Judge ends restraining order; allows press to publish on UNC suit
A ruling by a U.S. district judge in Asheville, North Carolina, on Nov. 28, 2023, has effectively dropped the ban preventing news media from publishing about a former student’s lawsuit against the University of North Carolina System.
According to court records reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the judge issued a new, permanent injunction to replace the temporary restraining order on members of the press, but narrowed the new injunction to include only UNC and its employees. In making the ruling, the judge argued that including media outlets in the injunction would violate the federal rules of civil procedure, which state that an injunction can bind only the parties to a case or those who work for them.
The plaintiff in the suit, who filed under the pseudonym Jacob Doe, alleges that he was wrongfully expelled from UNC-Chapel Hill after being accused of sexual assault by four undergraduate women.
In February 2023, the court granted the plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order barring disclosure of any information about the disciplinary proceedings at the heart of the lawsuit. The TRO was dissolved once the plaintiff told the court that no requests had been submitted for this information.
In October 2023, however, the former student again requested a temporary restraining order after UNC informed him that it had received a public records request seeking to identify him.
The judge granted his request, barring both the university and news outlets from disclosing any information about Doe or the disciplinary proceedings at the heart of the lawsuit. Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), which manages the Tracker, filed a brief contesting the TRO, arguing that it was unconstitutional.
A U.S. district judge in Asheville, North Carolina, issued a second temporary restraining order on Oct. 10, 2023, barring members of the press from publishing about a former student who is suing the University of North Carolina System and multiple university administrators, according to court records.
The plaintiff, who filed the suit on Feb. 15 under the pseudonym Jacob Doe, alleges that he was wrongfully expelled from UNC-Chapel Hill after being accused of sexual assault by four undergraduate women.
When filing the suit, Doe simultaneously filed the motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, requesting that no information be released by the defendants or published by the media. Chief U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger granted that temporary restraining order on Feb. 22, citing possible irreparable harm to the plaintiff.
Immediately after the restraint went into effect, however, the parties jointly filed to withdraw the motion and Reidinger dissolved the order on March 1.
Doe refiled his motion seven months later, after UNC informed him that it had received a public records request seeking to identify him, according to court records. On Oct. 10, District Judge Max Cogburn Jr. granted the motion.
As with the initial prior restraint, the university is barred from disclosing any information about the disciplinary proceedings at the heart of the lawsuit. UNC is also required to instruct news outlets that they are barred from publishing any information about Doe or his disciplinary proceedings that they may receive.