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

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Plaintiff, daughter of Martin Schmidt, filed suit against Wells Fargo in Texas state court for negligence, promissory estoppel, and conversion. After removal to federal court, the district court granted summary judgment based on California Probate Code 13106(a), which discharges the holder of funds “from any further liability with respect to the money or property” upon receipt of an affidavit conforming to certain statutory requirements. The court concluded that, because plaintiff has failed to probate her father’s will, the only statutory claim that she may possibly have is under California’s laws of intestate succession, which give a decedent’s surviving children a share in the estate not passing to the decedent’s surviving spouse. A claim under the laws of intestacy, however, is inferior to a claim under the laws of testate succession, and it is questionable whether a claim to a percentage of an estate equates to a claim to specific assets in the estate, like the Wells Fargo bank accounts at issue here. The court also noted that plaintiff has waived any argument based on intestate succession by failing to raise the issue in the district court or in her briefs on appeal. Therefore, the court held that it is immaterial that plaintiff gave Wells Fargo actual notice or whether she reasonably and detrimentally relied on any representation by Wells Fargo’s Houston employees. The California legislative scheme grants Wells Fargo immunity from any injury that plaintiff may have suffered from the disbursement of funds to her stepmother. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Di Angelo v. Wells Fargo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are individuals who obtained property tax loans from defendant property tax lenders in exchange for the transfer of their tax liens pursuant to Sections 32.06 and 32.065 of the Texas Tax Code. In these four consolidated appeals, at issue is whether the Truth in Lending Act's (TILA), 15 U.S.C. 1602(f), (g), (i), disclosure and consumer protection requirements apply to transfers of property tax liens carried out under Section 32.06 of the Texas Tax Code. The court concluded that the transfer of a tax lien does not constitute an extension of “credit” that is subject to TILA. Accordingly, the court denied the district court's dismissal of No. 14-51326, and reversed the district court's denial of defendants' motion to dismiss in No. 15-50199, 15-50340, and 15-50437. View "Billings v. Propel Fin. Servs." on Justia Law
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Defendant appealed his sentence after pleading guilty to one count of transportation of an alien within the United States by means of a motor vehicle for purposes of financial gain. The court affirmed the district court’s assessment of the enhancement under USSG 2L1.1(b)(5)(B) for use of a dangerous weapon based on defendant’s deployment of caltrops (metal spikes that alien and drug traffickers often deploy during pursuits to puncture the tires of police units). Because the court concluded that the district court properly applied the adjustment under section 2L1.1(b)(5)(B), the court also concluded that the district court was right to correct its error in calculating defendant’s total offense level and advisory guidelines range by vacating the initial sentence and resentencing him. View "United States v. Olarte-Rojas" on Justia Law
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The Partnership and Beher (the Lenders) loaned Community $16 million. Defendant is Community's founder, president and CEO. Defendant signed the identical loan agreements on behalf of Community and as a personal guarantor. On appeal, defendant argued primarily that summary judgment on his guarantor liability was premature because, in the bankruptcy proceedings at issue, he and Community were challenging the extent and validity of the underlying obligations. The court concluded that defendant personally guaranteed the Lenders that he would satisfy the obligations represented by the promissory notes no matter what. In this case, the Lenders presented sufficient evidence to establish defendant's liability as guarantor and they met their burden to recover on the guaranties. Furthermore, defendant has failed to present sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment on the amount of his obligation under the guaranty contracts. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Edwards Family P'ship v. Dickson" on Justia Law
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After David Walker received a loan from Guaranty to produce his crops of soybeans and corn, Guaranty took a production-money security interest in Walker’s crops, and Walker later delivered these crops to Agrex d/b/a FGDI under a series of contracts. Because Walker failed to fulfill all of his contracts with FGDI, FGDI applied a set-off to the amount it owed Walker for his crops in order to cover its losses arising from the undelivered crops. Guaranty filed suit against FGDI seeking to recover the entire amount due Walker under his contracts with FGDI. The district court granted summary judgment to Guaranty. The court affirmed the judgment because FGDI took Walker’s crops subject to Guaranty’s security interest under the Food Security Act of 1985, 7 U.S.C. 1621, 1631. View "Guaranty Bank & Trust Co. v. Agrex, Inc." on Justia Law
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Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for sixteen counts of wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. 1343. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his involvement in a scheme to obtain government procurement contracts set aside by the Small Business Administration for minority-owned small businesses. The court concluded that sufficient evidence supports the convictions. However, the court concluded that government contracts awarded through an affirmative action contracting program are not “government benefits” under USSG 2B1.1 cmt. n.3(F)(ii), such that procurement frauds involving those contracts are properly treated under the special government benefits rule for loss calculation rather than under the general rule. Therefore, the district court should have applied the general rule for loss calculation in this case. The court concluded that the loss amount should have reflected not the total contract price, but rather the contract price less the fair market value of services rendered by the Joint Venture to the procuring agencies. By treating the entire face value of the contracts as loss for purposes of section 2B1.1 and not deducting the fair market value of services rendered by the Joint Venture, the district court procedurally erred in calculating the Guidelines range in this case. