Cleveland State student wins federal lawsuit against university on breach of Fourth Amendment

Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 11:17 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled in the favor of a student from Cleveland State University on Aug. 22 after the school used the student’s webcam to search his room before a class test.

The ruling appears to be the first in the nation to state the Fourth Amendment protects students from ‘unreasonable video searches of their homes before taking a remote test’, according to a press release from civil rights attorney Matthew Besser of Bolek Besser Glesius LLC.

Cleveland State student Aaron Ogletree was subjected to a ‘warrantless room scan’ prior to a chemistry exam in February 2021, which prompted Ogletree to sue the university, the release said.

The school ‘compelled’ students to show their entire room to a school official prior to taking a test to ensure the student doesn’t cheat on a test, the release said.

“The room scans are visible not only to the school officials but to the student’s classmates as well,” the statement read. “CSU conducts these searches with neither a warrant nor reasonable suspicion to believe they would uncover any evidence of wrongdoing.”

Federal Judge J. Philip Calabrese ruled in Ogletree’s favor in a 24-page decision, stating the university’s practice of conducting room scans is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The entire ruling can be read below:

Besser said in a statement the practice from Cleveland State is an ‘unnecessary and unreasonable intrusion on student privacy.’

Freedom from government intrusion into our homes is the very core of what the Fourth Amendment protects. If there is any place where students have a reasonable expectation of privacy, it’s inside their homes. CSU’s warrantless webcam searches of student homes tramples that fundamental privacy right. The Framers would have recoiled at the idea of a school official physically entering a student’s home without a warrant to preemptively search for evidence the student might cheat on a test. CSU’s use of webcams to snoop inside student homes is no different. It is an unnecessary and unreasonable intrusion on student privacy, and it violates the Fourth Amendment.

Matthew D. Besser, Managing Attorney, Bolek Besser Glesius

Officials said the ruling will set a precedence for student’s privacy rights across Ohio and the nation.

Cleveland State issued the following statement to 19 News:

“As directed by the Court, Cleveland State University’s counsel will confer with Mr. Ogletree’s counsel on appropriate next steps. Ensuring academic integrity is essential to our mission and will guide us as we move forward. While this matter remains in active litigation, we are unable to comment further.”

This story is ongoing and will be updated as more details are released.