Lawsuit filed against State Senator Stace Nelson for violating civil rights of voter by blocking them on Facebook

Well, this could set an interesting first amendment precedent in South Dakota. Because Senator Stace Nelson is being sued for violating the rights of a voter because Stace would not let him challenge the Senator’s “misinformed and inaccurate statements” on Facebook:

Stace Nelson Lawsuit by Pat Powers on Scribd

NATURE OF THE ACTION

1. This is a civil rights action seeking to vindicate important First Amendment values, to protect the free exchange of ideas about matters of public concern, and to prevent a public official from engaging in slander and unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

2. Defendant, Senator Stace Nelson (“Senator Nelson”), a publicly elected official, has wrongfully and willfully attempted to silence Plaintiff, Jeffrey Church (“Church”) after Church was critical of Nelson’s misinformed and inaccurate statements on matters of public concern that were made on a public forum.

3. Senator Nelson has also wrongfully and willfully slandered Church and made harmful statements that were knowingly false or made in reckless disregard of the truth.

and…

41. Church replied to Nelson by asking “Is there a reason I can no longer comment on most of this page? You call me out by name on here, like you did at your Lincoln Day dinner speech, arid then I can’t respond.” To which, Senator Nelson stated, “Jeff Church and yet, here you are … in all your Socialist supporting glory, responding away.”

42. In an additional comment, Senator Nelson wrote: “Jeff Church slanderous comments and lies will be deleted. Either mind your manners or go someplace else to post your propaganda. This is my personal FB page maintained on my personal time. You are not entitled to post your lies and propaganda here. You support Socialists. There’s nothing constitutional or conservative about you.”

and…

51. Senator Nelson’s blocking of Church and deletion of comments written by Church from Senator Nelson’s Facebook page violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments because Senator Nelson’s actions impose content and viewpoint-based restriction on Church’s ability to petition the government for redress of grievances.

and…

60. Senator Nelson, acting under the color of state law, has wrongfully deprived Church that right to petition by excluding Church from Senator Nelson’s Facebook page, a public forum and designated public forum.

61. Senator Nelson knew or should have known that denying Church access to a public forum and a designated public forum on matters of public concern violated clearly established law.

From Church v. Nelson

This is interesting, coming on the heels of his resignation announcement.  It goes along the lines of the lawsuit successfully pursued against President Trump which prevented him from blocking people on his Twitter account.

Let’s just say Stace has a …certain history… of interacting with people negatively on Facebook. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about it as this lawsuit moves to trial.

And it’s a big wakeup call to other elected officials that hadn’t taken notice of the ruling yet. Because they’re now hearing of it as it’s pursued in our own little State, and it may affect how each and every one of them handle their social media.

39 Replies to “Lawsuit filed against State Senator Stace Nelson for violating civil rights of voter by blocking them on Facebook”

        1. Anonymous

          Government:noun Direction; regulation.

          Control.

          The exercise of authority; direction and restraint exercised over the actions of men in communities, societies or states; the administration of public affairs, according to established constitution, laws and usages, or by arbitrary edicts.

          The system of polity in a state; that form of fundamental rules and principles by which a nation or state is governed, or by which individual members of a body politic are to regulate their social actions; a constitution, either written or unwritten, by which the rights and duties of citizens and public officers are prescribed and defined; as a monarchial government or a republican government.

          Reply
          1. John Dale

            Exactly – the “government” has yet to clarify that FaceBook et al are public squares where there is a reasonable expectation of the application of free speech protections.

            Reply
            1. Anonymous

              Our government is made up of elected officials. You’re a dolt for looking up the dictionary definition of government. You don’t understand who forms government and what it is. SAD!

              Reply
      1. Anonymous

        The idea that a citizen legislator doesn’t have a choice of who to talk to and who not to talk to is asinine. A court can’t force a citizen legislator to associate or not associate with anyone.

        To think that a Facebook page of a citizen legislator is official government property is nuts.. Proof rests in the fact that once the Elected official is no longer in office, the Facebook page is not returned back to the state. It is not state property in any way. . A Facebook page is a way of an informed citizen to freely exchange ideas with others who wish to be informed. It expresses a point or view, and under no circumstances is it required that opposing views are allowed to post their ideas. A Facebook page of an active citizen legislator leads to an informed citizenry and educated legislators.. if anything, a Facebook page is a political campaign page, as it allows voters to see if they agree with the elected official or not, allowing voters to cast informed votes. It certainly is not a forum for a candidate to offer their opposition a chance to voice their opinion, or even criticize them.

