ALBANY — Ogdensburg Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly wants a federal lawsuit filed against him dismissed after voluntarily unblocking everyone on his personal Facebook page, including a small group of residents who had filed the complaint citing violations of their First Amendment rights.
In August of 2021, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court by the law firm of Gleason, Dunn, Walsh & O’Shea of Albany on behalf of their clients Cynthia Layng, Douglas Loffler, Brian Mitchell and Angela McRoberts who claimed that they were blocked by Mr. Skelly on his personal Facebook page that he used for city business. By being blocked, the residents were “denied a voice on a social media platform maintained by the defendant, Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly,” according to court documents.
On Jan. 17, a motion to dismiss was filed on behalf of Mr. Skelly by Paul J. Sweeney with Coughlin & Gerhart LLP, Binghamton. A declaration included with the motion to dismiss, stated that Mr. Skelly had unblocked the plaintiffs on Sept. 12, 2021 and unblocked all others on Jan. 14. He added that he would refrain from blocking residents on his Facebook page.
“I understand that the City’s attorneys advised the Court and opposing counsel of this unblocking at the Rule 16 court conference on November 19, 2021. Since that time, I have made no attempt to block Plaintiffs or any other users from accessing my Facebook page, nor have I prevented or curtailed their interaction with my page in any way,” stated Mr. Skelly, “I represent to the Court and opposing counsel that I will not block Plaintiffs or any other person from accessing or interacting with my Facebook page again at any time in the future.”
The motion to dismiss stated that since the mayor had unblocked all of those he had previously blocked then the complaint should be dismissed.
“There is no longer a “live” controversy, and therefore it is respectfully submitted that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and must dismiss the Complaint,” it stated.
The plaintiffs have until Feb. 14 to file a motion in opposition to Mr. Skelly’s.
A statement, released by the Facebook page site “The Citizen’s Watch” on behalf of the plaintiffs, stated that Mr. Skelly ceasing his “unconstitutional actions is a significant victory for the Plaintiffs and citizens of Ogdensburg who, via the Facebook site “The Citizen’s Watch,” raised the money to take this case to court in order to defend their First Amendment rights.”
“In an effort to avoid having to defend his unconstitutional actions in stifling participation in community discussions by blocking citizens of Ogdensburg from his Facebook page, Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly has conceded a major point in the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit against him. Mayor Skelly seeks to have the lawsuit dismissed because he has agreed with Plaintiffs that he should not be blocking their access to his Facebook page,” the statement read, “This concession is a triumph for the citizens of Ogdensburg who had had their First Amendment rights violated by the Mayor.”
On behalf of Mr. Skelly, City Manager Stephen P. Jellie said that on advice of counsel, the mayor unblocked people from his Facebook page and asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
“The city and the mayor just felt at this point, spending the time arguing whether the mayor’s Facebook page is personal or city or if he’s crossed the line in using it or not using it, we just didn’t feel that was a good use of our time or use of funds to legally debate this matter at this point,” said Mr. Jellie. “On the advice from counsel, the mayor has unblocked everybody and therefore we have asked the court to dismiss the matter based on that.”