Nieves v Bartlett 5th Circuit Misapplication

Nieves v Bartlett 5th Circuit Misapplication

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a Fifth Circuit decision that barred a woman from pursuing her retaliatory arrest claim. The woman, Sylvia Gonzalez, had alleged she was jailed for criticizing local officials in Castle Hills, Texas, sparking a five-year legal battle.

High Court Cites Misapplication of Nieves v. Bartlett

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court criticized the Fifth Circuit for its restrictive interpretation of the 2019 ruling in Nieves v. Bartlett. Gonzalez was accused of mishandling a petition intended for her city council, but the high court found that the lower court misapplied the Nieves test, which requires evidence of similar circumstances where no arrest was made.

“The Fifth Circuit demanded excessively specific comparator evidence, which goes beyond the narrow exception outlined in Nieves,” the court stated. The Nieves exception is designed for situations where officers have probable cause but usually choose not to arrest.

Gonzalez’s Case and the Path to Supreme Court

Gonzalez’s ordeal began in 2019 after winning a city council seat in Castle Hills, a small town near San Antonio. She campaigned to remove the city manager and presented a petition to the council. Due to a mix-up, Gonzalez mistakenly kept the petition in her binder, correcting the error before leaving the meeting.