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

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Wise Regional, a Texas municipal hospital authority, filed suit against Aetna, an insurance plan administrator, in state court over a dispute regarding medical insurance claims Wise Regional submitted on behalf of its patients. Aetna removed to federal court under 28 U.S.C. 1442, but the district court remanded to state court, awarding attorneys' fees. The court concluded that it had appellate jurisdiction over the remand order because Aetna relied upon the federal officer removal statute in its notice of removal; remand was proper because Aetna's notice of removal was untimely; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorneys' fees where Aetna lacked an objectively reasonable basis for seeking removal of this action almost five months after expiration of the thirty-day deadline for removal. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Decatur Hospital Authority v. Aetna Health, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, Macy's, and his former supervisor, John Lillard, in state court. Macy's removed to federal court, plaintiff moved to remand, and Lillard moved to dismiss. The district court denied plaintiff's motion to remand, granted Lillard's motion to dismiss, and entered final judgment for Lillard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). Plaintiff alleged that defendants discriminated against him based on his PTSD condition. The court agreed with the district court that it had no reasonable basis to predict that plaintiff might be able to recover against Lillard for tortious interference because plaintiff failed to allege that Lillard was acting to serve his own personal interests. Therefore, plaintiff failed to adequately plead that Lillard acted willfully and intentionally at the expense of Macy's. The court held that once the district court determined that Lillard was improperly joined, the district court effectively dismissed plaintiff's claim against him without prejudice. The court remanded with instructions to vacate the district court's grant of Lillard's motion to dismiss his claims with prejudice. View "Alviar, Jr. v. Lillard" on Justia Law
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Defendant, owner of a wholesale salon equipment business, appealed his 36 month sentence after pleading guilty to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false and fraudulent tax return. The court held that the district court did not clearly err when it determined, based on the circumstantial evidence, that it was more likely than not that defendant participated in his customers' structuring activities. Therefore, the court concluded that defendant's sentence was not procedurally unreasonable. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the upward variance to defendant's sentence where the district court explained that it was imposing the above-Guidelines sentence based on a variety of factors, including, inter alia, the magnitude of defendant's dishonesty and unwillingness to abide by society's rules, the aggravated nature of the criminal conduct, and defendant's exceptional business success had a significant foundation in his unlawful activity. Accordingly, the court affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Nguyen" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction for one count of bank robbery and aiding and abetting thereof. Defendant argued that the district court deprived him of his constitutional right to counsel by allowing him to represent himself and that the court reversibly erred in denying a continuance. The court concluded that defendant's relinquishment of his right to counsel was knowing and intelligent. Therefore, the district court's dismissal of counsel from full representation did not deprive defendant of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying a continuance where defendant failed to make the requisite showing of prejudice resulting from the denial of a continuance. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Mesquiti" on Justia Law
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Defendant and the chief financial officer of NRMC signed three documents detailing terms upon which defendant would provide audit services for NRMC. Defendant moved to compel arbitration and to stay proceedings in federal district court pending arbitration. The district court denied the motions. At issue in this interlocutory appeal was whether the "minutes rule," also known as the "minutes requirement," under Mississippi law pertains to the issue of the contract's validity, or instead more closely resembles whether the alleged obligor NRMC ever signed the contract. The court concluded that, with respect to the 2010 and 2012 engagement letters, the minutes rule pertains to whether written agreements between NRMC and defendant were formed in each of those years. Therefore, whether written contracts were consummated was a question for the courts rather than an arbitrator. The court also concluded that because of the minutes requirement, the 2010 and 2012 engagement letters were not contracts to which NRMC was a party. Therefore, NRMC was not a party to the arbitration provisions contained in the 2010 and 2012 engagement letters. The court further concluded that the minutes of NRMC's board reflect that an agreement with defendant was reached in 2009. Therefore, the minutes rule does not pertain to that contract's formation. On remand, the district court should determine the scope of the arbitration agreement. Finally, the court concluded that the Mississippi minutes rule was one of general applicability to Mississippi contracts with public entities and