Constitutional and Civil Rights Cases

Tolan v. Cotton

Siegel obtained reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court of the Fifth Circuit's decision dismissing Robbie Tolan's civil rights suit against Bellaire, TX police officer Jeffrey Cotton for shooting him in violation of Tolan's Fourth Amendment rights.  Cotton shot Tolan on Tolan's own front porch while Tolan, who was unarmed, was on his knees.  Cotton was investigating a report of a stolen car after another officer mistyped Tolan's license plate number into a computer.  The district court granted summary judgment to Cotton and the Fifth Circuit affirmed in an appeal Siegel argued.  But the Supreme Court granted Siegel's petition for writ of certiorari and unanimously reversed without further briefing or argument.  The Court held that the Fifth Circuit wrongly granted summary judgment and ignored facts that could lead a jury to decide that Cotton violated Tolan's rights.  See 134 S. Ct. 1861 (2014).  Tolan is one of only three Supreme Court decisions reversing dismissal based on qualified immunity in a case alleging excessive force by police.  The case was widely covered in local and national media and is explored in Tolan's book, No Justice.  Tolan's cert. petition is here.

Kinney v. Barnes

Kinney sued Barnes for defamation, seeking only a court order requiring Barnes to remove a defamatory post about Kinney from websites he controls.  The lower courts held that this sort of order would amount to an unconstitutional prior restraint against speech, and that Kinney's only recourse was a claim for money damages.  In a case of first impression in Texas, the Texas Supreme Court agreed with Siegel and reversed these decisions, holding that a court can order websites to remove defamatory content, though future online speech cannot be enjoined.  The case was covered by media including the New York Times, the Washington Post, several Texas newspapers, NPR, and Austin television stations.  See 443 S.W.3d 87 (Tex. 2014). Kinney's brief is here.

Harry F. Connick, et al. v. John Thompson

John Thompson spent 18 years on death row in Louisiana until investigators discovered blood testing withheld by New Orleans prosecutors at the time of his trial in 1985.  After being released, he won a civil judgment against the district attorney's office under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the office's deliberate indifference in failing to train junior prosecutors in their constitutional duty to disclose exculpatory evidence.  Siegel wrote a brief urging affirmance of Thompson's award in the U.S. Supreme Court and before the Fifth Circuit en banc on behalf of centers in criminal law and ethics at NYU Law School, Stanford Law School, and three others. The brief argues that the need to train prosecutors in the law and ethics of required disclosure is vital and reflects a growing nationwide consensus.  Nonetheless, the Supreme Court overturned Thompson's award in a 5-4 decision. Justice Ginsberg's dissent cites Siegel's brief.  See 131 S.Ct. 1350 (2011).  Siegel's amici brief in the Supreme Court is here.

Hernandez v. Mesa

Siegel filed an amicus brief on behalf of Erwin Chemerinsky, then dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, supporting the Hernandez family's petition for certiorari.  The petition sought review of the Fifth Circuit's en banc decision dismissing the family's claim of excessive force arising from a Border Patrol agent's shooting of fifteen year-old Sergio Hernandez.  The agent was standing inside the United States when he shot and killed Hernandez, who was a few feet away inside Mexico.  The brief, which was covered by Law360 and the Houston Press, argued that the Fourth Amendment should apply to the shooting, though Hernandez was a Mexican citizen.  The Supreme Court returned the case to the Fifth Circuit but, in a second decision, held that the Hernandez family was unable to sue.  Siegel's amicus brief is here.

 

Veasey v. Abbott

Siegel represented a former Texas governor and election officials as amici in the suit to invalidate Texas's restrictive new voter identification law. Siegel wrote two briefs in the case -- one to the original three-judge panel that initially heard the appeal, and a second to the en banc court.  The briefs argue that recent studies show how voter ID laws depress voter turnout, particularly in Texas. Parts of the law were struck down and, consequently, made less onerous by the legislature.  

 

Evenwel v. Abbott

 

Evenwel argued in the U.S. Supreme Court that people ineligible to vote -- such as children and ineligible immigrants -- should not be counted when lawmakers configure and equalize the populations of voting districts.  Siegel filed an amicus brief on behalf of several Texas state senators arguing that legislators at all levels provide vital constituent services to everyone, including many unable to vote, and that such services will suffer if only voters are counted when district lines are drawn.  The Court ruled against Evenwel and acknowledged, as Siegel argued, that changing how districts are apportioned could harm key constituent services.  See 136 S. Ct. 1120 (2016).  Siegel's brief is here.

In re Hotze 

During the 2020 election, Harris County permitted voters to cast ballots from their cars at ten polling sites in order to facilitate greater and safer political participation during the COVID-19 pandemic.  When this was challenged in the Texas Supreme Court by a political activist, Siegel represented two major disability rights organizations to emphasize the necessity of drive-through voting for disabled Texans and their caretakers.  The Texas Supreme Court rejected the activist's petition. 

Elizondo v. City of Garland

The Elizondo family sued a police officer who fatally shot their teenaged son. The district court dismissed and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.  In 2012, Siegel filed a petition for certiorari to resolve a circuit split on whether courts should consider an officer's provocation of an emotionally disturbed subject when assessing the reasonableness of the officer's use of deadly force.  Several mental health and civil rights organizations also filed supporting amici briefs.  The petition was profiled by the National Law Journal and Scotusblog and covered by the Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle, but the Court denied certiorari.  Siegel's petition is here.

Greater Houston Small Taxicab Co. Owners Ass'n v. City of Houston

Siegel represented an association of 60 small taxi companies in their constitutional challenge to a Houston ordinance allocating 211 new taxi permits.  The ordinance favored large, established taxi companies over their smaller competitors despite the small companies' claim that they provide the same level of service to passengers.  Although the Fifth Circuit agreed with the association that laws arbitrarily benefiting certain private companies over others without aiding consumers can violate the Equal Protection Clause, it ultimately upheld the ordinance.  See 660 F.3d 235 (5th Cir. 2011).  The case was covered by Law360 and the opinion was described in Texas Lawyer as one of the ten most important issued by the court in 2011 by  James C. Ho, now a judge on the court.  Siegel's brief is here.

Texas Democratic Party v. Benkiser

Siegel successfully represented the Texas Democratic Party and obtained affirmance of a district court decision holding that it was too late for the Republican Party to substitute a new candidate for Tom DeLay on the 2006 general election ballot after DeLay withdrew and ended his candidacy.  The Fifth Circuit agreed that the Democratic Party had standing and that permitting the untimely replacement would violate the Constitution's Qualifications Clause and state election law.

LAW OFFICES OF MARTIN J. SIEGEL, PC

2222 Dunstan Road, Houston, TX 77005