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Supreme Court, Nominal Damages, & You:
What is a Dollar Lawsuit and When to Use Them

What is a Nominal Court Case and Why Suing for a Single Dollar Might Be Beneficial

Pictured: A dollar bill to represent a nominal court case

Most court cases get resolved at  federal level, meaning a majority of cases don’t make it to the Supreme Court. The ones that do are typically ones that question the U.S. Constitution or show violation of one of the Amendments. This would be a case from someone that claims an action, policy, or proposed law violated the First Amendment and Freedom of Speech. Policies written to regulate the First Amendment, especially in public spaces such as parks and universities, are often written in a vague sense that creates an umbrella over what is considered to be a violation. 

For example, Georgia Gwinnett College student Chike Uzuegbunam sued the college for a dollar because he felt his First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech was being unfairly monitored. Most colleges have designated areas for students to express their opinions about political topics and to hold peaceful protests. There are regulated areas for this in order to maintain order on campus and to regulate possible distraction from study. In these areas any topic or protest is typically allowed as long as there is no violence and no violation of school, state, or nationwide laws. 

Georgia Gwinnett College has a restriction on their public speech area so that students can only use it for four hours Monday-Thursday and two hours on Fridays with a 30 minute time slot each. Students also have to formally book this area and can only do so every 30 days. Uzuegbunam went through the necessary steps and requirements to book time to talk about his evangelical Christian faith which is a topic of discussion allowed in these areas. Several students complained and Uzuegbunam was told he was in violation and that he could only have one-on-one conversations and discuss literature. He was also told he was using “fighting words” by talking about his faith.

Fighting words is a doctrine in the First Amendment that restricts the public use of offensive language. Due to this claim and the supposed policy under violation, Uzuegbunam sued the college for a dollar claiming they were violating his First Amendment right. The college defended the claim by arguing that the discussion of faith was violating the “fighting words” doctrine.

The court supported Uzuegbunam’s claim because the college quickly abandoned their claim that “ the plaintiff used contentious religious language that, when directed to a crowd, has a tendency to incite hostility.” They changed the policy so that students can speak anywhere on campus, which they said made the case moot or insignificant. This action by the college caused them to lose the case because the amended policy was not in place at the time of Uzuegbunam’s speech. 

In this case, and others of similar origin, are acceptable nominal damage cases because they are related directly to a violation of or concern about the U.S Constitution.

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Questions:

1. Why might someone want to sue a person or organization for a dollar if they could sue for more?

2. What are some other known or possible nominal damage court cases? Explain the case. 

3. What would a nominal damage case be like in a Nevada court? How would it differ from another state or the Supreme Court?

Be sure to provide full explanations for your answers.  For more details, you can read the article this piece was sourced from here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/08/us/supreme-court-georgia-college-free-speech.html

Contributed by Saralynn Lindsay






Tags
Dollar Bill, Nominal Court Case, Project REAL, Supreme Court, U.S. Constitution, Win A Dollar,





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