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

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Plaintiffs, Hispanic employees of Koch, a poultry processor, filed suit alleging harassment and abuse on the job. Koch claims that plaintiffs made up the allegations in order to benefit from the U-visa program. The U-visa program has offered temporary nonimmigrant status to victims of “substantial physical or mental abuse” resulting from certain offenses, including sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, extortion, and felonious assault. This appeal concerns Koch’s attempt to obtain concrete evidence of this malfeasance – namely, any and all records relating to plaintiffs' speculated U visa applications – through discovery. Confirming that it has jurisdiction, the court rejected Koch's waiver claim regarding plaintiffs' section 1367 claims. The court found the D.C. Circuit’s decision in In re England to be persuasive, where the D.C. Circuit construed a provision barring disclosure of certain military promotion records to any person not a member of the promotion board to forbid civil discovery of the records. In regard to section 1367's application to the EEOC, the court concluded that section 1367’s similar text and analogous purpose counsel the same result here as in England. However, section 1367 does not bar discovery of the records from the individual claimants. Their protection, if any, lies in the basic constraints of the discovery process. The court could not conclude that the district court abused its discretion in finding U visa discovery relevant and potentially probative of fraud. However, the court concluded that the discovery the district court approved would impose an undue burden and must be redefined. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to devise an approach to U visa discovery that adequately protects the diverse and competing interests at stake. View "Cazorla v. Koch Foods of Mississippi, LLC" on Justia Law

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Con-way seeks review of a union election at its Laredo, Texas facility, and for review of the Board's decision and order finding that the company engaged in unfair labor practices. The court rejected Con-way's claim that the Board agent failed to ensure the secrecy and privacy of the election where, in this case, observers were simply not able to see how voters filled out their ballots; rejected Con-way's claim that the Board erroneously held that a group of pro-Union employees were not agents of the Union; rejected Con-way's claim that Union agents engaged in objectionable electioneering where the Board reasonably determined that none of the actions at issue were sufficient to "destroy the atmosphere necessary for a free choice in the election and thus to warrant setting the election aside;" rejected Con-ways' claim that the election was held in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation sufficient to taint the results where the Board reasonably exercised its discretion in finding that the vandalism did not create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation such that employees were unable to freely cast their votes; and rejected Con-way's claim that the court should invalidate the election results because the closeness of the election. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review and granted the Board's cross-application for enforcement. View "Con-way Freight, Inc. v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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After the BP Stock Fund lost significant value, the affected investors filed suit alleging that the plan fiduciaries breached their duties of prudence and loyalty by allowing the Plans to acquire and hold overvalued BP stock; breached their duty to provide adequate investment information to plan participants; and breached their duty to monitor those responsible for managing the BP Stock Fund. The district court held that the stockholders had failed to overcome the Moench v. Robertson presumption and dismissed their claims. The stockholders appealed, and while their appeal was pending in this court, the Supreme Court issued Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, holding that there was no such “presumption of prudence” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. On remand, the district court held that the stockholders had plausibly alleged that defendants had inside information; and the stockholders had plausibly alleged two alternative actions that defendants could have taken that met the Fifth Third standard: freezing, limiting, or restricting company stock purchases; and disclosing unfavorable information to the public. The district court granted the motion to amend with respect to pleading these alternative actions. It then certified defendants’ motion for interlocutory appeal. The court concluded, however, that the district court here erred when it altered the language of Fifth Third to reach its holding. Under the Supreme Court’s formulation, the plaintiff bears the significant burden of proposing an alternative course of action so clearly beneficial that a prudent fiduciary could not conclude that it would be more likely to harm the fund than to help it. In this case, the stockholders have failed to do so. Because the stockholders' amended complaint is insufficient and the district court erred in granting their motion to amend, the court reversed and remanded. View "Whitley v. BP, P.L.C." on Justia Law

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Defendant plead guilty to theft of government property, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 641, for his unlawful receipt of social security benefits, and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment. The court concluded that the district court did not err in applying a two-level enhancement under USSG 2B1.1(b)(11)(C)(i) for using an unauthorized means of identification to obtain another means of identification. The court concluded that defendant created fraudulent accounts in 2008 and 2011 without authorization; defendant's conduct fell within the ambit of USSG 2B1.1(b)(11)(C)(i) and 2B1.1 cmt. n.1; and the plain meaning of the phrase "actual" does not distinguish between living and deceased persons. As the Government demonstrated, the court has affirmed application of the Guideline outside the context of credit fraud, and applied the enhancement under circumstances factually analogous to those at hand. Finally, the court concluded that the rule of lenity does not preclude the application of the enhancement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Suchowolski" on Justia Law

