Florida Fire District Sued For Viewpoint Discrimination

A Florida man has filed suit against a fire district claiming that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when the department’s public information officer blocked him from the department’s Facebook page. Randy Scott filed suit this week in US District Court for the Middle District of Florida, naming the Lehigh Acres Fire Control And Rescue District and PIO Katie Heck as defendants.

Scott, who filed the suit pro se, claims Heck blocked him in retaliation for his views on “a coming tax referendum and challenging State Representative Spencer Roach 5 million-appropriation request for the fire district from the state.” The complaint claims that the act of blocking someone from posting on an official government social media site because of something they say is viewpoint discrimination, and violates the First Amendment.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • These digital spaces are the “modern public square.” Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730, 1732 (2017).
  • As our democracy increasingly moves on line, it is crucial that our First Amendment principals are equally applied to digital forums o that the internet does not become a haven for public officials to avoid free speech.
  • Defendant Heck’ viewpoint-based exclusion of Plaintiff from her official Facebook accounts distorts the speech in those forums and causes a chilling effect for others from similarly expressing dissenting viewpoints.
  • Defendant Heck’ blocking Plaintiff from Defendant’s official Facebook accounts also violates the First and the Fourteenth Amendments because it imposes a viewpoint-based restriction on Plaintiffs access to official statements that Defendant otherwise makes available to the general public.
  • Defendant Heck’ blocking Plaintiff from Defendant’s official Facebook accounts also violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it imposes a viewpoint-based restriction on Plaintiffs ability to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Scott also alleges Heck blocked him after he raised concerns about her violation of HIPAA by discussing patients on Facebook.

  • As an illustration, on January 4, 2020, at 1:09 pm, Defendant Heck posted an official statement on her Facebook Page regarding an elderly lady patient suffering from appears to have been a form of dementia.
  • 2 days after the elderly story first appeared defendant heck blocked and deleted all of plaintiffs posts after plaintiff responded that the PIO fluff stories violated HIPAA laws regarding patient release of medical condition by health care professionals.

Scott is seeking an injunction ordering the fire district and Heck to “unblock” him, and award his attorneys fees and costs. Here is a copy of the complaint.

UPDATE: According to this site, Scott is an activist who operates People of SWFL https://floridapolitics.com/archives/316080-activist-files-lawsuit-accusing-spencer-roach-of-abridging-speech-on-facebook.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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