United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
GALE N. WALKER PLAINTIFF
ROBERT S. SMITH DEFENDANT
P. JORDAN III CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Gail Walker says her former employer, Hinds County,
Mississippi, District Attorney Robert Schuler Smith,
terminated her employment because she exercised her First
Amendment right to free speech. That claim is now before the
Court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, and for the
following reasons, the Court concludes that Smith is entitled
to qualified immunity.
hired Walker as an Assistant District Attorney
(“ADA”) but terminated her employment in January
2014. Walker then sued Smith under eight legal theories, all
but one of which were dismissed on summary judgment.
See Feb. 5, 2019 Order . The only remaining
cause of action is Walker's First Amendment retaliation
claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
to Walker, Smith fired her, in part, because Walker exercised
her right to free speech when she contacted the Mississippi
Bureau of Investigation (“MBI”) to report an
alleged computer hack within the district attorney's
office. Unfortunately, Smith failed to address this claim in
his motion for summary judgment. See Feb. 5, 2019
Order  at 18-20. But the Court expressed concern
regarding its viability. Id. So, the Court reserved
ruling and ordered Walker to “show cause why [it]
should not find that she spoke as an employee” and
explain why “Smith would not be entitled to qualified
immunity under the circumstances.” Id. at 20.
Walker briefed the issues, as did Smith, but she declined to
file a reply. The briefing is therefore closed.
judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56(a) when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any
material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. The rule “mandates the
entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery
and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential
to that party's case, and on which that party will bear
the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
party moving for summary judgment “bears the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis
for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the
record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323.
The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the
pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'”
Id. at 324 (citation omitted). In reviewing the
evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor
of the nonmovant, “but only when . . . both parties
have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.”
Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th
Cir. 1994) (en banc). When such contradictory facts exist,
the court may “not make credibility determinations or
weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing
Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). Conclusory
allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and
legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate
substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for
trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276
F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little, 37 F.3d at
1075; SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir.
asserted qualified immunity in his answer. See
Def.'s Ans. to Am. Compl.  at 1. Walker therefore
carries the burden “to demonstrate the inapplicability
of the defense.” McClendon v. City of
Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir. 2002). As the
Fifth Circuit has summarized:
[T]he doctrine of qualified immunity protects government
officials from civil damages liability when their actions
could reasonably have been believed to be legal. This
immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those
who knowingly violate the law. Accordingly, we do not deny
immunity unless existing precedent must have placed the
statutory or constitutional question beyond debate. The basic
steps of this court's qualified-immunity inquiry are
well-known: a plaintiff seeking to defeat qualified immunity
must show: (1) that the official violated a statutory or
constitutional right, and (2) that the right was clearly
established at the time of the challenged conduct.
Anderson v. Valdez, 845 F.3d 580, 599-600 (5th Cir.
2016) (citation and quotation marks omitted, punctuation
the defendant's conduct did not violate [the]
plaintiff's constitutional rights under the first prong,
. . . he is entitled to qualified immunity.”
Blackwell v. Laque, No. 07-30184, 2008 WL 1848119,
at *2 (5th Cir. Apr. 24, 2008). But if it did, “the
court then asks whether qualified immunity is still
appropriate because the defendant's actions were
‘objectively reasonable' in light of ‘law
which was clearly established at the time of the disputed
action.'” Brown v. Callahan, 623 F.3d 249,
253 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Collins v. Ainsworth,
382 F.3d 529, 537 (5th Cir. 2004)).
is important to emphasize that this inquiry ‘must be
undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not
as a broad general proposition.'” Brosseau v.
Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198 (2004) (quoting Saucier v.
Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). “The dispositive
question is whether the violative nature of particular
conduct is clearly established.” Mullenix v.
Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (citation and quotation
marks omitted). Thus, [t]he contours of the right must be
sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would
understand that what he is doing violates that right.”
Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987).
the Court may take these inquiries out of order and first
consider whether the defendant violated clearly established
law. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 242
(2009) (holding that courts may consider second