Howell v. Town of Ball, No. 15-30552 (5th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, a former police officer for the town, filed suit against the town and several individual defendants, alleging that defendants violated his First Amendment rights when they terminated him for cooperating with an FBI investigation of public corruption. Plaintiff also asserted a claim under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3730(h), alleging that he was fired in violation of the Act’s whistleblower protections. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing his First Amendment retaliation claims against all defendants and dismissing his FCA claims against the individual defendants. The town cross-appealed the denial of summary judgment with respect to the FCA claim against it. The court found that the district court erred in holding that plaintiff’s involvement in the FBI investigation was not entitled to First Amendment protection. Although the court held that plaintiff asserts a violation of his right of free speech, the court held that the right at issue was not “clearly established” at the time of his discharge. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of the individual defendants on the basis of qualified immunity. However, the court reversed and vacated the grant of summary judgment for the town because plaintiff has demonstrated a viable claim of municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services. The court also dismissed the town's cross-appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the FCA claims against the individual defendants.