Monday, August 23, 2004

Police officer testifying at grievance hearing not speaking on matter of public concern

In Kirby v. City of Elizabeth City, the Fourth Circuit in an opinion by Chief Judge Wilkins, joined by Judge Williams and Senior Judge Hansen from the Eighth Circuit, affirmed the entry of summary judgment for a locality on a public employee's First Amendment speech, Equal Protection, and First Amendment retaliation claims. On the speech claim, the appeals court concluded that the plaintiff's remarks at a public hearing on a grievance brought by another employee did not constitute speech on a matter of public concern. On the retaliation claim, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the plaintiff had a freedom of petition claim involving matters of public concern, but the individual defendants were entitled to judgment on qualified immunity - because government officials cannot be liable for "bad guesses in gray areas" and the City was not liable for lack of a custom, policy, or practice.

(I'm always on the lookout for those bad guesses in gray areas and trying to avoid those customs and policies.)

I'm not sure why, but there were a bunch of amici in this case: for the plaintiff, the National Organization of Police Associations, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Professional Firefighters & Paramedics of North Carolina, the North Carolina Association of Educators, and the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers; and for the defendants, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and the North Carolina School Boards Association. The trial court judge, by the way, was the Fourth Circuit nominee, Chief Judge Terrence Boyle of the Eastern District of North Carolina.

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