WISHEK, N.D. — A federal judge has dismissed a woman’s lawsuit against Wishek School District leaders that claimed her rights were violated when her access to school property was restricted more than two years ago.
Judge Daniel Hovland ruled Katie Pinke’s civil rights suit was moot and granted the defendants in the case a summary judgment on Monday, May 4. The defendants include Wishek School Board members Curt Meidinger, Melissa Kaseman-Wolf, Bruce Herr, Trina Schilling, Dynette Ketterling and Superintendent Shawn Kuntz.
“This lawsuit is nothing more than a petty squabble between two very stubborn and unreasonable parties masquerading as a civil rights action,” Hovland said in his opinion.
Pinke, publisher and general manager of Agweek, filed a complaint in February 2018, just months after a fourth-grade student brought a nonfunctioning starter pistol to Wishek Public Schools on Oct. 9, 2017, according to court documents. Pinke, whose two children were second- and fourth-graders at the time in Wishek, questioned how school officials handled the situation, noting she found out about the incident not from school leaders but through another parent, she said in her complaint.
After meeting with school administrators, Pinke wrote about the incident on her blog, The Pinke Post. She also recorded a special Wishek School Board meeting held Oct. 12, 2017, when members discussed the incident, her complaint said. The video was posted to InForum.com and Pinke’s blog.
The board unanimously voted during a Nov. 13, 2017, meeting to require Katie Pinke to get permission from Kuntz before visiting the school until May 28, 2018, “as a result of repeated disruptive and inappropriate conduct,” court documents said. School leaders denied they acted improperly.
Pinke and her husband have since removed their children from the school district.
Hovland noted the restrictions expired shortly after litigation began, so the court had no power to enforce a ban that was not in place. He also said there is no expectation she will be banned again from the school.
"I am pleased with the outcome of the case and am very appreciate the School Board took the necessary action to support Wishek Public School and our personnel," Superintendent Kuntz said in a statement.
Pinke referred The Forum to her attorney, Michael Mulloy, who said in a statement they were disappointed by the ruling. The two are discussing options moving forward, he said.
Hovland said the case could not proceed because Pinke did not request monetary damages, other than costs and attorney fees, and could not qualify as a prevailing party if she didn't seek relief. Mulloy said the court never ruled on whether Pinke's constitutional rights were violated.
"Ms. Pinke did not pursue this lawsuit to be awarded monetary damages, and offers by the School District to pay her a monetary sum were rejected," he said. "Why this action was initiated was because Ms. Pinke was prevented from parenting her children for nearly a year based upon the ban imposed upon her. That time lost cannot be monetized."
It’s likely the district will discuss the matter at its next meeting on Monday, May 11, School Board Member Curt Meidinger said Thursday, May 7.
The lawsuit bill totaled $144,861 for the school district, he said. About $133,000 will come from the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund, but the rest will come out of the school's savings, Meidinger said.
“It cost the school district money,” he said.
The lawsuit also cost district leaders productivity because they were working on the case instead of other duties, Meidinger said. He said he was pleased with the outcome, and the district is "ready to put this chapter behind us."
Agweek and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.