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Law School Case Brief

City of San Diego v. Roe - 543 U.S. 77, 125 S. Ct. 521 (2004)

Rule:

Courts examine the content, form, and context of a given statement, as revealed by the whole record, in assessing whether a public employee's speech addresses a matter of public concern. In addition, the standard for determining "public concern" is the same standard used to determine whether a common-law action for invasion of privacy is present. Public concern is something that is a subject of legitimate news interest; that is, a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public. Certain private remarks, such as negative comments about the President of the United States, touch on matters of public concern and should thus be subject to balancing of public employee and employer interests. 

Facts:

Respondent Roe brought suit alleging, inter alia, that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech were violated when the city of San Diego terminated his employment as a police officer, for selling police paraphernalia and videotapes of himself engaging in sexually explicit acts. A Federal District Court granted the City's motion to dismiss, and the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Roe's conduct fell within the protected category of citizen commentary on matters of public concern.

Issue:

Did the city of San Diego violate Roe’s right to freedom of speech by terminating him for making and selling videotapes of him engaged in sexually explicit acts?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the city was justified in terminating Roe whose conduct brought the mission of the city police department and the professionalism of its officers into serious disrepute. While Roe's speech did not relate to the workings or functioning of the police department, the speech was nonetheless clearly detrimental to the department. Further, Roe's expression did not qualify as a matter of public concern and thus the city, as a public employer, was entitled to restrict the officer's speech to allow proper performance of the city's public functions.

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