        To claim your right to free speech provides you the right to address the friends a citizen legislator has gathered over the years is arrogant and lazy…put the time in and get your own friends.

        To claim that a citizen has the right to be in any audience with an elected official is a joke. A citizen is guaranteed the right to vote. He or she doesn’t have the right to even to talk to a citizen legislator. If a citizen legislator thinks a voter is nuts, it is his right to not include that person in any event not open to the ENTIRE public. And if a person is able to attend an event, it doesn’t guarantee a person the right to speak at the event.

        A Facebook page is a communication tool to be used to assist a citizen legislator to be better informed, and to inform those you choose to inform. Under no circumstances, does it make sense to restrict a citizen legislator’s freedom to associate with those they choose to associate.

        Nowhere in law is there a rule that demands a citizen legislator must discuss anything with the public in any way. A citizen legislator may or may not choose to answer email. A citizen legislator may or may not choose to return phone calls. A legislator can actually choose not to meet with someone, even if they are a voting citizen.

        If the elected official conducts himself in a rude or disrespectful way, or shows no interest in voters at all, the remedy is always the next election.

        If the courts are going to make rules on how citizen legislators must act in every circumstance, they will eliminate debate, and crush democratic republic.

        Whoever brought this lawsuit should be ashamed! And the attorneys should be disbarred.

        Reply
  1. Troy

    I am with Stace on this. Even though he is elected, a SD State Senator is not the government (while a case can be made the President is, an assertion I disagree with in context of Presidents Twitter account). Thus, he impinged on nobodies Free Speech rights. This is a frivolous lawsuit and I Hope Stace gets his legal fees reimbursed.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Stace was the government (in part) until he resigned. Elected officials are the government. Period. Full stop.

      Reply
      1. John Dale

        It’s a sham and the people attacking him are laughing that big social networks can ban hundreds of President Trump’s advertisements while blocking another unwanted user by a representative incites a lawsuit.

        On one hand, it’s annoying.

        On the other hand, perhaps this will set the right precedent through the courts.

        An extension of the argument implied/stated by the prosecution is that elected representatives are not allowed to withhold their thoughts from anyone.

        So, if a representative says something one way to one group, then says it another way to another group, functionally, logically, this should incite a lawsuit just the same (assuming the lawsuit is efficacious, which it is not, but our courts are a gamble at the moment).

        It is any American citizen’s right to speak when and where he/she chooses.

        FaceBook is a publisher, it is NOT a platform, and it is NOT the government. I got into the nuance of this issue on a recent show entitled “Dakota Free Press – Platform or Publisher”:
        https://plainstribune.com/podcast?service=podcast.PodCastDetail&streamId=c406397bc63e6dd4538c14def76f5f1d

        Since FaceBook is not a platform, blocking another user by an elected representative is an extension of FaceBook’s legal obligation. They cannot sue the representative. They can only sue FaceBook for a representative using a feature they extended for use on their behalf.

        FaceBook could not allow blocking by elected representatives if they chose, but Nelson is not liable in my view because FaceBook is a publisher, not a platform, and certainly is NOT a government any more than the local paper. Lastly, the local paper is not liable for “blocking” readers who don’t have the $0.25, which in this economy is an increasing group.

        Maybe if we weren’t to sue happy we could build a stronger middle class and more people could read the paper, feed their families, and prosper ..

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          The issue isn’t about the elected official not proactively sharing information with constituents, but blocking a citizen from airing a grievance with that elected official. It’s about the citizen not the elected official. You’re thinking about this backward.

          As Judge James Cacheris said in a ruling in a similar case, “The suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards.”

          Reply
          1. John Dale

            When expressing a grievance, the State of SD codifies the following process.

            Step 1 – open FaceBook.

            Riiiiight.

            Unless and until federal and state governments recognize FaceBook, Twitter, et all as “public squares” wherein free speech rights apply evenly and fairly, there is no efficacy to the argument that a lawsuit can be brought for “blocking”.

            Other means were available, official processes and channels were available including the user’s own FaceBook account.

