A federal appeals court on Thursday denied the city of Los Angeles' appeal of a $154,747 jury award to a police officer who was fired six years ago--but later reinstated--for refusing to give Internal Affairs Division investigators a urine sample for a drug test.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a jury's findings in 1989 that Internal Affairs investigators infringed on Officer Johnny Lee Jackson's 4th Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure when they ordered him to submit to the test solely on the basis of his having been seen twice with another officer suspected of drug use.
Jackson refused the Feb. 20, 1986, order but later underwent the test at a private hospital on the advice of the police union. No evidence of drugs was found.
Jackson was fired for insubordination but reinstated with back pay more than a year later when an arbitration panel ruled that the department had overstepped its bounds. Jackson later successfully sued for damages.
Jackson's attorney, Michael P. Stone, said the ruling affirming the jury's verdict appears to set a precedent because it holds that a violation of the 4th Amendment can occur even if no search is conducted.
Stone said the court ruled that protections against the consequences of refusing an illegal search--Jackson's firing for refusing to provide a urine sample--are also found in the amendment.
"The jury found that the order Jackson disobeyed required him to submit to an unconstitutional search," the ruling reads in part. "Because the right to be free from unreasonable searches is contained explicitly in the 4th Amendment, it follows that the right to be free from adverse consequences for refusing to submit to an unreasonable search must also be found there."
Peter Arenella, a professor at UCLA Law School and an expert on the 4th Amendment, said that while the ruling may be unusual in regard to the amendment, it was not necessarily precedent-setting because courts have long followed the same philosophy while deciding other constitutional questions.
"I don't think it is an earth-shattering case," Arenella said. "Courts in the past have concluded that if someone has a constitutional right not to do something, then (penalizing) them for not giving up that right violates their constitutional rights. It's a general common sense principle."
Deputy City Atty. Arthur B. Walsh, who defended the city in the case, said he had not seen the ruling and could not comment.