First Amendment Clinic recovers $29,750 in Attorneys’ Fees In $155,000 Settlement in Civil Rights Lawsuits for Violation of First Amendment Rights

Sara Coulter

After prevailing in an appeal to reinstate his First Amendment claims in the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Case Western Reserve University’s First Amendment Clinic recovered $29,750 in attorney fees through a settlement on behalf of its client, Michael Wood, from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Mr. Wood recovered a total of $155,000 from the incident after the Sixth Circuit reinstated his false arrest and retaliation claims predicated upon his First Amendment protected speech.

Mr. Wood was arrested at the Clark County Fair in 2016 after wearing a shirt that said “f*** the police.” Six Clark County Sheriff’s deputies and the Agricultural Society Executive Director approached Mr. Wood and ordered him to leave — an order he complied with, but not quietly. While on his way to the exit, Mr. Wood used profanity to express his anger about and to the officers escorting him out of the fairgrounds. Ultimately, he was arrested for disorderly conduct.

After the prosecutor dropped the charges due to a lack of evidence, Mr. Wood filed a pro se lawsuit against the officers in the Southern District of Ohio. The lawsuit alleged that the officers retaliated against him for exercising his constitutionally-protected right to criticize the police, even if coarse language was used. The District Court ruled against Mr. Wood and he appealed to the Sixth Circuit, with representation from the Dinkler Law Office. 

The ACLU of Ohio filed an amicus brief and argued in the Sixth Circuit with First Amendment Fellow Sara Coulter, who stepped in after the briefing to represent Mr. Wood during oral argument. On Feb. 8, 2022, the Sixth Circuit reinstated Mr. Wood’s claims, denying qualified immunity to the government defendants. The Sixth Circuit found it was clearly established that the coarse language in this case did not constitute fighting words, and upheld the right to be free from false arrest and retaliation for protected speech. 

Sara Coulter said, “I’m glad that Mr. Wood was further vindicated by this settlement. Federal courts have been limiting the fighting words doctrine, and the right to criticize the government, even using profanity, remains protected in the Sixth Circuit.”

Lynnette Dinkler of the Dinkler Law Office represented Mr. Wood in mediation. The Sixth Circuit’s opinion can be found at Wood v. Eubanks, 25 F.4th 414 (6th Cir. 2022).