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

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Rickmers Genoa Schiffahrtsgesellschaft mbH & Cie KG (Rickmers) sought to enforce a Philippine arbitral award given to Lito Martinez Asignacion for maritime injuries. Asignacion sued Rickmers in Louisiana state court to recover for his injuries. Rickmers filed an exception seeking to enforce the arbitration clause of Asignacion’s contract. The state court granted the exception, stayed litigation, and ordered arbitration in the Philippines. The district court refused to enforce the award pursuant to the public-policy defense found in the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, and the prospective-waiver doctrine. Rickmers appeals. Finding that the district court erred in reaching its conclusion, the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded for the district court to enforce the award. View "Asignacion v. Rickmers Genoa Schiffahrtsgesellschaft mbH & Cie KG" on Justia Law

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After their bankruptcy was converted from a chapter 11 reorganization to a chapter 7 liquidation, appellants Marco and Roxanne Cantu sued their bankruptcy attorney Ellen Stone relating to her representation prior to the conversion of their case. The chapter 7 trustee, Michael Schmidt, intervened in the action against Stone contending that the claims belonged to the estate. The parties eventually settled the malpractice case and the funds were deposited into the court registry pending a determination whether the settlement proceeds belonged to the Cantus individually or to the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy court held that the proceeds belonged to the estate, and the district court affirmed. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the bankruptcy court's analysis that the estate suffered injuries from Stone’s representation that would have allowed it to assert claims against her prior to conversion, and affirmed. View "Cantu v. Schmidt" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Bankruptcy
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Plaintiffs Frederick Morton and Walter Powers, Jr., individually and in his capacity as President of the Fraternal Order of Police, and cross-claimant the New Orleans Civil Service Commission (“CSC”) appealed the district court’s judgment upholding certain ordinances passed by the City of New Orleans related to paid detail for officers of the New Orleans Police Department (“NOPD”). The Fifth Circuit approved a Consent Decree entered into by agreement between the United States and the City of New Orleans; the Consent Decree was the product of a nearly year-long United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) investigation into the NOPD which “revealed longstanding patterns of unconstitutional conduct and bad practices and policies within the department.” As relevant here, the DOJ found that the structure of NOPD’s system of paid detail undermined the quality of NOPD policing and facilitated abuse and corruption by officers. To fix the problems associated with paid details, the Consent Decree required the City to “completely restructure” the existing system in which NOPD officers negotiated details and received payment directly from private employers. Morton and Powers alleged in their petition that the paid detail ordinances violated the federal and state Constitutions, and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The district court held a hearing on plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, in which the CSC participated. The court denied plaintiffs’ motion, finding that the CSC lacked jurisdiction over NOPD officers’ paid detail work; the ordinances did not violate the state or federal Contract Clauses because, even if contracts between the officers and private employers existed, they were subject to approval by the Superintendent and the ordinances were a legitimate exercise of the City’s police power; and the ordinances did not violate Louisiana’s Anti-Expropriation Clause because NOPD officers working paid details were not a “business enterprise,” and, in any case, the OPSE, a non-profit entity, did not compete with any paid detail business. All parties proceeded to a three-day bench trial. Following the trial, the district court issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law and dismissed plaintiffs’ claims and the CSC’s cross-claim. Plaintiffs and the CSC appealed the district court’s rulings on all claims and further alleged that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the case. Finding no reversible error in the district court's decision, the Fifth Circuit affirmed. View "Powers v. City of New Orleans" on Justia Law

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A federal magistrate judge conducted a bench trial, entered a verdict of guilty, and sentenced defendant-appellant David Hollingsworth to six months in federal prison for a petty offense committed on a federal enclave. Hollingsworth appealed to the federal district court, which affirmed the magistrate judge's judgment and sentence. Hollingsworth then appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing he had a right to a jury trial. The Fifth Circuit held that Hollingsworth did not have a right to trial before an Art. III judge, and that his trial, conviction, and sentence before a federal magistrate judge was constitutional. Because the Court was bound “never to anticipate a question of constitutional law in advance of the necessity of deciding it,” the holding applied only to defendants tried for petty offenses committed on federal enclaves obtained by Congress pursuant to Art. I, sec. 8, Clause 17. View "United States v. Hollingsworth" on Justia Law

