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Quincy officer's First Amendment lawsuit against the city moves forward

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  May 22, 2013 04:02 PM

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A First Amendment lawsuit brought by a fired Quincy police officer will move to the next step in federal court proceedings, after a judge decided there wasn’t enough evidence to dismiss the lawsuit.

The case is one of several that Joseph McGunigle has pending against the city, including an appeal of the revocation of his gun permit in Norfolk Superior Court, after he was let go from the department following a history of clashes with higher ups.

Judge Joseph Tauro, with the United States District Court, did throw out half of the lawsuit that alleged that McGunigle was treated differently than other citizens, but counsel for the Quincy officer said the primary issue still stands.

“The First Amendment count is the significant issue,” said Attorney Tim Burke, who is representing McGunigle. “What it says is the claim is that he was retaliated against because he spoke out about an issue that was of public concern. And they filed a motion to dismiss … and the judge denied their motion to dismiss saying it was a legitimate claim.”

The judge has allowed the city to file additional documents to rebut McGunigle’s claims. Those complaints, and McGunigle’s answers, will be reviewed before the court proceedings move forward.

“It’s clear to me this was done as a retaliation going way back from the exercise of his enforcement of the dog ordinances,” Burke said. “It became a political issue and the city, chief of police, obviously told not to enforce and tried to prevent him from enforcing and it escalated from there.”

The federal lawsuit claims that McGunigle was punished for speaking out to the media about a situation involving dog citations.

McGunigle is seeking damages for loss for income as a result of his suspensions and terminations, plus attorney fees.

McGunigle had been ticketing people who weren’t picking up after their dogs were defecating on the beach. In the suit, McGunigle claims that he spoke to Channel 7 News about the incident and also spoke to the Boston Globe in a 2007 article.

“Plaintiff’s statements to news organizations angered Defendants,” the lawsuit alleges. “Defendants began a campaign of retaliation against Plaintiff for his speech.”

McGunigle said he was denied medical leave, was required to undergo a psychological evaluation, and most recently had his gun license revoked all due to the dog issue.

While the judge agreed to let the court process move forward on complaints from 2009 on – as the statutory period for filing is only three years - the judge noted that this doesn’t necessarily mean all the complaints in the lawsuit are valid.

According to the judge’s decision, in a motion to dismiss the judge must view the evidence in “the light most favorable to plaintiff." With this mindset, the judge denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

That factor has Quincy officials optimistic of the process moving forward.

“The judge said he didn’t have enough information to assume, this is what happens in a motion to dismiss, unless he sees something to contrary, he has to assume all the facts alleged by McGunigle are true, so he’s given the city the opportunity to indicate [otherwise]…he didn’t indicate McGunigle has an independent claim, only that he might or might not,” said Steve McGrath, HR Director for the city.

McGrath said because of this detail, and also because the first half of the lawsuit was dismissed, things are looking up.

“The case is going along very well,” he said. “I’m optimistic and I think this firm is doing a good job. I’m confident in them.”

One unavoidable consequence of the McGunigle claims has been the legal costs. To date, the city has spent $88,000 in litigation with McGunigle, bills that are only expected to go up with this most recent decision.

“I don’t know if we’re talking months or years, I just don’t know,” McGrath said.

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