‘Robocop’ of Leash Laws Can Allege Retaliation

     (CN) – The so-called Robocop of Quincy, Mass., when it comes to enforcing local dog leash ordinances can sue the police department for retaliation, a federal judge ruled.
     Shortly his 2006 move to Quincy, where he worked as a police officer, Joseph McGunigle allegedly become very concerned with the rampant violation and nonenforcement of the dog-leashing ordinances in the community.
     He said his neighbors’ dogs roamed around the neighborhood without leashes, defecating on residents’ yards – including his – and a nearby beach.
     McGunigle also claimed that one dog attacked him while he jogging, and that he witnessed an unleashed dog attack a mother holding her 3-month-old child.
     He complained numerous times to city officials about the loose dogs, and used his authority as a police officer to issue citations to owners of unleashed dogs, issuing nearly a dozen tickets before Chief Robert Crowley ordered him to stop.
     Some of his neighbors nicknamed McGunigle “Robocop” for his strict enforcement on the law, the Patriotic Ledger reported.
     Three months after Crowley’s order, however, McGunigle started ticketing dog owners again because he claimed that the city did nothing about the problem.
     Crowley then suspended McGunigle for five days for disobeying his order, prompting McGunigle to speak to Channel 7 News and the Boston Globe about the dog situation in Quincy.
     An arbitrator later vacated the suspension, ruling that Crowley’s order to stop issuing citations was illegal.
     McGunigle said his statements to the media angered Crowley, and that the police chief sought to have him fired by disciplining him without cause.
     The Patriot Ledger reported that Crowley’s tenure was marked by dustups with the police officers’ union, which called him an “over-the-top authoritarian” who disciplined officers for minor infractions,.
     In 2012, the spurned officer sued the city, Capt. John Dougan and Chief Paul Keenan, who succeeded Crowley after that chief stepped down in 2008.
     U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro refused Thursday to dismiss McGunigle’s First Amendment retaliation claims.
     “Plaintiff allegedly spoke out in a number of forums on the subject of widespread violations and non-enforcement of dog leash and dog waste ordinances in Quincy,” Tauro wrote.
     “His speech plausibly relates to a matter of inherent public concern – that is, official neglect of duties and non-enforcement of public health and safety laws,” the judge added.
     Tauro also said he did not have enough evidence to determine whether McGunigle spoke to the media as a private citizen or in his capacity as a police officer.
     “The court must also consider the employer’s motivation behind the adverse employment decisions,” the ruling states. “Taking all well-pleaded facts as true, defendants’ motivation behind their adverse employment decisions was anger and retaliation for protected speech, not concern for workplace disruption or the efficient provision of public services.
     “Considering the above factors, it is plausible that the relevant interests of plaintiff and the public outweigh those of the government employer,” Tauro added. “Accordingly, plaintiff has alleged a plausible claim for violation of his First Amendment rights.”
     McGunigle’s claims under the equal protection clause did not fare as well, with Tauro finding that the allegations relating to acts from 2007 and 2008 are time-barred. His last equal protection claim left him proceeding as a class of one, but Tauro said this theory failed because it does not apply in the public employment context.

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