LANE v. FRANKS

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
13-483
Petitioner 
Edward Lane
Respondent 
Steven Franks
Decided By 
Advocates
(for the petitioner)
(Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae supporting the petitioner)
(for the respondent Burrow)
(for the respondent Franks)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

In 2006, Edward Lane accepted a probationary position as Director of the Community Intensive Training for Youth (“CITY”) program at Central Alabama Community College (“CACC”). He subsequently terminated the employment of Suzanne Schmitz, a state representative who had not performed any work for the program despite being listed on CITY’s payroll. Lane also testified against Schmitz in two federal criminal trials between 2008 and 2009. In January 2009, Steve Franks, the president of CACC, sent termination letters to 29 CITY employees, including Lane, but rescinded the terminations of 27 of those employees within a few days. Lane sued Franks in federal district court and alleged that his termination from the CITY program was in retaliation for his testimony against Schmitz and therefore violated his First Amendment right to free speech. The district court ruled that the doctrine of qualified immunity shielded Franks from liability and granted summary judgment in his favor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed but declined to reach a decision on the qualified immunity question. Instead, the appellate court held that the First Amendment did not protect Lane’s testimony because it was made pursuant to his official duties as a public employee.

Question 

(1) Does the First Amendment protect a public employee’s truthful, sworn testimony that was compelled by subpoena and not a part of the employee’s ordinary job responsibilities?

(2) Does the doctrine of qualified immunity preclude Lane from claiming that Franks terminated his employment in an act of retaliation?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Lane; Franks, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: First amendment

Yes and no. Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the opinion for the unanimous Court. The Court held that Lane’s testimony clearly constituted citizen speech on a public matter and that the testimony was elicited during a trial for misuse of state funds and corruption. Therefore, Lane did not testify as part of his employment responsibilities. Though Lane learned some of the subject matter of his testimony through the course of his employment, that alone does not make the testimony a part of Lane’s employment responsibilities. However, even though the Court found that Lane’s speech was protected under the First Amendment, ultimately Lane’s claim must be dismissed because Franks had qualified immunity. Previous precedent, specifically Morris v. Crow, held that public employee testimony was unprotected speech, and thus when Franks fired Lane, he was not violating a clearly established constitutional right.

In his concurring opinion Justice Clarence Thomas agreed that because Lane did not testify as a part of his employment duties and responsibilities, his testimony constituted citizen speech on a public matter and was entitled to First Amendment protection. Justice Thomas further applauded the Court for not addressing whether the First Amendment protects the testimony of public employee when that testimony is part of the employee’s employment duties. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Justice Antonin Scalia joined the concurrence.

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LANE v. FRANKS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2013/2013_13_483%20>.
LANE v. FRANKS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2013/2013_13_483%20 (last visited November 26, 2014).
"LANE v. FRANKS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 26, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2013/2013_13_483%20.