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Smith v. County of Suffolk

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

January 14, 2015

RAYMOND SMITH, Plaintiff-Appellant, -
v.
- COUNTY OF SUFFOLK, RICHARD DORMER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE COMMISSIONER, Defendants-Appellees

Submitted: January 17, 2014.

Page 115

Appeal from the February 27, 2013 judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Lindsay, M.J.), dismissing the case on summary judgment, holding that plaintiff-appellant failed to produce facts demonstrating a causal connection between his protected speech and the adverse employment actions taken against him. Because the evidence of record, if credited by a jury, demonstrates a causal connection between the protected speech and the adverse employment action, and because the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff is insufficient to demonstrate that defendants-appellees would have transferred and suspended plaintiff had he not engaged in protected speech, defendants are not entitled to summary judgment. We therefore VACATE the judgment of the district court and REMAND this case for further proceedings.

Steven A. Morelli, Law Office of Stephen A. Morelli, P.C., Garden City, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant Raymond Smith.

Rudolph M. Baptiste, Assistant County Attorney, for Dennis M. Brown, Suffolk County Attorney, County of Suffolk, Hauppague, NY, for Defendants-Appellees County of Suffolk, Richard Dormer, individually and in his capacity as Suffolk County Police Commissioner.

Before (On Submission): HALL, LIVINGSTON, Circuit Judges, and BRODIE, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

Page 116

PER CURIAM:

Plaintiff-appellant Raymond Smith (" Smith" ) appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment and dismissal of his First Amendment employment retaliation case. The district court held that the record failed to demonstrate a causal connection between Smith's protected speech and the Suffolk County Police Department's (" Department" ) adverse employment actions. On appeal, Smith argues (1) that the record contains evidence connecting Smith's protected speech to the adverse employment actions sufficient to give rise to genuine questions of material fact, and (2) that the defendants-appellees fail to proffer evidence warranting summary judgment on the basis that those adverse actions would have occurred absent Smith's protected speech. We conclude that because Smith is correct on both points, the district court erred in granting summary judgment. We therefore VACATE the district court's judgment and REMAND this case for further proceedings.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Smith worked for the Department from 1981 until his retirement in 2008. Smith rose to the rank of lieutenant, where his

Page 117

duties included supervising a squad of officers, planning community events, responding to complaints, coordinating with other squads and precincts, preparing computerized crime reports, and conducting motor patrols.

Smith was investigated, warned, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct related to the use of his Department-owned computer[1] on several occasions leading up to the incidents at issue. In 1997, after it was discovered that Smith had installed a modem on a computer without authorization, he was warned not to install, reconfigure, or tamper with Department programs or computers. In 2000, after investigating an incident of computer tampering that had prevented other users from accessing his computer, the Department reprimanded Smith for computer misuse. Smith was issued a written directive to read and familiarize himself with the Department's computer policy. The directive included the explicit policy statements that " Department computers are for official use only," use of " any Department information or equipment for personal use or gain is strictly prohibited," and " Internet access that is made available is for Department use only." J.A. 327-28. Six years later, in 2006, it was discovered that Smith had used a computer to make flyers ...


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