Looney v. Black
Government employees may be entitled to First Amendment protection when they speak as "private citizens" on matters of public concern. The plaintiff, Patrick Looney, alleged the following facts. In 1994, the Town of Marlborough hired Looney as a building official. Looney won four additional appointments. In 2009, Looney filed a grievance and claimed that his supervisor, Peter Hughes, attempted to restrict Looney's communications about the dangers to public health that may result from wood burning stoves. Allegedly, Hughes asked Looney to refrain from speech that did not concern his official job duties. Looney's attorney informed the municipality that restrictions on Looney's communications constituted an illegal, prior restraint on speech. The municipality informed Looney his job had been reduced to 20 hours per week. He was not appointed to another four-year term. Looney sued and alleged the defendants violated his rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments. Individual defendants moved to dismiss and argued they were entitled to qualified immunity. The District Court found that Looney adequately alleged that he spoke as a citizen about a matter of public concern and that he possessed a constitutionally protected property interest in full-time work. Individual defendants appealed. On his 1st Amendment claim, Looney did not adequately allege that he engaged in protected speech as a "private citizen." Looney's speech was closely related to Looney's work as public official. On his 14th Amendment claim, Looney's complaint did not allege that he received any communication that indicated he was guaranteed he would be appointed to another four-year term as a full-time employee. The employee handbook, municipal charter and collective bargaining agreement did not indicate Looney could expect to continue working full time. Looney's unilateral expectation that he would continue to be appointed to his position for another four-year term, and that such reappointment would be full time, did not qualify as a constitutionally protected property right. The 2nd Circuit reversed and directed the District Court to enter judgment for the individual defendants. Dissenting, Judge Christopher Droney opined that Looney spoke as a "private citizen" on a topic that was not part of his official job duties.