In re: Lisa Coleman

Petitioner, convicted of murder and sentenced to death, appealed the district court's holding that her Rule 60(b) motion was a successive writ. The court affirmed the district court's holding that the motion was a successive habeas petition where petitioner's claim that counsel failed to discover and present additional evidence was fundamentally substantive; denied the application for a second or successive habeas petition where petitioner failed to argue, nor could she, that her claim is based on a new rule of constitutional law; denied the application for a certificate of appealability; and denied the motion for stay of execution. View "In re: Lisa Coleman" on Justia Law

United States v. Teran-Salas

Defendant appealed his sentence after pleading guilty to being an alien found unlawfully present in the United States after deportation. Defendant challenged the district court's determination that his 2011 Texas conviction qualified as either a "drug trafficking offense" under U.S.S.G. 2L1.2 of the guidelines or an "aggravated felony" under 8 U.S.C. 1326(b)(2). The court held that, although Texas's statutory framework leaves open the theoretical possibility that a defendant can be convicted under Texas Health & Safety Code 481.112(a) for conduct that would not qualify as a federal drug trafficking offense, defendant failed to establish a realistic probability that Texas would apply its statute in such a manner. The court held that the district court was correct in determining that defendant's Texas conviction was both a drug trafficking offense and an aggravated felony. Accordingly, the court affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Teran-Salas" on Justia Law

Estate of James A. Elkins, Jr., et al. v. CIR

Petitioners sought review and eventually eliminate the federal estate tax deficiency assessed against the Estate by the Commissioner. The deficiency resulted solely from the Commissioner's disallowance of the "fractional-ownership discount" applied by the Estate in determining the taxable values of decedent's pro rata shares of the jointly stipulated fair market values of 64 original works of art in which decedent owned only fractional interests at his death. The court affirmed and agreed in large part with the Tax Court's underlying analysis and discrete factual determinations, including its rejection of the Commissioner's zero-discount position. The court reversed, however, the Tax Court's analysis that led it not only to reject the quantums of the Estate's proffered fractional ownership discounts but also to adopt and apply one of its own without any supporting evidence. The court held that the taxable values of decedent's fractional interests in the works of art are the net amounts reflected for each on Exhibit B of the Tax Court's opinion. The court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment in favor of petitioners for a refund of taxes overpaid in the amount of $14,359,508.21, plus statutory interest. View "Estate of James A. Elkins, Jr., et al. v. CIR" on Justia Law

Cutler v. Stephen F. Austin State Univ., et al.

After plaintiff was terminated from his position as Director of the University's art galleries after he told a member of U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert's staff that he believed Rep. Gohmert was a "fear monger," plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the University and others, alleging that he was fired in retaliation for the exercise of protected speech in violation of his First Amendment rights. Defendants appealed the district court's denial of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. The court concluded that defendants should have known that plaintiff's speech was protected as the speech of a citizen and that their decision to terminate plaintiff on the basis of that citizen speech would violate plaintiff's First Amendment right. The court held that the law of this circuit clearly established what a reasonable investigation was such that a reasonable official would have known that defendants' investigation was unreasonable under the circumstances. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court, concluding that every reasonable official in defendants' positions would have known based on precedent that an informal, hastily concluded investigation would be unreasonable. Accordingly, the district court did not err in finding that the law was "clearly established" at the time. View "Cutler v. Stephen F. Austin State Univ., et al." on Justia Law

United States v. Guerrero

These consolidated appeals stemmed from defendant's alleged leadership in the Texas Mexican Mafia. The first case stemmed from charges of racketeering, including the commission of two murders in aid of racketeering. While defendant was awaiting sentencing in the first case, he assaulted a correctional officer. The second case concerns the assault. The court concluded that the district court properly admitted the historical cell site location data, that roughly indicated where he was, at trial; the court rejected defendant's contention that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the racketeering conspiracy charge; the evidence was sufficient to convict defendant of the murder of Chris Mendez in aid of racketeering; and the court rejected defendant's claims of error regarding discovery and remaining trial issues. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Guerrero" on Justia Law

Janvey, et al. v. Brown, et al.

