Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by District Judge James C. Cacheris on 05/10/2017. (mpha)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
BRIAN C. DAVISON,
LOUDOUN COUNTY BOARD OF
SUPERVISORS, et al.,
M E M O R A N D U M
O P I N I O N
This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion
for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 96], Plaintiff’s Motion for
Reconsideration [Dkt. 88], and Plaintiff’s Objection to
Magistrate Judge’s Orders [Dkt. 92].
For the following reasons,
the Court will grant Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment in
part, deny Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration, and overrule
Plaintiff’s Objection to the Magistrate Judge’s Order.
As this Court has written extensively about the
background of this case in two prior memorandum opinions, it
recites here only the facts germane to the Motions now before
Defendant Loudoun County Board of Supervisors (“the
Board”) is Loudoun County, Virginia’s local governing body.
Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 2; Board Answer [Dkt. 13] ¶ 3.
maintains an official Facebook page.
See Dfs. Exh. 1.
parties agree that the Board’s Facebook page is governed by
Loudoun County’s Social Media Comments Policy, discussed below.
See Dfs. Exh. 3A; Dfs. Exh. 3B.
On July 19, 2016, Plaintiff Brian Davison – a resident
of Loudoun County – left a comment critical of the Board on one
of the Board’s Facebook posts.
That comment quickly
Upon discovering that his initial comment had
vanished, Plaintiff commented again, noting that censorship of
his prior comment implicated his First Amendment and Due Process
See Compl. Exh. 3 [Dkt. 1-3].
comment also disappeared within minutes.
This prompted a third
comment in which Plaintiff again invoked his constitutional
rights, referenced a lawsuit he had filed based upon similar
circumstances, and levied allegations of corruption at the
See Compl. Exh. 7 [Dkt. 1-7].
Plaintiff then captured
an image of this third comment and posted it along with a fourth
comment referencing the possibility of legal action against the
See Compl. Exh. 8 [Dkt. 1-8].
Within hours, Plaintiff
discovered that his fourth comment had been removed as well.
Assuming that his comments had been removed by the
Board or its employees, Plaintiff emailed the Board to report
what had happened and ask that his comments be restored.
Compl. Exhs. 14-18 [Dkts. 1-14, 1-15, 1-16, 1-17].
following day, Leo Rogers, County Attorney for Loudoun County,
responded that “no County employee deleted the comments.”
Mr. Rogers invited Plaintiff to “re-post the comment.”
Plaintiff, however, did not believe Mr. Rogers.
When his comments were not restored, Plaintiff filed suit
against the Board, its individual members, and Mr. Rogers.
Plaintiff brought a variety of claims, most of which the Court
dismissed on Defendants’ Motion.
See Mem. Op. [Dkt. 11].
Court permitted Plaintiff to proceed against the Board alone on
the theory that the Board ratified the decision of a subordinate
to remove Plaintiff’s comments, and that this violated
Plaintiff’s First Amendment and Due Process rights.
Plaintiff would eventually file a Motion for Reconsideration
[Dkt. 88], urging the Court to reverse its dismissal of his
claim under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Shortly after the Court ruled on Defendants’ first
Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint naming
Phyllis Randall, Chair of the Loudoun County Board of
See Am. Compl. [Dkt. 33].
maintains a Facebook page titled “Chair Phyllis J. Randall.”
See Pl. Exh. 7.
She created this Facebook page herself and
personally controls its content.
Randall Decl. ¶¶ 3-5.
Defendant Randall uses her own personal electronic devices to
manage the page, and – unlike the Board – has declined to
involve the County’s Public Affairs and Communications Office in
administering the page. Id. ¶¶ 3-4; Barbour Decl. ¶ 21.
content of Defendant Randall’s Facebook page is primarily
related to her work as Chair of the Loudoun County Board of
Supervisors, although it touches on other matters of interest to
residents of Loudoun County.
See Pl. Exh. 7.
County Office of Public Affairs and Communications has found
that the County’s Social Media Comments Policy “does not apply
to Board members or their staff.”
Barbour Decl. ¶ 21.
The incident giving rise to Plaintiff’s Amended
Complaint was similar to that prompting Plaintiff’s original
In short, on February 3, 2017, Plaintiff left a
comment critical of the Loudoun County School Board on one of
Defendant Randall’s Facebook posts.
