Officers entitled to qualified immunity after issuing no-trespass order prohibiting individual from entering City Hall

Vincent v. City of Sulphur No. 15-30182 (5th Cir. October 28, 2015)

This is a §1983 lawsuit where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted qualified immunity to police officers who issued a no trespass warning to an individual prohibiting him from going into City Hall.

After an altercation at a bank during which Carol Vincent allegedly threatened violence against the mayor of Sulphur, Louisiana, and a city council member (i.e. to get a gun and kill them), police issued an “Official Notification of Trespass Warning” prohibiting Vincent from entering city-owned property, including City Hall while their investigation was pending.  After the District Attorney declined to prosecute and the investigation was completed, the City lifted the order. Vincent sued the City, the Police Chief, and two officers for violations of his constitutional rights. The trial court granted the City Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to most claims but denied qualified immunity as to the procedural due process claims. The City officials appealed.

The court first considered the timing of the interlocutory appeal and held that the officers’’ second motion for summary judgment, which was treated as a motion to reconsider, was proper to toll the 30-day appeal deadline for interlocutory orders denying qualified immunity. To defeat qualified immunity, the plaintiff must show that the official’s conduct was objectively unreasonable in light of a clearly established rule of law.  Vincent had a clearly established liberty interest in being free to move about in public and go to public places. However, the law is not clearly established enough for this type of fact pattern to let the officers know issuing the no-trespass order could be a violation. “A no-trespass warning covering city administrative buildings issued as a prophylactic security measure for the duration of a live investigation of alleged threats on the lives of city officials” has not been examined in this Circuit before according to the panel. It distinguished Vincent’s cases mainly by noting this no-trespass order was temporary in order to allow an investigation to be conducted.  Vincent’s cases dealt more with permanent orders.  As a result, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: HIGGINBOTHAM, JONES, and SMITH. Opinion by Justice Smith.