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

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Noatex Corp. and Kohn Law Group, Inc. appealed two district court decisions in an interpleader action brought by Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi, Inc. (“APMM”) that named Noatex, King Construction of Houston, L.L.C., and Kohn as claimants. Appellants claimed that the district court erred in discharging APMM from the action, enjoining all parties from filing any proceedings relating to the interpleader fund without a court order, and in denying their motion to compel arbitration. After careful consideration of the trial court record, the Fifth circuit found no reversible error and affirmed the discharge of APMM and its accompanying injunction, the denial of appellants' motion to compel arbitration and to stay proceedings pending arbitration. King Construction was dismissed from these appeals, and appellants' alternative motion to vacate the trial court's rulings was denied. View "Auto Parts Mfg MS, Inc. v. King Const of Houston,LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Tammy Bryant filed suit against her employer, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, and supervisor, Kim Littleton, in her individual capacity, claiming violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the bases of sovereign and qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion in full. After review of the trial court record, the Fifth Circuit concluded the Department was entitled to sovereign immunity on Bryant’s self-care claims and that Littleton was entitled to qualified immunity on Bryant’s interference claims. View "Bryant v. Texas Dept of Aging & Disab." on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a contract dispute involving a Right-of-Way Easement Option (Agreement) between plaintiff-appellee Angus Chemical Company and defendant-appellant Glendora Plantation, Inc. This appeal stems from the district court’s grant of Angus’s motion for partial summary judgment, denial of Glendora’s motion for partial summary judgment, and denial of Glendora’s motion to compel discovery. Specifically, the issues presented were: (1) whether Angus had authority under the Agreement to abandon the original 12” pipeline in place when it constructed a new 16” pipeline; (2) whether Angus had authority under the Agreement to install fiber optic cables; and (3) whether it was improper for the district court to deny Glendora’s motion to compel discovery. Upon review, the Fifth Circuit concluded: (1) the there was still a material fact issue as to whether the Agreement required removal of the 12" pipeline; (2) the Agreement was sufficiently clear allowing Angus to install fiber optic cables; and (3) because the Fifth Circuit was remanding for consideration of other facts and issues, the Fifth Circuit remanded for the trial court to consider the motion to compel. View "Angus Chemical Company v. Glendora Plantation, Inc" on Justia Law

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In Texas, individuals under the age of 25 cannot obtain driver’s licenses unless they submit a driver education certificate to the Department of Public Safety (DPS). Driver education certificates, in turn, are only available from private driver education schools licensed by the TEA. The named plaintiffs were all deaf individuals who contacted a variety of TEA-licensed private driver education schools, all of which informed the named plaintiffs that the schools would not accommodate them. Because they cannot obtain driver education certificates, the named plaintiffs cannot obtain driver’s licenses. Plaintiffs requested injunctive and declaratory relief requiring the TEA to bring driver education into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act. The district court denied the TEA's motion to dismiss but certified its order for immediate appeal.On appeal, plaintiffs essentially argued that the TEA’s pervasive regulation and supervision of driver education schools transforms these schools into agents of the state. The Fifth Circuit held, however, that the mere fact that the driver education schools are heavily regulated and supervised by the TEA does not make these schools a "service, program, or activity" of the TEA. "Admittedly, this case is further complicated by the fact that the benefit provided by driver education schools - a driver education certificate - is necessary for obtaining an important governmental benefit - a driver’s license. Given the broad remedial purposes of the ADA, it would be extremely troubling if deaf young adults were effectively deprived of driver’s licenses simply because they could not obtain the private education that the State of Texas has mandated as a prerequisite for this important government benefit. [. . .] the DPS may well be required to give exemptions to certain deaf individuals who cannot obtain driver education certificates, given that using these certificates as an eligibility criteria allegedly 'screen[s] out or tend[s] to screen out' deaf people and may not be 'necessary for the provision of the' driver’s license program. But the named plaintiffs have not sued the DPS, so we need not decide this issue." View "Ivy v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jesse Chavful pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. The charge arose from a negotiation to sell drugs in November 2011 and an actual sale in June 2012. Chavful and the Government entered into a cooperation agreement: Chavful agreed to plead guilty and provide information to the Government in exchange for a guarantee that this information was “not to be used to increase Chavful’s Sentencing Guideline level or used against Chavful for further prosecution.” At sentencing, the Government introduced information about a different, intervening drug transaction- information that the Government acquired under the protection of Chavful’s plea agreement. The Government relied on this information to support its theory that the November and June transactions were separate and that therefore Chavful should be accountable for both. The district court sentenced Chavful based on a Guidelines range that took into account the amount of drugs transacted in both November and June. Chavful appealed his sentence. The Fifth Circuit, after review, vacated the sentence and remanded: the text of Chavful’s agreement, the Guidelines, and precedent all supported the conclusion that the Government breached the plea agreement. As the Government’s conduct was at odds with Chavful’s reasonable expectation “that his agreements prohibited information he provided . . . from being used against him.” View "United States v. Chavful" on Justia Law

