Steve Armbruster, a Kutztown University police officer filed an appeal from an adverse decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Armbruster v. Cavanaugh, 2010 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 22288 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 9, 2010) regarding his
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against university officials and the police chief of his
department on the basis of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The case essentially involved a student protest where the individual students had engaged in a peaceful protest, and counter-protest where the students involved had followed officer requests to move away from university buildings. Subsequently, some students got upset at the political issues being debated and complained to university personnel.
As a result, the university president requested that Officer Armbruster to "push" the protesters off campus. Officer Armbruster did not respond to the university president's request to do so and the request then went to the Chief of Police. The Chief of Police for the department then observed the situation and ordered Officer Armbruster, again, to push the protesters off campus because of his perception that they were engaged in disorderly conduct.
In the officer's view, the protesters had not been acting in a disorderly manner and objected to the Chief's orders, claiming that they would violate the civil rights of the protesters and might subject himself to personal liability. The Chief of Police then relieved Officer Armbruster of his duties and eventually placed him on administrative leave. Finally, Officer Armbruster was given a 5-day suspension as a result of the objections he lodged.
Officer Armbruster then filed suit alleging that he had been subject to violations by the department of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The U.S. District Court, after hearing the claims, dismissed them, causing the appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
In the appeal, Officer Armbruster conceded his first claim, based on the First Amendment, but had appealed the dismissal of his claims under the Fourteenth Amendment. This claim by Officer Armbruster had alleged a violation of his right to refuse to obey an unconstitutional order after he was ordered to arrest or threaten to arrest demonstrators for disorderly conduct.