519 F.2d 257 (5th Cir. 1975), 74-2205, Schiff v. Williams

Docket Nº:74-2205.
Citation:519 F.2d 257
Party Name:Ed SCHIFF et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Kenneth R. WILLIAMS, individually and as former president of Florida Atlantic University and Glenwood G. Creech, as president of Florida Atlantic University, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:September 17, 1975
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 257

519 F.2d 257 (5th Cir. 1975)

Ed SCHIFF et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,


Kenneth R. WILLIAMS, individually and as former president of

Florida Atlantic University and Glenwood G.

Creech, as president of Florida Atlantic

University, et al.,


No. 74-2205.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

September 17, 1975

Page 258

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 259

James T. Schoenbrod, Miami, Fla., Charles E. Miner, Jr., Gen. Counsel, John D. Carlson, State of Fla. Board of Education, Tallahassee, Fla., for defendants-appellants.

John L. Parker, Jr., West Palm Beach, Fla., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Before GOLDBERG, CLARK and GEE, Circuit Judges.

CLARK, Circuit Judge:

Three students brought suit against the president of Florida Atlantic University alleging that he had dismissed them from their positions as editors of the school newspaper in violation of their First Amendment rights. The district court found in favor of the students, ordered them reinstated, and awarded them back pay, compensatory damages, and attorneys' fees. We affirm the decision insofar as it grants back pay and compensatory damages, but reverse the award of attorneys' fees.

The plaintiffs, Schiff, Littman and Vickers, were editors of the Atlantic Sun, the student newspaper of Florida Atlantic University. On April 27, 1973, the President of the University, Kenneth Williams, dismissed all three from their positions and began publishing the student newspaper using administrative personnel. He published his reasons for this action in a statement which read in pertinent part:

"I am today dismissing Mr. Ed Schiff as Editor of the Atlantic Sun and Mr. Tom Vickers and Ms. Carin Litman as Associate Editors. I take this action because I have become convinced that the level of editorial responsibility and competence has deteriorated to the extent that it reflects discredit and embarrassment upon the university. I am also convinced that the decreasing quality of the Atlantic Sun is irreversible under the present senior staff leadership.

"It is clear to me that the Editor does not respect, or is not able to interpret correctly, the guidelines 1 of the Board of Regents and the President. The Atlantic Sun currently reflects a standard of grammar, of spelling and of language expression unacceptable in any publication, certainly unacceptable and deplorable in a publication of an upper-level graduate university.

"The editorial policy of the Sun has increasingly emphasized villification and rumor mongering, instead of accurately reporting items likely to be of interest to the university community. Even articles on non-controversial issues such as enrollment trends recently have been incorrect and misleading. The editorials themselves have degenerated into immature and unsophisticated

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diatribes which reflect most negatively on the overall quality of our student body."

Under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, the student editors sought injunctive and declaratory relief against Williams and his successor in office, Glenwood Creech, and requested general, special, and punitive damages and attorneys' fees for alleged violations of their rights. The court found that the protection of the First Amendment barred defendants' action, ordered plaintiffs reinstated, and enjoined the defendants from further control of the editorial content of the Atlantic Sun. The court also ordered that the students be awarded back pay; that nominal compensatory damages of one dollar be paid by Williams in his personal capacity to each plaintiff; and that the defendants in their official capacities pay the attorneys' fees incurred by plaintiffs in prosecuting the action.

Awaiting Supreme Court action on pending cases which could resolve controlling issues, we remanded the case for clarification, since neither the source of the back pay award nor the source and rationale for the award of attorneys' fees appeared clear here. The supplemental record now filed discloses that back pay awards are to come from an activity fund contributed by students which the trial judge ordered placed in an account to be held by an appropriate state agency. The attorneys' fees award against the defendants in their official capacities was made as an integral part of the equitable remedy of injunctive reinstatement. The court made no finding of bad faith or obstinate conduct by the defendants.

The defendants' basic assertion of error relates to the court's finding that the dismissal of the...

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