That evening, Defendant
Randall, worried the comment would negatively impact the
experience of other persons visiting her Facebook page, deleted
her original post and banned Plaintiff from her Facebook page.
Randall Decl. ¶ 9.
Defendant Randall reconsidered her decision
the following morning and restored Plaintiff’s full access to
her Facebook page.
Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint
claims that Defendant Randall’s actions violated his First
Amendment and Due Process rights.
On March 13, 2017, the parties stipulated to facts
established by information Facebook disclosed in response to
Plaintiff’s third-party discovery request.
Facebook confirmed that the Board was not
responsible for removing Plaintiff’s comments as alleged in
Rather, a software error on Facebook’s
part caused the comments to be erased.
On March 24, 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge Davis issued
an Order granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff’s
request to file a Third Amended Complaint.
See Order [Dkt. 87].
Judge Davis granted Plaintiff’s request insofar as Plaintiff was
permitted to add claims arising under the Virginia Constitution
against Defendant Randall.
Judge Davis, however, denied
Plaintiff’s request to add a claim alleging that Loudoun County
violates the First Amendment by maintaining a Facebook page
given certain technical aspects of the Facebook platform.
Davis’ Order further denied Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel [Dkt.
72] interrogatory responses from various individuals.
filed an Objection to Judge Davis’ Order [Dkt. 92] on March 28,
II. Legal Standard
“Summary judgment is appropriate only if taking the
evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party, ‘no material facts
are disputed and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.’”
Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir.
2011) (quoting Ausherman v. Bank of Am. Corp., 352 F.3d 896, 899
An unresolved issue of fact precludes summary
judgment only if it is both “genuine” and “material.”
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).
dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” on that
Id. at 248.
It is material if it “might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law.”
“In the end,
the question posed by a summary judgment motion is whether the
evidence ‘is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law.’”
Lee v. Bevington, 647 F. App’x 275 (4th Cir.
2016) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
The Court is mindful that Plaintiff is proceeding in
this matter pro se.
A “document filed pro se is ‘to be
liberally construed,’” and “‘held to less stringent standards
than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.’”
Erickson v. Pardus,
551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97,
A. Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
As an initial matter, Plaintiff concedes that summary
judgment is appropriate with respect to Plaintiff’s original
claims against the Board.
The Court permitted Plaintiff to
proceed on the theory that the Board ratified a subordinate’s
decision to remove Plaintiff’s comments from the Board’s
It is now uncontroverted that the Board did no
Accordingly, the Court will grant Defendants’
Motion with respect to Counts I and II of Plaintiff’s Second
Plaintiff argues, however, that he has prevailed on
his claims against the Board for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1988,
and so is entitled to attorney’s fees.
He contends that because
this litigation has resulted in (1) Facebook’s reassurance that
it will fix its software, and (2) the County’s amendment of its
Social Media Comments Policy, Plaintiff has “materially altered
the relationship of the parties” in his favor.
The Court disagrees.
Opp. [Dkt. 107]
As an initial matter, a “pro se
litigant who is not a lawyer is not entitled to attorney’s
Kay v. Ehrler, 499 U.S. 432, 435 (1991) (emphasis
Moreover, Plaintiff did not prevail on his claims in
any meaningful sense; he brought claims, discovery proved them
to be meritless, and the parties stipulated as much.
distinguishes the case at bar from the case cited by Plaintiff,
Hawaii Defense Foundation v. City of Honolulu, No. 12-00469 JMSRLP (D. Haw. Jun. 19, 2014), in which the parties reached a
settlement before the Court had an opportunity to address the
merits of the plaintiff’s claims.
Moreover, Facebook is not a
party to this case against which Plaintiff can claim litigation
success, and the changes to the County’s policy identified by
Plaintiff stem from a different matter involving similar issues.
See Davison v. Plowman, No. 1:16CV180 (JCC/IDD), 2017 WL 1164480
(E.D. Va. Mar. 28, 2017).1
Regardless, Plaintiff has not filed a
motion for fees and costs, and so the issue is not properly
before the Court.
This leaves Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant
Plaintiff has recently added additional claims against
Defendant Randall arising under the free speech and due process
provisions of Virginia’s Constitution.
