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

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Plaintiffs, two waiters, filed suit against the restaurant they worked at, claiming that the restaurant violated federal law by requiring them to share tips with the restaurant’s “coffeeman.” The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the restaurant, holding that the coffeeman was an employee who customarily and regularly received tips. The court concluded that determining whether an employee is one who “customarily and regularly receives tips” is a fact-intensive inquiry that requires a case-by-case analysis of the employee’s duties and activities. In this case, there is evidence from which a factfinder could conclude that the coffeeman’s level of customer interaction in a customer service role was non-existent or minor enough such that he is more similar to a cook or a dishwasher than he is to a waiter or a busboy. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Montano v. Montrose Restaurant Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging claims of wrongful discharge and defamation. The district court dismissed the claims under Rule 12(b)(6). Concluding that the court has jurisdiction over the appeal, the court certified the following question to the Mississippi Supreme Court: Whether in Mississippi an employer may be liable for a wrongful discharge of an employee for storing a firearm in a locked vehicle on company property in a manner that is consistent with Miss. Code Ann. 45-9-55. View "Swindol v. Aurora Flight Sciences Corp." on Justia Law

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Bollinger filed suit against its insurers, seeking to enforce the parties' insurance contract after the United States sued Bollinger over a multimillion dollar contract to upgrade Coast Guard vessels. The district court granted summary judgment for the insurers. The court concluded that the contract between the parties did not require XL to defend Bollinger from the claims the United States brought, and Continental’s excess policy cannot give rise to coverage. The court declined to reach Bollinger's numerous other arguments raised on appeal. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "XL Specialty Ins. Co. v. Bollinger" on Justia Law
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Herman Barnes, a paranoid schizophrenic, died after a confrontation in his home with Harris County sheriffs deputies. Plaintiffs, his surviving family members, filed suit alleging that the deputies’ seizure of Barnes was unlawful, that the deputies’ warrantless entry into his home was unreasonable, and that the deputies’ use of force was excessive and deprived Barnes of his civil rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983. After the jury deadlocked, the district court denied the deputies’ motion for a directed verdict and declared a mistrial. The deputies seek interlocutory appeal from the district court’s denial of their motion for a directed verdict. After determining that it has interlocutory appellate jurisdiction, the court concluded that the deputies are entitled to qualified immunity on the unlawful-search-and-seizure claims and on most of the excessive-force claims, but not as to the excessive-force claims for the deputies’ use of force after Barnes was subdued and ceased resisting. The deputies' qualified-immunity appeals, arising from their use of force after Barnes had been restrained and handcuffed, turned on questions of fact the district court found disputed. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, dismissed in part, and remanded. View "Carroll v. Harris County" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a former IRS agent, filed suit alleging that he was fired in retaliation for protected whistleblowing. Petitioner alleged that he uncovered that Exxon had perpetrated a $500 million tax fraud and that IRS officials covered it up. The court concluded, however, that petitioner's disclosure was not protected because the court agreed with the Board’s finding that petitioner failed to make a nonfrivolous allegation of government involvement in Exxon’s alleged wrongdoing. The court also concluded that petitioner's remaining argument under 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(9) is exhausted. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Aviles v. Merit Sys. Protection Bd." on Justia Law

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The parties in these consolidated appeals are involved in a decade-long dispute regarding the TESTMASTERS trademark. The district court granted both parties’ motions for summary judgment, denying nationwide registration to both. Before the court is another appeal from a different district court's order finding one of the parties and his attorney to be in contempt, and ordering the attorney to be briefly jailed. The court vacated the contempt findings as to the Daniel Sheehan, concluding that there was no clear and convincing evidence upon which to find that Sheehan violated the injunction’s requirements. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Test Masters Educ. Serv., Inc. v. Robin Singh Educ. Serv., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a police officer, filed suit against the City, alleging unlawful retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000 et seq. After a jury found the City liable and awarded plaintiff damages, both parties appealed. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment on liability because plaintiff produced evidence sufficient to find - under University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar’s but-for standard of causation - that his Crime Reduction Unit (CRU) supervisors, motivated by retaliatory intent, intended to cause and did cause his suspension; affirmed the district court’s order upholding the jury’s past compensatory damages award because plaintiff produced specific evidence that he suffered mental anguish and reputational harm until his suspension was overturned; reversed and remanded the district court’s order vacating the jury’s future compensatory damages award because plaintiff produced sufficient evidence to support his claim of future reputational harm, and instructed the district court on remand to consider remittitur; and affirmed the district court’s order denying the City’s motion for a mistrial because the district court found after a thorough investigation that the discovery of the prior jury’s notes would not affect the jury’s deliberations or the jury’s verdict. View "Zamora v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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Century filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that it is not required to defend or indemnify the insured in an underlying suit. The district court dismissed the declaratory judgment action and all counterclaims. Because Clausen v. Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Md.’s interpretation of the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act (LUTPA), La. Rev. Stat. 51:1406(1), makes clear that the district court was correct in holding that the insured failed to state a claim for unfair trade practices, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of that counterclaim; because the district court provided neither notice to the insured that it intended to dismiss all of its claims nor an opportunity to defend the sufficiency of the claims not challenged by Century, the court reversed the dismissal of these three counterclaims and remanded for further proceedings; and the court need not consider whether the district court applied the correct test or applied it correctly because some of the insured’s counterclaims have been remanded. The court vacated the dismissal of the declaratory judgment action and remanded. View "Century Surety Co. v. Blevins" on Justia Law
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Five New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers were convicted of charges related to their role in the Danziger Bridge shootings and alleged cover-up. On appeal, the government challenges the district court's decision to grant a new trial. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting a new trial where three high-ranking federal prosecutors posted online, anonymous comments to newspaper articles about the case throughout its duration; the government makes no attempt to justify the prosecutors' ethical lapses; the government inadequately investigated and substantially delayed the ferreting out of information about its in-house contributors to the anonymous postings; and the district court found that the cooperating defendants called to testify by the government lied, an FBI agent overstepped, defense witnesses were intimidated from testifying, and inexplicably gross sentencing disparities resulted from the government’s plea bargains and charging practices. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment and remanded for trial. View "United States v. Bowen" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff, a Texas inmate, filed suit claiming that jail staff used excessive force against him, causing him injury in violation of his constitutional rights. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants. The district court concluded that plaintiff failed to satisfy the statutory prerequisite under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a), of exhausting available administrative remedies prior to filing suit. The court reversed and remanded, holding that there is evidence in the record that jail staff misled plaintiff as to the jail’s grievance procedures and there is no evidence that plaintiff knew or reasonably should have known the correct procedures. View "Davis v. Hernandez" on Justia Law
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