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

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Robert Montano, a pretrial detainee in the county jail, died of acute renal failure after approximately four-and-one-half days’ detention in a glass-walled observation cell in the jail’s infirmary. This 42 U.S.C. 1983 action was filed against the county on three theories of liability: unconstitutional condition of confinement relative to a county custom for holding incoherent pretrial detainees; episodic acts or omissions; and unconstitutional condition of confinement relative to a county custom of failing to meet basic human needs. In regards to the unconstitutional-condition-of-confinement claim, the court concluded that the district court properly denied the county JMOL against the jury’s finding the condition. In this case, trial testimony adequately established the protocol exercised in Mr. Montano’s experience was standard jail practice; the record demonstrates his experience was not a mere “isolated example”, but was, instead, a “pervasive pattern of serious deficiencies in providing for his basic human needs”. The court concluded that the district court properly denied the county's Rule 50(b) motion regarding the $1.5 million awarded for pain Mr. Montano suffered. Because section 1983 liability and damages are upheld, the court concluded that plaintiffs remain the prevailing parties and are entitled to those fees and costs. Because the constitutional deprivation is well established and the causal link was admitted at trial, satisfying Texas’ causation standard, the court concluded that the standard for wrongful-death damages is satisfied. Therefore, JMOL was improperly awarded to the county on wrongful-death damages. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Montano v. Orange County, Texas" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his sentence after pleading guilty for having been found unlawfully in the United States after deportation after a felony conviction. The district court applied a twelve-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii) based on his Oregon conviction of rape in the third degree. Defendant relies on decisions of the Ninth Circuit that the Oregon offense does not qualify as sexual abuse of a minor because it lacks the abuse element in that it does not expressly prohibit conduct that causes physical or psychological harm in light of the age of the victim. However, the court concluded that those decisions are not binding authority in this circuit and are inconsistent with the court's own precedent. Defendant has failed to show that the district court committed clear or obvious error by finding that the Oregon conviction was categorically sexual abuse of a minor, and thus the district court did not commit any error in applying the twelve-level enhancement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Penaloza-Carlon" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against LIT, alleging claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq., based on LIT's failure to grant his requested disability accommodation. Plaintiff, who suffers from an anoxic brain injury, sought an accommodation in which he could take two exams per class. The district court dismissed the claims. The court concluded that the district court erred in concluding that LIT is entitled to sovereign immunity where Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity does not bar plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claim for money damages. The court also concluded that plaintiff's claim for compensatory damages is not moot. Here, plaintiff alleges that he sustained a direct injury from LIT’s past intentional discrimination. Thus, whether or not the President’s letter remedies plaintiff's injury prospectively does not moot plaintiff's claim for retrospective relief for the period in which LIT denied his accommodation request. However, upon a full review of the summary judgment evidence, the court afforded deference to LIT’s decision because plaintiff has not demonstrated that LIT intentionally discriminated against him. In this case, each of the six alleged statements and actions recited by plaintiff is either not supported by the record or could not plausibly be construed by a reasonable fact finder as an example of intentional discrimination. Even if he had adduced a triable fact issue on discrimination, plaintiff cannot recover injunctive or declaratory relief from LIT because he lacks standing where his alleged prospective injury is entirely speculative, hypothetical, and lacks imminence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Campbell v. Lamar Institute of Technology" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty, without a written agreement, to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. The district court imposed a within-guidelines sentence of 78 months imprisonment and four years of supervised release. Defendant appealed his sentence. The court concluded that defendant abandoned any right to a safety-valve reduction, and he cannot now argue that the district court erred in failing to apply it. The court also concluded that defendant's sentence is substantively reasonable where he has failed to demonstrate that the district court did not consider a sentencing factor that should have received significant weight, gave significant weight to a factor it should have discounted, or made a clear error of judgment when it balanced the relevant factors. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Rodriguez-De La Fuente" on Justia Law
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These consolidated cases involve Antigua and its alleged involvement with the Stanford Ponzi scheme. Antigua, as a foreign nation, challenged the district court’s jurisdiction in each suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1604. The district court determined that it had jurisdiction over the suits under both the commercial activity and waiver exceptions of the FSIA. This appeal involves the third clause of the commercial activity exception. Because the court found that Antigua’s actions did not cause a “direct effect” in the United States, the court need not consider the other elements of the commercial activity exception’s third clause. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's holding that the commercial activity exception applies. Although Antigua contests the merits of the district court’s waiver ruling, Antigua does not contest the application of the commercial activity exception to OSIC’s breach of contract claims. As such, OSIC’s breach of contract claims will proceed under the commercial activity exception regardless of whether the court overturns the district court’s holding on the waiver exception. The court also concluded that the district court has already provided Antigua with the relief it seeks on appeal, and thus declined to further address the scope of the district court’s waiver ruling. Accordingly, the court reversed in part and remanded in part. View "Frank v. Commonwealth of Antigua and Barbuda" on Justia Law

