that there were inappropriate
comments on Keefe’s Facebook page. According to Keefe’s deposition testimony, Frisch
specifically mentioned two comments, but he “knew there was obviously more than just
one or two comments because [Frisch] had a whole stack of papers there.” Frisch gave
Keefe an opportunity to explain his comments. After listening to his explanation, Frisch
decided to remove Keefe from the associate degree nursing program. At her deposition,
she explained the decision to remove him from the program:
The fact that there wasn’t a professionalism there. Clearly there was
a lot of confusion about the professionalism evidently by his comments,
and that I didn’t believe I could teach him. He was not responsive to what I
said. You know, nursing programs have an obligation to graduate students
who are not just able to pass the classes, but to be safe and to have all of the
soft skills, including professionalism and be able to discern that. I could
not see that he had it. In fact he convinced me that I wasn’t going to be
able to teach him that.
Frisch informed Keefe of his right to appeal the decision. After the meeting, Frisch wrote
a letter to Keefe. Frisch stated that Keefe had been removed from the associate degree
nursing program “as a consequence of behavior unbecoming of the profession and
transgression of professional boundaries” and that the charges were based on the content
of his Facebook page; quoted the section entitled “Student Removal from Nursing
Program” in the associate degree nursing program’s student handbook; and indicated that
Keefe could appeal the decision. Before filing his appeal, Keefe met with McCalla, who
shared the essence of Keefe’s statements with Keefe. Later, Keefe appealed, and
McCalla denied the appeal. Viewed in the light most favorable to Keefe, the record
reveals that Keefe received notice of faculty dissatisfaction and potential dismissal, and
that the decision to remove him from the associate degree nursing program was careful
and deliberate. The Court therefore grants Defendants’ motion on Keefe’s procedural
due process claim. 7
Substantive due process
“Whether a student who is subject to academic dismissal may maintain a cause of
action for the violation of his right to substantive due process remains an open question.”
Richmond, 228 F.3d at 859; see Martinson v. Regents of Univ. of Mich., 562 F. App’x
365, 375 (6th Cir. 2014) (“As an initial matter, we note that the Supreme Court never has
held that the interest in continued education at a public university constitutes a
fundamental property or liberty interest that finds refuge in the substantive protections of
the Due Process Clause.”). “Even assuming, however, that such a cause of action does
exist, the student would still have to demonstrate arbitrary and capricious conduct on the
Keefe has not offered any evidence that Defendants engaged in a publication of
the sort at issue in Greenhill v. Bailey, 519 F.2d 5 (8th Cir. 1975). His reliance on
Greenhill is misplaced. See Horowitz, 435 U.S. at 88 n.5.
part of university officials by showing that there was no rational basis for the university’s
decision or that dismissal was motivated by bad faith or ill will unrelated to academic
performance.” Schuler, 788 F.2d at 515; see Disesa v. St. Louis Cmty. Coll., 79 F.3d 92,
95 (8th Cir. 1996). When asked “to review the substance of a genuinely academic
decision,” a court “should show great respect for the faculty’s professional judgment.”
Regents of Univ. of Mich. v. Ewing, 474 U.S. 214, 225 (1985). A court “may not override
it unless it is such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to
demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise
professional judgment.” Id.
Defendants asserted that Keefe’s unprofessional conduct provided a rational basis
for his dismissal from the associate degree nursing program. Keefe maintained that his
removal from the associate degree nursing program had no rational basis because (1) the
decision to remove “him was based on internet social media posts which were done
outside the school setting, and had no relationship to any course requirements”; (2) he did
not have an opportunity to fully explain himself because he was not presented with all of
the offending posts; (3) Frisch misled Keefe by telling him there was no need to prepare
for the meeting; (4) Frisch decided to remove Keefe from the program, “whereas she
usually gave students probation for greater transgressions, not because of the
egregiousness of his conduct but because he defended his rights rather than apologize and
beg forgiveness”; and (5) there was no citation of “any specific rule, policy or standard
applicable to the school which [he] violated.”
As noted above, Keefe was enrolled in Central Lakes College’s associate degree
nursing program. As a student in a professional program, he understood that he was
subject to standards that govern the nursing profession. Two students separately reported
statements Keefe had made on Facebook to their instructor. The instructor concluded
that the statements raised concerns about his professionalism and forwarded them to
Frisch. In turn, Frisch confirmed that Keefe had made the statements, which were not
restricted. Keefe’s statements belittled another student for receiving testing
accommodations, asserted there was not enough whiskey to control the anger that arose
out of a late change to a group project, professed his need for anger management,
questioned whether anyone had heard of mechanical pencils and promised to give
somebody a hemopneumothorax with an electric pencil sharpener, and called a fellow
student a “stupid bitch.” Frisch met with Keefe, told him there were inappropriate
statements on his Facebook page, and informed him of the range of consequences he
faced. To Frisch, Keefe’s explanation revealed his lack of professionalism. 8 His
The following exchange took place at Keefe’s deposition.
