Recent Federal Fifth Circuit Cases of Interest to Cities

Note: Included cases are from December 11, 2022 through January 10, 2023. 

Americans with Disabilities Act: Wilson v. City of Southlake, No. 21-10771, 2022 WL 17604575 (5th Cir. Dec. 13, 2022) (per curiam). The plaintiffs sued the city under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA) over a verbal altercation between an eight-year-old child in school and the school resource officer, after which the city police department terminated the officer. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the city on the ADA and RA claims and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.  

The Fifth Circuit rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the officer discriminated against the child who had autism, anxiety, and ADHD on the theories of: (1) disparate treatment; and (2) failure to provide reasonable accommodations. First, there was no evidence that the office would have interacted differently with a child who did not have a disability if the child was behaving the way the plaintiffs’ child did. Second, the officer had never met the child before the child never calmed down during the interaction, and the parents had to remove the child from school, so the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation theory failed. 

Takings: Dahl v. Vill. of Surfside Beach, Texas, No. 22-40075, 2022 WL 17729411 (5th Cir. Dec. 16, 2022) (per curiam). Dahl sued the city for inverse condemnation and declaratory judgment. Dahl filed  a building permit with the city for a property and did not include a wetlands-delineation report stating if the property sits on any federally protected wetlands. The city notified Dahl that his application was deficient. He did not receive a permit and never appealed the decision. The city argued in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit was not ripe because Dahl never received a determination from a building official nor did he pursue his appeals. The district court granted the motion and Dahl appealed. 

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal on the grounds the claims were not ripe because the city did not render a final decision and Dahl ignored relevant forms of relief. 

Civil Rights: Vardeman v. City of Houston, 55 F.4th 1045 (5th Cir. 2022). Plaintiff brought a § 1983 action against a police officer and city, alleging that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the officer punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground, and stood over him for a time after plaintiff had failed to move his vehicle from an airport’s passenger-pickup area. The district court dismissed the claim on the pleadings.  

The Fifth Circuit affirmed judgment for the city and reversed judgment for the officer. The Court found that the facts as alleged created a dispute about whether the officer used excessive force in making a seizure. Regarding the city, the Court found that the allegations failed to allege a pattern or practice of assault.  

Civil Rights: Petersen v. Johnson, 57 F.4th 225 (5th Cir. 2023). The parents of an arrestee (Petersen) who later committed suicide filed § 1983 action against the county, the city, an undercover police detective, and the jail’s mental health and medical services providers asserting claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, municipal liability, and state law negligence. The district court dismissed the complaint and the Fifth Circuit affirmed. 

The Fifth Circuit found that the undercover police detective did not violate Petersen’s constitutional rights against false arrest because the detective had probable cause to arrest Petersen under Texas law once he solicited a minor on the Internet. Likewise, the detective charged Petersen with the correct crime, so there was no malicious prosecution. Because there were no constitutional violations, the city was not liable. Finally, the claims against the medical personnel failed because when Petersen committed suicide, he was released from custody. The medical personnel had a fleeting interaction with Petersen and the interval of time that passed between that interaction and the suicide could not support a negligence claim.