PATRICK A. BENFIELD; BRIAN SCOTT WARREN, Plaintiffs - Appellees
JOE D. MAGEE, Defendant-Appellant
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Louisiana
STEWART, CLEMENT, and HO, Circuit Judges.
BROWN CLEMENT, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Brian Warren and Patrick Benfield sued their boss, Joe Magee,
claiming that he fired them for exercising their First
Amendment free-speech and free-association rights. Magee
moved to dismiss their claims based on qualified immunity.
The district court held that Magee was entitled to qualified
immunity for Benfield's free-association claim but not
for Warren's or Benfield's free-speech claims. Magee,
on interlocutory appeal, challenges this denial of qualified
immunity. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for
and Benfield worked in Louisiana as paramedics for the Desoto
Parish Emergency Medical Services. Louisiana paramedics must
complete annual recertification training and submit reports
of this training to a certification organization. The Desoto
Parish EMS Medical Director had to sign these annual reports
before submission. Joe Magee, the Desoto Parish EMS
Administrator, would allegedly sign these reports on behalf
of the Medical Director. When the reports were computerized
in 2007, Magee allegedly instructed Warren to "check
off the box for [the Medical Director's] approval of the
training hours," which he did. This box was apparently
used in lieu of a physical signature.
2015, Warren sent a letter to a member of the Desoto Parish
Police Jury suggesting changes to Desoto Parish EMS
personnel, procedures, and policy. After submitting this
letter, Warren claims that "Magee and some of his
underlings" harassed him. This harassment included
criticizing Warren's religious beliefs, harassing him
about going back to school, telling him to go to counseling
or be fired, denying him a promotion, accusing him of acts of
terrorism for hiring an attorney to sue the Desoto Parish
EMS, accusing him of having women at the station for sexual
purposes, and encouraging him to quit.
December 2016, the new co-Medical Director asked Warren how
he and Benfield had been recertified. Warren told him about
the practice of checking the box for the Medical
Director's approval. Shortly thereafter, "[Magee]
told [Warren] that he needed to quit 'before something
bad happened.'" Warren does not explain what
"something bad" might mean.
that month, Magee allegedly asked Benfield to provide a
statement that Warren was not authorized to check the box for
the Medical Director and that Magee had not authorized Warren
to do so. Benfield refused because, according to him, the
statement would have been false. Magee then suspended Warren
and Benfield in early January 2017 for falsifying documents
and training records. On January 26, 2017, Magee fired them.
and Benfield sued Magee under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging
(1) that Magee "retaliated against [Warren] for
expressing, in his capacity as a private citizen, matters of
public concern" in his June 2015 letter to the Desoto
Parish Police Jury; and (2) that Magee "retaliated
against [Benfield] due to [Magee's] perception that
[Benfield] was allied with [Warren] and because [Benfield]
would not provide false statements to the authorities or to
[Magee] concerning [Warren]." Benfield also alleged a
state-law whistleblower claim, but has since abandoned it.
moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), arguing that he was entitled to qualified immunity
because neither Warren nor Benfield adequately pleaded a
constitutional violation and any alleged constitutional right
was not clearly established. The district court granted the
motion in part and denied it in part. The court held that
Warren stated a free-speech claim and that clearly
established law prohibited Magee from firing Warren for
sending his June 2015 letter. But the court declined to
consider whether to dismiss Benfield's free-speech claim
because Magee had challenged only Benfield's
appealed. He seeks interlocutory review of the district
court's denial of qualified immunity for both free-speech
interlocutory appeal, we review a district court's denial
of a qualified-immunity-based motion to dismiss de novo.
Club Retro, L.L.C. v. Hilton, 568 F.3d 181, 194 (5th
Cir. 2009). We accept all well-pleaded facts as true, drawing
all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor.
Id. We do not, however, accept as true legal
conclusions, conclusory statements, or "'naked
assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual
enhancement.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion
to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead factual allegations that,
if true, "raise a right to ...