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

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim under the Fair Debt Practices Act. Plaintiff filed suit after a debt collector spoke with plaintiff's sister over the phone, alleging that the debt collector violated the Act's prohibition on communicating with third parties about a consumer's debt. However, the court concluded that the conversation between plaintiff's sister and the debt collector was not a "communication" as defined by the statute. In this case, even taking the pleaded facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the conversation between the debt collector's representative and plaintiff's sister did not convey any information regarding a debt, either directly or indirectly. Rather, the representative mentioned "an important personal business matter," which does not even suggest the existence of a debt, much less provide information about it. View "Fontana v. HOVG LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law
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The Fifth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than fifty kilograms of marijuana. The court held that defendant's sentence is based on his initial guideline range because that range played a relevant part in the framework the sentencing judge used in imposing his sentence. The court also held that the guideline range applicable to defendant is his initial guideline range of 292 to 365 months. The court explained that Amendment 780 lowered the guideline range applicable to defendant from 292 to 365 months to 262 to 327 months. Therefore, the court remanded for the district court to determine whether a reduction of defendant's sentence is warranted. View "United States v. Lopez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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WickFire filed suit against Media, alleging a violation of section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, tortious interference with existing contracts, tortious interference with prospective economic relationships, and civil conspiracy. In this appeal, Media challenged the jury verdict in favor of WickFire.The Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court had jurisdiction over WickFire's Lanham Act claim and thus pendent jurisdiction over each of WickFire's state law tort claims. On the merits, the court concluded that any argument that WickFire offered insufficient evidence regarding the section 43(a) claim is moot where the jury found that there were no damages and thus WickFire cannot be a prevailing party under the Act. The court also concluded that WickFire's tortious interference with contractual relations claim failed as a matter of law. However, because the evidence of damages is insufficient as a matter of law, the court reversed the judgment as to the tortious interference with prospective business relations claim. Because each of WickFire's underlying claims failed, the court reversed the judgment as to the civil conspiracy claim. Finally, the court concluded that TriMax is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on WickFire's justification defense. Accordingly, the court denied TriMax's motion to dismiss; reversed as to WickFire's tortious interference claims and its civil conspiracy claim; and affirmed in all other respects. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "WickFire, LLC v. Woodruff" on Justia Law

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Movant seeks authorization to file a successive 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion challenging his conviction and sentence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A) for using and possessing a destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence. Movant argues that his conviction should be vacated because the predicate offense for his conviction, arson in violation of 18 U.S.C. 844(i), qualified as a "crime of violence" only under the residual clause in section 924(c)(3)(B), which pursuant to United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319, 2325–26, 2336 (2019), is unconstitutionally vague. The Fifth Circuit concluded that movant has made a sufficient showing of possible merit to warrant a fuller exploration by the district court, and ordered that the motion be granted. View "In Re: Travis Harris" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After BNSF terminated plaintiff based on violation of company attendance guidelines, plaintiff filed suit alleging that BNSF failed to provide reasonable accommodations for his disability. Plaintiff, who is an epileptic, worked as a train dispatcher for BNSF.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for BNSF, holding plaintiff failed to show that he was a "qualified individual" for either of his failure-to-accommodate claims. In this case, plaintiff failed to show that he could perform the essential functions of his job in spite of his disability or that a reasonable accommodation of his disability would have enabled him to perform the essential functions of the job. View "Weber v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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A Louisiana law, La. Stat. Ann. 30:16, allows citizen suits to enforce state conservation laws, but any injunction the citizen might obtain must be entered in favor of the Commissioner of Louisiana's Office of Conservation. Plaintiff filed suit contending that this potential state involvement at the end of the litigation precludes diversity jurisdiction in federal court because there is no such jurisdiction when a State is a party. The district court disagreed, held that it had subject matter jurisdiction, and remanded to state court anyway based on Burford abstention.The Fifth Circuit denied the motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction; reversed the remand order; and remanded for further proceedings. The court concluded that it has subject matter jurisdiction over Grace Ranch's suit. The court explained that, despite Grace Ranch's listing of Louisiana in the style of the case, the State is not a proper party because it has not authorized landowners to sue in its name. Furthermore, Grace Ranch's real-party-in-interest argument for state involvement fares no better because Louisiana has only a general interest in the outcome of this suit. The court also concluded that it has appellate jurisdiction to review the district court's abstention-based remand order. Making explicit what was previously implicit in its caselaw, the court reasoned that a discretionary remand such as one on abstention grounds does not involve a removal "defect" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 1447(c). Finally, the court weighed the factors for Burford abstention and concluded that abstention is not warranted. View "Grace Ranch, LLC v. BP America Production, Co." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed defendant's convictions for conspiracy to commit health care fraud (Count 1); conspiracy to pay or receive illegal health care kickbacks (Count 2); and aiding and abetting health care fraud (Count 27). Defendant was tried and convicted alongside five codefendants for his involvement in a large home health care fraud and kickback scheme in connection with his employment at Abide Home Health Care Services.The court concluded that, even under the court's extremely deferential review of jury verdicts, there was insufficient evidence put forth at trial for a rational juror to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant acted with the knowledge that his conduct was unlawful. Therefore, the Government failed to prove that defendant acted "willfully" with respect to each count. In this case, there was insufficient evidence proving that defendant knew that Abide was defrauding Medicare, through "ghosting," its use of house doctors, or otherwise (Count 1); that defendant knew that Abide's referral payments constituted illegal kickbacks (Count 2); or that defendant had involvement with EvLa's treatment at Abide (let alone that he knew she was not actually homebound) (Count 27). The court vacated defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Nora" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After plaintiff prevailed on her procedural due process and breach of contract claims against TSC, the trial court vacated the jury's verdict on the breach of contract claims and reduced the damages award on her procedural due process claim to $1.The Fifth Circuit held that TSC is entitled to neither sovereign immunity under the United States Constitution nor governmental immunity under state law. In this case, the Texas Legislature abrogated TSC's governmental immunity such that plaintiff could bring state law breach of contract claims against TSC. Therefore, the argument that the Texas Legislature attempted to limit federal jurisdiction over these claims is unavailing. The court also held that it was not required to address TSC's alternative arguments and declined to do so. The court reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's breach of contract claims, reinstated the jury's verdict on those claims, and remanded for the district court to consider TSC's alternative arguments regarding whether sufficient evidence supports plaintiff's breach of contract claims. The court affirmed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law on the due process violation damages and reduction of the jury's award of $12,500,000 to the nominal amount of $1. The court reversed the district court's vacatur of the portion of the attorneys' fees award based on the breach of contract claims and remanded for the district court to address TSC's alternative arguments regarding those claims and to determine whether plaintiff is entitled to attorneys' fees and in what amount. View "Tercero v. Texas Southmost College District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, black citizens of Misssissippi who have lost their right to vote in Mississippi because they were convicted of crimes enumerated in section 241 of the Mississippi Constitution, filed suit alleging that section 241 violates the Fourteenth Amendment because it was enacted with a discriminatory purpose.After determining that plaintiffs have Article III standing and that the suit is not barred by sovereign immunity, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that per Cotton v. Fordice, 157 F.3d 388 (5th Cir. 1998), the discriminatory taint of the 1890 provision was removed by the amendment processes in 1950 and 1968. Furthermore, under the rule of orderliness, the court was bound by that decision. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Secretary of State. View "Harness v. Hosemann" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of mail fraud and making false statements to a bank. In this case, defendant, as justice of the peace, exploited his position to steal thousands of dollars in public funds, which he used for casino gambling. The court rejected defendant's challenge to the district court's decision to seat a juror who, defendant claims, was biased against gamblers. Rather, the court deferred to the district court's broad discretion in assessing the juror's impartiality. In this case, the juror's negative views about gambling implicate nothing like the kind of structural bias against all criminal defendants. Furthermore, the district court affirmatively found the juror's views on gambling (unlike other jurors who were dismissed for cause on that ground) would not prevent her from being impartial. View "United States v. DeJean" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law