ZULEMA LONGORIA, As Next Friend of M.L., Plaintiff - Appellant Cross-Appellee
SAN BENITO INDEPENDENT CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT; HENRY SANCHEZ; ADRIAN VEGA; ASHLEY CAMACHO-GARZA; VELMA GARCIA, Defendants - Appellees Cross-Appellants
Appeals from the United States District Court for the
Southern District of Texas
KING, HIGGINSON, and DUNCAN, Circuit Judges.
STEPHEN A. HIGGINSON, Circuit Judge.
weeks after she was selected to be the head varsity
cheerleader at San Benito High School, M.L., a minor, was
stripped of her position and dismissed from the team when her
cheerleading coaches discovered a series of posts on her
personal Twitter account containing profanity and sexual
innuendo. M.L.'s mother, Zulema Longoria, filed this
lawsuit on behalf of her daughter under 42 U.S.C. §
1983. She argues that the actions of the school district, its
superintendent, the high school principal, and the
cheerleading coaches violated M.L.'s rights to free
speech, due process, and equal protection. After the
defendants moved for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), the district court held that the
individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and
dismissed M.L.'s complaint for failure to state a claim.
we agree that no clearly-established law placed the
constitutionality of defendants' conduct "beyond
debate" at the time of M.L.'s dismissal from the
team, Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011),
we affirm the district court's qualified-immunity
holding. We likewise affirm the district court's
dismissal of M.L.'s claims for municipal liability,
vagueness, and overbreadth because M.L. failed to plead facts
that would entitle her to relief.
joined the varsity cheerleading team during her sophomore
year at San Benito High School. In March 2017, she became the
head varsity cheerleader of the team, a position she was
supposed to hold for the remainder of that year and the
following school year. As part of her participation on the
team, M.L. and her mother were both required to sign the San
Benito High School Cheerleading Constitution ("the
Cheerleading Constitution"). Section 5.12 of the
Cheerleading Constitution requires cheerleaders to maintain
"appropriate" conduct on their personal
after she was named head cheerleader, M.L. and her mother
were called into a meeting with Ashley Camacho-Garza and
Velma Garcia, the two coaches of the cheerleading team. When
they arrived, they were given a letter explaining that M.L.
was being dismissed from the team because she had accumulated
a number of demerits for posting material on her Twitter
account in violation of the Cheerleading
Constitution. M.L. alleges that this was the first time
she was informed that the coaches were concerned about her
social-media activity, and she received no prior notice about
of the posts identified by Camacho-Garza and Garcia were
third-party messages created by other Twitter users. Using
her own account, M.L. "liked" these posts, causing
them to be shared with her social-media followers. The
relevant posts include the following messages: (1) "Imma
show my mom all the snaps from girls partying for spring break so
she can appreciate her lame ass daughter some more," (2)
a tweet about braiding hair containing the acronym
"lmao, " (3) a tweet containing an image of a
text-message conversation between a mother and a daughter, in
which the word "fuck" is used twice, (4) "I
love kissing lmao," (5) "i [sic] don't fuck
with people who lowkey try to compete with/ out do me,"
(6) "I fucking love texas [sic] man, it's so
beautiful and just overall great! Why would anyone want to
leave Texas[?]," (7) "I love her [third-party
Twitter user] I FUCKING LOVE YOU SO MUCH AND YOU DONT [sic]
EVEN KNOW IT LIKE BITCH I HOPE YOU DO GREAT SHIT IN LIFE I
BELIEVE IN YOU," and (8) a tweet from a Twitter account
entitled "Horny Facts'," which states,
"bitch don't touch my . . ."
record contains two other posts allegedly deemed
inappropriate by M.L.'s coaches. One, a third-party tweet
that M.L. retweeted on her own account, was initially posted
by a Twitter user called "Bitch Code." The second
is M.L.'s own tweet responding "Yes" to a
third-party user's message asking "Did pope split
you in half??" In the biography section at the top of
M.L.'s Twitter account, she identified herself as a
member of "San Benito Varsity Cheer."
