Plaintiff Larry A. Ramirez (Ramirez) is employed by the Hudson County Correction Department. On May 22, 1975 the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders adopted a resolution promulgating revised rules and regulations governing the conduct of Correction Department employees. Among those rules and regulations is Rule 12, which reads as follows:
All information relative to institution affairs and individual inmates must be authorized and given out through the Warden. All employees are prohibited from imparting information to newspaper representatives or any other persons not officially connected with the Hudson County Jail or Penitentiary.
The verified complaint alleges that in December 1976 a local newspaper published a letter written by Ramirez in which he criticized alleged pay discrimination on defendants' part, as well as the county's contract negotiating position
and the working conditions at the county jail.*fn1 A week after that letter was published defendant Fred Nugent, Director of the County Department of Public Safety, issued a letter reprimanding Ramirez for violating Rule 12 by writing the letter to the newspaper.*fn2
In this action Ramirez seeks a declaratory judgment that Rule 12 is an unconstitutional deprivation of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States,*fn3 and also seeks a permanent injunction against the enforcement of Rule 12 by the defendants. Additionally, he seeks a mandatory injunction ordering the removal of all references to the reprimand from his personnel file and damages.
The matter is currently before the court on the parties' cross-motions for partial summary judgment. Since the facts as set forth above are not disputed by either party, summary judgment on the issue of Rule 12's constitutionality is appropriate, see Judson v. People's Bank & Trust Co. of Westfield , 17 N.J. 67, 73-75 (1954); R. 4:46-2. There has been no evidence presented as to Ramirez' damage claim and
therefore that issue must be resolved at trial. Thus, the sole issue to be decided on these motions is the constitutionality of Rule 12.
Plaintiff concedes that the county possesses a significant interest in regulating some speech by its correction officers "in order to promote efficiency, foster loyalty and obedience to superior officers, maintain morale, and instill public confidence in the law enforcement institution," Gasparinetti v. Kerr , 568 F.2d 311, 315-316 (3d Cir. 1977), cert. den. 436 U.S. 903, 98 S. Ct. 2232, 56 L. Ed. 2d 401 (1978). He argues, however, that any such regulation must be drawn so that its "restrictive effect * * * extend[s] only as far as is necessary to accomplish a legitimate governmental interest," id. , 568 F.2d at 316. Ramirez contends that Rule 12 is too broad in its restrictive effect and is therefore an unconstitutional infringement of his right to free speech. Defendants assert that Rule 12 is sufficiently narrowly drawn to pass constitutional scrutiny.
"A clear and precise enactment may nevertheless be 'overbroad' if in its reach it prohibits constitutionally protected conduct," Grayned v. City of Rockford , 408 U.S. 104, 114, 92 S. Ct. 2294, 2302, 33 L. Ed. 2d 222, 230, (1972). Even with regard to public employees, regulations restricting speech must be narrowly drawn so as not to encroach upon the free speech rights of those employees. Pickering v. Board of Education , 391 U.S. 563, 568, 88 S. Ct. 1731, 1734, 20 L. Ed. 2d 811, 817 (1968). "'[P]olicemen, like teachers and lawyers, are not relegated to a watered-down version of constitutional rights,'" Muller v. ...