452 U.S. 926 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

SAYE v. WILLIAMS , 452 U.S. 926 (1981)

452 U.S. 926

David SAYE and Edward T. Kassinger
No. 80-1123

Supreme Court of the United States

June 8, 1981

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice REHNQUIST, dissenting.

Respondent was an officer in a university police department. Over the objections of petitioners, his superiors, respondent desired to run for the office of County Sheriff. The chief of the local police force, Chief Brown, also desired to run for that office. Chief Brown was involved in an accident, and respondent approved an accident report which stated among other things that Brown had been drinking. The next morning petitioners, at the request of Chief Brown, had the accident report changed so as to read "Not known if drinking." Respondent objected to the modified accident report, and disclosed these events to his father, who in turn leaked the original and altered accident reports to the press. When petitioners learned of the leak, they fired respondent. Respondent subsequently filed suit alleging that he had been fired for engaging in protected First Amendment activity.

After a jury trial, respondent was awarded compensatory and punitive damages against both petitioners. Relying on the so-called Pickering defenses, see Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968), petitioners had sought to defend the discharge on the grounds that respondent by leaking confidential police material for his own political ends, had destroyed a harmonious working relationship with his superiors. Petitioners also contended that they were entitled to " official immunity" from damages, in that they had in good faith discharged respondent for violating the department's policy against disclosing confidential police investigative reports. See Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308 (1975);

Page 452 U.S. 926 , 927

Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232 (1974). The District Court, however, held that evidence of these defenses was inadmissible into evidence, and it declined to instruct the jury as to " qualified or good-faith" immunity.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. Williams v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, 629 F.2d 993. It first held that evidence of the confidentiality policy, which went directly to the issue of official immunity, could only be admitted if the policy

    "(1) factually existed, (2) was consistent with other state statutes and regulations, (3) was not vague, (4) did not proscribe protected first amendment speech overbroadly, (5) was communicated to the appellee and (6) was not void as a matter of public policy in its instant application." Id., at 1000 (footnotes omitted).

Although the court conceded that petitioners had shown enough evidence of the existence of a confidentiality policy to establish a jury question, the court held that the other factors were not present, namely, that the confidentiality policy conflicted with state regulations. Because the evidence of the confidentiality policy was inadmissible, the court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to warrant a jury instruction as to the existence of "good-faith" immunity.

It seems to me that the Court of Appeals' six-prong "test" unjustifiably expands the principles announced in such cases as Wood and Scheuer. In those cases, we held that official immunity is available where there is evidence that the official has a subjective good-faith belief in the lawfulness of his action and where the action is not inconsistent with undisputed and settled law. Accordingly, I believe that the novel test announced by the Court of Appeals warrants review.

The court next rejected petitioners' contention that the District Court erred in refusing to permit petitioners to introduce evidence and to charge the jury as to their "Pickering [452 U.S. 926 , 928]

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