Global Freedom of Expression

State of Kansas v. Nye

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers, Written speech
  • Date of Decision
    November 26, 2014
  • Outcome
    Injunction or Order Denied/Vacated
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    United States, North America
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law, Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship, Press Freedom, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention
  • Tags
    Prior Restraints

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The District Court of Shawnee County, Kansas, granted Ronald Nye’s motion to vacate the Court’s earlier injunction to prevent publication of two stenographic notebooks and other handwritten notes created by former Kansas law enforcement officer Harold Nye (Ronald’s father) pursuant to his investigation of the homicides featured in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Ronald had alleged that the preliminary injunction was an unconstitutional prior restraint of his First Amendment rights. The District Court also denied the state’s motion for summary judgment. Publication and reproduction of the materials were accordingly allowed.

The Court reasoned that its prior grant of injunctive relief was in error, and that there was no substantial likelihood of eventual success on the merits on the issue of the case. It said that Kansas would not suffer irreparable harm and the threat of suffering injury did not outweigh whatever damage the proposed injunction may cause the opposing party.



The plaintiff, the state of Kansas, alleged that it was the rightful owner and is therefore entitled to possession of two stenographic notebooks of handwritten notes created by Harold Nye, as well as other investigative reports and records from November 1950 to January 1960. The state requested a temporary restraining order and declaratory judgment. The declaratory judgment sought an order declaring the Kansas Bureau Investigation the owner of the investigative files related to the homicide of members of the Clutter family in possession of Nye. The temporary restraining order was requested to halt the sale, publication, replication, and distribution of the material by Nye.

The District Court of Shawnee County, Kansas, granted the ex parte temporary restraining order and, later, a preliminary injunction forbidding the dissemination of the Nye materials. The defendant, Ronald Nye (Harold’s son), disputed the state’s ownership claim and alleged that an injunction enjoining the dissemination and publication of the Nye materials was an unconstitutional prior restraint of his First Amendment rights. Nye filed a motion to vacate and a motion for partial summary judgment, to which the state of Kansas responded.

Decision Overview

The District Court of Shawnee County, Kansas granted Nye’s motion to vacate the preliminary injunction and partial summary judgment as to publication and reproduction of the materials, and denied the state of Kansas’ motion for summary judgment.

The Court found that its prior grant of injunctive relief was in error, and that there was no substantial likelihood of eventual success on the merits on the issue of the case. The Court said that Kansas would not suffer irreparable harm and the threat of suffering injury did not outweigh whatever damage the proposed injunction may cause the opposing party.

The Court stated that “the Nye journals are essentially a collection of facts and personal impressions, observations, conjecture, action plans, lists of suspects, and to-do-lists concerning Harold Nye’s investigation of the Clutter murders. ‘The creation and dissemination of information are speech within the meaning of the First Amendment.’” [1] The Court also stated that Nye’s wish to publish information from the journals and the state’s belief that the material belonged to Kansas were not as linked together as the state believed. The Court explained that stolen material may be subject to First Amendment prohibition against prior restraint, but in this case there was no evidence to show that the Nye materials were stolen.

[1] p. 9 slip op. (quoting U.S., Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc., 131 S.Ct. 2653, 2667 (2011)).

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The decision expanded expression because it upheld Nye’s right to disseminate the information kept by his father relating to the investigation that the public had an interest in knowing, and didn’t allow the state of Kansas to exercise ownership over or prevent the publication of the material.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.S., Downtown Bar and Grill, LLC v. Kansas, 294 Kan. 188 (Kan. 2012)
  • U.S., USD No. 503 v. McKinney, 689 P.2d 860 (Kan. 1984)
  • U.S., Eves Distributing Inc. v Brandace, 626 P.2d 1192 (Kan. App. 1981)
  • U.S., Thoroughbred Associates, LLC v. Kansas City Royalty Co., 308 P.3d 1238 (Kan. 2013)
  • U.S., Essmiller v. S.W. Bell Tel. Co., 524 P.2d 767 (Kan. 1974)
  • U.S., State v. Alston, 887 P.2d 681 (1994)
  • U.S., New York Times Co. v. United States (Pentagon Papers), 403 U.S. 713 (1971)
  • U.S., Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972)
  • U.S., Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942)
  • U.S., Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc.,131 S.Ct. 2653 (2011)

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Although rulings of district courts in Kansas are not binding, they have persuasive value locally. This case may be especially persuasive given its high-profile nature.

Additional Citations:

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:

Amicus Briefs and Other Legal Authorities

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:


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