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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Oyama v. University of Hawaii: Ninth Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment in Public Employee First Amendment Case

In Oyama v. University of Hawaii (9th Cir. 12/29/15), a secondary education candidate applied to become a student teacher, a prerequisite for recommendation to the State of Hawaii’s teacher certification board. The University denied his application because he expressed opinions, among others, that "online child predation should be legal" and that "it would be fine" for a 12-year-old student to have a “consensual” relationship with a teacher.

The plaintiff filed suit, alleging that the University violated his rights under the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding as follows: 

The University did not violate the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights "because its decision related directly to defined and established professional standards, was narrowly tailored to serve the University’s core mission of evaluating Oyama’s suitability for teaching, and reflected reasonable professional judgment." 

The University did not violate the plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights because the University did not deprive him of a constitutionally protected interest, and even if it did, the University provided him with adequate process, advising him repeatedly of its concerns with his performance. The plaintiff was not entitled to a hearing because the decision  “rested on the academic judgment of school officials.”

The opinion is available here

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