Case Overview

Action

First Amendment claim affirmed.

Facts/Syllabus

"Petitioner Heffernan was a police officer working in the office of Paterson, New Jersey’s chief of police. Both the chief of police and Heffernan’s supervisor had been appointed by Paterson’s incumbent mayor, who was running for re-election against Lawrence Spagnola, a good friend of Heffernan’s. Heffernan was not involved in Spagnola’s campaign in any capacity. As a favor to his bedridden mother, Heffernan agreed to pick up and deliver to her a Spagnola campaign yard sign. Other police officers observed Heffernan speaking to staff at a Spagnola distribution point while holding the yard sign. Word quickly spread throughout the force. The next day, Heffernan’s supervisors demoted him from detective to patrol officer as punishment for his 'overt involvement' in Spagnola’s campaign. Heffernan filed suit, claiming that the police chief and the other respondents had demoted him because, in their mistaken view, he had engaged in conduct that constituted protected speech. They had thereby 'depriv[ed]' him of a 'right . . . secured by the Constitution.' 42 U. S. C. §1983. The District Court, however, found that Heffernan had not been deprived of any constitutionally protected right because he had not engaged in any First Amendment conduct. Affirming, the Third Circuit concluded that Heffernan’s claim was actionable under §1983 only if his employer’s action was prompted by Heffernan’s actual, rather than his perceived, exercise of his free-speech rights."

Cite this page