Siegert v. Gilley

LOCATION:Cuyahoga County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 90-96
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 500 US 226 (1991)
ARGUED: Feb 19, 1991
DECIDED: May 23, 1991

Michael R. Lazerwitz – on behalf of the Respondent
Nina Kraut – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Siegert v. Gilley

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 19, 1991 in Siegert v. Gilley

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 23, 1991 in Siegert v. Gilley

William H. Rehnquist:

The next case is No. 90-96, Siegert against Gilley.

In this case, the petitioner, a clinical psychologist, asked his former employer who is a federal hospital to provide job performance and other information to his new employer, a US Army hospital in West Germany.

The respondent, the petitioner’s supervisor at his former job, responded with a letter declaring that he could not recommend petitioner because he believed petitioner to be inept, unethical, and untrustworthy.

After he was denied the position at the Army hospital, the petitioner sued the respondent in the District Court alleging that respondent had infringed his liberty rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment by publishing the defamatory statement which he knew to be untrue.

The respondent filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity which was denied by the District Court.

The United States court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss because assuming that a constitutional violation had been made out, the allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint were thought to be insufficient under its heightened pleading standard.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals, although, we do so under a different line of reasoning.

The petitioner based his constitutional claim on the theory that respondent’s actions undertaken with malice deprived him of a liberty interest secured by the Fifth Amendment.

In Paul against Davis, decided 15 years ago, we held that injury to reputation by itself was not a liberty interest protected under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Defamation by itself is a tort actionable under the laws of most states but not a constitutional depravation.

The facts alleged by petitioner in this case cannot, in light of our decision in Paul against Davis, state a claim for denial of a constitutional right and so, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals directing dismissal of the plaintiff’s action but on a different reasoning than the Court of Appeals used.

Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Marshall filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Blackmun joins and in parts 2 and 3 of which Justice Stevens joins.