Fisher v. Moore, No. 21-20553 (5th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
A disabled public-school student was sexually assaulted by another student with known violent tendencies. Despite knowing of this attack, the victim’s teachers let both her and her aggressor wander the school unsupervised, and she was again assaulted by the very same student. The victim’s mother sued various school officials under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, alleging liability under the so-called “state-created danger” doctrine, an exception to the general rule that government has no duty under the Due Process Clause to protect people from privately inflicted harms. The school officials sought dismissal on qualified immunity grounds, arguing that the state-created danger doctrine was not clearly established in this circuit when the underlying events occurred. The district court denied their motion.
The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss the Section 1983 claim. The court explained that the circuit has never adopted a state-created danger exception to the sweeping “no duty to protect” rule. And a never-established right cannot be a clearly established one. The court further wrote that it does not think it is prudent to adopt a never-recognized theory of Section 1983 liability in the absence of rigorous briefing that grapples painstakingly with how such a cause of action, however widely accepted in other circuits, works in terms of its practical contours and application, details on which the court’s sister circuits disagree. Also, beyond the lack of thorough briefing, the court explained it is reluctant to expand substantive due process doctrine given the Supreme Court’s recent forceful pronouncements signaling unease with implied rights not deeply rooted in our Nation’s history and tradition.