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LEGAL REVIEW (R)
|Vol. 40 No. 4||July / August 2011|
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Highlights of This Issue
United States Supreme Court
Federal and State Decisions
United States Supreme Court
Arrest, Search and Seizure
Civil Liability/Personnel Law
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Special BulletinSpecial Bulletin: United States Supreme Court Re-Affirms Free Speech Rule for Municipal Liability Involving Police Chief Grievances; Only Matters of Public Concern Are Protected by Constitution.
Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri, No. 09-1476
After a municipality fired its police chief, he filed a union grievance that led to his reinstatement. When the city council later issued directives instructing the chief on how to perform his duties, he filed a second grievance, and an arbitrator ordered that some of the directives be modified or withdrawn. The chief then filed suit under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, alleging that the directives were issued in retaliation for the filing of his first grievance, thereby violating his First Amendment “right ... to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”; he later amended his complaint to allege that the council also violated the Petition Clause of the U.S. Constitution by denying his request for overtime pay in retaliation for his having filed the § 1983 suit. The District Court instructed the jury, inter alia, that the suit and the grievances were constitutionally protected activity, and the jury found for the chief. Affirming the compensatory damages award, the Court of Appeals held that a public employee who has petitioned the government through a formal mechanism such as the filing of a lawsuit or grievance is protected under the Petition Clause from retaliation for that activity, even if the petition concerns a matter of solely private concern. In so ruling, the court rejected the view of every other federal Circuit Court of Appeals to have considered the issue that, to be protected, the petition must address a matter of public concern.
The United States Supreme Court ruled that a government employer’s allegedly retaliatory actions against an employee do not give rise to liability under the Petition Clause unless the employee’s petition relates to a matter of public concern, reversing and remanding. The Court invoked the rule of Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138 (1983) to the effect that a public employee suing his employer under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause must show that he spoke as a citizen on a matter of “public concern,” rather than on a matter of personal concern or interest. The Court saw no reason to change the public concern rule for Petition Clause cases and noted that grievance-based cases usually are personal matters rather than public concern matters.
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