Appeals court: Cleveland EMS captain fired for Facebook posts can resume lawsuit against city

Former Cleveland EMS Capt. Jamie Marquardt was fired for posts that appeared on his Facebook page expressing joy over the death of Tamir Rice


John Caniglia
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A federal appeals panel Wednesday overturned a judge’s ruling on a lawsuit brought by a former Cleveland EMS captain fired over offensive Facebook posts about Tamir Rice.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the case of Jamie Marquardt returned to federal court, where Judge Solomon Oliver rejected Marquardt’s arguments last year.

A federal appeals panel has ruled that former Cleveland EMS Capt. Jamie Marquardt can continue his lawsuit against the city over his firing for Facebook posts. (Photo/LoboStudioHamburg, Pixabay)
A federal appeals panel has ruled that former Cleveland EMS Capt. Jamie Marquardt can continue his lawsuit against the city over his firing for Facebook posts. (Photo/LoboStudioHamburg, Pixabay)

The case stems from statements posted to Marquardt’s Facebook page in February 2016. He has denied making the racially insensitive and disturbing statements about Tamir, a 12-year-old shot at the Cudell Recreation Center in 2014 as he held a realistic-looking pellet gun.

Marquardt removed the posts within hours and later attributed them to an acquaintance with access to his phone, according to court records.

He sued the city in 2018, claiming that he was fired in retaliation over what had been posted on the Facebook page, a violation of his First Amendment rights. He had claimed that the messages were a matter of public concern, which is required to prove that his rights were violated.

Oliver, however, said the issue was a matter of private concern.

“It is unimaginable that Facebook posts detailing the author’s desire to kill a 12-year-old boy and his joy that [the boy] is already dead are a matter of public concern,” Oliver wrote. “His references to ‘I' and ‘me’ in his posts show this was a personal grievance that was written to further his own private interests.”

The appeals panel of Ronald Gilman, John Bush and Chad Readler disagreed. The judges stressed that the Facebook posts were a matter of public concern.

"Speech involves a matter of public concern when it can be 'fairly considered as relating to any political, social or other concern to the community,'" the judges wrote.

Later, they added: "And in undertaking that analysis, we set aside the shocking and no doubt painful aspects of Marquardt's comments. For whether speech is shocking or inappropriate is irrelevant to whether it concerns a public matter."

The case will return to Oliver’s courtroom for further proceedings. An attorney for Marquardt, Steven Shafron, declined to comment. A city spokeswoman said the city is reviewing the opinion and weighing its options.

The city agreed to a $6 million settlement with Tamir’s family.

Marquardt had been employed by an EMT since 1991, rising to the level of captain. He said an acquaintance showed up at his home unannounced in February of 2016 and was agitated and suicidal. He said he stayed up all night trying to help the person and was able to go to sleep after 5 a.m.

When he woke up, his cellphone was on the kitchen table, and the acquaintance was gone. He later found messages from friends related to posts on his Facebook page, according to the suit.

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©2020 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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