Wilkerson v. Stalder

Plaintiff filed suit against various prison officials, alleging a procedural due process claim arising out of his 39 years of continuous incarceration in solitary confinement. Prison officials appealed the district court's denial of their motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The court concluded that, given the extraordinarily lengthy detention and the isolating, restrictive conditions that the district court considered in this instance, there is no basis for concluding that prison officials may avoid the established constitutional rights of prisoners by transferring them to a new facility and wiping the slate clean, while continuing all of the conditions that the prisoner has challenged; no reasonable prison official could conclude that continuing four decades in indefinite solitary confinement would not implicate a liberty interest protected by due process; and, having found a clearly established liberty interest, the court affirmed the denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity.View "Wilkerson v. Stalder" on Justia Law

United States v. Vigil

In 2013, Vigil pleaded guilty, without a plea agreement, to illegal re-entry into the United States. A pre-sentence calculated a base offense level of 8. The PSR then applied a 16-level enhancement, finding that a previous conviction for sexual battery under Louisiana Revised Statute § 14.43.1 constituted a "crime of violence" under USSG 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii). After a 2-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, Vigil's total offense level was 22. Combined with a Criminal History Category of II, the PSR calculated a Guidelines range of 46 to 57 months imprisonment. Vigil objected that the government had not presented competent evidence to support the 16-level enhancement and that even if properly supported, the Louisiana conviction was not a "crime of violence." The district court applied the 16-level enhancement required by the Guidelines when there has been a prior conviction for a crime of violence. After granting the Government's motion for an additional 1-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, the district court calculated a Guidelines range of 41 to 51 months imprisonment and sentenced Vigil to 41 months. The Fifth Circuit affirmed imposition of the enhancement.View "United States v. Vigil" on Justia Law

Bell v. Itawamba Cty. Sch. Bd.

Plaintiffs, a high school student and his mother, filed suit against defendants for violation of the student's freedom of speech under the First Amendment and the mother's substantive due process right to parental authority under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs' complaint stemmed from the student's suspension and transfer to an alternative school for his posting of a rap song on his Facebook page and on YouTube that criticized and named two male athletic coaches at his school for sexually harassing female students. The court concluded that, even assuming arguendo the School Board could invoke Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in this case, it would not afford the School Board a defense for its violation of the student's First Amendment rights because the evidence does not support a finding, as would be required by Tinker, that the student's song either substantially disrupted the school's work or discipline or that the school officials reasonably could have forecasted such a disruption. In the alternative, the court concluded that the student's song did not gravely and uniquely threaten violence to the school population such to justify discipline pursuant to the court's narrow holding in Ponce v. Socorro Independent School District that student speech that threatened a Columbine-style attack on a school was not protected by the First Amendment. In this case, the student's speech did not constitute a true threat as evidenced by, inter alia, its public broadcast as a rap song, its conditional nature, and the reactions of its listeners. The district court reversed in part and rendered in favor of the student against the School Board on the First Amendment claim; remanded and directed the district court to award the student nominal damages, court costs, appropriate attorneys' fees, and an injunction ordering the School Board to expunge all references to the incident at issue from the student's school records. The court affirmed in all other respects.View "Bell v. Itawamba Cty. Sch. Bd." on Justia Law

United States v. Beacham

Defendants Tisdale, Jones, and Beacham appealed their convictions for various counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, and bank fraud for their involvement in a fraudulent real estate scheme. Tisdale and Beacham also appealed their sentences. The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to convict defendants of the charges. However, the court concluded that the district court abused its discretion by using the original loan amounts to calculate restitution for the victims and the restitution order must be vacated. It is unclear whether the district court weighed the restitution awards in the balance when deciding Tisdale's, Jones's, and Beacham's prison terms. The district court did not state whether the imposition of restitution resulted in a modification of the prison sentences or its decision not to impose penal fines. Accordingly, the court affirmed the convictions but vacated the sentences, remanding for resentencing.View "United States v. Beacham" on Justia Law

United States v. Collins

Defendants Collins and Robison appealed their convictions stemming from their involvement in a conspiracy to defraud insurance companies by filing false claims for automobile accidents that never happened. The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support Collins' conviction for conspiracy to commit health care fraud; the court rejected defendants' claim that their conviction for mail fraud should be vacated under the concurrent sentence doctrine or on the merits; there was sufficient evidence to support the mail fraud convictions; the McCarran-Ferguson Act, 15 U.S.C. 11011 et seq., does not preclude concurrent operation of the federal mail fraud statute; the district court properly instructed the jury on the elements of conspiracy and corrupt persuasion and defendants' conviction for conspiracy to tamper with witnesses stands; and the court affirmed Collins' sentence. The court rejected defendants' numerous legal challenges and affirmed the judgment.View "United States v. Collins" on Justia Law

