O’Hare Truck Service, Inc. v. City of Northlake

PETITIONER:O’Hare Truck Service, Inc.
RESPONDENT:City of Northlake
LOCATION:Virginia Military Institute

DOCKET NO.: 95-191
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 518 US 712 (1996)
ARGUED: Mar 20, 1996
DECIDED: Jun 28, 1996

Gary M. Feiereisel – Argued the cause for the respondents
Harvey Grossman – Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

O’Hare Truck Service was one among several towing companies employed by the city of Northlake. Northlake kept a list of available towing companies and would only remove a company from its list after a showing of cause. In the present case, however, Northlake removed O’Hare Truck Service from its list because O’Hare’s owner did not support Northlake’s mayoral candidate in his reelection campaign. Instead, O’Hare’s owner supported the opposition candidate. Upon removal from Northlake’s employment list, O’Hare Truck Service filed suit alleging that its dismissal was a retaliation for its lack of support for Northlake’s mayoral candidate. The dismissal was the cause of substantial loss in income. On appeal from the District Court’s dismissal for failure to state a First Amendment violation, the Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Did O’Hare Truck Service’s removal from Northlake’s employment list, as a result of its support for an opposition mayoral candidate, violate O’Hare Truck Services freedom of speech?

Media for O’Hare Truck Service, Inc. v. City of Northlake

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 20, 1996 in O’Hare Truck Service, Inc. v. City of Northlake

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 28, 1996 in O’Hare Truck Service, Inc. v. City of Northlake

Sandra Day O’Connor:

I have the opinion in O’Hare Truck Service versus City of Northlake to announce for Justice Kennedy who is absent today.

This case comes here on writ of certiorari to the Seventh Circuit.

It is an opinion that raises issues that have parallels to those raised in the one I just announced Board of Commissioner versus Umbehr.

The petitioner in O’Hare Truck Service versus City of Northlake is a man named John Gratzianna.

His company O’Hare Truck Service was in the automobile tolling business and important part of the business depended on referrals from the City of Northlake, Illinois.

For at least 30 years, the City had maintained a list of tolling companies which they have acceptable service.

When the police received the tolling request, they would call the company next on the list.

According to O’Hare’s complaint, O’Hare was removed from the list when Gratzianna refused to support the mayor in his successful re-election campaign.

O’Hare’s proprietor Gratzianna instead supported the campaign of one of the opponents of the mayor.

In the District Court and in the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the complaint was dismissed in accord with Seventh Circuit precedents.

Cases from this Court such as Elrod versus Burns and Branti versus Finkel protect public employees from discharge based on their political affiliation unless that affiliation is a reasonable requirement for the job in question.

The Seventh Circuit declined to extend Elrod and Branti to the protection of independent contractors.

We now reverse that judgment.

Gratzianna was targeted with a specific demand for political support and on his refusal the City terminated the relationship that based on longstanding practice; he had reason to believe would continue.

We see nothing that distinguishes this on the type of coercion exercise in the long line of our cases holding that the government may not condition public employment on an employee’s exercise of his or her First Amendment rights.

We see no reason why the constitutional claim here should turn on the distinction between employees and independent contractors.

The Constitution accords government officials a large measure of freedom as they exercise discretion adherent in making decisions by the contracting of goods and services but the First Amendment does not deny independent contractors safeguards for exercising rights of political association and political affiliation.

The opinion for the Court was authored by Justice Kennedy.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed the cases remanded.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion which Justice Thomas has joined.