Mucaj v. University of Connecticut, No. 3:20cv66 (MPS) (D. Conn. Jan 16, 2020)
02/04/2020Two students were arrested and faced disciplinary proceedings at the University of Connecticut (“UCONN”) for shouting the N-word as part of a game in which they yelled vulgar words. The students filed a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction. A court may grant a preliminary injunction where a plaintiff demonstrates irreparable harm and meets either of the two standards: ‘(a) a likelihood of success on the merits, or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation, and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the movant’s favor.’”
Here, the students were able to show irreparable harm because the disciplinary hearing would have had a chilling effect on speech, and they risked losing their campus housing if found responsible. This harm was imminent because UCONN made it clear any sanctions would be effective immediately and would not be held in abeyance pending an appeal of the hearing officers’ decision. The Court held that the record demonstrated sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation. The hardship UCONN would suffer postponing the hearing until after a preliminary injunction hearing was clearly outweighed by the injuries the Plaintiffs would have sustained if injunctive relief was not granted. Finally, the Court held that injunctive relief was in the public interest because securing First Amendment rights is in the public interest.
As a result, the court granted the students’ motion for temporary restraining order pending the Court’s ruling on the students’ alternative motion for preliminary injunction following a hearing on January 28, 2020.