Villarreal v. City of Laredo, No. 20-40359 (5th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against various LPD officers, Webb County prosecutors, Webb County, and the City of Laredo, alleging a pattern of harassment and retaliation by various local officials, culminating in her arrest, in violation of her First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiff is a journalist who regularly reports on local crime, missing persons, community events, and other news on her Facebook page. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from her arrest under Texas Penal Code 39.06(c), which prohibits obtaining information from a public servant that is nonpublic for personal benefit. The district court dismissed all claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
The Fifth Circuit joined its sister circuits in holding that the doctrine of qualified immunity does not permit government officials to invoke patently unconstitutional statutes like section 39.06(c) to avoid liability for their actions. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's First Amendment infringement claim against various officials on official qualified immunity grounds, concluding that it should be patently obvious to any reasonable police officer that locking up a journalist for asking questions of public officials violates the First Amendment. However, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to sufficiently plead a First Amendment retaliation claim. Just as the First Amendment violation alleged in the complaint was obvious for purposes of qualified immunity, the court concluded that so too was the Fourth Amendment violation alleged here. Therefore, the district court erred in dismissing the Fourth Amendment claim. The court also concluded that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's selective enforcement claim for failure to identify similarly situated individuals; given the court's conclusion that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims, the court also remanded her conspiracy claim; and the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the municipal liability claim against the City.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on August 12, 2022.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on October 28, 2022.