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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging, inter alia, violation of his First and Fourth Amendment rights after he was silenced and then ejected at a city council meeting. The court dismissed Councilman Roberts's appeal of the district court's denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity because a factual dispute exists as to whether Roberts's conduct was viewpoint-based; affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Roberts as to punitive damages where there is no question that Roberts's conduct did not rise to the level of reckless indifference or evil intent; affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Black on the First Amendment claim because his actions as sergeant-at-arms were not objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law; affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Black on the Fourth Amendment claim based on qualified immunity; affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the false arrest claim; and dismissed Black’s cross-appeal on the state tort claims for lack of jurisdiction. View "Heaney v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that defendant's use of force was objectively unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denied defendant qualified immunity. The court concluded that, under the facts in this record, permitting a police dog to continue biting a compliant and non-threatening arrestee is objectively unreasonable. Because plaintiff's right was clearly established at the time, the court affirmed the order denying qualified immunity. The court dismissed the appeal of the partial summary judgment for plaintiff for want of appellate jurisdiction. View "Cooper v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Ahmede Bradley and Officer Eric Copeland were involved in a fight that ended with Copeland firing three shots at Bradley, killing him. Plaintiffs, Bradley's heirs, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Copeland violated Bradley's Fourth Amendment rights, used excessive force, and used unlawful lethal force. Officer Copeland appealed the district court's denial of qualified immunity. The court held that the district court erred in holding that—in the absence of video evidence—eyewitness testimony should not be considered for summary judgment purposes until subject to cross examination. In this case, giving full weight to the undisputed eyewitness testimony, the court concluded that plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment argument is waived; Copeland’s conduct prior to the shooting was neither excessive nor unreasonable; and because plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a constitutional violation, the court held that they have failed to satisfy their burden of showing that Copeland is not entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, the court reversed and held that Copeland is entitled to qualified immunity. View "Orr v. Copeland" on Justia Law

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A group of Houston-area pastors and a council representing the interests of Houston-area pastors challenged the dismissal of their claims against Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston. This case stemmed from a heated dispute surrounding the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance ("HERO"), enacted by the city council in 2014. HERO was controversial; its supporters claimed it was a garden-variety non-discrimination ordinance mainly designed to prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered ("LGBT") persons, while its opponents maintained that it granted LGBT individuals special privileges and that, to avoid rejection, it was rammed through the council instead of being put to referendum. The district court found, variously, that plaintiffs lacked standing, that they failed to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), that they failed to show Parker was not immune from suit, and that res judicata barred their claims. Because the claims are non-justiciable, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. View "Williams v. Parker" on Justia Law

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Robert Montano, a pretrial detainee in the county jail, died of acute renal failure after approximately four-and-one-half days’ detention in a glass-walled observation cell in the jail’s infirmary. This 42 U.S.C. 1983 action was filed against the county on three theories of liability: unconstitutional condition of confinement relative to a county custom for holding incoherent pretrial detainees; episodic acts or omissions; and unconstitutional condition of confinement relative to a county custom of failing to meet basic human needs. In regards to the unconstitutional-condition-of-confinement claim, the court concluded that the district court properly denied the county JMOL against the jury’s finding the condition. In this case, trial testimony adequately established the protocol exercised in Mr. Montano’s experience was standard jail practice; the record demonstrates his experience was not a mere “isolated example”, but was, instead, a “pervasive pattern of serious deficiencies in providing for his basic human needs”. The court concluded that the district court properly denied the county's Rule 50(b) motion regarding the $1.5 million awarded for pain Mr. Montano suffered. Because section 1983 liability and damages are upheld, the court concluded that plaintiffs remain the prevailing parties and are entitled to those fees and costs. Because the constitutional deprivation is well established and the causal link was admitted at trial, satisfying Texas’ causation standard, the court concluded that the standard for wrongful-death damages is satisfied. Therefore, JMOL was improperly awarded to the county on wrongful-death damages. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Montano v. Orange County, Texas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against LIT, alleging claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq., based on LIT's failure to grant his requested disability accommodation. Plaintiff, who suffers from an anoxic brain injury, sought an accommodation in which he could take two exams per class. The district court dismissed the claims. The court concluded that the district court erred in concluding that LIT is entitled to sovereign immunity where Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity does not bar plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claim for money damages. The court also concluded that plaintiff's claim for compensatory damages is not moot. Here, plaintiff alleges that he sustained a direct injury from LIT’s past intentional discrimination. Thus, whether or not the President’s letter remedies plaintiff's injury prospectively does not moot plaintiff's claim for retrospective relief for the period in which LIT denied his accommodation request. However, upon a full review of the summary judgment evidence, the court afforded deference to LIT’s decision because plaintiff has not demonstrated that LIT intentionally discriminated against him. In this case, each of the six alleged statements and actions recited by plaintiff is either not supported by the record or could not plausibly be construed by a reasonable fact finder as an example of intentional discrimination. Even if he had adduced a triable fact issue on discrimination, plaintiff cannot recover injunctive or declaratory relief from LIT because he lacks standing where his alleged prospective injury is entirely speculative, hypothetical, and lacks imminence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Campbell v. Lamar Institute of Technology" on Justia Law

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The family of Jason Hyatt filed suit against Officer Brianna Thomas, alleging a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim related to Hyatt's suicide while in police custody. The district court concluded that no genuine issue of material fact precluded Thomas from being entitled to qualified immunity. The court held that, while not ideal, Thomas's failure to exercise even greater care to avoid Hyatt’s suicide did not amount to deliberate indifference. In this case, Thomas took measures to prevent Hyatt's suicide: she withheld from him the most obvious potential ligature, placed him under video surveillance, and directed her relieving officer to keep a close watch over him. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Hyatt v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging false arrest and false imprisonment under Louisiana tort law, and negligence under Louisiana law. The district court granted the government's motion to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court concluded, inter alia, that the alleged conduct falls within the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act's (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2680(a), waiver of sovereign immunity. On appeal, plaintiff challenges the district court’s determination that the challenged conduct involved judgment or choice. The court concluded that an investigation into plaintiff's immigration status is considered discretionary when that investigation culminates in a detainment mandated by agency policy. In this case, the officers did not exceed their authority under 8 U.S.C. 1357(a)(2) when they detained plaintiff. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Tsolmon v. United Sates" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Officer Brewer in his individual capacity, alleging that Brewer used constitutionally excessive force in effecting plaintiff's arrest. The district court granted Officer Brewer’s motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that Brewer’s conduct in executing the initial takedown was not constitutionally unreasonable in the light of clearly established law; Brewer is entitled to qualified immunity as to the claims stemming from his attempts to handcuff plaintiff while plaintiff was on the ground; and the use of force was the sort of “split-second judgment” in a difficult situation that qualified immunity is designed to protect. Accordingly, the court concluded that the district court did not err in holding that Brewer is entitled to qualified immunity and affirmed the judgment. View "Griggs v. Brewer" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Luke & Associates alleging race-based discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court granted summary judgment for Luke. The court concluded that plaintiff has failed to make a prima facie case of discrimination where she has not shown that any of the other employees shared her history of on-the-job violations. Even assuming that plaintiff had shown a prima facie case, Luke provided legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its decision. Likewise, plaintiff's retaliation claim fails because plaintiff failed to provide evidence that "but for" her complaints to the Air Force, Luke would have given a pay raise. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to compel. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Outley v. Luke & Associates, Inc." on Justia Law