Donald Scarinci of Scarinci Hollenback in New Jersey yesterday posted this column, whose title is the title of this post, on PolitickerNJ.com. Scarinci concludes that the Third Circuit’s high-court results this past term were “average” for its own three cases and “weren’t stellar” for other circuit-split cases in which the Third Circuit had taken a side.
This morning the Supreme Court issued Heffernan v. City of Paterson, reversing by a 6-2 vote the Third Circuit, holding:
When an employer demotes an employee out of a desire to prevent the employee from engaging in political activity that the First Amendment protects, the employee is entitled to challenge that unlawful action under the First Amendment and 42 U. S. C. §1983—even if, as here, the employer makes a factual mistake about the employee’s behavior.
Here, police officer Heffernan was fired after he was seen getting a political candidate’s yard sign. In reality he picked up the sign for his mother, but he was fired based on the mistaken view that he was supporting that candidate himself. In a decision I described at the time as “wacky” and a head-scratcher, the Third Circuit had affirmed summary judgment against Heffernan, without oral argument, on the theory that he was not actually exercising his First Amendment rights.
The Supreme Court remanded for further proceedings on whether the employers acted pursuant to a neutral policy.
This morning’s U.S. Supreme Court order list included two Third Circuit cases of note.
First, the Court granted certiorari, vacated the judgment, and remanded in light of Johnson v. U.S. in Moon v. U.S., a criminal appeal the Third Circuit decided in a 2015 non-precedential opinion. Moon was represented by Philadelphia assistant federal defender Brett Sweitzer.
Second, the Court denied certiorari in Saranchak v. Wetzel, a capital habeas corpus appeal. The Third Circuit granted penalty-phase relief in 2015 while affirming the conviction, and Saranchak had sought cert presumably on the guilt-phase ruling.
The Court granted cert in one case to review a First Circuit case involving acquittals and Double Jeopardy (QP #1 on Scotusblog).
This past April, the Third Circuit in Siluk v. Merwin sided with prisoners in a circuit split over how much inmate litigants had to pay each month to cover multiple filing fees. Interpreting the PLRA, the divided CA3 panel held that payments were capped at 20% of the inmate’s monthly income, meaning, for example, that an inmate who owed 5 filing fees would be docked 20% of his monthly income until each of the fees was paid sequentially. Other circuits had held that inmates could be billed 20% of their income for each suit they filed, simultaneously, meaning that the inmate who owed 5 filing fees could be docked his entire income each month. In June, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the circuit split, as I reported here.
This week a unanimous Supreme Court briskly rejected the pro-prisoner rule the Third Circuit (along with the Second and Fourth Circuits) had adopted. The case is Bruce v. Samuels, the USSC opinion is here.