Zimmerman v. Board of Trustees of Ball State University

From October 2011 to April 2013
Ball State University (Public college or university)
Muncie, IN, United States

Identity of Speakers

  • Jacob Zimmerman

    Jacob Zimmerman was a student at Ball State University.

  • Sean Sumwalt

    Sean Sumwalt was a student at Ball State University.

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Social media
  • Incident Political Orientation:
  • Incident Responses:
    Student sanctioned
  • Incident Status:
  • Did not involve Speech Codes


Jacob Zimmerman and Sean Sumwalt were students at Ball State University. In the fall of 2011, they were living in an off-campus apartment with another male Ball State student. While living together, Zimmerman and Sumwalt had a number of disagreements with the unnamed student. During one school vacation, while the unnamed student was out of the apartment, Zimmerman and Sumwalt placed a sandwich in his bedroom and locked the door, leaving the sandwich to rot and preventing the unnamed student from accessing the room when he returned.

Later that fall, Zimmerman and Sumwalt played an elaborate prank on the unnamed student. They pretended to be a female high school sophomore named “Ashley” on social media in order to “catfish” the unnamed student. When the unnamed student scheduled to meet “Ashley” at the movies, Zimmerman and Sumwalt went to the theatre and filmed his reaction to being told that Ashley didn’t exist. They then posted the video of the unnamed student on YouTube with the title “[the unnamed student] is a pedophile.”

The unnamed student complained of harassment by Zimmerman and Sumwalt to the university’s Office of Student Rights and Community Standards. This office initiated an investigation into the incidents, ultimately issuing in charges against both students for conduct code violations. On December 13, 2011, the students were informed of their punishment: a one year suspension, plus “probation” and certain other sanctions. Zimmerman and Sumwalt appealed the punishment, but their appeal was denied.

On October 11, 2012, Zimmerman and Sumwalt filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against the Board of Trustees of Ball State and various university administrators, alleging violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The students sought a permanent injunction against Ball State prohibiting the school from enforcing the conduct code with respect to off-campus conduct; an order requiring Ball State to remove all references to the incident from the students’ files; an order requiring Ball State to notify all Ball State students of the limitations on enforcement of the conduct code; and damages and attorneys’ fees. Both parties filed Motions for Summary Judgment. On April 15, 2013, the Court granted the defendants’ Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, holding that the defendants had the authority, under Indiana law, to discipline students for off-campus conduct, and the defendants had qualified immunity from the students’ First Amendment claim.