Walker v. Beaumont Independent School District, 091819 FED5, 17-40752

Docket Nº:17-40752
Opinion Judge:KURT D. ENGELHARDT, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Party Name:CALVIN GARY WALKER; WALKER'S ELECTRIC; WALKERS ELECTRIC; JESSIE HAYNES, Plaintiffs - Appellants v. BEAUMONT INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT; AARON COVINGTON; LEROY SALEME; VERNON BUTLER;JANE KINGSLEY; TERRY INGRAM; MICHAEL 'MIKE' NEIL; TOM NEILD; VENICE MONROE; A. B. BERNARD; JIMMY SIMMONS; ROBERT TURNER; JOE DOMINO; LENNY CABARELLO; JACK CARROLL; ...
Judge Panel:Before SMITH, DUNCAN, and ENGELHARDT, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:September 18, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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CALVIN GARY WALKER; WALKER'S ELECTRIC; WALKERS ELECTRIC; JESSIE HAYNES, Plaintiffs - Appellants

v.

BEAUMONT INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT; AARON COVINGTON; LEROY SALEME; VERNON BUTLER;JANE KINGSLEY; TERRY INGRAM; MICHAEL "MIKE" NEIL; TOM NEILD; VENICE MONROE; A. B. BERNARD; JIMMY SIMMONS; ROBERT TURNER; JOE DOMINO; LENNY CABARELLO; JACK CARROLL; BEAUMONT EXAMINER; DON DODD; JENNIFER JOHNSON; BEAUMONT ENTERPRISE; BROOKE CRUM; INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS; LOCAL UNION 479,INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS; STEVEN LISLE; DUWAYNE HERRMANN, also known as Dwayne Hermann; CHRIS KIBBY; DAVID GONZALES; WAYNE REAUD; MICHAEL GETZ; CORY CRENSHAW; MALCOLM BALES; JERRY JORDAN; BOB RAWLS;TIMOTHY BREWER; DEANNA STEVENS, Defendants - Appellees

No. 17-40752

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

September 18, 2019

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Before SMITH, DUNCAN, and ENGELHARDT, Circuit Judges.

KURT D. ENGELHARDT, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

With this appeal, we review the district court's dismissal of the entirety of Appellants' claims pursuant to the Texas Citizens' Participation Act, ("TCPA"), Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code, §§ 27.001-27.011 (West) and Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons stated herein, we AFFIRM that dismissal as to all claims and all parties named herein as defendants.1

Background

Plaintiff Calvin Gary Walker ("Walker"), Walkers Electric, and Walker's Electric originally filed suit in July 16, 2015, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division. The Walker action was consolidated, on February 23, 2016, with a related case, Haynes v. Crenshaw, et al. (civ. action no. 1:15-CV-437), filed by Plaintiff Jessie Haynes ("Haynes"). Following transfer from the Marshall Division to the Beaumont Division, Plaintiffs-Appellants ("Appellants" or "Plaintiffs") Walker and Haynes filed a consolidated Fourth Amended Complaint on December 22, 2015.

As set forth in the Fourth Amended Complaint, Appellants assert that they are the victims of an extensive, long-lasting conspiracy ("conspiracy" or "Conspiracy") designed to prevent African-American individuals in Beaumont from gaining power and influence in order to perpetuate "white dominion over Beaumont local politics." This conspiracy, spanning approximately a decade, allegedly involved approximately 35 residents and organizations in the Beaumont area, including the Beaumont Independent School District ("BISD"), the BISD Board of Trustees and subsequent BISD Board of Managers, two local newspapers and their employees, two online journalists, the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ("IBEW") and several of its members, a Beaumont City Councilperson, two local attorneys, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, two Assistant United States Attorneys, and two agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"). The objective of this alleged conspiracy was to ruin Appellants' reputations and businesses as part of a larger campaign to harm minority individuals who "stepped out of line" and "defied the status quo."

I. Walker

Walker is a Master Electrician and owner of Walker's Electric Company, which offers electrical services in Beaumont. He asserts that the conspiracy against him began around 2004 when members of IBEW asked him to join and he refused, at which point he was told that the union would "get him one way or another." Walker then contracted to provide electrical services to the BISD, a position that had previously been held by an IBEW member. In April 2008, IBEW filed a complaint against Walker with the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration ("TDLR"), asserting that Walker had obtained his electrician's license through fraud. Although Walker initially contested the matter and continues to assert that IBEW was behind and heavily involved with the investigation, he ultimately agreed to pay a fine, relinquish his Master Electrician's license, and re-take the required licensing exam.

