Settlement reached in free-speech suit against Valdosta State

A settlement was reached this week in a years-long federal lawsuit filed by a former Valdosta State University student regarding violation of his First Amendment rights, according to an announcement by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The $900,000 settlement to be paid by the state insurer ends years of legal proceedings stemming from Hayden Barnes’ 2008 lawsuit against the university and then-president Ronald Zaccari, as well as the Board of Regents for the state’s university system.

Barnes was expelled from Valdosta State in 2007 after the student protested the construction of two parking garages the president supported. A Facebook post by Barnes objecting to the garages was deemed a threatening document, and Barnes was labeled a danger to the school.

With FIRE’s help, Barnes sued. A federal jury awarded him $50,000 in 2013 after finding that Valdosta State had violated his due process rights. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed a lower court’s dismissal of the First Amendment case, ultimately allowing for Thursday’s settlement.

“I am pleased to have finally reached a resolution. It has been an epic journey,” Barnes said in a statement from FIRE. “However, it was a worthwhile endeavor because I know as a result of this case other students will have their constitutional rights respected.”

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff wrote about the settlement in a column on Thursday, noting that Barnes has graduated from college, attended law school and is now married and has a daughter.

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