Back to the Nov-Dec 2022 issue

US Supreme Court Says Miranda Violation Not Basis for Civil Claim

Miranda warning violations

During a custodial interrogation of Terence Tekoh at his workplace regarding sexual assault allegations, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Vega failed to give Tekoh a required Miranda warning to notify him of his right to remain silent and his right to request an attorney. During the interrogation, Tekoh wrote a statement that offered an apology for inappropriately touching the complainant. Tekoh was subsequently prosecuted for the alleged sexual assault. At the criminal trial, the government introduced Tekoh’s un-Mirandized statement. The jury found Tekoh not guilty. Tekoh then sued Vega and other government defendants under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act for civil damages, claiming that the custodial interrogation violated his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. The federal district court entered a judgment on the jury verdict in Tekoh’s favor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, ruling that the government’s use of the un-Mirandized statement provided a basis upon which Tekoh could seek civil damages under Section 1983. By a vote of 6-3, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s decision, characterizing it as an “extension” of Miranda that was wrong. The Supreme Court ruled that a Miranda violation does not constitute the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution that is enforceable under Section 1983 in a lawsuit seeking civil damages. Vega v. Tekoh, 142 S. Ct. 2095 (2022).

Statutory immunity

Brandon Grim sued the City of Zumbro Falls for negligence based on an injury he sustained after stepping off a city sidewalk and tripping on the city’s double-stepped curb. Grim had driven to a bar in Zumbro Falls to buy some beer. He had been to the bar before. He parked his vehicle on the street across from the bar. The sidewalk in front of the bar has a double-stepped curb designed to defend against flooding from a nearby river.

Grim injured himself when he tripped after exiting the bar with a case of beer in his hand.

Portions of the sidewalk had been painted yellow in the past, but at the time of the accident, the paint had faded. At about 4:30 p.m., Grim injured himself when he tripped after exiting the bar with a case of beer in his hand. Grim explained in deposition testimony that as he walked off the sidewalk to approach his parked vehicle, he stepped on the edge of the top curb because it was “not visible.” But when Grim approached to enter the bar, he had safely stepped over the same curb where he ultimately tripped. The district court granted the city’s motion for summary judgment (court-entered judgment without a trial), ruling that the city was protected from the lawsuit based on statutory immunity. The district court reasoned that the city was entitled to statutory immunity because its decisions regarding sidewalk maintenance were discretionary planning- level decisions. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case to the district court for additional proceedings, concluding that the city did not establish that it was entitled to statutory immunity because its affidavit in support of statutory immunity was conclusory since it did not provide adequate supporting information. The court of appeals also noted that there was a material fact issue regarding whether the city should have warned of the potential danger resulting from the double-stepped curb. Grim v. City of Zumbro Falls, No. A21-1353, 2022 WL 1301350 (Minn. Ct. App. May 2, 2022) (nonprecedential opinion). Note: LMCIT represented the city.

First Amendment

Joseph Kennedy lost his job as a high school football coach in the Bremerton School District, a public school in Washington state, after he repeatedly knelt at midfield after games to pray — even after the school district informed him that this practice violated school district policy and offered him other options to pray.

The Supreme Court rejected the argument that students might have felt obligated to join the football coach’s on-field prayers.

Mr. Kennedy sued in federal district court, claiming that the school district’s actions violated the First Amendment’s free speech and free exercise clauses. The district court ruled in the school district’s favor, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. By a vote of 6-3, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision and ruled that Kennedy’s conduct was protected by the First Amendment, and that the free exercise and free speech clauses protect an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal. The Supreme Court rejected the school district’s argument that allowing Kennedy’s prayers to continue would have violated the Constitution’s establishment clause, which bars the government from both establishing an official religion and preferring one religion over another. The Supreme Court also rejected the argument that students might have felt obligated to join Kennedy’s prayers, noting that “learning how to tolerate speech or prayer of all kinds is ‘part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society,’ a trait of character essential to ‘a tolerant citizenry.’” Kennedy v. Bremerton Sch. Dist., 142 S. Ct. 2407 (2022).

Alternative urban areawide review

The City of Minneapolis approved a final alternative urban areawide review for the proposed redevelopment of the Upper Harbor Terminal and published notice of its final decision in the EQB Monitor. An alternative urban areawide review is an alternative form of environmental review that may be used instead of an environmental impact statement and an environmental assessment worksheet. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Community Members for Environmental Justice filed a certiorari appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals under Minnesota Statutes, section 116D.04, subdivision 10. They also filed a declaratory judgment action in the district court, which the district court stayed pending the outcome of the court of appeals proceeding. The city moved to dismiss the certiorari appeal, arguing that subdivision 10 of the statute does not authorize such review of final decisions regarding an alternative urban areawide review. The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with the city and granted its motion to dismiss the court of appeals proceeding. The court of appeals reasoned that the plain language of subdivision 10 refers only to environmental impact statements and environmental assessment worksheets when it provides for certiorari appeal, and not to other forms of environmental review created as alternatives. Final Alternative Urban Areawide Review and Mitigation Plan for the Upper Harbor Terminal Development, 973 N.W.2d 331 (Minn. Ct. App. 2022).

Qualified immunity

Several motorists brought a Section 1983 lawsuit under the Civil Rights Act against Wynne, Ark., patrol officer Brodie Faughn in his individual capacity. The plaintiffs claimed that Faughn had violated their constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The plaintiffs also sued Wynne’s police chief, Jeff Sanders, and the mayor, Robert Stacy, in their individual capacities, for failing to adequately supervise Faughn. The plaintiffs claimed that the police chief and mayor had received notice of Faughn’s problematic behavior and had failed to stop it. The Wynne Police Department had received at least 10 complaints against Faughn between Sept. 21, 2016, and Jan. 15, 2018. Officers reviewed the body camera footage from every complaint to determine whether the recordings supported the allegations and interviewed witnesses when footage was unavailable. The reviewing officer verbally reported the results of the investigations to Police Chief Sanders, including him in the review process when necessary. According to Sanders, the complaints against Faughn were determined to be unfounded, although there is no documentation of this review process or determination. The city defendants made a motion for summary judgment (court-ordered judgment without a trial) based on qualified immunity. The federal district court denied the motion, and the city defendants appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, ruling that Faughn was entitled to qualified immunity because he had reasonable suspicion to stop the motorists for violating traffic laws. The Eighth Circuit also ruled that the police chief and the mayor did not have supervisory liability for Faughn’s alleged unconstitutional behavior because the plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden of proving that either official was “deliberately indifferent” to them. Sturgeon v. Faughn, 36 F.4th 804 (8th Cir. 2022).

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1232.