These claims are in
substance identical to Plaintiff’s federal claims.
v. City of Virginia Beach, 90 F. Supp. 3d 597, 607 (E.D. Va.
2015) (“The Supreme Court of Virginia has held that ‘Article I,
§ 12 of the Constitution of Virginia is coextensive with the
free speech provisions of the federal First Amendment.’”)
(quoting Elliott v. Commonwealth, 267 Va. 464, 473–74 (2004));
Shivaee v. Com., 270 Va. 112, 119 (2005) (“Because the due
process protections afforded under the Constitution of Virginia
The policy changes in question appear to have been
adopted largely at the behest of James Plowman, Commonwealth
Attorney for Loudoun County, after Plaintiff sued Mr. Plowman
for blocking him from the Commonwealth Attorney’s Facebook Page.
See, e.g., Trial Tr. [Dkt. 41] at 13, Davison v. Plowman, No.
1:16CV180 (JCC/IDD) (E.D. Va. Feb. 27, 2017).
are co-extensive with those of the federal constitution, the
same analysis will apply to both.”).
state and federal claims require no separate analysis.
This Court has previously held that Loudoun County’s
Social Media Comments Policy creates a limited public forum for
speech where it applies.
See, e.g., Mem. Op. [Dkt. 57] at 12-
“Once it has opened a limited forum,” the government “must
respect the lawful boundaries it has itself set” or violate the
Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of Univ. of
Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 829 (1995).
Both the Court and
Defendant Randall have understood Plaintiff’s constitutional
claims to rest on the premise that Defendant Randall violated
Loudoun County’s Social Media Comments Policy, and so violated
the First Amendment. See Opp. [Dkt. 107] at 15-18.
evidence before the Court establishes that this policy does not
apply to Defendant Randall’s Facebook page, Plaintiff’s claims
fail to the extent that they rest on this premise.
The Policy in force during the events giving rise to
this suit provided that “[t]he purpose of Loudoun County social
media sites is to present matters of public interest in Loudoun
Dfs. Exh. 3A.
The Policy “encourage[d]” commenters
“to submit . . . questions, comments and concerns” through
Loudoun County’s social media websites, but reserved the
County’s right to “delete submissions” that violated enumerated
rules – for example, comments that “contain[ed] vulgar language”
The Policy has since been amended to state that “[t]he
purpose of Loudoun County’s official social media platforms is
to provide information of public interest to the county’s
residents, business community, visitors and other members of the
Dfs. Exh. 3B.
It likewise encourages comments
while reserving the County’s right to remove comments for
It further specifies that the Public
Affairs and Communications Division of the Office of the County
Administrator is charged with removing comments that violate the
In determining whether these policies apply to
Defendant Randall’s Facebook page, the question the Court must
answer is whether that website constitutes a “Loudoun County
social media site” or “official social media platform.”2
Defendant Randall is Chair of the Loudoun County Board of
Supervisors, Plaintiff concedes that the mere fact of her office
does not mean the policy applies to any social media website she
See Opp. [Dkt. 107] at 17.
Indeed, this reading
would likely render the Policy facially overbroad, infringing
Based on the similarities between the two policies,
the Court interprets “Loudoun County social media site” and
“official social media platform” as coextensive. In other
words, it appears that the new policy at most clarifies rather
than modifies the reach of the original policy.
the First Amendment rights of County employees by unduly
restricting their social media activity.
See, e.g., Liverman v.
City of Petersburg, 844 F.3d 400, 411 (4th Cir. 2016)
(discussing the First Amendment right of public employees with
respect to social media usage).
Turning to the evidence before the Court, Defendant
Randall has submitted affidavits establishing that she created
the Facebook page in question and personally controls its
Randall Decl. ¶¶ 3-5.
Defendant Randall uses her own
personal electronic devices to manage the page, and has declined
to involve the County’s Public Affairs and Communications Office
in administering it.
Id. at ¶¶ 3-4; Barbour Decl. ¶ 21.
Finally, the head of the Loudoun County Office of Public Affairs
and Communications – which instituted and administers the Policy
– has found that the County’s Social Media Comments Policy “does
not apply” to Defendant Randall’s Facebook page.
