Knight v. Montgomery County, Tennessee

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
Citation592 F.Supp.3d 651
Docket Number3:19-cv-00710
Parties Jason KNIGHT, et al., Plaintiffs, v. MONTGOMERY COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Defendant.
Decision Date21 March 2022

Avery H. Oaks, Frank Ross Brazil, Wesley B. Clark, Brazil Clark, PLLC, Nashville, TN, for Plaintiffs.

Rebecca J. Garman, William Timothy Harvey, Harvey & Silvus, Clarksville, TN, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELI RICHARDSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Jason Knight is an elected Montgomery County Commissioner. During the Montgomery County Commission meetings, Plaintiff Knight used Facebook's "livestream" feature to livestream (i.e. , broadcast in real time) the Commission meetings on his Facebook page. Allegedly in response to such action, the Commission adopted Resolution 19-8-3 that forbade "live broadcast" from within the Commission Chambers. Plaintiff Knight (and other Plaintiffs who livestream and view the livestream of the Commission meetings) filed this lawsuit contending that the Resolution violated their right to free speech under the United States and Tennessee constitutions.

Now pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 40, "Defendant's Motion"), supported by an accompanying brief (Doc. No. 42). Plaintiffs filed a response (Doc. No. 50), and Defendant filed a reply (Doc. No. 55). Also pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 44 "Plaintiffs' Motion"), supported by an accompanying brief (Doc. No. 45). Defendant filed a response (Doc. No. 49), and Plaintiffs filed a reply (Doc. No. 54).

For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion will be granted and Plaintiffs' Motion will be denied.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND1

Plaintiff Jason Knight is a Montgomery County Commissioner who used his Facebook page to livestream Commission meetings. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 1-3). Plaintiff Knight also "conduct[ed] a ‘live break down [sic] [on Facebook or other social media outlets] of each commission meeting after the [ ] meeting.’ " (Doc. No. 51 at ¶ 10). Beginning in 2018, Plaintiff Knight hired Plaintiff Wikholm to livestream Commission meetings to Plaintiff Knight's Facebook page. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 7). Plaintiff Wikholm used one electronic device to livestream the meetings and a second electronic device to respond to the comments2 on the livestream. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9). Plaintiff Webb is a disabled veteran "whose physical limitations impair his ability to attend [ ] Commission [m]eetings in person." (Id. at ¶ 15). Plaintiff Webb watched Commission meetings via Plaintiff Knight's Facebook page livestream. (Id. at ¶ 16).

During a commission meeting on August 12, 2019, the Commission adopted Resolution 19-8-3 ("the Resolution") by a vote of twenty to one. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 21; Doc. No 51 at ¶ 6). Section 7 of the Resolution states:

No live broadcast from within the Commission Chambers of its proceedings in whole or in part is allowed. A simultaneous broadcast of the proceedings is available on the internet at "YouTube" and the same is preserved there for an extended period.

(Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 22). Plaintiff Knight voted in favor of the Resolution. (Doc. No. 51 at ¶ 8).

Commission meetings are held in a room called the Commission Chambers on the third floor of the historic Courthouse in Clarksville, Tennessee. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 23). There is one main public entrance controlled by armed guards, which involved passing through a metal detector and placing items on an inspection belt. (Doc. No. 51 at ¶ 2). In the Commission Chambers, there are four operational cameras with audio, which are used to generate the Commission's broadcast of the Commission proceedings that is uploaded to Montgomery County's YouTube page where viewers are able to add "comments" on the proceedings. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 27). Montgomery County's YouTube page is operated by Montgomery County's IT director, who has the ability to remove comments from the YouTube page. (Id. at ¶ 29). Montgomery County's YouTube channel is set to YouTube's default setting of "hold[ing] potentially inappropriate comments for review." (Id. at ¶ 31). The IT director reviews and approves (or disapproves) of comments that have been held as potentially inappropriate. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32). For example, during the January 11, 2021 broadcast, the word "idiots" triggered the ‘potentially inappropriate’ hold, and the IT director did not override the comment to allow for publishing. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-34). The broadcast of the Commission meetings on YouTube is delayed so that it is not a "livestream" recording. (Id. at ¶ 30).