Walker asserts that IBEW then conspired with BISD board members to ruin Walker's reputation and business. According to Walker, the BISD board members complained at BISD Executive Cabinet meetings that he was making too much money for a minority and was a sloppy businessman. He additionally avers that BISD personnel sought to ensure that he did not get any other contracts with the BISD and imposed onerous record-keeping requirements upon him. Specifically, Walker contends that he, a black non- union electrician, was the only contractor required to submit detailed invoices. He further alleges that, in 2008, BISD Chief Financial Officer Jane Kingsley, acting on behalf of the BISD, attempted (unsuccessfully) to ensure Walker's contract with the BISD was not renewed by illegally conducting the bid process.

Having failed to prevent Walker from contracting with the BISD, the IBEW and the BISD allegedly next turned to Malcolm Bales, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, to prompt Walker's May 2011 indictment on 37 counts of fraud. In addition, Walker alleges that Deanna Stevens and Timothy Brewer-the FBI agents involved in his prosecution-tampered with potential witnesses during his trial, offering bribes to one and threatening two others. Members of the United States Attorney's Office also allegedly leaked information about Walker's case to members of the IBEW and the BISD. Walker was tried on the fraud counts in December 2011, which resulted in a hung jury and mistrial.

Subsequently, on July 17, 2012, Walker pleaded guilty to one count of willful failure to pay income taxes. He complains that members of the conspiracy, including members of the press and the BISD's Board of Trustees, thereafter relentlessly smeared him by wrongfully stating that he had pleaded guilty to defrauding the BISD and that he had agreed to repay it for the money that he had stolen. Walker asserts that, although the records of the BISD contained altered documents, there was no evidence admitted at trial that Walker or his wife submitted those documents to the BISD in connection with receiving payments for projects. Walker additionally alleges that Bob Rawls, the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the case, urged the BISD to cease doing business with Walker and sent letters to a number of government entities and individuals, falsely informing them that Walker was a thief.

Walker complains that members of the conspiracy continued to engage in a smear campaign against him and that BISD board members and other conspirators repeatedly stated that Walker had admitted to submitting fraudulent invoices. Walker further contends that members of this conspiracy joined with their media allies at The Examiner, The Beaumont Enterprise, and two websites to spread these allegedly unfounded allegations. Unidentified members of the conspiracy also purportedly interfered with Walker's existing contract with BISD by improperly terminating his contract in 2014. Accordingly, Walker alleges he was prevented from being awarded the BISD contract and lost substantial business from other prospective customers because the BISD's "Evaluation Matrix," prepared by BISD (Employee) Appellees – Leroy Saleme (BISD Chief Financial Officer), Aaron Covington (BISD Director of Contracts), and Vernon Butler (BISD Superintendent) – to compare contractors, falsely represented that he had admitted to padding BISD invoices, along with other purported falsehoods.

Walker further contends that the conspiracy has continued such that that United States Attorney Bales, unsatisfied with Walker's plea of guilty to willful failure to file income taxes, has conspired with the Jefferson County District Attorney Cory Crenshaw, a former Assistant United States Attorney, to form a joint task force in order to prosecute Walker in state court, despite the BISD's internal audit's having revealed he had not defrauded the BISD.

II. Haynes

Haynes, too, allegedly was victimized by the conspiracy for supporting (former) BISD Superintendent Carroll Thomas. Specifically, she claims that BISD Board of Trustees member Michael Neil pushed her away from a door leading to a press conference at BISD after she prevented Jerry Jordan, a journalist for SETInvestigates.com, from entering the press conference. Additionally, rather than Neil's being prosecuted for assault, Haynes was prosecuted and subsequently convicted in state court for obstruction of a public passageway. She additionally claims that, at her trial, at which Neil, Jordan, and City Councilperson Michael Getz (who was also present outside the press conference) testified, and Wayne Reaud, owner of the Beaumont Examiner, a Media-Appellee, was present, was a product of the RICO racketeering enterprise and conspiracy. She alleges "the...

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