Do you understand that being a license -- having a license means
you’re bound by any sort of code of ethics?
No. I mean, I do understand the ethics and professionalism when
you’re performing your job and per se in uniform, but other than that, I
When you say you don’t understand . . . you don’t understand that
it’s part of holding the license? Is that what you mean?
I understand that there’s ethics when you are performing your job as
a nurse, and I understand that there are guidelines per se if you’re on your
response convinced her not to offer him a student success plan, to which he had been
subject since October 2012. Instead, she decided to remove him from the program. She
informed him of his removal and sent him a letter that quoted the section entitled
“Student Removal from Nursing Program” in the associate degree nursing program’s
student handbook. Before submitting his appeal, Keefe spoke with McCalla, who
informed him of the essence of Keefe’s statements. Keefe appealed, and McCalla denied
the appeal. Viewed in the light most favorable to Keefe, the record reveals that there was
a rational basis for the decision to remove Keefe from the associate degree nursing
program. His removal from the program was not the product of arbitrary and capricious
conduct. The Court therefore grants Defendants’ motion on Keefe’s substantive due
Defendants asserted that they did not violate Keefe’s First Amendment rights by
imposing academic discipline on him because of his statements on Facebook. According
to Defendants, “[c]ourts uniformly have held that enforcement of legitimate academic
requirements, including professionalism and general fitness for the field, does not run
way home from work or going to work, different types of environments or
places that you may go into while you’re in uniform. I understand that, but
on your own free time conversing with friends out in the fish house or
whatever, I don’t understand the ethics behind that.
When you say you don’t understand the ethics, you say that you
don’t understand that it applies in those settings or -- I’m trying to
understand what you meant by that.
Yeah, I don’t understand the carryover of ethics from the job to your
afoul of the [C]onstitution, particularly in the medical context.” Citing Yoder and Tatro
v. University of Minnesota, 816 N.W.2d 509 (Minn. 2012), they asserted that “courts
have upheld against First Amendment challenge academic discipline for inappropriate
social media postings that violate academic professional standards.” They contended that
they enforced recognized nursing standards against Keefe and that their interest in
enforcing those standards outweighed any First Amendment interest asserted by him.
In response, Keefe asserted that Defendants violated his right to free speech by
removing him from the associate degree nursing program “in retaliation for his acts of
speech in a context that was unrelated to his school obligations and did not violate any
specific school rules.” He maintained that the same free speech principles apply to
college students and the general public alike. He argued that he may not be disciplined
for his statements on Facebook because they did not constitute a true threat, they did not
cause a substantial disruption to the college or its nursing program, and they did not
violate any specific professional standards.
Defendants countered that the “substantial disruption” and “true threat” standards
“are not implicated when assessing academic program rules.” They reiterated that they
had not violated Keefe’s rights under the First Amendment by holding him to the
associate degree nursing program’s professionalism requirements.
“[S]tate colleges and universities are not enclaves immune from the sweep of the
First Amendment.” Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 180 (1972); see Bowman v. White,
444 F.3d 967, 974 (8th Cir. 2006). “At the same time, however, in student speech cases,
‘First Amendment rights must be analyzed in light of the special characteristics of the
school environment.’” Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley, 664 F.3d 865, 871 (11th Cir. 2011)
(quoting Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263, 268 n.5 (1981)).
Central Lakes College’s associate degree nursing program prepares licensed
practical nurses to become registered nurses. Part of the program is devoted to instilling
in students the standards of the nursing profession. See Minn. Stat. § 148.251, subd. 1
(2012) (amended 2014); Minn. R. 6301.2320 (2011); Minn. R. 6301.2340, subp. 3
(2011). The associate degree nursing program incorporated nationally established
nursing standards. Its ability to discipline students for “behavior unbecoming of the
Nursing Profession” or “transgression of professional boundaries” reflects the ability of
the Minnesota Board of Nursing to “deny, revoke, suspend, limit, or condition the license
and registration of any person to practice professional, advanced practice registered, or
practical nursing” for “[e]ngaging in unprofessional conduct.” Minn. Stat. § 148.261,
subd. 1(6) (2012). Greater specificity is not required. See Reyburn v. Minn. State Bd. of
Optometry, 78 N.W.2d 351, 354-55 (Minn. 1956); Stephens v. Pa. State Bd. of Nursing,
657 A.2d 71, 75 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1995); Heinecke v. Dep’t of Commerce, 810 P.2d 459,
465-66 (Utah Ct. App. 1991).