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Movant was convicted of one count of conspiring to commit bank robbery, two counts of bank robbery and aiding and abetting, two counts of conspiring to obstruct interstate commerce by robbery and aiding and abetting, and four counts of using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence and aiding and abetting. Movant seeks authorization to file a successive 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion challenging his convictions under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) for using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence and aiding and abetting, as well as his convictions for bank robbery and conspiring to obstruct interstate commerce by robbery and aiding and abetting. The court concluded that movant has failed to make the requisite showing where Johnson v. United States does not provide a basis for authorizing a successive section 2255 motion challenging a conviction under section 924(c); the bank robbery and conspiracy to obstruct interstate commerce by robbery statutes that movant was convicted under do not contain language similar to the provision that the Supreme Court found unconstitutionally vague in Johnson; and movant failed to make a prima facie showing that Mathis v. United States and McDonnell v. United States set forth new rules of constitutional law that have been made retroactive to cases on collateral review. Accordingly, the court denied the motion for authorization and the motion to hold his case in abeyance. View "In Re: Andreco Lott" on Justia Law
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After Dresser-Rand and the Union failed to negotiate the renewal of the union-members' employment contract, the union called off the strike and agreed to return to work without a contract. However, Dresser-Rand had locked out the union employees. After a week, Dresser-Rand reversed course and allowed the union members to return to work. The Board held that the lockout violated the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151 et seq. The Board found that the lockout was motivated by antiunion animus based on actions that Dresser-Rand took after the lockout ended. The court held that that much of the later conduct did not violate the Act and the conduct that did violate the Act was not motivated by animus. Accordingly, the court concluded that these violations do not establish that the lockout was motivated by antiunion animus. Therefore, the court granted in part and denied in part Dresser-Rand's petition to deny enforcement of the Board's order. The court denied in part and granted in part the Board's cross-application for enforcement. View "Dresser-Rand Co. v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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The United States appealed the district court's order suppressing evidence seized in a traffic stop. The district court found exigent circumstances when the initial threat overheard on wiretap was first intercepted but none when the officers encountered defendant forty-five minutes later. Additionally, the district court found that the detective and his fellow officers’ response to the threat was unreasonable, criticizing their lack of urgency and questioning whether they actually believed defendant was in need of emergency help. The court concluded, however, that there was an objectively reasonable basis for believing that the emergency had not ended. Because the emergency had not dissolved after 45 minutes, the court concluded that the officers' actions, taken as a whole, were a reasonable response to the emergency. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "United States v. Toussaint" on Justia Law
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Defendant plead guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The district court concluded that defendant's prior conviction for assault under Texas Penal Code 22.01(a)(1), (b)(2)(B), constituted a "crime of violence" within the meaning of USSG 4B1.2(a). Thus, the district court enhanced defendant's base offense level under USSG 2K2.1(a)(3) and sentenced defendant to 100 months in prison. The court concluded that defendant's prior Texas assault offense “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another,” within the meaning of section 4B1.2(a)(1) of the Guidelines. To obtain a conviction for the least culpable Texas offense for which defendant was convicted, a jury would be required to find the defendant recklessly caused bodily injury committed by recklessly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of the person by applying pressure to the person’s throat or neck or by blocking the person’s nose or mouth. It is difficult to conceive of how applying pressure to either a person’s throat or neck in a manner that resulted in “impeding the normal breathing or circulation” could not involve the use of physical force. The same is true of blocking a person’s nose or mouth resulting in “impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of the person.” Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Howell" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff challenged the denial of disability insurance benefits, arguing that the ALJ erred by failing to ask a testifying vocational expert whether her testimony was consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), as required by an agency policy interpretation ruling, but nonetheless relying on that testimony. The court concluded that the ALJ's procedural error was harmless and does not warrant reversal. Because plaintiff does not raise any other grounds for reversal, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Graves v. Colvin" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff, the City's former chief of police, filed a First Amendment retaliation suit alleging that he was terminated for suing the mayor. The district court granted summary judgment for the City. The court concluded that although plaintiff spoke as a citizen, his suit against the mayor in his personal capacity was not on a matter of public concern and thus was not protected speech. The court also concluded that plaintiff's state-law claim of malicious interference with employment (MIE) against the mayor is barred because plaintiff failed to bring notice of the claim before suing as required by state law. View "Gibson v. Kilpatrick" on Justia Law