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Dickinson v. Brown

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

December 28, 2017

WARREN BROWN, et al., Defendants.


          Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judg

         This matter comes before the Court on “Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction.” Dkt. # 5. After considering the parties' memoranda and the record before the Court, plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Though this case evokes expressive and religious freedoms rooted in the Constitution, it essentially arises out of a disagreement over the loudness at which a person's voice becomes disruptive. Plaintiff Chris Dickinson went to a courtyard on the campus of North Seattle College (“the College”) to preach, but after at least one complaint, he was forced to leave when school security determined he was preaching so loudly that it was disrupting campus educational activities.

         Plaintiff presents a sure-fire winning case wherein his speech about his religious views, presented in an open forum on campus, was shut down and prohibited by one anonymous complaint, which led the College to banish plaintiff and his viewpoint from its campus forever.

         However, there is another side to the story. That includes declarations from two College employees and two College security officers that say plaintiff was speaking so loudly that it disrupted campus educational activities, that he was warned several times to lower his voice, and only when he refused to do so was he told he had to leave or he would be removed from the campus.

         Although the Court declines to grant Mr. Dickinson's motion, the Court sees a different picture than the all-or-nothing circumstances portrayed in the complaint and this motion's briefing. Surely there is a time and manner for preaching in the campus courtyard that can satisfy Mr. Dickinson's desire to spread his message without disrupting campus educational activities. The College's security director indicates Mr. Dickinson could be allowed back, and Mr. Dickinson's filings repeatedly state he does not seek to be disruptive. Unless the parties are determined to litigate a dispute that is more or less about noise, the Court encourages them to confer and explore solutions for allowing Mr. Dickinson to preach on campus in a nondisruptive way. The Court is willing to arrange a settlement conference between the parties using a United States Magistrate Judge as a neutral facilitator. The parties should confer and decide if they want to pursue this avenue toward resolution.

         A. State and College Policies

         Before exploring the dispute that gave rise to this case, the Court will briefly summarize the relevant state and College policies covering disruptive activities on campus. Disrupting campus educational activities violates state and College policies on facility use-policies that also seek to accommodate noncollege groups' First Amendment activities. Chapter 132F-142 of the Washington Administrative Code, titled “Use of Facilities for First Amendment Activities, ” begins with a statement of purpose that reads in part:

The public character of the colleges does not grant to individuals the right to substantially interfere with, or otherwise disrupt the normal activities for and to which the colleges' facilities and grounds are dedicated. Accordingly, the colleges are designated public forums opened for the purposes recited herein and further subject to the time, place, and manner provisions set forth in these rules.
The purpose of the time, place and manner regulations set forth in this policy is to establish procedures and reasonable controls for the use of college facilities for both college and noncollege groups. It is intended to balance the colleges' responsibility to fulfill their mission as state educational institutions of Washington with the interests of college groups and noncollege groups who are interested in using the campus for purposes of constitutionally protected speech, assembly or expression.

         Wash. Admin. Code. § 132F-142-030. The chapter goes on to outline certain limitations on facility use, including the following rules concerning noise and disruption:

(2) Any sound amplification device may only be used at a volume which does not disrupt or disturb the normal use of classrooms, offices or laboratories, or any previously scheduled college activity.
. . .
(7) The activity must not substantially interfere with educational activities inside or outside any college building or otherwise prevent the college from fulfilling its mission and achieving its primary purpose of providing an education to its students. The activity must not substantially infringe on the ...

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