Recent Federal Fifth Circuit Cases of Interest to Cities

Note: Included cases are from February 1, 2024, through February 29, 2024.

Substandard Buildings: Rhone v. City of Tex. City, Tex., No. 22-40551, 2024 WL 617246 (5th Cir. Feb. 14, 2024). Rhone sued the City of Texas City following the municipal court’s ruling that his apartment buildings were substandard. Rhone sought review of the ruling, but the buildings were demolished during the pendency of the review. Rhone argued that his right to due process was violated because it was the city attorney who brought the complaint against him for substandard buildings, and the city’s policy provided that the municipal court’s rulings were subject to review and approval by the city attorney. The trial court granted summary judgment on Rhone’s claims because the demolition of the building rendered the case moot. Rhone appealed.

The appellate court affirmed, holding that the appeal of the municipal court ruling was moot because the buildings were demolished and Rhone could bring a takings claim instead. Further, the appellate court remanded the case to the district court for more proceedings based on Rhone’s contention that the city’s municipal court scheme that provided for review of the municipal court’s rulings by the city attorney violated due process rights.

Civil Rights: Grisham v. Valenciano, No. 22-50915, 2024 WL 769485 (5th Cir. Feb. 26, 2024). Grisham filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Olmos Park and several police officers following their arrests for disorderly conduct, which involved carrying firearms in a reportedly unsafe manner and filming the police. Grisham claimed his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated, and also claimed municipal liability based on what he claimed was a city policy to arrest people in retaliation for exercising their Second Amendment rights. The city and officers moved for summary judgment which the trial court granted, and Grisham appealed.

The appellate court affirmed, holding that: (1) the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because Grisham could not point to any clearly established law showing the force used by the police officers was unreasonable; and (2) Grisham’s municipal liability claim failed because Grisham had failed to show a policy of retaliatory arrests against people who exercised their Second Amendment rights to carry firearms.

Civil Rights: York v. City of Beaumont, No. 20-40580, 2024 WL 775179 (5th Cir. Feb. 26, 2024). Chaz York’s family and estate brought a claim for municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after an off-duty police officer from the City of Beaumont shot and killed York following an altercation in a bar. The Yorks alleged that the city was liable for York’s death because the city’s policies and customs caused the shooting. The trial court granted the city’s motion to dismiss, and the Yorks appealed.

The appellate court affirmed, holding that the Yorks had not plausibly pled any of the following: (1) that the city’s policies of instructing officers to shoot to kill and disallowing off-duty carry of tasers caused the constitutional violation; (2) that the city maintained a policy of using excessive force; (3) that the city’s inadequate training of the officer caused the constitutional violation; (4) that the city ratified the officer’s conduct by failing to discipline previous complaints of excessive force against the officer; or (5) that the city covered up instances of excessive force.

Employment Law: Mason v. City of Waco, No. 23-50108, 2024 WL 775508 (5th Cir. Feb. 26, 2024). Mason, a police officer for the City of Waco for over 20 years, sued the city for constructive discharge following his resignation from the force, claiming that in retaliation for a radio show in which he criticized the police force, he was placed under investigation three times in relation to the radio show, other officers delayed responding to his calls for backup, and one officer failed to properly and timely report a death threat against Mason. The trial court granted the city’s motion for summary judgment and Mason appealed.

The appellate court affirmed, holding that Mason had not presented a fact issue on his First Amendment claim because a reasonable jury could not have concluded that the complained-of events rose to the level of a constructive discharge.