the requirement of section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 2, that courts must place arbitration agreements on an equal footing with other contracts does not foreclose its application in this case. The court affirmed as to the 2010 and 2012 engagement letters, vacated as to the 2009 engagement letter, and remanded. View "Lefoldt, Jr. v. Rentfro" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the United States, alleging that the Government violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights by accusing him of a crime during the course of a criminal proceeding in which he was not named a defendant. The district court granted the Government's motion to dismiss. The court concluded that plaintiff's claim accrued when the Government purportedly accused him of criminal activity without indicting him. The court reasoned that to the extent that Doe's failure to initiate suit within the limitations period was the result of his mistaken belief that he could not file suit because his claim had not yet accrued, a mistake of this nature does not provide a valid basis for tolling. Therefore, the continuing violation doctrine was inapplicable here and the statute of limitations barred review of the statements made in 2008 as well as 2012. Finally, the court noted that amending the complaint would be futile. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Doe v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his 24 month sentence after pleading guilty to being found in the United States after a previous deportation. Defendant argued that the district court inappropriately imposed a sentencing enhancement pursuant to USSG 2L1.2(b)(1)(C), because his prior conviction for exporting defense articles on the United States Munitions List without a license was not a prior aggravated felony for the purposes of the Sentencing Guidelines. The court agreed and concluded that defendant's prior offense was not an aggravated felony under either the categorical or modified categorical approach. The court explained that defendant's criminal history does not support a basis for affirming the erroneous sentence. In this case, the court found that defendant's criminal history, which largely consists of arrests for which the underlying conduct was never charged or the charges were eventually dismissed does not trump the significant sentencing disparity caused by the district court's plain error. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Guillen-Cruz" on Justia Law
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This consolidated case under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. 883, and general maritime law, involved an accident on a barge in the navigable waterways of Louisiana. Defendant, the barge owner, appealed the district court's judgment for plaintiffs. The court held that evidence supported the district court's award to plaintiff McBride for pre-death fear and conscious pain and suffering, and the district court's award of damages for loss of past and future support was not clearly erroneous. The court also concluded that the district court's award of future cure until plaintiff Touchet reaches maximum medical improvement and for future medical expenses beyond Touchet's maximum medical improvement was not reversible error. Finally, the district court did not clearly err in finding that Touchet was permanently disabled and by awarding damages for lost earnings. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "McBride v. Estis Well Service, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a GM employee, filed suit against GM for interference and retaliation under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601 et seq.; for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.; and for violation of Texas law. The district court granted summary judgment for GM. The court concluded that the FMLA and accompanying regulations require employees to follow their employer's "usual and customary" procedures for requesting FMLA leave absent "unusual circumstances." In this case, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that there were unusual circumstances arising from his condition that prevented him from complying with GM's call-in policy. Therefore, plaintiff failed to raise a fact issue for FMLA interference. The court also concluded that plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case of FMLA retaliation where he has not shown how his disciplinary leave was caused by his attempts to seek protection under the FMLA instead of his failure to follow GM's attendance and absence approval process; plaintiff failed to demonstrate that GM denied him a reasonable accommodation under the ADA; and plaintiff's Texas law claim also failed. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Acker v. General Motors, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, convicted of murder and sentenced to death, sought a certificate of appealability (COA), challenging the district court's denial of habeas corpus relief. The court concluded that no reasonable jurist would debate whether petitioner's trial counsel's decision not to present evidence that he suffers from schizophrenia constituted ineffective assistance of trial counsel (IATC); whether his trial counsel's decision not to present evidence of his steroid use constituted IATC; whether he was eligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, in light of his purported mental illness; and whether Texas's death-penalty statute unconstitutionally forbids juries from considering mitigating evidence. Therefore, the court denied the application for a COA. View "Rockwell v. Davis" on Justia Law
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