Plaintiff argues that Summary Judgment must be denied
because he disputes a number of the facts discussed above.
That, however, is relevant only insofar as Plaintiff produces
evidence demonstrating that any dispute of fact is both genuine
See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-
24 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52 (1986).
Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and the Court construes his
filings liberally, Plaintiff may “survive the motion for summary
judgment only by adducing specific, non-speculative evidence
supporting” the existence of a factual dispute.
Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th
“[M]ere allegations or denials” without reference
to evidence are not sufficient.
Clark v. Metro. Life Ins. Co.,
369 F. Supp. 2d 770, 774 (E.D. Va. 2005).3
Plaintiff has produced no evidence that would create a
genuine factual dispute with respect to whether Defendant
Randall’s Facebook page is governed by the County’s Social Media
Indeed, the exhibits to Plaintiff’s Opposition
confirm that Defendant Randall’s Facebook page is not subject to
In particular, Loudoun County’s Use of Social Media
Administrative Policies and Procedures, Opp. Exh. 1 [Dkt. 1071], is instructive as to what constitutes a “Loudoun County
social media site” or “official social media platform.”
policy makes clear that a Loudoun County social media website is
one created through formal processes and adhering to certain
Similarly, to the extent Plaintiff incorporates by
reference into his Opposition the “twenty-two (22) facts in his
motion for summary judgment filed on November 21, 2016,” Opp.
[Dkt. 107] at 1, the Court has already explained that such
“facts” – which are supported by no more than the allegations of
Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint – are not properly substantiated
for purposes of a motion for summary judgment. See Mem. Op.
[Dkt. 57] at 6.
For example, a Loudoun County social media website is
created after consultation with, and is partially administered
by, the Public Affairs and Communications Division of the Office
of the County Administrator.
[Dkt. 107-1] at 4.
See Dfs. Exh. 3B; Opp. Exh. 1
It must include certain content, such as the
Loudoun County Social Media Comments Policy.
[Dkt. 107-1] at 5.
See Opp. Exh. 1
Passwords and other information enabling
County access to the website must be made available to both the
County’s Department of Information Technology and the Public
See id. at 4-5.
The County’s Public
Information Office is tasked with coordinating the posts of
Loudoun County social media websites to ensure that “consistent
messages are being conveyed countywide.”
Id. at 4.
Defendant Randall did not create her “Chair Phyllis J.
Randall” Facebook page through the above procedures and has not
observed the above rules in operating her Facebook page.
Nothing in the Policy suggests that a Loudoun County social
media website may be created or maintained outside of these
rules and procedures.4
The Court notes that in a related case, the Defendant
conceded that he had independently adopted the Social Media
Comments Policy to govern his office’s Facebook page. See
Davison v. Plowman, No. 1:16CV180 (JCC/IDD), 2017 WL 1164480
(E.D. Va. Mar. 28, 2017). For that reason, the Court was not
required to perform the analysis above.
Plaintiff contends that Defendant Randall’s Facebook
page must nonetheless be a Loudoun County social media website
because much of its content relates to Defendant Randall’s work
for the County.
Nothing in the County’s Policies, however,
indicates that one may unintentionally create a Loudoun County
social media website in this manner.
The closest provision
Plaintiff identifies is paragraph K of Loudoun County’s Use of
Social Media Administrative Policies and Procedures, which
states that “[e]mployees participating on non-county sponsored
blogs (or other social media websites) during non-work hours may
not make statements that purport to be on behalf of the county
Opp. Exh. 1 [Dkt. Dkt. 107-1] at 6.
that Defendant Randall’s posts on her Facebook page “purport to
be on behalf of the county government,” that would mean only
that she has violated Loudoun County’s Policy using a “noncounty sponsored” social media website.
Any such violation
would not transform Defendant Randall’s Facebook page into a
Loudoun County social media website subject to the Social Media
To hold otherwise would read much into the
County’s policies that is simply not there.
Plaintiff also submits Loudoun County’s Media
Relations Policy and Procedures, Opp. Exh. 2 [Dkt. Dkt. 107-2],
and notes that elected County officials are considered
“designated spokespersons” by the County.
does not explain how this renders Defendant Randall’s Facebook
page a Loudoun County social media website.