Central Lakes College may hold students in its associate degree nursing program
to the standards of the nursing profession. See Keeton, 664 F.3d at 876; Marinello v.
Bushby, 163 F.3d 1356 (5th Cir. 1998) (unpublished table decision); Tatro, 816 N.W.2d
at 521; Oyama v. Univ. of Haw., Civ. No. 12-00137, 2013 WL 1767710, at *12-13 (D.
Haw. Apr. 23, 2013) (“The First Amendment does not require Defendants to accept
Plaintiff in a student teaching program if in their judgment he did not meet State and
National teaching standards.”). Keefe was a licensed practical nurse enrolled in Central
Lakes College’s associate degree nursing program. He made statements on his Facebook
page that belittled another student for receiving testing accommodations, asserted there
was not enough whiskey to control the anger that arose out of a late change to a group
project, professed his need for anger management, questioned whether anyone had heard
of mechanical pencils and promised to give somebody a hemopneumothorax with an
electric pencil sharpener, and called a fellow student a “stupid bitch.” Access to his
Facebook page was not restricted. Two of Keefe’s fellow students separately brought his
statements to Scott’s attention. Concerned about Keefe’s professionalism, Scott
forwarded the statements to Frisch. In turn, Frisch confirmed that Keefe had made the
statements, met with him, concluded that his statements were unprofessional, and
determined that Keefe lacked the necessary professionalism to continue in the program.
Her decision was upheld by McCalla. Viewing the record in the light most favorable to
Keefe, the Court concludes that Defendants’ removal of Keefe from the associate degree
nursing program did not violate his rights under the First Amendment. The Court
therefore grants Defendants’ motion on his First Amendment claim.
“Qualified immunity shields a government official from liability unless his
conduct violates ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known.’ Qualified immunity protects ‘all but the plainly
incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’” Burns v. Eaton, 752 F.3d 1136,
1139 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). A court applies a two-step inquiry to determine
whether qualified immunity applies: (1) whether the facts shown by the plaintiff
demonstrate a violation of a constitutional right; and (2) whether that right was clearly
established at the time of the defendant’s alleged misconduct. Pearson v. Callahan, 555
U.S. 223, 232 (2009); Peterson v. Kopp, 754 F.3d 594, 598 (8th Cir. 2014).
For the reasons set forth above, the record, viewed in the light most favorable to
Keefe, does not demonstrate that Defendants violated Keefe’s constitutional rights to free
speech and due process. Were Keefe able to establish a violation of his constitutional
rights, Defendants would be entitled to qualified immunity because no violation of a
clearly established right took place. See Martinson, 562 F. App’x at 375 (“As an initial
matter, we note that the Supreme Court never has held that the interest in continued
education at a public university constitutes a fundamental property or liberty interest that
finds refuge in the substantive protections of the Due Process Clause.”); Yoder, 526 F.
App’x at 544-47 (holding that any First Amendment right allegedly violated by
Defendants in disciplining nursing student for posting statements about a birth she had
witnessed as part of clinical program was not clearly established); Yoder, 526 F. App’x at
549-51 (“We further find that Defendants were not objectively unreasonable in
concluding that the processes used in Yoder’s dismissal afforded Yoder adequate due
process.”); Richmond, 228 F.3d at 859 (“Whether a student who is subject to academic
dismissal may maintain a cause of action for the violation of his right to substantive due
process remains an open question.”). 9
Having concluded that Defendants did not violate Keefe’s constitutional rights and
that no violation of a clearly established right took place, the Court need not consider the
Based on the files, records, and proceedings herein, and for the reasons stated
above, IT IS ORDERED THAT:
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket Nos. 37 & 50] is
Keefe’s motion to supplement [Docket No. 60] is GRANTED IN PART
and DENIED IN PART.
Keefe’s claims against Adams, Frisch, and McCalla in Counts 1 and 2 of
the Complaint are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.
Dated: August 26, 2014
s/Joan N. Ericksen
JOAN N. ERICKSEN
United States District Judge
parties’ arguments regarding Adams’s role in Keefe’s removal from the associate degree
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