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Case Name Johnson v. Poway Unified School District FA-CA-0006
Docket / Court 3:07-cv-00783 ( S.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Case Summary
On April 30, 2007, a high school math teacher employed by the Poway Unified School District filed this suit against the school district in the Southern District of California. The plaintiff claimed that the school district had violated his First Amendment rights by requiring him to take down ... read more >
On April 30, 2007, a high school math teacher employed by the Poway Unified School District filed this suit against the school district in the Southern District of California. The plaintiff claimed that the school district had violated his First Amendment rights by requiring him to take down banners in his classroom containing quotations from prominent American political documents mentioning a Judeo-Christian god. The plaintiff claimed injury under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Article I § 2 of the California Constitution, the No Preference Clause of the California Constitution, and the Establishment Clause of the California Constitution. The plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as nominal damages. The plaintiff was represented by a non-profit law center devoted to Christian interests and the defendants were represented by private counsel.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6), and 12(f). On September 4, 2008, the Southern District of California (Judge Roger T. Benitez) issued an order denying defendants' motion to dismiss.

On August 14, 2009, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. On February 25, 2010, Judge Benitez issued an opinion granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denying defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court found that the plaintiff's classroom walls constituted a limited public forum for faculty speech and that the plaintiff's speech was squelched because of his Judeo-Christian viewpoint. Furthermore, the Court found that by removing the plaintiff's classroom banners because they conveyed a Judeo-Christian viewpoint, while at the same time permitting displays by other teachers of Buddhist and Hindu religious symbols (such as Tibetan prayer flags and a poster of Mahatma Gandhi's "seven social sins"), the defendants had violated the Establishment Clause in using the weight of government to prefer one religion and express hostility over another religion.

The defendants then appealed Judge Benitez's grant of summary judgment to the Ninth Circuit. On September 13, 2011, the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion written by Justice Richard C. Tallman, reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of Poway Unified School District. The Court found that when the plaintiff performs his duties as a high school math teacher, he speaks not as an individual, but as a public employee, and the school district is free to control the message he imparts to his students.

The Ninth Circuit also struck down the plaintiff's claim that the school district had violated his rights under the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses by demanding that he take down his banners while allowing other teachers to display religious symbols in their classrooms. The Court concluded that though these other symbols contained religious content, they did not have the purpose of endorsing a particular religion or stigmatizing those who did not follow this religion. As such, the school district's action in allowing the display of other religious symbols did not have the effect of favoring a certain religion in contravention of the Establishment Clause. On the plaintiff's Equal Protection claim, the Court held that because the plaintiff had no individual right to speak for the government, he could not have suffered an equal protection violation in being forced to take down his banners from government property.

David Priddy - 09/28/2011


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Establishment Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Discrimination-basis
Religion discrimination
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Poway Unified School District
Plaintiff Description High school math teacher who was ordered by the school district to take down religious banners from his classroom walls.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
3:07-cv-00783 (S.D. Cal.) 08/03/2010
FA-CA-0006-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
First Amended Complaint 09/21/2007
FA-CA-0006-0002 PDF | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Order Denying Motion to Dismiss 09/04/2008 (2008 WL 5657801) (S.D. Cal.)
FA-CA-0006-0003 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment 08/14/2009
FA-CA-0006-0004 PDF | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Points and Authorities in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment 08/14/2009
FA-CA-0006-0005 PDF | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Defendants' Opposition To Plaintiff Bradley Johnson's Motion For Summary Judgment 09/28/2009
FA-CA-0006-0006 PDF | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Plaintiff's Memorandum Of Points And Authorities In Opposition To Defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment 09/28/2009
FA-CA-0006-0008 PDF | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Defendants' Reply To Plaintiff's Opposition To Motion For Summary Judgment 10/19/2009
FA-CA-0006-0007 PDF | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum In Support Of Motion For Summary Judgment 10/19/2009
FA-CA-0006-0009 PDF | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Opinion 02/25/2010 (2010 WL 768856) (S.D. Cal.)
FA-CA-0006-0013 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Appellants' Opening Brief 07/16/2010
FA-CA-0006-0010 PDF | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Appellee's Answering Brief 08/30/2010
FA-CA-0006-0011 PDF | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Appellants' Reply Brief 09/27/2010
FA-CA-0006-0012 PDF | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Ninth Circuit Opinion 09/13/2011 (658 F.3d 954)
FA-CA-0006-0001 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
Judges Benitez, Roger T. (S.D. Cal.) [Magistrate]
FA-CA-0006-0002 | FA-CA-0006-0003 | FA-CA-0006-0004 | FA-CA-0006-0005 | FA-CA-0006-0006 | FA-CA-0006-0007 | FA-CA-0006-0008 | FA-CA-0006-0009 | FA-CA-0006-0013 | FA-CA-0006-9000
Gallo, William V. (S.D. Cal.) [Magistrate]
FA-CA-0006-9000
Stormes, Nita L. (S.D. Cal.) [Magistrate]
FA-CA-0006-0006
Tallman, Richard C. (FISCR, Ninth Circuit)
FA-CA-0006-0001
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers LiMandri, Charles Salvatore (California)
FA-CA-0006-0002 | FA-CA-0006-0004 | FA-CA-0006-0008 | FA-CA-0006-0009 | FA-CA-0006-0011 | FA-CA-0006-9000
Muise, Robert J. (Michigan)
FA-CA-0006-0002 | FA-CA-0006-0004 | FA-CA-0006-0008 | FA-CA-0006-0009 | FA-CA-0006-0011 | FA-CA-0006-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Carelli, Paul V. IV (California)
FA-CA-0006-0005 | FA-CA-0006-0006 | FA-CA-0006-0007 | FA-CA-0006-0010 | FA-CA-0006-0012 | FA-CA-0006-9000
Shinoff, Daniel R. (California)
FA-CA-0006-0005 | FA-CA-0006-0006 | FA-CA-0006-0007 | FA-CA-0006-0010 | FA-CA-0006-0012
Sleeth, Jack M. Jr. (California)
FA-CA-0006-0005 | FA-CA-0006-0006 | FA-CA-0006-0007 | FA-CA-0006-0010 | FA-CA-0006-0012 | FA-CA-0006-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

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