Cutler v. Stephen F. Austin State Univ., et al., No. 13-40685 (5th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
After plaintiff was terminated from his position as Director of the University's art galleries after he told a member of U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert's staff that he believed Rep. Gohmert was a "fear monger," plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the University and others, alleging that he was fired in retaliation for the exercise of protected speech in violation of his First Amendment rights. Defendants appealed the district court's denial of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. The court concluded that defendants should have known that plaintiff's speech was protected as the speech of a citizen and that their decision to terminate plaintiff on the basis of that citizen speech would violate plaintiff's First Amendment right. The court held that the law of this circuit clearly established what a reasonable investigation was such that a reasonable official would have known that defendants' investigation was unreasonable under the circumstances. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court, concluding that every reasonable official in defendants' positions would have known based on precedent that an informal, hastily concluded investigation would be unreasonable. Accordingly, the district court did not err in finding that the law was "clearly established" at the time.