DEANNA J. ROBINSON, Plaintiff - Appellant
HUNT COUNTY, TEXAS; RANDY MEEKS, in his individual capacity and official capacity; JOHN DOES 1-10, in their individual capacities and their official capacities; JEFFERY HAINES, in his individual capacity and official capacity; DESTINY TWEEDY, in her individual capacity and official capacity; JACOB SMITH, in his individual capacity and official capacity, Defendants - Appellees
Appeals from the United States District Court for the
Northern District of Texas
JOLLY, DENNIS, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.
STEPHEN A. HIGGINSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE
J. Robinson sued Defendants Hunt County, Sheriff Randy Meeks,
and several employees of the Hunt County Sheriffs Office
(HCSO), alleging unconstitutional censorship on the HCSO
Facebook page. The district court denied a preliminary
injunction and later dismissed the complaint for failure to
state a claim. Robinson appeals both decisions. We affirm the
dismissal of Robinson's claims against the individual
defendants and reverse the dismissal of her claims against
Hunt County. In addition, we vacate the district court's
preliminary injunction order and remand for further
Hunt County Sheriff's Office, led by Sheriff Randy Meeks,
maintains a Facebook page. During the time period relevant to
this litigation, the "About" section of the HCSO
Facebook page stated: "Welcome to the official Hunt
County Sheriff's Office Facebook page. We welcome your
input and POSITIVE comments regarding the Hunt County
Sheriff's Office." The page description further
stated: "The purpose of this site is to present matters
of public interest within Hunt County, Texas. We encourage
you to submit comments, but please note that this is NOT a
January 18, 2017, the HCSO Facebook account posted this
We find it suspicious that the day after a North Texas Police
Officer is murdered we have received several anti police
calls in the office as well as people trying to degrade or
insult police officers on this page. ANY post filled with
foul language, hate speech of all types and comments that are
considered inappropriate will be removed and the user banned.
There are a lot of families on this page and it is for
everyone and therefore we monitor it extremely closely. Thank
you for your understanding.
alleges that the HCSO Facebook page is a public forum and
that this post "reflects a deliberately overbroad and
vague stated procedure and/or policy intended to chill
critical, unpopular, or unfavorable speech from the public on
the HCSO Facebook page."
to the complaint, Robinson and other Facebook users commented
on the January 18, 2017 post and criticized it "for
expressing a policy of deleting and censoring protected
speech." Specifically, Robinson posted a comment stating
that "degrading or insulting police officers is not
illegal, and in fact has been ruled time and time again, by
multiple U.S. courts as protected First Amendment
speech," and "just because you consider a comment
to be 'inappropriate' doesn't give you the legal
right to delete it and/or ban a private citizen from
commenting on this TAX PAYER funded social media site."
Robinson also made highly offensive remarks about HCSO and
the deceased police officer referenced in the January 18
alleges that, soon after she posted this comment, the
defendants removed her comment and banned her from the HCSO
Facebook page. The defendants also allegedly "removed
several other public comments that expressed viewpoints
critical of [d]efendants' stated policy of deleting and
censoring protected speech, as well as other viewpoints
unfavorable to [d]efendants." The complaint offers
several examples of comments by other users that were
allegedly deleted, including comments stating: "Just
stopping by to see if your [sic] deleting posts" and
"This is a public forum and deleting comments is
paramount to shredding files you don't like."
Robinson represents that she remains banned from commenting
on the HCSO Facebook page.
February 23, 2017, Robinson sued Hunt County, Sheriff Meeks,
and multiple unnamed defendants in federal district court.
She later amended her complaint to add HCSO employees Jeffery
Haines, Destiny Tweedy, and Jacob Smith as individual
defendants. Robinson alleges that the defendants violated her
First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by engaging in
viewpoint discrimination on the HCSO Facebook page,
retaliating against her for her protected speech, placing an
impermissible prior restraint on her speech, and deleting
protected speech and banning her from the HCSO Facebook page
without due process. The complaint further asserts that Hunt
County has an official policy or longstanding custom of
removing and censoring unfavorable speech on the HCSO
Facebook page, and that this policy was developed, ratified,
and enforced by Sheriff Meeks or another defendant with final
policymaking authority over law enforcement in Hunt County.
moved for a preliminary injunction requiring the defendants
to release her ban from the HCSO Facebook page, restore her
deleted comments, and cease deleting comments or banning
individuals from the Facebook page on the basis of viewpoint.
The district court denied a preliminary injunction, and later
dismissed Robinson's complaint for failure to state a
claim. Robinson timely appealed these decisions.
first address the dismissal of the individual defendants. The
complaint states that each defendant is being sued in his or
her individual capacity as to monetary damages, and in his or
her official capacity as to injunctive and declaratory
relief. The district court dismissed the individual capacity
claims based on qualified immunity. The court also dismissed
the official capacity claims after finding that they
duplicated the claims against Hunt County. Robinson does not
challenge either of these rulings.
Robinson argues that she should have the opportunity to
pursue equitable relief against the individual defendants in
their individual rather than official capacities.
This is inconsistent with the text of the complaint, which
specifies that each individual defendant is being sued in his
or her "individual capacity as to monetary damages"
and "official capacity as to injunctive and declaratory
relief." Robinson nonetheless contends that her
individual capacity claims were ...