City of Ontario v. Quon
Ontario v. Quon, sometimes cited as City of Ontario v. Quon, 130 S.Ct. 2619, 560 U.S. 746 (2010), is a United States Supreme Court case concerning the extent to which the right to privacy applies to electronic communications in a government workplace. It was an appeal by the city of Ontario, California, from a Ninth Circuit decision holding that it had violated the Fourth Amendment rights of two of its police officers when it disciplined them following an audit of pager text messages that discovered many of those messages were personal in nature, some sexually explicit. The Court unanimously held that the audit was work-related and thus did not violate the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable search and seizure.Ontario police sergeant Jeff Quon, along with other officers and those they were exchanging messages with, had sued the city, their superiors and the pager service provider in federal court. They had alleged a violation of not only their constitutional rights but federal telecommunications privacy laws. Their defense was that a superior officer had promised the pager messages themselves would not be audited if the officers reimbursed the city for fees it incurred when they exceeded a monthly character limit.Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion signed by seven of his fellow justices. It decided the case purely on the reasonableness of the pager audit, explicitly refusing to consider ""far-reaching issues"" it raised on the grounds that modern communications technology and its role in society was still evolving. He nevertheless discussed those issues at some length in explaining why the Court chose not to rule on them, in addition to responding, for argument's sake, more directly to issues raised by the respondents. John Paul Stevens wrote a separate concurring opinion, as did Antonin Scalia, who would have used a different test he had proposed in an earlier case to reach the same result.Outside commentators mostly praised the justices for this display of restraint, but Scalia criticized it harshly in his concurrence, calling it vague. He considered his fellow justices in ""disregard of duty"" for their refusal to address the Fourth Amendment issues. A month after the court handed down its decision, an appellate court in Georgia similarly criticized it for ""a marked lack of clarity"" as it narrowed an earlier ruling to remove a finding that there was no expectation of privacy in the contents of email. A New York Times article later summarized this criticism, and its ""faux unanimity"", as emblematic of what some judges and lawyers have found an increasingly frustrating trend in Roberts Court opinions.