Fifth Circuit Holds That Two DPSC Officials Are Not Protected by Qualified Immunity in Over-detention Case

A three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently held that two Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (“DPSC”) employees were not protected by qualified immunity when their actions resulted in the over-detention of certain Louisiana detainees, and that their deliberate indifference to certain plaintiff’s over-detention could make them directly liable for said over-detention.

Crittindon v. LeBlanc – Background

Plaintiffs allege they were over-detained because of certain administrative failings of prison officials at the DPSC, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, and East Carroll Parish Sheriff’s Office. The circuit panel concluded that, on average, the plaintiff-detainees were detained 72 days past the expiration of their court-imposed sentence.

Fifth Circuit Ruling

The panel found that DPSC employees Perry Stagg and Angela Griffin failed to act when they became aware that two detainees had been detained months longer than their sentences called for. DPSC employees Griffin and Stagg were made aware of the plaintiff-detainees’ over-detention when the mothers of two of the plaintiffs called into their DPSC office to inquire why plaintiff-detainees had not been released. Griffin and Stagg failed to act on these phone calls for more than 17 days, and when they did finally act, plaintiff-detainees were released within 24 hours.

The circuit panel held that a reasonable fact finder could find that DPSC employees Griffin and Stagg disregarded a known risk of over-detention and were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff-detainees’ over-detention. Because defendants Griffin and Stagg had fair warning that their failure to act would result in the illegal detention of plaintiffs, their 17 days of inaction was objectively unreasonable. Accordingly, the circuit panel found that Griffin and Stagg failed to show that they were entitled to qualified immunity against plaintiff-detainees’ 1983 claims and could be directly liable for plaintiffs’ alleged violation of their civil rights.

Crittindon v. LeBlanc, 37 F.4th 177 (5th Cir. 2022)