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Six-year-old D.A.P.G. was abducted from his home in Honduras and brought illegally into the United States by defendant, his mother. Plaintiff filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Oct. 25, 1980, T.I.A.S. No. 11,670, seeking the return of his only child. Plaintiff filed his return petition two months outside of the one-year period of the child's wrongful removal, allowing the district court to consider the Convention’s defense that the child is well-settled in his new environment and therefore should not be returned. The district court denied plaintiff's petition, concluding that D.A.P.G. was well-settled in his current community even though defendant’s removal of D.A.P.G. from Honduras was wrongful. The court concluded that the district court erred in its legal analysis and application of the Convention’s well-settled defense. The court joined its sister circuits and held that the following factors should be considered: (1) the child’s age; (2) the stability and duration of the child’s residence in the new environment; (3) whether the child attends school or day care consistently; (4) whether the child has friends and relatives in the new area; (5) the child’s participation in community or extracurricular activities; (6) the respondent’s employment and financial stability; and (7) the immigration status of the respondent and child. The court joined the Second and Ninth Circuits in concluding that immigration status is neither dispositive nor subject to categorical rules, but instead is one relevant factor in a multifactor test. Here, the district court did not clearly err in its factual findings but erred in its legal interpretation and application of the well-settled defense. Giving due consideration to immigration status and the other relevant factors listed above, the thin evidence in the record does not demonstrate that D.A.P.G. has formed significant connections to his new environment. Accordingly, the court vacated and rendered judgment in plaintiff's favor. View "Hernandez v. Pena" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, complaining chiefly of neck pain, appealed the denial of his application for disability benefits. The court concluded that the newly submitted evidence - namely, updated treatment records - was not so significant as to require remand to the ALJ for additional consideration; substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination at step three of the evaluation process that plaintiff did not meet or medically equal Listing 1.04(A); and the ALJ's residual functioning capacity (RFC) finding is supported by substantial evidence where the ALJ found that plaintiff was capable of performing light work with certain limitations. The court agreed with the ALJ's ultimate determination that plaintiff was not disabled and affirmed the judgment. View "Whitehead v. Colvin" on Justia Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Because he agreed to waive his right to appeal, the government recommended that the district court grant a one-level reduction of his offense level under U.S.S.G. 5K2.0. The Sentencing Commission then amended the Sentencing Guidelines to reduce most drug-related base offense levels by two; that amendment later became retroactively applicable to inmates, like defendant, who were sentenced before the amendment took effect. The district court granted defendant's motion to modify his sentence to take advantage of the amendment, finding that his total offense level was now 33 and sentenced defendant to 135 months. Defendant appealed, arguing that the district court not only should have reduced his total offense level to 33 but also should have re-imposed the downward departure under USSG 5K2.0. The court rejected defendant's argument, concluding that the Sentencing Guidelines make clear that, in granting his 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2) motion, the district court was not authorized to re-impose the downward departure. Because defendant did not receive a reduction for substantial assistance, the district court could not reduce his sentence further by applying the section 5K2.0 departure it had previously applied. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Contreras" on Justia Law
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Petitioner seeks review of the denial of his applications for withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Petitioner's applications were based on his claims that he was kidnapped and assaulted by members of the Zetas, a Mexican criminal syndicate, who released him only after he agreed to pay $15,000 - and that after he reported that incident to the police in defiance of the Zetas’ instructions, corrupt police officers threatened and beat him. The court concluded that it has no authority to consider petitioner’s arguments that the IJ and the BIA erroneously found that he was mistreated by people driven by economic motives - not petitioner’s political opinion as expressed through whistleblowing activity; however, petitioner's challenge to the determination that “former informants” do not constitute a “particular social group” is a legal question that the court has jurisdiction to review; in this case, petitioner's proposed particular social group is not sufficiently particular; the court lacked jurisdiction to consider petitioner’s arguments that, contrary to the factual findings below, he faces a probability of torture upon return to Mexico based on his reporting of his mistreatment and not economic reasons; likewise, the court lacked jurisdiction over his factual arguments regarding the reach and power of the Zetas in Mexico and his ability to safely relocate; and the court does have jurisdiction to the extent petitioner argues that the IJ and BIA applied the wrong legal standard in determining that he could not relocate to a part of Mexico where he is unlikely to be tortured, but that argument fails on its merits. Accordingly, the court dismissed in part and denied in part. View "Hernandez-De La Cruz v. Lynch" on Justia Law
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