Snider, III v. Peters, No. 13-1072 (8th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
After plaintiff was arrested for violation of Mo. Rev. Stat. 578.095, which prohibits flag desecration, he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Cape Girardeau, the arresting police officer, and the prosecuting attorney. Both the arresting officer and attorney stated that they were unaware of the Supreme Court's decisions in Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, which struck down statutes criminalizing flag desecration as unconstitutional. Plaintiff's charges were dismissed against him and he was released from jail. On appeal, the officer challenged the district court's denial of his motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity and award of attorney's fees. The State, which intervened, appealed the district court's order declaring its flag desecration statute facially unconstitutional and the award of attorney's fees. The court concluded that the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity where a reasonably competent officer in his position would have known that plaintiff's expressive conduct was constitutionally protected and would have concluded no arrest warrant should issue for the expressive conduct engaged in by plaintiff. The court concluded that Mo. Rev. Stat. 578.095 was overbroad and criminalizes a substantial amount of expressive activity. Further, the statute was not susceptible to an appropriate narrowing construction and, therefore, the district court did not err in holding the statute to be facially unconstitutional. The district court did not abuse its discretion in holding the officer and the state jointly and severally liable for attorney's fees and costs; the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorneys' fees based on the rate for the St. Louis legal market, instead of Cape Girardeau; and the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for Cape Girardeau. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.