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Nicholas K. Meriwether, Plaintiff, v. The Trustees of Shawnee State University, et al., Defendants.
February 12, 2020, Filed
February 12, 2020, Decided
For Nicholas K. Meriwether, Plaintiff: David A Cortman, Travis C Barham, PRO HAC VICE, Alliance Defending Freedom, Lawrenceville, GA; Jonathan M. Larcomb, PRO HAC VICE, Washington, DC; Tyson C. Langhofer, PRO HAC VICE; Thomas W Kidd, Jr, Thomas W. Kidd Jr. LLC, West Chester, OH.
For Francesca Hartop, Trustee of Shawnee State University, Jeffrey A. Bauer, in his official capacity, Roberta Milliken, in her official capacity, Jennifer Pauley, in her official capacity, Tena Pierce, in her official capacity, Douglas Shoemaker, Malonda Johnson, in her official capacity, Joseph Watson, Trustee of Shawnee State University, Scott Williams, Trustee of Shawnee State University, David Furbee, Trustee of Shawnee State University, Sondra Hash, Trustee of Shawnee State University, Robert Howarth, Trustee of Shawnee State University, George White, Trustee of Shawnee State University, Wallace Edwards, Trustee of Shawnee State University, Brett Rappold, Trustee of Shawnee State University, Leen Heresh, Trustee of Shawnee State University, Defendants: Rory P Callahan, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ohio Attorney General's Office, Employment Law Section, Columbus, OH; Anna M. Rouhana Seidensticker, Ohio Attorney General's Office, Columbus, OH; Hannah de'Von Stoneburner, Ohio Attorney General's office, Education Section, Columbus, OH.
For Jane Doe, Sexuality and Gender Acceptance, Intervenor Defendants: Jennifer Lynn Branch, LEAD ATTORNEY, Gerhardstein & Branch Co. LPA, Cincinnati, OH; Adam G. Unikowsky, PRO HAC VICE, Jenner & Block LLP, Washington, DC; Asaf Orr, Christopher Stoll, PRO HAC VICE, National Center for Lesbian Rights, San Francisco, CA; Shannon Minter, National Center for Lesbian Rights, San Francisco, CA.
Susan J. Dlott, United States District Judge.
Susan J. Dlott
Order Adopting Report and Recommendation
This case involves the complicated overlap of issues concerning transgender identity, civility in public discourse, academic freedom, and the First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. Plaintiff Nicholas K. Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University, received a written warning from the university for violating its nondiscrimination policies because he had refused to address a transgender student using the student's preferred gender identity title and pronouns. Instead, he had referred to the transgender student by the student's last name only, while he addressed other students by the title "Mr." or "Ms." followed by their last names. Meriwether grieved the discipline, but the grievance was denied. Thereafter, Meriwether filed this suit against the Trustees of Shawnee State University and several Shawnee State University officials (collectively, "the Shawnee State Defendants") for violating his constitutional rights. Meriwether purported to state nine claims in his First Amended Verified [*2] Complaint: (1) retaliation in violation of the First Amendment right to free speech; (2) content and viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment right to free speech; (3) compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment right to free speech; (4) violation of the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion; (5) violation of the right to be free from unconstitutional conditions; (6) violation of the Due Process Clause; (7) violation of the Equal Protection Clause; (8) violation of the rights of conscience and free exercise of religion under the Ohio Constitution; and (9) breach of contract. (Doc. 31.) He sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the enforcement of Shawnee State's non-discrimination policies and the removal of the discipline against him. ( Id.)
The Shawnee State Defendants and Intervenor-Defendants Jane Doe and Sexuality and Gender Acceptance moved to dismiss the First Amended Verified Complaint. (Does. 36, 44.) Subsequently, Magistrate Judge Karen L. Litkovitz issued a comprehensive Report and Recommendation analyzing each of the nine purported causes of action and the asserted bases for dismissal. (Doc. 49.) She recommended dismissing the federal claims (claims 1-7) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and she recommended declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims (claims 8-9). ( Id.) Meriwether then timely filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation, to which the Shawnee State Defendants and the Intervenor-Defendants responded. (Docs. 53, 57, 58.)
A district judge must conduct a de novo review of a magistrate judge's recommendation on a dispositive motion pursuant to Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure . Baker v. Peterson, 67 F. App'x 308 , 310 (6th Cir. 2003). This Court has reviewed the Report and Recommendation, analyzed the arguments made in Meriwether's Objections and in the Shawnee State Defendants' and Intervenor-Defendants' responses, and considered the relevant case law. The Court concludes that Meriwether failed to state a claim for violation of his rights under the United States Constitution. His speech—the manner by which he addressed a transgender student—was not protected under the First Amendment . Further, he did not plead facts sufficient to state a claim for a violation of his right to free exercise of religion, for a departure from religious neutrality under Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 138 S. Ct. 1719 , 201 L. Ed. 2d 35 (2018), or for a violation of his rights to due process or equal protection. The Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to dismiss the federal claims. Additionally, the Court agrees with and will adopt the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims.
For the foregoing reasons, the Report and Recommendation (Doc. 49) is ADOPTED, Meriwether's Objections (Doc. 53) are OVERRULED, and the Motions to Dismiss (Docs. 36, 44) are GRANTED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated this 12th day of February, 2020.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Susan J. Dlott
Susan J. Dlott
United States District Judge