Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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After plaintiff was injured while riding her bicycle over a ramp at DeSoto National Forest, she filed suit against government officials under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2671-2680. Plaintiff alleged that defendants failed to inspect and maintain the bicycle trails, and failed to warn her of the hazard. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. The court concluded that the FTCA's discretionary function exception barred plaintiff's claim. In this case, the relevant Manual and Handbook provisions contemplate an element of choice as to how USFS employees inspect and maintain the trails, and the manner in which the USFS officials inspected and maintained the trails was susceptible to policy considerations. In regard to plaintiff's failure to warn claim, the court explained that it was difficult to conceive of a provision mandating the USFS to take specific action to warn the public about unknown hazards. Even if the court did not accept the district court's findings with respect to the USFS having no knowledge of the bridge, the court concluded that the discretionary exception would still apply. Here, plaintiff failed to identify specific provisions that mandate an approach to creating or placing closure signs in these circumstances, and the USFS's decision about how to post notice of the closed trail was based on considerations of social, economic, or political public policy. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Gonzalez v. United States" on Justia Law

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Peachtree filed suit against Rapid for tortious interference with its contracts. Peachtree and Rapid are two companies in the business of identifying individuals who are the beneficiaries of structured settlements, which provide a stream of payments, much like an annuity, usually over an extended period of years; once an annuitant is identified, the companies offer to purchase the stream of payments in return for a lump sum. The district court dismissed the claims and both parties appealed. The court held that plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of establishing either federal question or federal diversity jurisdiction. Therefore, federal courts have no subject matter jurisdiction over this case. The court vacated and remanded with directions to remand the case to state court. View "Settlement Funding, LLC v. Rapid Settlements" on Justia Law

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AHA and Isaiah Smith filed suit against the school district, alleging that the school district's policy of inviting students to deliver statements, which can include invocations, before school-board meetings violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The district court granted summary judgment for the school district. The court agreed with the district court that a school board was more like a legislature than a school classroom or event where the board is a deliberative body, charged with overseeing the district's public schools and other tasks. In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court stated unequivocally that the legislative-prayer exception in Marsh v. Chambers extends to prayers delivered at town-board meetings. In this case, the court concluded that the school board was no less a deliberative legislative body than was the town board in Galloway. Accordingly, the court affirmed the summary judgment in No. 16-11220, and reversed the order denying summary judgment in No. 15-11067. View "American Humanist Assoc. v. Birdville I.S.D." on Justia Law

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Air Evac filed suit against state defendants, claiming that, as applied to air-ambulance entities, Texas' workers'-compensation system was federally preempted. Air Evac argued that, because the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA), 49 U.S.C. 4173(b)(1), expressly preempted all state laws related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier, Texas may not use state laws to regulate air-ambulance services. The district court granted state defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1). The court concluded that Air Evac had Article III standing because it had a pecuniary injury that could be redressed with injunctive and declaratory relief; Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc. conferred federal-question jurisdiction because Air Evac's complaint sought injunctive relief on the basis that the ADA preempted Texas law; the Ex parte Young exception applied to this case where, to the extent Ex parte Young required that the state actor "threaten" or "commence" proceedings to enforce the unconstitutional act, state defendants' pervasive enforcement satisfied that test; and the court declined to exercise abstention under Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Air Evac EMS, Inc. v. State of Texas, Department of Insurance" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a national association of charter-bus companies, sought to enjoin regulations affecting their operations enacted by the City of Austin. At issue was whether federal law preempted the City's exercise of its regulatory authority over the intrastate operation of charter buses. The court affirmed the district court's holding that the regulations were not preempted. The arguments about preemption were based on a federal statute captioned "Federal authority over intrastate transportation." See 49 U.S.C. 14501. The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that section 14501(c)(2)(A) may appropriately be considered in interpreting and applying section 14501(a)(2), because both subsections use identical language. The court concluded that the distinctions between sections 14501(a) and (c) do not persuade it to construe "safety regulatory authority" more narrowly in the former than in the latter. The court applied a test that was similar to the Ninth Circuit, concluding that, in light of the permitting regulation's expressed purpose and effect, there was a safety motivation for the ordinance, and there was a nexus between the permitting regulations and the safety concern. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United Motorcoach Association, Inc. v. City of Austin" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his 300 month sentence after pleading guilty to attempting to use a means of interstate commerce to persuade, induce, entice, or coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense. The court agreed with defendant's argument that the Government breached the plea agreement by failing to comply with its obligations and to recommend a low-end sentence, instead of recommending and arguing for a high-end sentence. The court concluded that the breach constituted reversible plain error because the error had a serious effect on the fairness, integrity, or pubic reputation of judicial proceedings. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Kirkland" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against his employer, Dow, alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. The district court granted summary judgment for Dow. The court concluded that plaintiff failed to produce any evidence that he was treated less favorably than others similarly situated outside of his protected class, and thus his Title VII discrimination claim failed as a matter of law. In regard to the retaliation claim, the court concluded that no reasonable fact finder could conclude that plaintiff would not have been fired but for his decision to engage in activity protected by Title VII. The court explained that poor performance was not an activity protected by Title VII and, even assuming that plaintiff completed the Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), his negative, post-PIP evaluation independently justified plaintiff's termination. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Alkhawaldeh v. Dow Chemical Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, Harris County, after Constable Alan Rosen terminated plaintiff's employment while he was on leave recovering from back surgery. Plaintiff alleged discrimination and retaliation claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq., and the Texas Labor Code (TLC), as well as a First Amendment retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted summary judgment to the County. The court concluded that, because plaintiff failed to provide evidence showing any available reasonable accommodations that would have enabled him to perform the essential functions of his job, he cannot establish that he was qualified under the ADA at the time of his termination; because plaintiff failed to raise a material issue of fact on the question of whether he was qualified for his job under the ADA, he also failed to make out a prima facie retaliation claim under the ADA; the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's Title II claims where plaintiff presented no evidence that Harris County discriminated against him outside of the employer–employee context, or that Harris County was not a covered entity under the ADA; and, to the extent plaintiff was not speaking as an employee, he failed to provide evidence showing that he was terminated because of his protected speech under the First Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Moss v. Harris County Constable Precinct One" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a detective in the Sheriff's Department, filed suit against former Sheriff James Michael Byrd and Jackson County, alleging claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., and under Mississippi tort law, including claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The district court granted Byrd's motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) and denied plaintiff's motion for JMOL. The court found that the district court erred in "decoupling" the evidence when considering Byrd's motion for JMOL and thus reversed as to that issue. The court remanded for reinstatement of the jury's verdict and entry of judgment thereon. The court found no other errors and affirmed the district court in all other respects. View "Seibert v. Jackson County, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Streamline Production filed a trademark infringement suit against Streamline Manufacturing, seeking damages under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., and Texas common law. The parties stipulated to an injunction and a jury returned a verdict finding that Streamline Manufacturing infringed on Streamline Production's valid trademark in its name and awarded damages for lost royalties, unjust enrichment, and exemplary damages. The district court denied Streamline Manufacturing's motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL), as well as its renewed JMOL, or in the alternative, for a new trial. The court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the royalty award where, given the limited nature of the expert testimony on royalty damages and the other evidence presented at trial on the nature of Streamline Manufacturing's infringement and customers, the royalty award does not bear a rational relationship to the infringing use; the unjust enrichment award was not supported by sufficient evidence; and, because the court vacated the royalty and unjust enrichment awards for insufficient evidence, the court also vacated the exemplary damages award. The court otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "Streamline Production Systems, Inc. v. Streamline Manufacturing, Inc." on Justia Law