Kincaid v. Gibson

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Date: 1994

Region: North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Print Journalism


Artist: Kentucky State University student yearbook staff

Confronting Bodies: Kentucky State University officials

Dates of Action: 1994

Location: Kentucky State University

Description of Artwork: Annual yearbook called The Thorobred.

The Incident: After the 1992-94 edition of The Thorobred was published, KSU's administration reviewed the yearbook and decided that it was dissatisfied with its presentation and some of its content. In particular, the colors on the cover were not the schools colors, and the yearbook included current events, which the administration did not deem acceptable. As a result, KSU withheld distribution of the yearbook.

Results of Incident: Charles Kincaid and Capri Coffer, on behalf of all students and staff who felt wronged, filed suit against KSU officials for their decision regarding the yearbook. The plaintiffs contended that the defendants refused to distribute the yearbook because they did not like some of its content. They claimed that this action violated their First Amendment rights.

Referencing Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1998), the District Court rejected the First Amendment claim. It established that the yearbook was not a public forum and the defendants' refusal to distribute it was a reasonable restriction of speech.

The plaintiffs appealed the decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard the case on Jan. 5, 2001. By a 10-3 vote, the court reversed the lower court decision that had upheld the confiscation of the student yearbook. In a landmark decision, the court rejected the application of Hazelwood to college student media. In March 2001, the students agreed to a settle their case against the university in exchange for $5,000 each and $60,000 in attorney's fees and costs, as well as the release of the captive yearbooks to 90% of the eligible students who were to receive the yearbook in 1994.

Source: United States District Court Eastern District of Kentucky Frankfort Records, Student Press Law Center, March 2001, NCAC