Earlier this year, a federal district court denied a motion to dismiss a First Amendment lawsuit challenging actions by a City Alderman to block certain comments from his Facebook page, allowing the case to proceed. Czosnyka v. Gardiner.
Six residents of Chicago’s 45th Ward brought a First Amendment lawsuit against their Alderman after they claim their comments were deleted from the alderman’s Facebook page. They alleged that the Alderman’s actions violated their First Amendment right to free speech. The Alderman filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the residents did not sufficiently allege that his Facebook page was a public forum. The district court acknowledged that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals had not yet addressed the issue of whether a government official’s social media page was a public forum, but noted that other Courts of Appeals had issues opinions stating that when a government official uses a social media account for official business, the interactive portion of that platform is a public forum for First Amendment purposes. See Davison v. Randall (4th Circuit) and Knight First Amendment Inst. v. Trump (2nd Circuit).
Applying the analysis in these two cases, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Packingham v. North Carolina, the district court determined that the residents had at least plausibly alleged that the Alderman had restricted their access to a public forum when he barred them from posting or deleted their comments from his Facebook page. As a result, the district court allowed the residents’ lawsuit to move forward, and the case is still pending in the district court.