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In May 2007, a confidential informant contacted the Narcotics Division of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office to offer information about local narcotics trafficking. The informant reported that an individual, later identified as Appellant Almond Richardson, was selling narcotics out of his apartment as well as his business, a store called Just 4 U Fashion. A federal grand jury would later indict Richardson on charges of distribution of crack cocaine, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, manufacture of marijuana, possession of marijuana, distribution of ecstasy, and possession of ecstasy with intent to distribute. Four days before the scheduled trial date, Richardson moved to represent himself. The district court denied Richardson’s motion to proceed pro se, and the case proceeded to trial with Richardson represented by retained counsel Steven Moore. All of the Government’s witnesses, including the informant, were cross-examined by Moore. Moore specifically questioned the informant about his motives for cooperating with the police, his past arrests and convictions for narcotics-related and violent offenses, and his relationship with Richardson. The jury convicted Richardson of five of the seven charges. Richardson appealed his conviction, arguing that the district court erred by denying: (1) his motions to suppress; (2) his motion for a Franks hearing to present evidence contesting the veracity of the statements in the search-warrant affidavit; and (3) his motion to proceed pro se. A panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found no error in the district court’s rulings on the motions to suppress and the motion for a Franks hearing, but it concluded that the district court had violated Richardson’s Sixth Amendment right of self-representation. Accordingly, the panel vacated Richardson’s conviction and sentence and remanded for further proceedings, noting that its disposition of all motions presented to the district court before Richardson invoked his right of self-representation would be controlling on remand. The issue this case presented on appeal centered on whether the trial testimony of the informant, elicited in contravention of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of self-representation, constitutionally may be admitted in the defendant’s retrial when the witness becomes unavailable between the first and second trials. The Fifth Circuit concluded that, if the defendant had an adequate opportunity for cross-examination at the first trial, then the witness’s prior testimony may be introduced in the second trial without offending the Confrontation Clause, at least when the defendant has not claimed that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at the first trial. Furthermore, the Court found the appellant’s remaining claims of error to be without merit. View "United States v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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In July 2010, defendant-appellant Justin Ortiz and Jose Diaz-Meza visited a Houston gun store called SOG Armory (“SOG”) and spoke with employees Joshua Hernandez and Kyle Wright about purchasing a .50-caliber rifle. They showed him a Beowulf rifle, which he decided to buy. He completed the required ATF Form 4473, which warned it was illegal to purchase for someone else, and paid about $2,100 in cash. He bought one box of ammunition. After Hernandez showed Ortiz a second rifle of the same model, he decided to buy that one too and left the store to get more cash from an ATM. SOG employees were trained to identify straw purchases, and several aspects of the transaction had made Hernandez suspicious. Ortiz would later be charged with, and pled guilty to conspiracy to make false statements in connection with the acquisition of a firearm, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. On appeal of his conviction, Ortiz argued that evidence seized from his vehicle should have been suppressed because agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (“ATF”) stopped him without reasonable suspicion and that statements he made to the agents should have been suppressed because they were obtained in violation of his Miranda rights. Finding no reversible error, the Fifth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Ortiz" on Justia Law

