NEW ORLEANS — The 5th District Court
of Appeals has issued
a mixed ruling in a case arising from a heated Jefferson Parish
council meeting in Gretna in 2013, in which a citizen was ejected
after raising questions about a no-bid contract awarded to a campaign
Plaintiff Tom Heaney alleged in a 2014
lawsuit that Councilman Christopher Roberts and Gretna Police Officer
Ronald Black violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights and
sought compensatory and punitive damages. He also claimed that
Roberts and Black violated his right to free expression under
Louisiana law, and that Black was liable for false arrest, battery
His suit alleged that Jefferson Parish
and the city should be vicariously liable as employers of Roberts and
According to case background detailed
in the court order, Heaney attended a regularly scheduled council
meeting in Gretna on Sept. 18, 2013, in order to discuss the legality
of council members accepting campaign contributions from those
contractors who had applied for and received no-bid contracts from
Registered speakers get five minutes to
address the council, and when Heaney had been speaking for about
three minutes, he was interrupted by Roberts, who asked if he would
yield the floor to the parish attorney, Deborah Foshee, the order
"Heaney believed that he would
receive the balance of his time after Ms. Foshee finished speaking
given that a prior speaker had been given the balance of her time
after yielding," the order said.
"Ms. Foshee spoke for several minutes, expressing her opinion
that the council’s actions were legal. After she finished speaking,
Heaney asked Roberts, 'May I have my time back?' and Roberts
responded, 'Yes, how much time do we have?' Heaney then expressed his
wish to challenge the parish attorney’s opinion. At that point, he
was interrupted again by Roberts.”
A portion of the transcript included in
the order shows this exchange between Roberts and Heaney:
Roberts: … Once again, I’m going to
ask you, are you an attorney?
Heaney: I don’t have to be an
attorney to read and comprehend a decision—
After the exchange, Black responded to
Roberts' request to remove Heaney.
Heaney alleges Black shoved him, which
caused him to fall. When he got up, Black "seized him by the
arms and forcibly ejected him from chambers” into an elevator and
down to the first floor, the order said.
Black allegedly consulted his supervisor on whether Heaney should be
arrested, while Heaney waited for an ambulance.
A judge in federal court in the Eastern
District of Louisiana had denied Roberts' motion for summary judgment
on the First Amendment and state constitutional claims. Additionally,
the court denied Black’s motion for summary judgment on the
state-law battery and negligence claims.
Those claims are pending against Gretna
on a theory of respondeat superior, the order stated.
Because the state constitutional claim remains pending, Jefferson
Parish remains in the lawsuit as Roberts’ employer on that claim.
The lower court also granted summary
judgment on the free speech claims as to Black.
The 5th Circuit panel issued its
decision Jan. 23. Panel members included Judges Edith Clement,
Priscilla Owen and Edward Prado, who authored the opinion.
The appeals court dismissed Roberts'
appeal on the First Amendment claim, ruling that there is a
material-fact issue as to whether there was viewpoint discrimination.
It also affirmed the district court's denial of punitive damages. And
it affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor
of Black on the First Amendment claim and the Fourth Amendment claim.
The appeals court also affirmed the
district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Black on the
false-arrest claim and dismissed Black’s cross-appeal on the
state-tort claims for lack of jurisdiction.