Dahlia v. Rodriguez

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 08-21-2013
  • Case #: 10-55978
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Paez for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski, and Circuit Judges Pregerson, Reinhardt, O’Scannlain, Graber, Berzon, Rawlinson, Callahan, Bea, and M. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether a police officer's speech is within the scope of his official duties is not a broadly defined matter of law but needs to be determined by a practical inquiry for purposes of First Amendment retaliation analysis; and placing an officer on administrative leave for reporting police misconduct and abuse constitutes an adverse employment action likely to deter him from engaging in protected speech and is therefore protected.

Angelo Dahlia, a Burbank Police Department ("BPD") detective, repeatedly witnessed and reported to his superiors that fellow officers were beating and assaulting witnesses and suspects during a robbery investigation in 2007. In 2008, BDP Internal Affairs "IA" interviewed Dahlia three times, and before and after each interview, fellow officers harassed Dahlia to remain silent, and his supervisor threatened to put him in jail for disclosure of misconduct during investigations. In 2009, Dahlia disclosed misconduct, threats, intimidation and harassment to the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department ("LADS"). Dahlia was placed on administrative leave and filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 First Amendment retaliation suit against the City of Burbank, the Chief of Police and several other police officers alleging employment retaliation for his disclosures. The district court dismissed the suit under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), and held Dahlia's speech was not constitutionally protected because it was pursuant to his official duties under the Ninth Circuit's holding in Huppert v. City of Pittsburg; additionally, the district court held that administrative leave is not an adverse employment action. The Ninth Circuit granted review en banc, reversed the court below, and overruled Huppert, because it erred by broadly defining an officer's duties as a matter of law. Rather, the en banc panel held that for First Amendment protection, whether speech is within the scope of official duties should be determined by a practical inquiry, and whether the speech is inside the agency. Dahlia's speech that was within his chain of command was in the scope of his official duties, inside the agency, and therefore not protected. However, his disclosures to IA and LADS are protected because they were outside of the agency, not within the scope of his official duties, and matters of great public concern. Furthermore, the en banc panel found sufficient support of Dahlia's claim that administrative leave was an adverse employment action because it was reasonably likely to chill his speech. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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