Sheriff’s Office Policy preventing personal relationships with known felons is constitutional


Calvin Lewis, who is African American, was an employee of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office (STPSO) from 1997 until his termination in 2017. According to Lewis, he met Jane Doe while he was assigned to a work detail in 2007, and they began dating thereafter. Lewis and Doe, and Doe’s two children from a previous relationship, began living together in May 2010. Lewis’s relationship with Doe, who had a past felony conviction at the time the two began dating, was open and well known among his colleagues.

In January 2017, after having been promoted to Captain, Lewis learned of a Facebook post in which someone commented that “a newly promoted captain” was living with a convicted felon in violation of STPSO policies. Lewis advised Sheriff Randy Smith of the post. Several months later, in May 2017, Lewis was called to a meeting with internal affairs investigators from the STPSO to discuss his relationship with Doe. There, he was informed that if he wanted to continue working for the STPSO, he would be required to disassociate from Doe due to her status as a convicted felon. Lewis refused to do so and consequently, was terminated pursuant to the STPSO’s anti-fraternization policy, which prohibits STPSO personnel from engaging in personal relationships or associations with known felons.

Lewis brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the anti-fraternization policy violated his constitutional rights because (1) as applied to Lewis, the policy infringed on his right to personal association and privacy in his intimate relationships; (2) the policy is facially overbroad and vague; and (3) the policy is selectively enforced in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Sheriff Smith moved to dismiss the suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Lewis had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

The district court granted Sheriff Smith’s motion and dismissed Lewis’s claims. The 5th affirmed.


A. Right to Intimate Association

Though not expressly included in the text of the amendment, implicit in the right to engage in First Amendment-protected activities is a corresponding right to associate with others in pursuit of a wide variety of political, social, economic, educational, religious, and cultural ends. See Mote. Two classes of associations have been identified by the Supreme Court as being protected by the First Amendment: expressive associations and intimate associations.

While expressive association emanates from the First Amendment’s protections of expression, intimate association primarily derives from the fundamental right to personal liberty and the resulting freedom to choose to enter into and maintain certain intimate human relationships. This court has acknowledged that family relationships are at the foundation of this right to intimate association, because these relationships by their nature, involve deep attachments and commitments to the necessarily few other individuals with whom one shares not only a special community of thoughts, experiences, and beliefs but also distinctively personal aspects of one’s life. See Kipps.

Due to the marriage-like status of Lewis and Doe’s relationship, the district court analyzed Lewis’s claim that his constitutional right to intimate association was violated under the jurisprudence applicable to the right of marriage. We do the same here. The right to marry is both a fundamental substantive due process and associational right. In determining the level of scrutiny applicable to governmental action alleged to infringe upon the right of marriage, we employ a two-step analysis: first, a court must ask whether the policy or action is a direct or substantial interference with the right of marriage; second, if the policy or action is a direct and substantial interference with the right of marriage, apply strict scrutiny, otherwise apply rational basis scrutiny.

Lewis argues that strict scrutiny must be applied to the policy while Sheriff Smith counters that rational basis review applies. The district court agreed with Sheriff Smith and concluded that rational basis scrutiny applies. In doing so, the district court reasoned that the policy does not place a direct and substantial burden on the right to intimate relationships because it does not completely prohibit one class of people from being with another. In other words, the policy only incidentally affects the right to intimate association because it requires employees who violate the policy to relinquish their jobs but does not prohibit the relationship itself.

We agree with this reasoning. Under the deferential rational basis test, we ask whether a rational relationship exists between the policy and a conceivable legitimate objective. See Simi. In this case, the answer is yes. As the district court explained, “the STPSO’s legitimate interests in preventing its officers from placing themselves in compromising positions and in preserving the STPSO’s reputation in the public and in the law enforcement community are reasonably advanced by the anti- fraternization policy and therefore are sufficient to uphold the policy under the rational basis test.” This is especially true for senior officers like Lewis whose conduct reflects on the reputation and integrity of the office. Accordingly, we hold that the district court did not err in holding that Lewis failed to state a claim for violation of his constitutional right to intimate association.

B. Overbreadth

Lewis asserted below, and urges on appeal, that the policy is facially overbroad. The district court determined that Lewis’s complaint failed to state a claim of unconstitutional overbreadth because its allegations were “nothing more than formulaic legal conclusions” that were “devoid of any facts.” Our review of Lewis’s complaint leads us to the same conclusion. Other than stating that the policy is overbroad and for that reason unconstitutional, Lewis has provided no meaningful analysis of this argument. The district court did not err in dismissing Lewis’s overbreadth claim.

C. Vagueness

This court has explained that vague statutes violate due process, because laws must give the person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly. See Ford. A statute is not unconstitutionally vague merely because a company or an individual can raise uncertainty about its application to the facts of their case, but only where no standard of conduct is outlined at all; when no core of prohibited activity is defined. A law is void for vagueness only if it commands compliance in terms so vague and indefinite as really to be no rule or standard at all or if it is substantially incomprehensible.

According to Lewis, the policy is vague because it invites arbitrary enforcement given the way it is written. He contends that the policy fails to adequately define its terms and that no standard of conduct is specified. We disagree. The policy is clear in prohibiting close relationships between STPSO employees and felons, by banning romantic or intimate personal or other close relationships between an employee and a known felon including “the undertaking of a personal relationship or association, with or without a sexual relationship, by a Deputy with a known felon.” These terms are certainly not substantially incomprehensible.

D. Selective Enforcement

To successfully bring a selective prosecution or enforcement claim, a plaintiff must prove that the government official’s acts were motivated by improper considerations, such as race, religion, or the desire to prevent the exercise of a constitutional right. See Bryan. The conscious exercise of some selectivity in enforcement is not in itself a federal constitutional violation. See Allred’s Produce. Rather, it must be shown that the selective enforcement was deliberately based upon an unjustifiable standard such as race, religion, or other arbitrary classification.

Lewis’s complaint alleges that several other STPSO employees are engaged in relationships and associations that violate the policy but that these employees were not terminated or disciplined. Lewis also alleges that the decision to enforce the policy against him was arbitrary, motivated by the desire to prevent him from exercising his constitutional rights, and/or because of his African American race. As the district court points out, however, Lewis’s complaint does not describe the types of associations at issue in those other cases, the jobs held by the other STPSO personnel, or any other relevant details.

In essence, Lewis has made no factual, non- conclusory allegations that could lead to the conclusion that one motivation for Sheriff Smith’s enforcement of the policy against him was either his race or his exercise of a fundamental constitutional right. For these reasons, we conclude that the district court properly dismissed Lewis’s selective enforcement claim.