“Jury Finds Former College President Personally Liable for $50,000 in Victory for Student Rights”

So reports FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), though note that it’s pretty likely that the former president would nonetheless end up being indemnified by his former employer or the employer’s insurance carrier:

A federal jury today found former Valdosta State University (VSU) President Ronald M. Zaccari personally liable for $50,000 for violating the due process rights of former student Hayden Barnes in the case of Barnes v. Zaccari. In May 2007, Zaccari expelled Barnes for peacefully protesting Zaccari’s plan to construct two parking garages on campus, calling a collage posted by Barnes on his personal Facebook page a “threatening document” and labeling Barnes a “clear and present danger” to VSU….

Barnes’ ordeal began in the spring of 2007, when he protested Zaccari’s plan to construct two new parking garages on campus at a cost of $30 million. By posting flyers and sending emails to Zaccari, student and faculty governing bodies, and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Barnes expressed his concerns and proposed what he saw as environmentally friendly alternatives. Barnes also penned a letter to the editor of the VSU student newspaper about the proposed parking garage plans and wrote to Zaccari to ask for an exemption from the mandatory student fee designated for funding the construction.

In response to Barnes’ activism, Zaccari personally ordered that he be “administratively withdrawn” from VSU in May of 2007, ignoring the concerns raised by members of his administration. Zaccari absurdly claimed that Barnes presented a “clear and present danger” to both Zaccari and the VSU campus on the basis of a cut-and-paste collage Barnes had posted on his Facebook page that included pictures of Zaccari, a parking deck, and the caption “S.A.V.E.—Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage.” …

In September of 2010, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia found that because Zaccari expelled Barnes without notice or a hearing, Zaccari violated Barnes’ constitutional right to due process. In its opinion (PDF), the district court ruled that because Zaccari ignored “clearly established” law in punishing Barnes, Zaccari could not avail himself of the defense of “qualified immunity,” and could be found personally liable for damages.

Zaccari and the Board of Regents appealed the district court’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in October 2010, and oral arguments in the case were heard in Montgomery, Alabama, in November 2011. The Eleventh Circuit upheld the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to Zaccari, finding that Barnes “had a clearly established constitutional right to notice and a hearing before being removed from VSU.” …

Following the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling, the case returned to federal district court. The trial began on Monday, January 28, 2013, before the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Valdosta Division, and ended today with a verdict in Barnes’ favor. In addition to the $50,000 judgment, attorneys’ fees still remain to be assessed against the losing party. Barnes’ separate breach of contract claim against the Board of Regents remains pending in state court….

Go here for links to the cited court opinions.

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