Photography and video recording are allowed during Commission meetings but must be done in a designated area of the Chambers to prevent potential security threats like an active-shooter situation. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 37-38; Doc, No. 51 at ¶¶ 9, 21).

Plaintiffs contend that the Resolution's restriction on livestreaming the Commission meetings violates their rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Count I) and Article 1, Section 19 of the Tennessee Constitution (Count II).3 (Doc. No. 15 at ¶¶ 36-44, 50-55). As noted above, the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, each contending that the undisputed facts demonstrate that they should prevail as a matter of law. As noted above, responses and replies to the respective cross-motions have been filed. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In other words, even if genuine, a factual dispute that is irrelevant or unnecessary under applicable law is of no value in defeating a motion for summary judgment. See id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. On the other hand, "summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine[.] " Id.

A fact is "material" within the meaning of Rule 56(c) "if its proof or disproof might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. A genuine dispute of material fact exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Harris v. Klare , 902 F.3d 630, 634-35 (6th Cir. 2018). The party bringing the summary judgment motion has the initial burden of identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute over material facts. Pittman v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc. , 901 F.3d 619, 627-28 (6th Cir. 2018). If the summary judgment movant meets that burden, then in response the non-moving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 628.

A party asserting that a fact cannot be or genuinely is disputed—i.e. , a party seeking summary judgment and a party opposing summary judgment, respectively—must support the assertion by citing to materials in the record, including, but not limited to, depositions, documents, affidavits or declarations. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, this court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Tlapanco v. Elges , 969 F.3d 638, 647 (6th Cir. 2020) (quoting Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ). Likewise, the court should view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Pittman , 901 F.3d at 628. Credibility judgments and weighing of evidence are improper. Hostettler v. College of Wooster , 895 F.3d 844, 852 (6th Cir. 2018). As noted above, where there is a genuine dispute as to any material fact, summary judgment is not appropriate. Id. The court determines whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper jury question. Id. The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position will be insufficient to survive summary judgment; rather, there must be evidence upon which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Rodgers v. Banks , 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003).

"The standard of review for cross-motions for summary judgment does not differ from the standard applied when a motion is filed by only one party to the litigation." New Century Found. v. Robertson , 400 F. Supp. 3d 684, 689 (M.D. Tenn. 2019) (citing Ferro Corp. v. Cookson Group, PLC , 585 F.3d 946, 949 (6th Cir. 2009). "[S]ummary judgment in favor of either party is not proper if disputes remain as to material facts. Rather, the court must evaluate each party's motion on its own merits, taking care in each instance to draw all reasonable inferences against the party whose motion is under consideration." Id. (quoting Taft Broad. Co. v. United States , 929 F.2d 240, 248 (6th Cir. 1991) ). In addition, "if the moving party will bear the burden of persuasion at trial, then that party must support its motion with credible evidence that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial." Timmer v. Michigan Dep't of Commerce , 104 F.3d 833, 843 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing Celotex Corp. , 477 U.S. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548 ); see also Ely v. Dearborn Heights School Dist. No. 7 , 150 F. Supp. 3d 842, 849-50 (E.D. Mich. 2015) (explaining that if the moving party bears the burden of proof at trial that party "must satisfy both the initial burden of production on the summary judgment motion—by showing that no genuine dispute exists as to any material fact—and the ultimate burden of persuasion on the claim—by showing that it would be entitled to a directed verdict at...

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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • February 27, 2023
    ...by the First Amendment in the first place. Such ‘speech' can take the form of expressive conduct.” Knight v. Montgomery County, 592 F.Supp.3d 651, 659 (M.D. Tenn. 2022), appeal dismissed sub nom., No. 22-5249, 2022 WL 2348094 (6th Cir. May 11, 2022) (citing Rumsfeld v. Forum for Acad. and I......
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    • February 27, 2023
    ...... Butler County Court of Common Pleas. (Doc. 6, #56). In that. Complaint, he brought ... conduct.” Knight v. Montgomery County , 592. F.Supp.3d 651, 659 (M.D. Tenn. 2022), ......

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