Heffernan v. City of Paterson, No. 14-1610 (3d Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Heffernan joined the Paterson Police Department in 1985 and became a detective. In 2006, Spagnola, a former Paterson police chief and Heffernan’s friend, sought to unseat the incumbent mayor. Heffernan hoped that Spagnola would win, but was unable to vote for Spagnola based on his city of residence, did not work on the campaign, and did not consider himself “politically involved.” At the request of his bedridden mother, Heffernan picked up a Spagnola campaign sign, to replace one that had been stolen from her lawn. An officer assigned to the Mayor’s security staff observed Heffernan’s encounter with the Spagnola campaign manager. The next day, Heffernan was demoted to a “walking post” because of his “overt involvement in a political election.” Heffernan sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. His free-association claim resulted in a jury verdict of $105,000. The judge retroactively recused himself and vacated the verdict. A new judge granted the defendants summary judgment on a free-expression claim; on remand, another judge concluded that Heffernan had adequately pleaded and prosecuted his free-association claim, but found that Heffernan did not establish that he actually exercised his First Amendment rights. The Third Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and the case was remanded for trial.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on August 25, 2016.