With respect to
social media websites, this latter Policy simply refers the
reader back to the Use of Social Media Policy discussed above.
That Defendant Randall may permissibly answer media inquiries on
behalf of the County does not mean that she has unwittingly
created a Loudoun County social media website under the Policies
In short, the only evidence of record before the Court
demonstrates that Defendant Randall’s Facebook page is not a
“Loudoun County social media site” or “official social media
Accordingly, the Loudoun County Social Media
Comments Policy does not apply to Defendant Randall’s Facebook
page and Defendant Randall could not have violated that Policy
by banning Plaintiff from her Facebook page.
To the extent that
Plaintiff’s claims rest on the proposition that Defendant
Randall violated the Policy, they fail.
Plaintiff, however, also maintains that Defendant
Randall’s Facebook page constitutes a limited public forum
separate and apart from the Loudoun County Social Media Comments
Defendant Randall rejoins that she did not open any
kind of forum, and that she maintains her Facebook page in her
individual, rather than governmental, capacity.
The Court finds
that material issues of disputed fact preclude summary judgment
for Defendant Randall on these points.
A reasonable finder of
fact could determine from the present record that Defendant
Randall intentionally opened a limited public forum outside of
the Social Media Comments Policy.
Moreover, the record is such
that a reasonable finder of fact could determine that Defendant
Randall did so in a governmental, rather than private, capacity.
Case law offers some guidance as to when the
government opens a limited public forum by creating and
maintaining a website.
In Page v. Lexington County School
District One, 531 F.3d 275, 284 (4th Cir. 2008), for example,
the Fourth Circuit found that a school district had not opened a
public forum by maintaining a website including links to thirdparty content.
That holding, however, rested on a finding that
the school district maintained strict control over the content
of its own website, and the Court noted “the issue would, of
course, be different” if the website included “a type of ‘chat
room’ or ‘bulletin board’ in which private viewers could express
opinions or post information.”
The First Circuit reached a
similar conclusion in Sutliffe v. Epping School District, 584
F.3d 314, 334–35 (1st Cir. 2009), based on similar facts, noting
“there may be cases in which a government entity might open its
website to private speech in such a way that” forum analysis
would be appropriate.
Both Courts found that the websites at
issue constituted platforms for governmental speech rather than
In a similar vein, the Sixth Circuit found in Putnam
Pit, Inc. v. City of Cookeville, Tennessee, 221 F.3d 834, 842
(6th Cir. 2000), that a website maintained by the government
constituted a nonpublic forum where it included links submitted
by third parties which were approved by the government.
In contrast to these cases, Defendant Randall’s
Facebook page enables private individuals to comment freely
without any screening process.
Defendant Randall has permitted
“third parties to . . . comment on posts that she posted on the
page, allowing her to control the subject matter” under
discussion but not the comments’ precise content.
of Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. 97] at 10.
Mem. in Supp.
Defendant Randall also
maintains that she generally does not remove comments –
apparently even when those comments contradict the message that
she herself is attempting to express through her website.
Drawing “all reasonable inferences” in the non-moving party’s
favor, Henry, 652 F.3d at 531, this is sufficient to create a
triable issue of fact as to whether Defendant Randall
“intentionally open[ed] a nontraditional forum for public
Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Def. & Educ. Fund, Inc.,
473 U.S. 788, 802 (1985).5
Defendant Randall argues that “Facebook makes it
almost impossible to view someone’s Facebook page, such as
Randall’s, without creating a Facebook account and becoming a
Facebook member,” and thus Defendant Randall’s Facebook page is
Whether Defendant Randall has maintained her “Chair
Phyllis J. Randall” Facebook page in a governmental capacity is
different – and perhaps closer – question.
concedes, the mere fact that Defendant Randall holds public
office does not subject every social media account she controls
to First Amendment scrutiny.
See Opp. [Dkt. 107] at 17.
Moreover, the record before the Court demonstrates that
Defendant Randall created the Facebook page at issue personally,
controls its content, and has made a significant effort to keep
it from entanglement with the County government.
There is, however, also evidence in the record that
suggests Defendant Randall’s Facebook page is not of an entirely
For example, Defendant Randall admits that her
Chief of Staff, Jeanine Arnett, has made posts on the “Chair
Phyllis J. Randall” Facebook page.