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The family of Jason Hyatt filed suit against Officer Brianna Thomas, alleging a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim related to Hyatt's suicide while in police custody. The district court concluded that no genuine issue of material fact precluded Thomas from being entitled to qualified immunity. The court held that, while not ideal, Thomas's failure to exercise even greater care to avoid Hyatt’s suicide did not amount to deliberate indifference. In this case, Thomas took measures to prevent Hyatt's suicide: she withheld from him the most obvious potential ligature, placed him under video surveillance, and directed her relieving officer to keep a close watch over him. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Hyatt v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a maritime tort action against Bozovic Marine for injuries arising out of plaintiff's being taken to a work site on a vessel operated by defendant, a third-party tortfeasor. Plaintiff suffered injuries to his back when the captain of the vessel failed to decelerate upon reaching the crest of an eight-to-ten foot wave. The district court concluded that Bozovic Marine was negligent for: failure to request that plaintiff go to the passenger area of the vessel; failure to stay apprised of the weather conditions; and erratic operation of the vessel. Therefore, the district court concluded that plaintiff was comparatively negligent for staying in the wheelhouse. Plaintiff received 10% liability and Bozovic Marine received 90%. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err by assigning 90% of the liability to Bozovic Marine based on the trial record, including the captain's control over the vessel area. The court explained that the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), 33 U.S.C. 901-950, medical-expense payments are collateral to a third-party tortfeasor only to the extent paid; in other words, under those circumstances, plaintiff may not recover for expenses billed, but not paid. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court erred in awarding the full amount billed. Finally, the court concluded that it was not clear error for the court to credit the vocational counselor’s expert testimony and award lost-wage damages until age 75. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "DePerrodil v. Bozovic Marine, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant entered an unconditional guilty plea for criminal possession of controlled substances and being a felon in possession of firearms. On appeal, defendant challenged his convictions and his concurrent sentences of 15 months in prison. The court held that the district court did not err by accepting defendant's plea and sentencing him without reference to his unraised Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-1(c), arguments. Moreover, based on the circumstances in this case, the court concluded that the error defendant perceived would not persuade the court to exercise its remedial discretion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Comrie" on Justia Law
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OneBeacon filed suit for declaratory judgment, seeking to rescind an insurance policy or obtain a declaration that the prior-knowledge exclusion barred coverage. The Welch Firm counterclaimed, asserting violations of the common law Stowers duty and the Texas Insurance Code. DISH intervened. The jury returned a verdict in favor of DISH and the Welch Firm. OneBeacon timely appealed and the Welch parties cross-appealed. The court affirmed the district court’s orders denying OneBeacon’s motion and renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law based on the policy’s prior-knowledge exclusion; concluded that the district court did not err in holding that DISH’s July 14, 2011, letter demanding policy limits in exchange for a full release of its claims against the Welch Firm was a valid Stowers demand which OneBeacon rejected; concluded that the district court did not err in entering judgment on the jury’s award of additional damages on the ground that OneBeacon “knowingly” violated Section 541.060 of the Texas Insurance Code; concluded that OneBeacon's challenges to the jury's $8 million award was not properly before the court; and concluded that the district court did not err in requiring the Welch Firm to choose between additional damages under Chapter 541 and exemplary damages under Stowers. View "OneBeacon Insurance Co. v. T. Wade Welch & Associates" on Justia Law
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Petitioner, a native and citizen of Mexico, seeks review of the BIA's decision dismissing his appeal from the order denying his application for withholding removal and requiring his return to Mexico. Petitioner maintains he will likely face persecution in Mexico because the family of a man murdered by his father more than two decades ago allegedly targets him for revenge. The court agreed with the BIA that petitioner's claim that he would be persecuted if returned to Mexico is speculative. Petitioner also maintains he will likely face persecution in Mexico because he will be perceived to have wealth for having lived in the United States. The court concluded that persons believed to be wealthy because they are returning to their home country from the United States do not constitute a sufficiently particular social group to support an application for withholding of removal. Accordingly, the court denied the petition. View "Gonzalez-Soto v. Lynch" on Justia Law
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