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Burnside v. Kaelin

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

December 9, 2014

THOMAS BURNSIDE, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
JIM KAELIN, Individually, Defendant - Appellant

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

For THOMAS BURNSIDE, Plaintiff - Appellee: Christopher John Gale, Gale, Wilson & Sanchez, P.L.L.C., San Antonio, TX.

For JIM KAELIN, Individually, Defendant - Appellant: Keith B. Sieczkowski, Esq., Branscomb, P.C., Corpus Christi, TX.

Before JOLLY, HIGGINBOTHAM and OWEN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 625

E. GRADY JOLLY, Circuit Judge:

This interlocutory appeal arises from the denial of qualified immunity at the motion-to-dismiss stage. Plaintiff Burnside, a deputy sheriff, filed this § 1983 action alleging that, because he did not support defendant-Sheriff Kaelin's re-election bid, he was punitively transferred, and later fired, for exercising his First-Amendment rights to engage in free speech and association. Sheriff Kaelin appeals the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss Burnside's complaint based on qualified immunity. We AFFIRM in part, REVERSE in part, and REMAND.

I. Background

Because this appeal arises from the denial of a motion to dismiss, we review the alleged facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff Burnside. Cf. Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 132 L.Ed.2d 238 (1995) (noting the limited scope of our appellate jurisdiction over an interlocutory appeal from the denial of qualified immunity).

Plaintiff Burnside worked as a sergeant for the Nueces County Sheriff's Department (" the Department" ). For many years, Burnside was assigned to the Department's patrol division. Burnside also served as chairman of a law enforcement political action committee (" PAC" ). Burnside maintained his association with the PAC and the campaign separate and distinct from his employment with the Department.

In January 2012, Sheriff Kaelin was up for re-election in a contested race. Sometime in January 2012, defendant Kaelin approached Burnside while Burnside was on duty and told him that the PAC should support Kaelin's re-election bid. Burnside said that he would not treat Kaelin differently from any other candidate and that the PAC's members would vote on the endorsement free from outside pressure. A few days later, Sheriff Kaelin told Burnside that Kaelin would move him to jail

Page 626

duty if the PAC did not support Kaelin's candidacy.

Burnside personally supported Kaelin's opponent, and Kaelin knew this. Moreover, the PAC did not support or endorse Kaelin, a fact that was ...


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