and her mother filed a grievance against the coaches'
actions with Henry Sanchez, the principal of San Benito High
School. They complained that the Cheerleading Constitution
was impermissibly vague as to the social-media content that
would be considered "inappropriate" and subject to
discipline, and they argued that M.L.'s dismissal from
the team violated her right to free speech. In April 2017,
Sanchez denied the grievance in a written ruling following a
hearing. M.L. and her mother met with Dr. Adrian Vega, the
superintendent of the San Benito Independent Consolidated
School District, to raise their concerns. A few days later,
Dr. Vega informed them that Principal Sanchez's ruling
was final and would not be reviewed.
and Zulema Longoria ("plaintiffs" or
"M.L.") filed this lawsuit in the Southern District
of Texas against Camacho-Garza, Garcia, Sanchez, Vega, and
the school district in August 2017. On July 31, 2018, the
magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation
recommending dismissal of the complaint in its entirety.
Though the magistrate judge's report concluded that the
complaint plausibly alleged a violation of M.L.'s First
Amendment rights, it found that there was no
clearly-established law prohibiting the defendants from
dismissing M.L. from the cheerleading team for online
profanity and sexual innuendo. It based its conclusion, in
part, on two specific facts: "(1) the student and her
mother had agreed in writing that her social media page would
be subject to the reach of the Cheerleading Constitution, and
(2) the biography section of M.L.'s Twitter profile
identified her as part of 'San Benito Varsity
Cheer.'" As a result, the magistrate judge
recommended granting the individual defendants'
qualified-immunity defenses. The magistrate judge also
recommended dismissing plaintiffs' vagueness and
overbreadth claims because these claims were raised for the
first time in response to defendants' motion to dismiss,
and had not been asserted in the complaint. Finally, the
magistrate judge recommended dismissal of the plaintiffs'
claim against the school district because the complaint did
not adequately plead that the district's Board of
Trustees had either adopted the Cheerleading Constitution on
its own or delegated policymaking authority to Sanchez.
district court adopted the report and recommendation over
plaintiffs' objections and granted the defendants'
motion to dismiss the complaint. On appeal, M.L. challenges
the district court's conclusions that the individual
defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and that M.L.
failed to state a claim for vagueness, overbreadth, or
"review a district court's grant of a motion to
dismiss de novo, applying the same standard applied by the
district court." Masel v. Villarreal, 924 F.3d
734, 742-43 (5th Cir. 2019). "To survive a motion to
dismiss 'a complaint must contain sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face."'" Id.
at 743 (quoting Waller v. Hanlon, 922 F.3d 590, 599
(5th Cir. 2019)). In conducting this analysis, we
"accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view
those facts in the light most favorable to the
plaintiffs." Doe ex rel. Magee v. Covington Cty.
Sch. Dist. ex rel. Keys, 675 F.3d 849, 854 (5th Cir.
2012). Though the complaint need not contain "detailed
factual allegations," it must contain sufficient factual
material to "allow the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555-56 (2007)).
defendant asserts a qualified-immunity defense in a motion to
dismiss, the court has an "obligation . . . to carefully
scrutinize [the complaint] before subjecting public officials
to the burdens of broad-reaching discovery." Jacquez
v. Procunier, 801 F.2d 789, 791 (5th Cir. 1986); see
also Wicks v. Miss. State Emp't Servs., 41 F.3d 991,
995 n.16 (5th Cir. 1995) ("[I]mmunity means more than
just immunity from liability; it means immunity from the
burdens of defending a suit, including the burdens of
pretrial discovery."). A defendant is entitled to
qualified immunity if his "conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow
v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). "This is
not to say that an official action is protected by qualified
immunity unless the very act in question has previously been
held unlawful, but it is to say that in the light of
pre-existing law the unlawfulness must be apparent."
Porter v. Ascension Parish Sch. Bd., 393 F.3d 608,
618 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton,
483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)). If, at the time of the events
underlying the litigation, "insufficient precedent
existed to provide ...