See Randall Decl. ¶ 5.
Defendant Randall states that Ms. Arnett has only done so using
Defendant Randall’s cell phone at events after hours.
as Plaintiff points out, Ms. Arnett is listed by Facebook as an
administrator of Defendant Randall’s Facebook page.
“not freely accessible to members of the public.” Mem. in Supp.
of Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. 97] at 17. The Court has already
noted, however, that Defendant Randall’s Facebook page is in
fact easily accessible without a Facebook account. Moreover, as
Facebook accounts are readily available to the general public at
no cost, it is difficult to see how the requirement that an
individual create such an account renders Defendant Randall’s
Facebook page “not freely accessible to members of the public.”
Exh. 5 [Dkt. 107-5].
This suggests greater involvement by Ms.
Arnett in administering Defendant Randall’s Facebook page than
one might expect from a purely personal page, and raises doubts
about Defendant Randall’s claim that Ms. Arnett only posts to
the “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” Facebook page using Defendant
Randall’s personal cell phone.
Moreover, the record is
ambiguous as to the number of times Ms. Arnett has been asked to
post to Defendant Randall’s Facebook page at events, and whether
those events were governmental in nature.
There is also the matter of the manner in which
Defendant Randall has used her Facebook page.
arguments throughout this litigation have focused on the content
of Defendant Randall’s Facebook page, which often touches on
Defendant Randall’s work as Chair of the Loudoun County Board of
See Opp. [Dkt. 107] at 17.
The Court does not
accept that Defendant Randall’s discussion of matters related to
her work can, by itself, render an otherwise private Facebook
page governmental for purposes of the First Amendment.
Melville v. Town of Adams, 9 F. Supp. 3d 77, 104 n.11 (D. Mass.
2014) (“It cannot be true, simply by virtue of Plaintiff’s
position on the Board, that all of her speech regarding ‘town
business’ necessarily equates to ‘job-related’ speech[.]”).6
The Court similarly rejects Plaintiff’s argument that
Defendant Randall’s duties include communicating with the people
Regardless, it is true that a number of Defendant Randall’s
Facebook posts – of which there are surprisingly few in the
record – do relate to Defendant Randall’s work as Chair of the
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
While some of these appear
only to document Defendant Randall’s activities, others solicit
participation in County initiatives evidently supported by
A reasonable fact finder might infer from
this that Defendant Randall has, in a way, used her Facebook
page as a tool of government.
When a social media website may be considered
“governmental” for purposes of the First Amendment,
notwithstanding that it is controlled privately by a government
official, appears to be a novel legal question.
There is, to
the Court’s knowledge, no existing legal framework that can
readily supply an answer.
One potential test concerns the First
Amendment rights of government employees.
See, e.g., Pickering
v. Board of Ed. of Township High School Dist. 205, Will Cty.,
391 U.S. 563 (1968).
This doctrine recognizes that government
employees sometimes speak on behalf of the government, but
acknowledges that “a citizen who works for the government is
of Loudoun County and, as Defendant Randall uses her Facebook
page for that purpose, she does so pursuant to her official
duties. See Second Am. Compl. [Dkt. 33] ¶ 5. As Plaintiff
concedes, Defendant Randall may make public statements though
social media outside of her governmental capacity, see Opp.
[Dkt. 107] at 17, including to Loudoun County residents.
nonetheless a citizen” entitled to speak individually on matters
of public concern.
Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 419
Under this framework, the Court would likely construe
Defendant Randall’s Facebook posts as those of a private
citizen, as they were created outside of work and not clearly in
the course of her official duties.
See id. at 421.
courts have observed, however, this legal framework is an
awkward fit where elected officials are concerned, see
Werkheiser v. Pocono Twp., 780 F.3d 172, 178-81 (3d Cir. 2015)
(discussing cases), and the test addresses an issue that is not
precisely the issue before the Court.
There is also the test for “government speech,” which
asks whether speech is attributable to the government due to the
degree of “the government’s ownership and control of the
Page v. Lexington Cty. Sch. Dist. One, 531 F.3d 275,
281 (4th Cir. 2008).
That test, however, is of little help
The message of Defendant Randall’s Facebook page is
controlled by Defendant Randall.
