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McKee v. Hart

January 6, 2006

DWIGHT L. MCKEE; ALLEN L. JONES
v.
HENRY HART; WESLEY RISH; ALBERT MASLAND; JAMES SHEEHAN; DANIEL P. SATTELLE DANIEL P. SATTELE, APPELLANT



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 02-cv-01910) District Judge: Honorable Richard Caputo.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued March 10, 2005

Before: SCIRICA, Chief Judge, ROTH and AMBRO, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Daniel Sattele appeals the District Court's denial of his summary judgment motion seeking qualified immunity in a suit brought by Allen Jones alleging that Sattele, among others, had retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. Because Jones did not allege that Sattele deprived him of a constitutional right-and because even if he had, that right was not clearly established at the time Sattele engaged in the alleged conduct-we conclude that Sattele is entitled to qualified immunity. We therefore reverse the decision of the District Court and remand for further proceedings.

I. Factual and Procedural History

In May 2002, Jones was hired as a special investigator for the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General ("OIG").*fn1 The OIG is responsible for investigating allegations of fraud, waste, misconduct, and abuse in executive agencies of the Commonwealth. At the time of the events at issue in this case, Sattele was an Investigations Manager at OIG and was Jones's supervisor.

In mid- to late-July 2002, Jones was given a lead role in the investigation of Steve Fiorello, the chief pharmacist at Harrisburg State Hospital. There was only one other person assigned to the investigation. A few weeks after the investigation began, Jones told Sattele that he was concerned about problems in the pharmaceutical industry that went beyond the Fiorello investigation-specifically that he believed the industry was routinely bribing state officials. Jones informed Sattele that he wanted to broaden the Fiorello investigation to include the entire pharmaceutical industry. Thereafter, Jones continued to inform Sattele about his concerns regarding the industry.

In response, Sattele told Jones to stay focused on the Fiorello investigation and not to investigate corruption in the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. Sattele subsequently removed Jones from his lead role in the Fiorello investigation in September 2002*fn2 because Jones had, in Sattele's words, "lost focus." Sattele based this conclusion on the fact that Jones continued to voice concerns about the entire pharmaceutical industry even after Sattele had told him to concentrate only on Fiorello.

In October 2002, Dwight McKee, one of Jones's colleagues at OIG, filed a complaint against other OIG employees, alleging that they had retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. In November 2002, an amended complaint was filed, joining Jones as a plaintiff and Sattele as a defendant. Jones brought a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Sattele and the other defendants had also retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. Jones claimed generally that he was retaliated against-through intimidation and harassment by his supervisors-for complaining to his supervisors that public corruption investigations were being obstructed and delayed for reasons that were not legitimate.

In particular, at his deposition Jones identified three comments by Sattele that he perceived as harassment in retaliation for his refusal to stop voicing his concerns about the pharmaceutical industry.*fn3 First, he testified that Sattele told him that

Mac [McKee] was torpedoed. Some of the things that he got maybe he deserved, but a lot of them he didn't. He was torpedoed. You keep your mouth shut . . . . Mac has been torpedoed, keep your mouth shut or the same thing can happen to you.

In a similar vein, Jones recalled that Sattele told him, in early October 2002, that if Jones could not adjust to the way OIG operated, he ...


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