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What NOT to post on Facebook a/k/a Raub v. Campbell, No. 14-1277 (4th Cir. 2015).

May 1st, 2015
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

The 4th Circuit just this past week has published another qualified immunity (QI) case that addresses the protection afforded law enforcement officers who involuntarily commit someone they suspect is cray-cray.  Brandon Raub is a former Marine who made, what some may consider to be, “provocative” Facebook posts; to wit, “This is revenge.  Know that before you die”,”I know ya’ll are reading this, and I truly wonder if you know what’s about to happen,” and my personal favorite, “The Revolution will come for me.  Men will be at my door soon to pick me up to lead it.”

Raub’s buddy read this and contacted the FBI.  The FBI decided to interview Raub.  After some chatter at the door during which Raub asked the FBI agents why they weren’t arresting government officials for launching a missile into the Pentagon on 9/11 and for exposing people to radioactive thorium, the FBI decided that maaaaybe they should detain Raub for a mental health evaluation.

He was taken to a local jail, shirtless and shoeless.  Campbell, a certified mental health “prescreener” with local emergency services agency, conducted an additional interview.  Raub informed him that “the revolution is coming.”  Campbell spoke to Raub’s mom who shares his views and did not see anything wrong with him.  Nevertheless, Campbell decided that Raub met the standard for involuntary commitment and petitioned for a temporary detention order which he received.  Three days later, the court ordered Raub released and concluded that “the petition [was] . . . devoid of any factual allegations.”

Enter Lawsuit.

The district court granted Campbell qualified immunity, and that was the opinion before the 4th.  The court reviews that decision de novo.  QI analysis generally involves 2 questions– 1) did plaintiff establish violation of constitutional right, and 2) was constitutional right clearly established at time of violation?  The court doesn’t have to address both prongs, if it can decide the issue on one prong.  Here, the court generally concluded that there is a murky area surrounding the circumstances under which law enforcement can detain psych detainees (as opposed to arresting defendants in criminal context).  Reviewing its precedents, the court concludes that Campbell entitled to QI because any unlawfulness of his conduct (which it seems to seriously doubt) was not clearly established at the time of Raub’s commitment.   So, no liability there.

Additionally, Raub pressed a 1st Amendment claim alleging he was essentially detained because his Facebook posts and claims about Revolution were protected speech.  The court dismisses this claim in short order because Raub’s claim, it contends, fails to note that Campbell also had other factors that he considered (i.e. his and FBI’s observations, his buddy’s email to the FBI saying Raub should be taken seriously).  In other words, there was more going on here than just detaining him because they didn’t like what he had to say.

And the court also declined to grant an injunction against Campbell for possibly arresting him based on his political beliefs.  That claim is “merely speculative” and not sufficient for the court order such an “extreme remedy.”

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