Heffernan v City of Patterson, New Jersey

Heffernan sought review of the 3rd Circuit’s opinion holding the police chief’s mistaken belief that Heffernan supported a mayoral candidate opposed by the chief could not provide the basis of a First Amendment retaliation claim. The Court, resolving a circuit split on the issue of mistaken factual beliefs about protected activity, reversed 6-2. The majority held that neither the text of 42 USC 1983 nor the Court’s precedence in the area of First Amendment retaliation resolved the issue. It next reasoned that because court precedent relied on employer motivation when a factual mistake was made in believing no protected activity occurred, a similar rule should apply here particularly as the chilling effect is the same as retaliation in cases with no factual mistake. The case was remanded to analyze City’s alternative arguments. Thomas, joined by Alito, dissented arguing Heffernan never spoke on any public issue or otherwise exercised a first Amendment right and thus has no claim.