There is no question as to
whether it is attributable to a government actor.
issue is whether Defendant Randall acts in a governmental
capacity when maintaining her Facebook page.
Another way – perhaps the best way – to put the
question is whether Defendant Randall acts under color of state
law when operating her Facebook page.
definition of acting under color of state law requires that the
defendant in a § 1983 action have exercised power ‘possessed by
virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer
is clothed with the authority of state law.’”
West v. Atkins,
487 U.S. 42, 49 (U.S. 1988) (quoting United States v. Classic,
313 U.S. 299, 326 (1941)).
By this definition, Defendant
Randall does not act under color of law in maintaining her
Facebook page, as she created and maintains her Facebook page in
much the same manner as any private individual.
Courts, however, have found that where a sufficiently
close nexus exists between a defendant’s ostensibly unofficial
conduct and their public office, that conduct arises under color
of state law.
See Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th
What constitutes a sufficient nexus is largely “‘a
matter of normative judgment[.]’”
Id. (quoting Brentwood Acad.
v. Tennessee Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass’n, 531 U.S. 288, 295
In making such a judgment, Courts look to the
“totality of circumstances.”
Id. at 527 n.1.
As discussed above, there are ambiguities in the
record that prevent the Court from assessing the “totality of
the circumstances” here.
Most saliently, it is unclear the
extent to which Defendant Randall has involved her office – and
particularly Ms. Arnett – in the maintenance of her Facebook
There is also the question of what use Defendant Randall
has made of her Facebook page.
As these are material
circumstances subject to genuine disputes of fact, the Court is
unable to enter summary judgment for Defendant Randall on the
issue of whether her Facebook page is personal rather than
governmental in nature.
Defendant Randall makes a number of additional
arguments, several of which the Court addressed and rejected in
ruling on Defendant Randall’s earlier Motion to Dismiss, and
none of which would avert the need for a trial.
Court need not address those arguments here.
As such, the
argues as well that she is entitled to qualified immunity based
on the Court’s ruling in Davison v. Plowman, No. 1:16CV180
(JCC/IDD), 2017 WL 1164480, at *7 (E.D. Va. Mar. 28, 2017).
“Qualified immunity shields government officials performing
discretionary functions from personal-capacity liability for
civil damages under § 1983[.]”
Ridpath v. Bd. of Governors
Marshall Univ., 447 F.3d 292, 306 (4th Cir. 2006) (quotation
Plaintiff, however, does not seek civil
Rather, Plaintiff seeks only injunctive and
declaratory relief against Defendant Randall.
declaratory and injunctive relief are not affected by qualified
Lefemine v. Wideman, 672 F.3d 292, 303 (4th Cir.
2012), rev’d on other grounds, 568 U.S. 1 (2012); see also
Garcia v. Montgomery Cty., Maryland, 145 F. Supp. 3d 492, 512
(D. Md. 2015).
Accordingly, whether or not Defendant Randall is
entitled to qualified immunity is irrelevant to these
The Court declines to issue what would in effect
be an advisory opinion on the matter.
In conclusion, the Court notes that the issues left
for trial are narrow.
They concern (1) the purpose for which
Defendant Randall established her “Chair Phyllis J. Randall”
Facebook page and her practices in maintaining it; and (2) the
extent to which Defendant Randall has utilized her office’s
resources in maintaining the “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” Facebook
This will not require wide ranging evidence regarding the
County’s policies, the practices of other government officials
and persons not directly involved in administering Defendant
Randall’s website, or any events other the one specific event at
issue in this case.
It is not clear whether testimony from
persons other than Defendant Randall and Ms. Arnett will aid the
Court in resolving these limited factual issues.
expects that trial on these issues will take relatively little
The parties are advised to govern themselves accordingly.
B. Plaintiff’s Objection to Magistrate Judge’s Order
Given the purely legal issues under consideration with
respect to Plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint, the Court
reviews Magistrate Judge Davis’ Order de novo under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 72.
See White v. Chapman, No. 1:14CV848
JCC/IDD, 2015 WL 4360329, at *2 (E.D. Va. July 14, 2015).
Plaintiff sought and was denied leave to amend his
Complaint to include another claim against the Board.