            Reply
            1. Anonymous

              They have. And blocking citizens from commenting on these platforms has been ruled unconstitutional.

              As conservatives, I know it’s fun to beat up on Facebook and college students these days, however I would ask that you do not become the epitome of Ok, Boomer.

              Reply
              1. John Dale

                In court, FaceBook claims to be a publisher (when they get sued for censorship), but out here in the real world, they claim to be a platform because it attracts users.

                They are double-dealing with no consequences.

                When Nelson blocks someone on the private publisher/platform FaceBook, he is exercising his 1st Amendment since it’s a public square. Z.b., he would not be liable for whispering into someone’s ear at a public event on stage.

                If, on the contrary, he coordinated with state IT resources to block someone’s access to SD codified law online, there would be cause for a case.

                This lawsuit is a SLAPP lawsuit designed to distress Representative Nelson and usurp his rights.

                The lawsuit is pathetic and unfortunate since Nelson did nothing to unduly lobby FaceBook to take the user’s rights away. He simply used a feature on behalf of FaceBook, provided and encouraged by FaceBook, that allowed him to express his own free speech rights.

                A similar and interestingly difficult paradigm would be that, since we have the ability to use mind reading technology, that we no longer apply the 5th Amendment.

                This is dangerous territory driven by the butt-hurt of an overzealous FaceBook user.

                Reply
        2. Anonymous

          Not running ads is different then government officials shutting down and disallowing constituents from communicating with them.

          However, I do think that the whole digital political ad debate going (run them or not, offer corrections or not) will not end well for big tech. And rightly it shouldn’t end well for them.

          Reply
      2. C. Odorizzi

        Stace quit when he knew this was coming. Good riddance to the blowhard liar. Hope Church owns Stace’s house when he’s done! Remember nitwits, all he has to win is $1 and Stace will have to pay ALL of his legal fees, that’s the whole point of a 1983 action.

        Reply
  2. Anon

    If this becomes law, I would never run for office. Just because you are an elected legislator does not mean you should give up your private Facebook account and be required to let people post on it. Seems the plaintiff has every opportunity to speak freely on his own page or on his own blog.

    Reply
    1. Hank Luthy

      If you could actually read you would see that it specifically relates to Nelson’s political Facebook page, NOT his personal page.

      Reply
      1. John Dale

        The lawsuit incentivizes elected officials to draw back out of communications platforms.

        The end result of this kind of law fare is that public officials will create fewer opportunities for constituents to communicate with them.

        We should not encourage law fare.

        We should encourage small family farming.

        Reply
  3. mhs

    Irregardless of the merits of the action, it’s likely to be dismissed based on the simply torturous writing and specious legal reasoning alone.

    Paragraphs #1 alone: “vindicate” the values of the 1st Amendment? Why, did it do something wrong? Prevent slander? Isn’t the opposite of what the 1st amendment does?

    And would somebody, please God, pass a law to prevent discrimination against the poor, huddles masses of viewpoints yearning to appear on social media? I can’t wait for the day that viewpoints in the United States are free from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin or number of Twitter followers.

    Second year law student, yep . . .

    Reply
    1. B. Burruss

      Read the signature on the lawsuit, it’s signed under the name of a pretty big law firm by a licensed attorney, they’ll be the ones laughing when the judge awards their fees.

      Reply
  4. Anonymous

    The commenters on this post are truly conflicted:

    Do we agree with Stace Nelson because this lawsuit involves a college student and social media and being against those are the cause du jour?

    OR

    Do we agree with the college student who used social media to criticize Stace Nelson (something we’ve all done)?

    *Head explodes*

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Likely, yes. If he blocked you while he was a state senator and using his facebook page in way that would make a reasonable person believe that it was being used in an official capacity.

      Ask to join the suit. Let’s make it class action!

      Reply
  5. Big Brained Genius

    These socialists are good at manipulating language and meaning for their advantage. This whole case is ludicrous. It makes me wonder if one of Stacey’s opponents has put this clown up to this.

    Reply
      1. Austin Hoffman

        Great find, and im glad the judge ruled the way he did here. I do not believe that a representatives facebook page should be considered a public forum. I just wanted to point out that there was one case out there. We wont have a nationwide standard on this until the SCOTUS takes up the issue. if ever.

        Reply

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