The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge
Presently before this Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff Albert Jackson's First Amendment/retaliation claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. *fn1 Oral argument was heard on April 18, 2002. This First Amendment/retaliation claim was filed in a Supplemental Complaint, pursuant to the October 12, 2001 Order of the Honorable Joel B. Rosen, U.S.M.J. Plaintiff Albert Jackson ("Jackson") alleges that defendants Jeff Lewis ("Lewis") and the DRBA violated his right to free speech when they subjected him to an internal investigation and 3-day suspension after Jackson spoke at a Town of Smyrna public meeting and expressed negative views about their mayor, a former DRBA commissioner. For the reasons stated herein, and because this Court finds as a matter of law that plaintiff Jackson's speech did not involve a matter of public concern and also that the value of plaintiff's speech was outweighed by the DRBA's interest in the effective and efficient fulfillment of its responsibilities to the public, defendants' motion for summary judgment on Jackson's First Amendment retaliation claim will be granted, and Count V of the Supplemental Complaint will be dismissed.
The facts of the underlying case involving the relationship of the parties and plaintiffs' complaints of hostile work environment, discussed at length in this Court's earlier summary judgment Opinion, will not be recounted herein. (See Jackson v. DRBA, No. 99-3185, 2001 WL 1689880 (D.N.J. Nov. 26, 2001).)
On July 2, 2001, Jackson attended a public meeting of the town council in Smyrna, Delaware. (Kelley Aff., Defs.' Ex. B, Jackson Dep., Tr. 226.) Jackson learned of the meeting through a newspaper article. (Compl., ¶¶ 4-5.) Mark Schaeffer, a former commissioner of the DRBA, was the Mayor of Smyrna at the time and was engaged in a "highly publicized dispute with the serving town manager, Michael Jacobs, over whether Jacobs should continue in his position." (Compl., ¶¶ 2-3.) Jackson attended the meeting in his DRBA uniform, advised the attendees that he was a DRBA employee and a non-resident of Smyrna, and, during the open portion of the meeting, made negative comments about Schaeffer's former tenure at DRBA. (Compl., ¶ 7.) Jackson asserts that he developed a poor opinion of Schaeffer's qualifications and management abilities while Schaeffer was DRBA commissioner, which prompted him to attend the meeting and speak out. (Compl., ¶ 6.)
Mr. Jackson's comments at the town meeting were as follows:
Jackson: (In Ferry uniform) My name is Albert Jackson. I work for the Delaware River and Bay Authority, and I live in Long Neck Delaware down in Sussex County.
And I read about Mr. Schaeffer and the problems that you fine people are having up here.
I never came up here to get involved or anything like that but I just wanted to come up and give you some comments because the workers at the DRBA have caught hell.
(Inaudible, clock chiming in the background) As a Delaware and Bay Authority Commissioner, and I just wanted to alert you all, he's overseen a lot of problems that we were having there and uh, I just wanted to make sure you have good checks and balances on Mr. Schaeffer for all the things the workers, and problems have has at the Authority.
He was Commissioner in charge of police or whatever, and DRBA's police have caught more hell and they are run so poorly by terrible management.
I'm not going to take up much of your time, but I just wanted you to know, the many problems we faced at the DRBA.
The FDA shut down our food service. They had three inspections. The people that ran the food service were poorly trained and they weren't even paid a living wage, and 98% of the people, the workers were women.
So uh, they refurbished a boat. The Twin Capes and the Cape May, two very big boats, and the cost overruns were like $21 million. And they could have built a brand new boat for $25 million.
And, this old boat that they put all this steel on which is top heavy and the center of gravity is real high, uh, it cost like $46 million, and they used foreign people. They bought foreign furniture and there was no economic development basically for the States of Delaware and New Jersey. It was set up for the benefit of the citizens of Delaware and New Jersey.
Um, I would hope that town council and Mayor Schaeffer would go to the DRBA and try to get some economic development because they're flush with money and you guys should get your fair share because they give it to everybody ...