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Leading up to the 2012 state Senate elections in Texas, Texas failed to gain preclearance of its recently enacted Senate redistricting plan as required under then-existing law. Because Texas’s new plan had not been precleared, Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit and successfully blocked the plan for the 2012 elections. A three-judge district court panel in San Antonio enjoined Texas’s plan and ordered an interim plan in its place. But after the election, the Supreme Court held that the Voting Rights Act’s coverage formula, which automatically subjected Texas to the preclearance requirement, was unconstitutional. Regardless, after the Court’s decision, Texas repealed the contested redistricting plan and adopted the court-imposed plan in its place, thus mooting Plaintiffs’ lawsuit. The district court then awarded Plaintiffs attorneys’ fees and costs. Texas appealed the award of costs. Because the Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court erroneously characterized Plaintiffs as prevailing parties, the Fifth Circuit reversed. View "Davis v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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Kendrick Fulton appealed the denial of his successive 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition. In his first, Fulton argued he received ineffective assistance of counsel at the plea-bargaining stage, specifically, that he received inadequate information from counsel to allow him to make an informed decision on whether to accept a plea offer by the Government. After an evidentiary hearing, the magistrate judge made two findings regarding this claim: (1) the performance of Fulton’s counsel was not deficient, since counsel adequately informed Fulton of the plea offer and the sentencing effect should Fulton accept the offer; and (2) assuming counsel’s deficient performance, that Fulton had not shown prejudice since he failed to proffer evidence of his serious consideration of the plea offer. In his second § 2255 motion, Fulton again asserted his ineffective assistance of counsel claim at the plea-bargaining stage, based on the same allegations as his initial 2255 motion. The district court transferred the motion to the Fifth Circuit as a successive 2255 motion, and denied Fulton’s subsequent motion for a certificate of appealability (COA). In a separate proceeding, Fulton filed a motion for authorization to file a successive 2255 petition, which was denied. Notably, Fulton expressly reiterated the same argument as one of his bases for a successive motion. Fulton then filed a motion for a COA in this proceeding, which the Fifth Circuit initially denied. On reconsideration, however, the Court ultimately granted a COA on two issues: "(1) whether a COA is required, i.e., whether the district court order transferring appellant’s . . . [section] 2255 motion to this court is a final order as envisioned by 28 U.S.C. [section] 2253(c)(1)(B), and (2) whether the district court erred by transferring the [section] 2255 motion as a successive habeas petition." Because Fulton's petition as presented to the district court was correctly determined to be successive, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court. Fulton’s motion for authorization was denied by another panel, which prevented jurisdiction from vesting in a district court. The Fifth Circuit therefore remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss Fulton’s 2255 petition for want of jurisdiction. View "United States v. Fulton" on Justia Law

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Rebecca Breaux brought an age discrimination action against her employer ASC Industries on May 6, 2012. On May 24, 2013, Breaux’s attorney Lurlia Oglesby filed a statement in accordance with Rule 25(a)(3) noting that Breaux had died. The district court stayed the action pending the substitution of parties. After the ninety days allotted for the substitution of a party passed without any motion being filed, ASC Industries moved for the action to be dismissed. On the next business day, September 3, 2013, the district court granted ASC Industries’ motion to dismiss. On October 1, 2013, Oglesby filed a motion on behalf of Breaux’s estate to alter or amend the judgment of dismissal. The issue this case presented for the Fifth Circuit's centered on whether personal service of a suggestion of death on a deceased-plaintiff’s estate was required in order for the ninety-day time limit to run for the substitution of a party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 25. The Court held that personal service was required. View "Sampson v. ASC Industries" on Justia Law