Lane v. Franks

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
  • Date Filed: June 19, 2014
  • Case #: 13-483
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Thomas, J., filed a concurring opinion in which Scalia and Alito, JJ., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

Truthful subpoenaed testimony by public employees is protected speech under the First Amendment and government officials are entitled to qualified immunity for violating statutory or constitutional rights that are not clearly established.

Petitioner was terminated from his position at a community college after giving subpoenaed testimony against an Alabama State Representative on the community college payroll. Petitioner sued, on the basis that Respondent, the president of the community college, violated Petitioner’s First Amendment rights when Respondent terminated Petitioner in retaliation for Petitioner's testimony.

The district court granted Respondent’s motion for summary judgement, because Respondent was entitled to qualified immunity. Petitioner appealed, and the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, relying on Garcetti v. Ceballos. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on the issue of whether public employees may be fired, or reprimanded for providing truthful subpoenaed testimony outside the course of their ordinary job responsibilities.

The Supreme Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit’s decision and held that Petitioner’s speech is entitled to First Amendment protection. The court relied on Roth and Pickering, reasoning that Petitioner’s testimony was speech made as a citizen, and speech on a matter of public concern. The Supreme Court affirmed the Eleventh Circuit’s decision that Respondent is entitled to qualified immunity because the Eleventh Circuit precedent was not sufficiently clear to put Respondent on notice that Petitioner’s speech was protected.

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