United States v. Martinez-Lugo

Defendant pleaded guilty to being unlawfully present in the United States after removal. On appeal, defendant challenged the application of a 16-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(i) for his having been removed following a conviction for a drug trafficking offense for which the sentence was greater than 13 months based upon defendant's 2002 Georgia conviction for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. The court concluded that the district court misapplied section 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(i) because the Georgia conviction, which did not necessarily require remuneration, did not support the enhancement for a "drug trafficking offense." Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.View "United States v. Martinez-Lugo" on Justia Law

EEOC v. LHC Group, Inc.

Kristy Sones worked as a nurse for LHC, a home-health company, until she was terminated shortly after she had an epileptic seizure. The EEOC brought an enforcement action on her behalf against LHC under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq. The district court subsequently granted summary judgment for LHC on all claims. The court affirmed summary judgment on the EEOC's failure-to-accommodate claim; affirmed partial summary judgment to the extent Sones was a Field Nurse because she was not qualified for that position; but concluded that there were genuine disputes of material fact remaining as to (1) whether Sones was promoted to Team Leader, (2) if so, whether LHC could reasonably accommodate her disability, (3) whether LHC engaged in the required interactive process to seek accommodation, and (4) whether Sones was terminated on account of her disability. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings as to these issues.View "EEOC v. LHC Group, Inc." on Justia Law

Varela v. Gonzales

Plaintiffs filed suit against their former employers, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961 et seq. Plaintiffs claimed that defendants' hiring of undocumented workers resulted in the depression of their wages. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' second amended complaint for failure to establish RICO standing, as well as denied their motion for leave to file a third amended complaint. The court concluded that, without an allegation as to the proportion of undocumented workers within defendants' workforce, it is impossible to determine whether the hiring of undocumented workers could have had any plausible effect on overall wages. Further, if plaintiffs are alleging that defendants' hiring of illegal workers depressed wages throughout the industry, this theory is implausible too. Therefore, plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege proximate cause. Further, plaintiffs' allegations are insufficient to establish that they suffered any injury, must less an injury under RICO. The court also concluded that the district court did not err by dismissing the second amended complaint with prejudice and denying plaintiffs leave to file the third amended complaint. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.View "Varela v. Gonzales" on Justia Law

United States v. 200 Acres of Land Near FM 2686

The United States filed an in rem civil forfeiture complaint on the property, alleging that Carlos Alberto Oliva-Castillo was the true of owner of the property and that Oliva purchased the property with proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs. Dr. Carlos Ricardo Tirado Tamez filed an answer and amended answer to the complaint claiming to be the owner of the property. Dr. Tirado and his wife are the claimants. On appeal, Dr. Tirado challenged the district court's default judgment and final judgment of forfeiture. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Dr. Tirado's Venue Motion; the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that claimants had been properly served; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering discovery sanctions resulting in default judgment against Dr. Tirado. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.View "United States v. 200 Acres of Land Near FM 2686" on Justia Law

Avakian v. Citibank, N.A.

The Avakians purchased a house with a loan secured by a properly executed deed of trust. The property was their homestead, where they lived together. Citibank refinanced the loan. Unlike the original loan, the refinancing note only listed Norair as the debtor. Citibank required that the Avakians execute another deed of trust. Norair signed the Citibank deed of trust. The next day, Burnette signed an identical deed of trust. The deeds of trust did not mention each other, and did not refer to signature of counterpart documents. Citibank recorded them as separate instruments. The Avakians received a loan modification. Around the time of Norair’s death, Burnette received notice that Citibank was taking steps to foreclose. After Norair’s death, Burnette sought a declaratory judgment. The district court granted summary judgment to Burnette, finding that, because the two were living together when they signed the Citibank deeds of trust, the instruments were invalid. The Fifth Circuit reversed. Under Mississippi law, a deed of trust on a homestead is void if it is not signed by both spouses, but the Mississippi Supreme Court would likely hold that a valid deed of trust is created when husband and wife contemporaneously sign separate, identical instruments.View "Avakian v. Citibank, N.A." on Justia Law