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M. Kathleen McKinney, the National Labor Relations Board’s regional director, sought and obtained a temporary injunction requiring Creative Vision Resources, L.L.C., to negotiate and bargain in good faith with a labor union. Creative Vision appealed the district court’s grant of injunctive relief, arguing that such relief was not equitably necessary under the circumstances of this case. After review, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court abused its discretion because it ordered injunctive relief supported only by general findings of harm that did not evince exceptional or egregious conduct or harms in the context of the NLRA. Nor did the district court address adequately the effect of the excessive passage of time between the onset of the alleged wrongful activities and the issuance of the injunction. The district court’s order enjoined conduct in 2014 in an attempt to preserve a status quo as it existed in 2011. Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court's grant of injunctive relief, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "McKinney v. Creative Vision Resources, LLC" on Justia Law

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The bankruptcy court declined to grant a discharge to defendant-appellant Dean Buescher and defendant-appellant Sherry Buescher. Dean operated a home-building business through Buescher Interests, L.P. (“BIL”). Sherry, Dean’s spouse and a Texas-licensed attorney, often served as the closing officer for BIL’s real estate transactions. Plaintiff-appellee First United Bank & Trust Co. loaned BIL approximately $19 million. Dean personally guaranteed the loans First United made to BIL. The Bueschers filed a joint Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. First United filed an adversary complaint arguing, inter alia, that the bankruptcy court should refuse to discharge both Dean and Sherry from the bankruptcy action. Sherry argued on appeal that First United did not have standing to object to her discharge, because it was not her creditor (she never personally guaranteed the First United loans). Because Texas is a community property state, and because Sherry and Dean own jointly-held community property, the Fifth Circuit concluded that First United could satisfy a claim against Sherry through an in rem suit. The Fifth Circuit found no reversible error in the bankruptcy court's judgment, and affirmed in all respects. View "Buescher v. First United Bank & Trust" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Bankruptcy
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Defendant-Appellant Joshua Pillault pled guilty to knowingly and willfully communicating a threat by means of the internet, an instrument of interstate and foreign commerce, concerning an attempt to kill and injure individuals and unlawfully damage and destroy buildings by means of fire and explosives. "Runescape" is an online fantasy role-playing game. Players can communicate with each other by typing comments, which appear above the players’ characters as well as in a chat box at the bottom of the screen. In response to provocative comments made by another player, Pillault stated that he was going to acquire guns, Molotov cocktails, and pipe bombs in order to reenact the Columbine school shooting at Oxford High School. Pillault threatened to “level [O]xford hi[g]h school” and turn it to “gravel.” Runescape's operator, and another player alerted the local authorities; the FBI obtained an arrest warrant and arrested Pillault in the home he shared with his mother. A search of Pillault's computer netted files pertaining to the creation of bombs, sawed-off shotguns, Molotov cocktails and other explosive devices; files entitled "columbine" and "serialkiller," and web searches indicating Pillault had been looking at other online games that recreated the Columbine Massacre. At sentencing, the district court imposed a six-level enhancement for conduct evidencing an intent to carry out the threat. The district court upwardly varied from the Sentencing Guidelines and sentenced Pillault to seventy-two months imprisonment. Pillault appealed his sentence, challenging the district court’s application of the enhancement, as well as the reasonableness of the sentence. Finding no abuse of discretion, the Fifth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Pillault" on Justia Law

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Texas prisoner Robert Ortega sought a certificate of appealability to appeal the district court’s denial of his Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) motion, which sought relief from the judgment dismissing his habeas corpus petition. The petition challenged his Texas conviction for assault of a public servant as a violation of the Constitution’s double jeopardy clause. In November 2000, Ortega had an altercation with a police officer of Woodsboro, Texas. Texas first charged Ortega with, and he pleaded guilty to, resisting arrest. Then, the State charged him with, and a jury convicted him of, assault of a public servant based on the same altercation. Ortega appealed the assault conviction to the Texas Court of Appeals, which vacated the conviction, holding that it violated the double jeopardy clause. The Fifth Circuit denied the application: reasonable jurists could not debate the district court’s denial of Ortega’s double-jeopardy claim, and the issues in this case were not adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further. View "Ortega v. Stephens" on Justia Law

