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Appeals Court Reverses Decision on Nursing Student Expelled for Blog Postings

A case brought against the University of Louisville by a nursing student dismissed for her blog postings about a patient giving birth will return to district court.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reversed a decision in favor of Nina Yoder, who was expelled in February 2009 for MySpace posts that the university said violated its honor code and confidentiality agreement.

In the earlier case, tried by the U.S. District Court in Louisville, the student argued that the dismissal violated her constitutional rights to free speech and due process and sought reinstatement and damages.

The district court decision, written by Judge Charles R. Simpson III, found in her favor, and reinstated her at Louisville, but did not take up her concerns about constitutional violations. Rather, the ruling looked at the matter as a question of “contract interpretation,” and found that the student had not violated the university’s honor code or confidentiality agreement and, as such, had been dismissed improperly. It also didn’t take up her request for financial restitution.

The university then appealed that decision, saying that because Ms. Yoder hadn’t argued that the dismissal was a breach of contract, the case shouldn’t have been decided on those grounds. The appeals court agreed.

After being reinstated by the district court later in 2009, Ms. Yoder earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2010 and is now working as a nurse, says her lawyer, Daniel J. Canon.

He says he wasn’t surprised by Friday’s decision. “We expected something along the lines of this ruling, because the lower court’s decision on the law was wrong,” he says. “There was never any question that this was a First Amendment case, at least in our minds.”

Though she has now earned her degree, Mr. Canon says Ms. Yoder is still seeking damages from the university for lost earnings and emotional distress.

Mark R. Hebert, a Louisville spokesman, says the university is pleased with the ruling. He says the case has not caused the university to reevaluate any of its policies regarding the use of social media by students. “We felt all along that our policies were strong enough and well written,” he says.

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