Vandergriff wins 37th annual Stanley Moot Court Competition

Daniel Vandergriff is the winner of the final round of the 37th annual Stanley Moot Court Competition sponsored by The Wake Forest University School of Law Moot Court Board.

Vandergriff, who is a second-year law student, represented the appellant, Creed Bratton, versus Patrick Gallagher, who represented the appellees, Michael Scott, Dunder Mifflin Magnet Middle School and the Scranton School District. Gallagher is also a second-year law student.

“Both Daniel and runner-up Patrick Gallagher were superb,” said Brian Conley, Chief Justice, Moot Court Executive Board.“The competitors presented their arguments very well and astutely handled questions from a very hot bench.”

This year’s panel judges were The Honorable James A. Beaty, Jr., Chief Judge, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina; The Honorable N. Carlton Tilley Jr., Judge, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina; and The Honorable Frank D. Whitney, Judge, U.S. District Court, Western District of North Carolina. Competition chairpersons were Audrey Golden, Vincent J. Filliben III and Amy R. Holbrook.

This year 69 students competed in the intramural moot court competition in honor of the late Judge Edwin M. Stanley, a distinguished Wake Forest alumnus and supporter, who served as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Middle District of North Carolina from 1958-1968..

Katy Aultman was named best oralist and the winner of the James C. Berkowitz Award, which was presented by his sister, Ella Berkowitz. Jim died in a car accident when he was returning to the law school to argue in the quarterfinals of the 1984 Stanley Competition.

Susie Sewell was first runner-up for best oralist. Megan Huey received the award for best brief, while Aultman was named first runner-up.

CREED BRATTON V. DUNDER MIFFLIN MAGNET SCHOOL

On April 4, 2008, Creed Bratton (“Bratton”) , a 13-year old eighth-grade student at Dunder Mifflin Magnet Middle School (the “School) wore a black t-shirt to school which contained the following message in large white letters: “CRACK sentences are a CROCK!” After Principal Scott (“Scott”) received a few complaints, Scott told Bratton that his shirt violated the school’s dress code policy prohibiting offensive clothing, and that Bratton would have to turn his shirt inside out or change shirts in order to avoid being suspended for one day. Bratton refused, citing his First Amendment rights to free speech; thus Scott, suspended Bratton for the remainder of that day and one full day, which prevented Bratton participating in his extra-curricular Odyssey of the Mind trip, and from receiving a plaque for perfect attendance. The suspension also rendered Brattonineligible to apply for a PASSHE scholarship for up to four years of full tuition and fees at a member Pennsylvania University.

On April 24, 2008, Bratton, through his guardian, brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. He alleged in his complaint that the School’s actions taken against Bratton for wearing a political t-shirt expressing Bratton’s viewpoint criticizing the disparity in sentencing laws for drug use or possession violated his First Amendment right to free speech. He claimed that his shirt contained a political comment criticizing the disparity in sentencing laws for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine.

The School denied it had violated Bratton’s right to free speech and specifically denied that the t-shirt contained a political message. In moving for summary judgment, the School argued that students have diminished speech rights, that Bratton’s t-shirt, irrespective of any political statement, was inappropriate and offensive because it contained a profanity; had caused and would likely continue to cause disruption in the school as well as in Bratton’s class; and could have been interpreted by a middle-schooler as being “sympathetic to drug users.”

On July 14, 2008, Judge Stanley Hudson, of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, granted summary judgment in favor of the School. On July 29, 2008, Bratton filed a Notice of Appeal to the United States Court of Appeals.

In this case, the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that schools may regulate student speech upon a specific showing of a constitutionally valid reason. The decisions reveal that a school may prohibit three types of speech even absent disruption: lewd, vulgar or profane language on school property; student speech that a reasonable observer would view as the school’s own speech, and speech advocating illegal drug use. Speech falling outside these categories may be regulated only if it would substantially disrupt school operations or interfere with the rights of others. The competitors will use this standard to argue whether the District Court properly or improperly granted summary judgment in favor of the School for suspending Bratton after he refused to remove the controversial t-shirt.