WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a Fifth Circuit decision that allowed a Louisiana police officer to sue the organizer of a Black Lives Matter protest for injuries he suffered at the demonstration.
While local authorities have yet to identify the man involved in the attack on an unnamed Baton Rouge officer four years ago, a federal judge dismissed the officer’s case against Maryland-based Black Lives Matter leader DeRay Mckesson for failure to state a claim.
The officer – identified in court documents only as Officer John Doe – was injured on July 9, 2016, after protesters blocked a highway in front of the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters to express their outage over the police killing of Black man Alton Sterling days earlier.
Some protesters began throwing objects at officers in the presence of Mckesson, who Doe claims did nothing to prevent the violence or calm the crowd.
Doe was ordered to make arrests, and while doing so an unidentified culprit threw a piece of concrete or similar rock-like object at him and struck his face. The officer claims he was knocked to the ground and incapacitated, suffering injuries to his brain and jaw plus loss of teeth.
The district court ruled for Mckesson, but the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit revived the officer’s claim last year, finding Doe sufficiently alleged that his injuries were the result of Mckesson’s “own tortious conduct in organizing a foreseeably violent protest.”
The nation’s highest court vacated the appeals court’s order Monday morning in an unsigned opinion remanding the case back to the Fifth Circuit.
“The Fifth Circuit should not have ventured into so uncertain an area of tort law—one laden with value judgments and fraught with implications for First Amendment rights— without first seeking guidance on potentially controlling Louisiana law from the Louisiana Supreme Court,” the opinion states.
The court's newest member, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, took no part in the decision.
Donna U. Grodner, the Baton Rouge-based lawyer for the unnamed officer, blasted the high court’s decision in an emailed statement.
“Statutory immunity from tort liability is very narrowly construed against its application under Louisiana law,” Grodner said. “We believe that whether the protest was pled as foreseeably violent may also be an issue to brief.”
Mckesson’s attorney, William P. Gibbens with the New Orleans-based firm Schonekas, Evans, McGoey & McEachin, did not respond to a request for comment.
Philadelphia-based attorney and legal blogger Max Kennerly took to Twitter to applaud the Supreme Court’s ruling, saying it was a good decision but that the case was still unfair.
“If DeRay was a pharmaceutical company, the federal courts wouldn't bother with certification, they'd just dismiss the case because Louisiana law doesn't clearly provide for third-party liability,” he tweeted.
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