Several years ago, a Baltimore resident called 911 to report a burglary and wound up being beaten, tased, and arrested by the police officers who responded to the call. Her claim against the Baltimore Police Department spent several years in the courts and was finally settled. Baltimore includes a “non-disparagement” clause in such settlement agreements, so when the women spoke to the press about her experience, the city reduced her settlement payment in accordance with the non-disparagement clause.
She sued in U.S. District Court, claiming that the clause violated her First Amendment right to speak freely about the government. She was joined in the suit by the Baltimore Brew. The Brew claimed that the city’s use of such agreements violated its free press right to investigate and report on matters of public interest such as police misconduct. That suit was thrown out by the District Court on summary judgment.
The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has reversed the District Court’s granting summary judgment in Baltimore’s favor and sent the case back to the lower court.
The City has not identified a comparably compelling public good or other legitimate governmental aim that was, or could be, furthered by enforcement of the non- disparagement clause (other than a general interest in using settlements to resolve lawsuits). Consequently, the City is not entitled to summary judgment on Overbey’s First Amendment claim.
we conclude that the Brew has sufficiently pleaded an ongoing or imminent injury in fact that is both traceable to the City’s challenged conduct and redressable by the court. As discussed above, neither the parties’ arguments below nor the district court’s disposition went meaningfully beyond the pleadings in evaluating the Brew’s standing. We therefore decline to do so ourselves— even though the order under review is nominally a grant of summary judgment to the City. Instead, we remand to give the parties and the district court an opportunity to develop the evidentiary record relevant to the Brew’s claims.
It will be interesting to see how the case unfolds.
Non disclosure agreements.
Contract law vs Free Speech?
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