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Jose Mendoza was indicted on one count of unlawfully entering the United States after having previously been deported. He pleaded guilty to that count. After finding that Mendoza had previously been deported in 2008 following a federal conviction for conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, the sentencing judge applied an eight-level enhancement pursuant to U.S.S.G. 2L1.2(b)(1)(C). Mendoza was sentenced within the advisory guidelines range to a sentence of forty-one months. He challenged this eight-level enhancement on appeal; the specific issue raised was whether the district court committed plain error when it found that Mendoza’s prior money laundering conviction was an aggravated felony. The parties did not dispute that Mendoza was convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Mendoza contended, however, that the district court relied on the presentence report in order to prove that his prior conviction was an aggravated felony, in violation of "Shepard v. United States," (544 U.S. 13 (2005)). The Fifth Circuit affirmed: the evidence a court may consider under a specific circumstances inquiry is broader than the evidence that may be considered under a modified-categorical analysis inquiry. The district court did not err in examining the PSR in order to determine that Mendoza committed an aggravated felony. View "United States v. Mendoza" on Justia Law

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Haydel Enterprises appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Nola Spice Designs and Raquel Duarte on claims of trademark infringement, unfair competition, trademark dilution, copyright infringement, and unfair trade practices. Haydel Enterprises owns Haydel’s Bakery in New Orleans, which makes and sells pastries and cakes, including a popular king cake. In 2008, Haydel commissioned an artist to design a mascot, which was named “Mardi Gras Bead Dog.” On October 13, 2009, and December 1, 2009, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) issued two trademark registrations to Haydel for, respectively, the phrase “MARDI GRAS BEAD DOG” and its bead dog design. Both registrations cover king cake pastries, jewelry, and clothing. Haydel sold these items in its New Orleans store, online, and through a licensee. In September 2012, Haydel obtained a certificate of copyright registration for its work titled “Bead Dog” in “photograph(s), jewelry design, 2-D artwork, sculpture.” In May 2012, Raquel Duarte formed Nola Spice Designs, which sold jewelry and accessories, including necklaces and earrings featuring bead dog trinkets. Haydel learned of Duarte’s bead dogs through Haydel’s customers. In August 2012, Haydel sent Nola Spice Designs a letter noting Haydel’s trademark and copyright in “the bead dog design,” and demanding, inter alia, that Nola Spice Designs “remove from [its] website all display, mention of or reference to the bead dog design,” and “cease any and all promotion, sale, and/or use” of materials incorporating the bead dog design. In October 2012, Nola Spice Designs filed a complaint against Haydel seeking: (1) a declaratory judgment that Nola Spice Designs’s activities do not violate the Lanham Act or any other trademark law; (2) the cancellation of Haydel’s trademarks; and (3) damages for unfair trade practices under the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act (“LUTPA”). Haydel asserted counterclaims against Nola Spice Designs and filed a third-party complaint against Duarte, seeking injunctive relief and damages. The parties also filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment to Nola Spice on its claim for a declaratory judgment that it was not infringing Haydel’s trademarks, and the court cancelled those trademarks as unprotectable, but it denied Nola Spice’s motion for summary judgment on its LUTPA claims. The district court also granted summary judgment to Nola Spice on Haydel’s claims of trademark infringement, unfair competition, trademark dilution, copyright infringement, and unfair trade practices. Haydel timely appealed the district court’s order. Nola Spice did not appeal the district court’s dismissal with prejudice of its LUTPA claim. Upon review, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Nola Spice on its claim for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement of Haydel’s trademarks, and affirmed the district court’s cancellation of those trademarks. The Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Nola Spice on Haydel’s claims of trademark infringement, unfair competition, and trademark dilution under the Lanham Act; trademark dilution under Louisiana law; copyright infringement under the Copyright Act; and unfair trade practices under LUTPA. View "Nola Spice Designs, L.L.C., et al v. Haydel Enterp" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Copyright and Trademark
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