Law School Case Brief
Garcetti v. Ceballos - 547 U.S. 410, 126 S. Ct. 1951 (2006)
When public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the United States Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.
Respondent Ceballos, a supervising deputy district attorney, was asked by defense counsel to review a case in which, counsel claimed, the affidavit police used to obtain a critical search warrant was inaccurate. Concluding after the review that the affidavit made serious misrepresentations, Ceballos relayed his findings to his supervisors, petitioners here, and followed up with a disposition memorandum recommending dismissal. Petitioners nevertheless proceeded with the prosecution. At a hearing on a defense motion to challenge the warrant, Ceballos recounted his observations about the affidavit, but the trial court rejected the challenge. Claiming that petitioners then retaliated against him for his memo in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Ceballos filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit. The District Court granted petitioners summary judgment, ruling, inter alia, that the memo was not protected speech because Ceballos wrote it pursuant to his employment duties. Reversing, the Ninth Circuit held that the memo's allegations were protected under the First Amendment.
Are Ceballos’ allegations of wrongdoing in a memorandum protected speech under the First Amendment?
The Court determined that the Ceballos’ allegation of unconstitutional retaliation failed because he was not speaking as a citizen for First Amendment purposes since he made the statements pursuant to his official duties. Ceballos did not speak as a citizen by writing a memo that addressed the proper disposition of a pending criminal case. The First Amendment did not prohibit managerial discipline based on the employee's expressions made pursuant to official responsibilities.
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