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TDCJ Denied Qualified Immunity in Employee's Unconstitutional Termination Suit

John F. Fant, a former Legal Services Director for a division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), appealed a 2003 U.S. District Court decision denying his motion for dismissal of a lawsuit based on qualified immunity grounds. The appellate court held that it lacked jurisdiction over his interlocutory appeal.

For two years, TDCJ attorney Karon Connelly reported Fant's unlicensed practice of law to state officials. When no action was taken she relayed her concerns to the State Bar of Texas and the Walker County District Attorney, providing documentation that Fant’s law license was inactive. She then contacted the Texas Board of Criminal Justice and the Board’s general counsel, which resulted in charges being filed against her for allegedly falsifying travel records, insubordination and refusal to obey orders, ultimately resulting in her termination, which was approved by Fant.

Connelly brought a federal suit claiming First Amendment free speech based retaliatory termination. Fant moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, and argued that the claims lacked merit. His motion was denied and he appealed.

The Fifth Circuit stated that "Fant attacks the district court's determination of the genuineness, rather than the materiality, of ... Connelly's assertions" and "failed to frame this argument within the context of First Amendment retaliation," and that Connelly had proved objective unreasonableness in light of clearly established law. Because Fant’s arguments could “not be asserted on interlocutory appeal of a denial of qualified immunity,” the Court of Appeals held that it lacked jurisdiction and the appeal was dismissed. See: Connelly v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 484 F.3d 343 (5th Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

Connelly v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice