73°F
weather icon Clear

Appeals court upholds Nevada troopers’ free speech case

CARSON CITY — While government employers have legitimate interests in managing the speech of their employees related to their work, they may not subject workers to a blanket ban, the 9th Circuit Court ruled Tuesday.

The case involved three Nevada Highway Patrol troopers who sued their department in 2012, claiming administrators sabotaged their K-9 drug-detection unit and retaliated against them after media reports of alleged illegal searches.

The appeals court said government employers have significant and legitimate interests in managing the speech of their employees.

“We make clear today, however, that a public employer generally may not subject all employee speech regarding a particular government program — whether fact or opinion, and whether liable to disrupt the workplace or not — to a blanket ban,” the court panel said.

At the heart of the free speech complaint was an email sent by highway patrol Major Kevin Tice on Feb. 24, 2011 to K-9 troopers in the southern command area. In the message, Tice forbade “direct contact between K-9 handlers or line employees with ANY non-law enforcement entity or persons for the purpose of discussing the Nevada Highway Patrol K-9 program.”

Troopers Matt Moonin, Donn Yarnall and Erik Lee challenged the constitutionality of the email. The three-judge panel of the appeals court held that the sweeping policy imposed by Tice’s email violated the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks in 2015 ruled in favor of Moonin’s First Amendment claim, rejected Lee’s speech claim and did not decide Yarnall’s claims because he had died.

The appeals court panel, ruling on Moonin’s claims, found that it was clearly established in 2011, when Tice sent the email, that such a broad restriction on employee speech could not survive First Amendment scrutiny.

The panel said Tice, who is no longer with the department, was not entitled to qualified immunity for his actions. Hicks’ finding of partial summary judgment in favor of Moonin was upheld by the panel.

Reno attorney Ken McKenna, who represented the troopers, said the matter will now go to a jury in district court solely on the issue of damages for Moonin, who retired from the highway patrol a year ago.

“In essence, the 9th circuit has labeled the behavior of the Nevada Highway Patrol equivalent to a country like North Korea, which prevents democratic free speech,” McKenna said.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Extension wants to match small businesses with help

This week’s University of Nevada, Reno Extension town hall and webinar will help small business owners learn about organizations that exist to help them grow.

Event aims at boosting rural entrepreneurship in state

The Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development is partnering with StartUpNV, Entrepreneur’s Assembly, Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority, business leaders and other government entities, in a new statewide initiative to foster entrepreneurship in Nevada’s smaller cities and towns.

Nevada gets $47 million in federal highway funds

The Nevada Department of Transportation has secured $46.8 million in additional federal highway spending authority for statewide road projects through the redistribution of Federal Highway Administration fiscal year-end funds. It marks the largest amount of such funds obtained by Nevada in a single year.

Sisolak orders flags to fly at half-staff to honor Ginsburg

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered the U.S. flag and state flag t0 be flown at half-staff at the State Capitol and state public buildings and grounds to honor Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday.

USDA extends waivers for WIC benefits during COVID-19

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday announced the extension of more than a dozen waivers ensuring participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children continue receiving the food and health support they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eric Trump to stop in Pahrump on Thursday

Eric Trump is set to lead a “Make America Great Again” event in the Pahrump Valley on Thursday as the days before the 2020 election wind down.

Unemployment claims up, continued claims fall again

Finalized data from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation show initial claims for unemployment insurance totaled 8,332 for the week ending Sept. 12, up 381 claims, or 4.8%, compared to last week’s total of 7,951 claims.

Final EIS released on 3K-acre solar project near Pahrump

The Bureau of Land Management prepared a Final Environmental Statement (EIS) for the Yellow Pine, a 3,000-acre solar project about 10 miles southeast of Pahrump, according to the notice published in the federal register.

Missing paraglider found dead in central Nevada

James “Kiwi” Johnston of New Zealand was found under a tree after a passerby spotted Johnston’s paragliding chute blowing in the wind while driving near Fish Creek Range in Eureka County.

Anti-mask group holds rally at governor’s home

The No Mask Nevada PAC planned a rally against Nevada’s mask mandate at the residence of Gov. Steve Sisolak at 4:30 p.m. Monday.