Plaintiff’s proposed Count VII would raise the question of
whether the County violates the First Amendment by maintaining a
limited public forum on Facebook, given certain technical
aspects of the platform.
The Court finds that Judge Davis was correct to deny
Plaintiff leave to amend.
Plaintiff’s proposed Count VII does
not allege that any County official has improperly restricted
Rather, Plaintiff contends that third
parties have used the Facebook platform in ways that have
limited Plaintiff’s ability to view and engage with their
comments on County social media websites.
In short, several
individuals have “blocked” Plaintiff on Facebook, which
precludes Plaintiff from viewing their Facebook activity.
Plaintiff believes these individuals are utilizing the County’s
social media websites, and that he is deprived of the
opportunity to engage with their comments and any responses.
Plaintiff argues essentially that the County may not maintain a
Facebook page while Plaintiff is unable to view and respond to
every comment posted, and do the same with respect to every
response to the original comment.
The Court is unaware of any precedent suggesting that
the First Amendment entitles Plaintiff to participate in every
conversation taking place in a limited public forum – even if a
private individual has decided that he or she does not wish to
engage Plaintiff in conversation.
Rather, the First Amendment
guarantees freedom from governmental censorship.
argument that the County has not sufficiently policed the
private conduct of third parties fails to state a claim under
the First Amendment.
See, e.g., Jackson v. City of Joliet, 715
F.2d 1200, 1203 (7th Cir. 1983) (“[T]he Constitution is a
charter of negative rather than positive liberties.”).
that the Facebook platform permits some participants in the
County’s social media forum to avoid interacting with Plaintiff
is not of constitutional dimension.
It does not curtail
Plaintiff’s own right to speak in a meaningful way, and any
impact on Plaintiff’s speech is not attributable to the
government in anything but the most attenuated sense.
put, Plaintiff may say whatever he wishes within the bounds of
the forum, but other participants need not listen, nor must they
include him in their discussions.
Permitting Plaintiff to amend
his complaint to include this claim would be futile.
Regardless, even if Plaintiff’s argument had merit, it
comes too late in these proceedings.
It would add a new, novel
legal theory to the case after the close of discovery, after the
existing claims against the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors
have been shown to be meritless, after the point at which
Defendants could have addressed the claim in briefing before
trial, and on the eve of trial itself.
The addition of the
claim at this late date would unduly prejudice Defendants and
unnecessarily complicate these proceedings.
well, leave to amend must be denied.
For that reason as
See Deasy v. Hill, 833
F.2d 38, 40–41 (4th Cir. 1987).
As for Plaintiff’s objection to Judge Davis’ Order
insofar as it denied Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel, the Court
finds that Judge Davis properly denied that Motion, and finds
further that the discovery sought does not appear relevant to
any claim remaining in this case in light of the above.
Accordingly, the Court will overrule Plaintiff’s Objection in
C. Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration
Finally, Plaintiff asks that the Court reconsider its
earlier ruling dismissing Plaintiff’s claim under the Virginia
Freedom of Information Act.
While the Court acknowledges that
the Motion appears to have some merit, the Court declines to
reconsider its earlier ruling.
At this point, the claims that
remain in this case are unrelated to Plaintiff’s Virginia
Freedom of Information Act claim.
The Court has disposed of all
related federal claims over which it had original jurisdiction,
and most of the Defendants against whom Plaintiff brought his
state law claim are no longer before the Court.
If all federal
claims against a defendant are eliminated before trial, it is
generally appropriate to refuse to entertain any remaining
pendant state law claims.
See United Mine Workers of Am. v.
Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966).
Declining to exercise pendant
jurisdiction over a claim is particularly appropriate where, as
here, the claim appears peculiarly committed – arguably
exclusively committed, see Va. Code § 2.2-3713 – to state
See Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350
Moreover, at this late date – after the close of
discovery and on the eve of trial – entertaining an additional
state law claim unrelated to the issues remaining in the case
would cause both Defendants and the Court inconvenience, and
would fail to serve the interests of judicial economy.
Accordingly, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s Motion for
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 96] in part, deny
Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration [Dkt. 88], and overrule
Plaintiff’s Objection to Magistrate Judge’s Orders [Dkt. 92].
An appropriate order will issue.
May 10, 2017
James C. Cacheris
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
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