Public Resources

Law in Society Competition Hypothetical - 2014

"Social Media - Is Anything Private?"

What Happens at the Party Doesn't Always Stay at the Party

Sammy Senior attends the local high school in Flanders County, Virginia.  He is two months away from graduation.  He is eighteen years old.  Sammy attends a big party on Saturday night.  There are a number of college students also at the party.  Sammy’s been trying to get the attention of Olivia Bellarosa for awhile.  Olivia graduated one year before Sammy.  She is nineteen years old and is attending Jones Community College.  The party is held at another JCC student’s apartment.

At the party, Olivia challenges Sammy:  “If you think you’re in my league, I dare you to guzzle some of this vodka.”  Olivia hands Sammy a bottle of Absolut Citron.  Sammy guzzles some of it.  He and Olivia then leave the party together.

Unknown to Sammy, another party attendee, Larry Logan, was filming the entire scene on his iPhone.  While at the party, Larry also had been drinking.  Larry was also interested in Olivia, so he was peeved when he saw Olivia leaving the party with Sammy.  Larry is also nineteen years old and he also attends Jones Community College.

Larry then posts the video of Sammy drinking the vodka on YouTube.  He knows where Sammy attends high school. He looks up the principal’s e-mail address on-line, then e-mails the principal a link to the YouTube video.  Larry attaches a message stating, “You need to be aware of the dangerous activities of one of your students.  Sincerely, a Concerned Citizen.”  Larry used his personal e-mail to send the message. Larry’s personal e-mail address contains nothing that would obviously inform a recipient who the sender was unless the recipient was personally familiar with Larry and with his e-mail address. Larry also posted pictures on Instagram, and provided a link to the photos and to the video on his Twitter account.

The following Tuesday, Sammy is called into the principal’s office.  The principal plays the video from the YouTube link. Sammy admits that the video is accurate, but claims that this was a private party, not related to school, and that no one had given any permission to film.  The principal advises Sammy that they had begun an investigation.  As it turns out, there were several students from the high school at the party.  The principal advises Sammy that he has spent most of Monday dealing with discussions and chatter among the student body about the incident.  The principal further advises Sammy that students have re-sent links to the video and to the photos, during school hours, via Twitter and e-mail.  Sammy responds that he has had no part in any of that, and that he was completely unaware that this was occurring.

The principal advises Sammy that because of the impact upon the school environment, he is suspending Sammy immediately with a recommendation for expulsion.

Questions to address:

1. Is the school within its rights to discipline Sammy for this activity? State in detail your reasons as to yes or no.

2. Does Sammy have the right to file a lawsuit against Larry for filming the incident without his permission and/or for starting the process which is getting Sammy in trouble at school?  Detail the reasons you think there is a basis, or that there is no basis, for any such lawsuit.

Updated: Nov 05, 2013