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On June 18, 2018, the Supreme Court decided Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, FL, a case involving a claim of retaliatory arrest in violation of the First Amendment.
Fane Lozman moved to Riviera Beach, FL in 2006, where he lived on a floating home in the Riviera Beach Marina--a part of the city designated for redevelopment under the City’s new redevelopment plan that would use eminent domain to revitalize the waterfront. After hearing news of the plan, Lozman became an “outspoken critic,” and filed suit against the City in June 2006 after a special City Council emergency meeting to push through the redevelopment plan before the Governor of Florida signed a bill into law that would prohibit the use of eminent domain for private development.
Later at a public City Council meeting in November 2006, Lozman began to discuss the arrest of a former county official during the public comments portion of the meeting. He was interrupted by a member of the City Council, who, after exchanging words with Lozman, called a city police officer to dismiss Lozman from the podium. Lozman refused to leave the podium without finishing his comments, the police officer warned him that he would be arrested if he did not comply, and, upon the continuance of his comments, Lozman was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence (charges later dismissed). In 2008, Lozman filed suit in federal district court against the City of Riviera Beach, claiming that his arrest had constituted unlawful retaliation by the City due to Lozman’s earlier opposition to the redevelopment plan. The jury found that the arrest had been supported by probable cause, which the District Court concluded must defeat Lozman’s First Amendment claim of retaliatory arrest. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed that judgment, but the Supreme Court then granted certiorari to address whether the existence of probable cause defeats a First Amendment claim for retaliatory arrest.
By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Eleventh Circuit and remanded the case. In an opinion delivered by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that the existence of probable cause for Lozman’s arrest for disrupting a city council meeting did not bar his First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim under the circumstances of this case.
Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion.
To discuss the case, we have Lisa Soronen, Executive Director of the State & Local Legal Center.