Brandon v. Maricopa County (9th Cir. 14-16910 2/23/17) First Amendment Retaliation
The panel reversed the district court’s judgment in favor of plaintiff following jury verdicts and vacated the attorneys’ fee award in plaintiff’s action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law alleging she was fired from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in retaliation for a statement she made to a local newspaper regarding a case she handled for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department.
The panel held that no reasonable jury could conclude that County risk management officials improperly interfered with plaintiff’s employment contract when they requested reassignment of her risk management cases to other lawyers after she made statements to the newspaper. Accordingly, the panel reversed the jury’s verdict against the defendant officials on the state law tortious interference with contract claim because, as a matter of law, defendants’ conduct was not improper.
The panel held that with the legally defined scope of an attorney’s duties in mind, it was obvious that plaintiff’s comments to the newspaper could not constitute constitutionally protected citizen speech under the principles from Dahlia v. Rodriguez, 735 F.3d 1060, 1074–76 (9th Cir. 2013). Accordingly, the panel reversed the jury’s First Amendment retaliation verdict.