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Friday, March 30, 2007

Ind. Decisions - One Indiana decision from 7th Circuit today

The case is Spiegla v. Hull (ND Ind., Allen Sharp, Judge), a 12-page opinion. SYKES, Circuit Judge:

This First Amendment retaliation case is before us for the second time. In the first appeal, we held that Indiana State Correctional Officer Nancy Spiegla engaged in protected speech by reporting a possible security lapse to an assistant superintendent at the Westville Correctional Facility where she worked. On remand, a jury found that the defendants—Westville’s superintendent, assistant superintendent, and a senior corrections officer—retaliated against her on the basis of this protected speech and awarded her $210,000 in damages. The defendants appealed, and after briefing was completed, the Supreme Court decided Garcetti v. Ceballos, 126 S. Ct. 1951, 1960 (2006), holding that the First Amendment does not protect statements made pursuant to a public employee’s official duties because that employee is not speaking as a “citizen” but as an employee. Because our first holding addressed the degree of First Amendment protection afforded public employees under then-existing case law, we must now reexamine its soundness in light of Garcetti.

The speech at issue here is a complaint Spiegla made about having been prevented by her immediate supervisor from investigating a possible security breach while she was on duty and stationed at the prison’s main gate. Spiegla noted the incident in her log and later that same day reported it to an assistant superintendent. In bringing the possible security lapse to his attention, Spiegla was speaking not as a citizen but as a correctional officer charged with the duty to ensure the prison’s safety and security. Accordingly, the First Amendment does not insulate her statements from employer discipline, and the judgment in her favor must be vacated. * * *

Accordingly, the judgment entered in Spiegla’s favor must be vacated, but not without our observation that the record and the jury’s verdict substantiate that Spiegla was punished for simply trying to follow the rules. Garcetti instructed that public employers should, “ ‘as a matter of good judgment,’ be ‘receptive to constructive criticism offered by their employees.’ ” Garcetti, 126 S. Ct. at 1962 (quoting Connick, 461 U.S. at 149). Our holding here, however, is a straightforward application of the principle in Garcetti that there is not a “constitutional cause of action behind every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job.” Id. The judgment is VACATED and the case is REMANDED to the district court with instructions to enter judgment for the defendants.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 30, 2007 11:00 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions