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Keefe v. Adams

From February 2013 to April 2017
Central Lakes College (Public college or university)
Brainerd, MN, United States

Identity of Speakers

  • Craig Keefe
    Student
    Other

    Craig Keefe was a student in the Associate Degree Nursing Program at Central Lakes College

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Social media
  • Incident Responses:
    University administration invoked formal speech code in response to incident
    Litigation
  • Incident Status:
    Dismissed
  • No protest Occured
  • Was Speech Code incident

Summary

Craig Keefe was a student in the Associate Degree Nursing Program at Central Lakes College, a two-year community and technical college in Minnesota. In November 2012, a classmate complained to Keefe’s instructor about several posts that Keefe had made on his Facebook page. The posts were directed at fellow Nursing Program students and included a threat against a fellow student. Several days later, a second student approached Keefe’s instructor with similar complaints, stating that Keefe’s posts on Facebook made her “feel extremely uncomfortable and nervous.” The instructor forwarded printouts of the post to Connie Frisch, the College’s Director of Nursing, who then contacted Keefe to set up a meeting to discuss the posts, but refused to inform Keefe about the nature of the meeting other than stating that “the topic of professional boundary is central to the role of the nurse and I am sure that you can appreciate the delicacy of the topic.” After Frisch was informed that Keefe had stated that there would be “hell to pay for whoever complained about me,” she informed Keefe that the meeting would take place one day earlier than originally scheduled, but again declined to discuss the exact nature of the meeting.

At the meeting, which was attended by Keefe, Frisch, and the Dean of Students, Frisch informed Keefe that several of his Facebook posts had raised concerns about his professionalism. She read several of Keefe’s posts aloud, including one that stated “doesn’t anyone know or have heard of mechanical pencils. Im going to take this electric pencil sharpener in this this class and give someone a hemopneumothorax.” Keefe responded that the posts were jokes, that his account was hacked, and that he did not know that the posts were public. Frisch reported that he did not respond to her concerns that the posts were unprofessional. Due to his “lack of remorse” Frisch removed Keefe from the Associate Degree Nursing Program. Frisch cited the nursing school student handbook, which states in part that a student may be removed from the program for “behavior unbecoming of the Nursing Program.” Keefe appealed the decision to Vice-President McCalla. In the appeal he apologized for his conduct, but also cited various Due Process deficiencies that had plagued his initial hearing. In January 2013, McCalla denied Keefe’s appeal.

On February 8, 2013, Keefe filed a § 1983 action in Minnesota’s federal district court against various college officials, alleging that the College had violated his First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights. On August 26, 2018, the District Court granted the administrators motion to for summary judgment, holding that the defendant’s did not violate Keefe’s First or Fourteenth Amendment rights, and that even if they had, they would be entitled to qualified immunity as they did not violate a clearly delineated right. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision, finding that Keefe urged an overbroad interpretation of the First Amendment and that his complaint was factually deficient. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Keefe’s petition for certiorari.