Plaintiff, the receiver for the Stanford entities, filed suit seeking to recover funds that were paid to defendants, purchasers of certificate of deposits from Standard International Bank (SIB) as part of a Ponzi scheme. The court concluded that the district court properly applied the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (TUFTA), Tex. Bus. & Com. Code 24.010, to the receiver's claims; the receiver has standing to bring the TUFTA claims on behalf of the Stanford entities; and the receiver's claims are not barred by the statute of limitations. On the merits, the court concluded that the receiver established that the Stanford principles transferred monies to the investor-defendants with fraudulent intent; unlike interest payments, it is undisputed that the principal payments were payments of an antecedent debt, namely fraud claims that the investor-defendants have as victims of the Stanford Ponzi scheme; the district court did not err in denying an exemption under Texas Property Code 42.0021(a) where investor-defendants have offered no evidence that they have a legal right to the funds despite those funds being the product of a fraudulent transfer; and the court declined to reach the investor-defendants' argument that certain factual issues remain. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of the receiver's motion for summary judgment. View "Janvey, et al. v. Brown, et al." on Justia Law

Chemtech Royalty Assoc. LP, et al. v. United States

From 1993 through 2006, Dow engaged in transactions with foreign banks to operate two partnerships that generated over one billion dollars in tax deductions for Dow. The court affirmed the district court's holding that the partnerships were shams where the district court did not clearly err in holding that Dow lacked the intent to share the profits and losses with the foreign banks. The court vacated, however, the district court's penalty award where, in light of United States v. Woods, the district court erred in foreclosing the applicability of both the substantial-valuation and gross-valuation misstatement penalties. The court remanded for the district court to determine whether to impose either or both of these penalties. View "Chemtech Royalty Assoc. LP, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law

Trottie v. Livingston, et al.

Willie Tyrone Trottie, scheduled to be executed in Texas, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments based on the method of his execution. The court affirmed the district court's denial of Trottie's motion for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order where Trottie has failed to show a likelihood of success on his constitutional claims. View "Trottie v. Livingston, et al." on Justia Law

United States v. Howard

Defendant appealed his conviction for attempting to knowingly persuade, induce, entice, or coerce a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. The court disagreed with the district court's conclusion that defendant took a substantial step toward enticing a minor to engage in illegal sex simply by sending a sexually explicit photograph of himself and asking that it be shown to the girls. The court found, however, that a reasonable trier of fact could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant's conduct approached the line between despicable lawful conduct and criminal attempt and crossed it when he instructed the undercover police officer to perform sex acts on and procure birth control for the minors to get them ready for him. Therefore, defendant's "grooming behavior" - against the backdrop of conversations with an undercover officer and together with his specific discussions about travel and transmittal of sexually explicit photographs with instructions they be shown to the minors - constituted a substantial step. The court rejected defendant's constitutional challenges and affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Howard" on Justia Law

Derr, et al. v. Swarek, et al.

The Swareks filed suit against Herman Derr and DPI in Chancery Court, alleging that Derr and his corporation breached a contract for the sale of Mississippi farmland. Derr died while the action was pending and years later, Derr Heirs filed suit against the Swareks in the German Regional Court seeking a declaratory judgment that they were not liable for any claims arising from the putative land contract. After the initiation of the German lawsuit but before the decision of the Regional Court, the Swareks dismissed all of their claims against Derr with prejudice and withdrew a pending motion to substitute the Derr Heirs in the Mississippi action. The Regional Court dismissed the Derr Heirs' claim but the German Higher Regional Court reversed. Subsequently, the Derr Heirs returned to Mississippi and attempted to enforce a German order for costs in federal district court. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to enforce the German cost award where the Higher Regional Court's decision to sidestep the comity determination and readjudicate claims that had already been settled in the Chancery Court violated the Mississippi public policy of res judicata and the Swarek's right to permanently terminate their claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Derr, et al. v. Swarek, et al." on Justia Law