Morgan v. Covington Twp., No. 09-2528 (3d Cir. 2011)Annotate this Case
The Township filed disciplinary charges against an officer, which were suspended pending state investigation, and placed him on paid leave. The state and county declined to investigate. The Township reinstituted charges. Before his hearing, the officer filed suit claiming violation of due process rights by publicizing charges and failing to provide a hearing before suspension; violation of the First Amendment by retaliating for requesting a hearing. The court granted summary judgment to the Township on due process claims, but denied summary judgment on the First Amendment claim. After a hearing, the board fired the officer. Because the officer waited until just before trial, the district court denied a motion to amend. He filed a new complaint, alleging retaliatory termination. The jury found for defendants on the First Amendment claims. The court dismissed the second suit, citing res judicata. The Third Circuit reversed in part. Res judicata does not bar claims predicated on events that postdate the filing of the initial complaint. The court properly instructed jurors that the township should prevail if it showed that it would have reached the same decision absent protected conduct. The officer's interest in a hearing before suspension with pay was outweighed by the township's interest in maintaining the integrity of its police force.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on August 11, 2011.