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

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Defendant was convicted of drug and money laundering offenses and sentenced to over twenty years in prison. In subsequent filings under 28 U.S.C. 2255, defendant asserted the reason for him not filing a direct appeal was his counsel's failure to file despite being asked to do so at sentencing. Defendant later claimed that his counsel also failed to advise him of his appellate rights and failed to consult with him about the virtues of an appeal over the course of his counsel's representation.The Fifth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability (COA) and concluded that the district court did not err in concluding that defendant's failure-to-advise and failure-to-consult claims did not relate back to his failure-to-file claim and were, as a result, untimely. The court found persuasive the approach recently taken by the Tenth Circuit in United States v. Roe, 913 F.3d 1285, 1298–300 (10th Cir. 2019), and concluded that defendant's newly raised claims do not arise out of the same set of facts as his earlier failure-to-file claim. As in Roe, defendant's failure-to-file claim is limited in time and fact to one specific event: the entire claim turns on whether one of his attorneys heard and then failed to follow defendant's alleged whisper at the sentencing hearing. Defendant's claims to the contrary are unavailing. View "United States v. Alaniz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to ICSOP, concluding that the insurance company had a duty to defend its insured, Landry's, in the underlying data-breach litigation with Paymentech. In this case, Paymentech sought to recover amounts it paid to Visa and MasterCard customers, alleging that Landry's was obligated under the parties' agreement to pay the $20,062,206.88 collectively assessed by Visa and MasterCard. Landry's then filed a separate suit against ICSOP.The court applied Texas's eight-corners rule, which compared the four corners of the policy to the four corners of the Paymentech complaint, and concluded that the Paymentech complaint involves a "publication," and that Paymentech's alleged injuries arise from the violations of customers' rights to keep their credit-card data private. Therefore, ICSOP must defend Landry's in the underlying litigation. View "Landry's, Inc. v. The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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Plaintiffs filed suit, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, alleging that defendants breached their fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Plaintiffs asserted that AA and the PAAC breached their fiduciary duties of loyalty and prudence under 29 U.S.C. 1104(a)(1)(A)–(B) by failing to remove the FCU Option from the Plan (Count I); contended that FCU breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty under 29 U.S.C. 1106(b)(1) by dealing with plan assets held by the FCU Option for its own benefit (Count II); and averred that AA and the PAAC engaged in a "prohibited transaction" under 29 U.S.C. 106(a)(1) by offering the FCU Option. The district court ultimately granted summary judgment to defendants and denied approval of the settlement.The Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court correctly determined that plaintiffs lacked standing as to Count I. The court also concluded that the district court erred in concluding that plaintiffs had standing with respect to their claim against FCU. The court explained that it is a settled rule that, in reviewing the decision of a lower court, it must be affirmed if the result is correct although the lower court relied upon a wrong ground or gave a wrong reason. Given the court lacked jurisdiction over these claims, the court did not reach the parties' arguments as to the merits. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the district court abused its discretion in denying approval of the settlement. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed part, and vacated in part. The court remanded with instructions to dismiss plaintiffs' claim against FCU. View "Ortiz v. American Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: ERISA
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The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review of the BIA's decision affirming the IJ's denial of petitioner's application for cancellation of removal because petitioner's prior Texas conviction for delivering cocaine, in violation of Texas Health and Safety Code 481.112, is included in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).The court concluded that the rule of orderliness does not apply to the court's previous reliance on the government's concession that an offer to sell falls outside the CSA. Because there is no binding precedent, the court held that section 481.112's offer-to-sell theory falls within the CSA, which makes it unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to distribute a controlled substance. The court explained that section 481.112's offer-to-sell theory requires (1) the requisite culpability and (2) a substantial step. Therefore, it falls within the CSA's definition of an attempted transfer. View "Ochoa-Salgado v. Garland" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Great American filed an interpleader action seeking to determine the proper beneficiary of two annuities belonging to decedent. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the daughter (Ava), rejecting the widow and stepson's (Alita and Craig) claims. The Fifth Circuit then determined that material issues of fact existed, vacated the district court's summary judgment in favor of Ava, and remanded the case for trial. While those proceedings were pending, Ava and her sister, Phyllis, filed another suit in 2018 claiming entitlement to other assets belonging to the decedent, including life insurance proceeds, an individual retirement account (IRA), and mineral rights. Both cases were consolidated for trial where the district court again held in favor of Ava and Phyllis.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court's finding of undue influence as to Craig is amply supported by the record; appellants' claim that the district court erred in imposing a requirement that appellants must prove that decedent received independent advice from a disinterested third party before making the beneficiary changes to his policies and accounts is without merit; while the district court did not require evidence relating to disinterested third parties, it did require some form of clear and convincing evidence from which it could conclude that the transfers were decedent's true, untampered, intent; and the district court did not, as appellants, contend, impose a burden of clear and convincing evidence on Alita.The court also concluded that the record is clear that the district court did not award damages based on a theory of unjust enrichment. Rather, the district court awarded damages based on a finding of undue influence on Craig's part. The court further concluded that the district court did not err by imposing joint and several liability on appellants. Finally, in regards to the disposition of real property in Arkansas, the district court did not err in ordering Craig to convey the improperly obtained mineral interests back to Ava and Phyllis. View "Tanner v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to both counts of a two-count indictment for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and methamphetamine. The court concluded that defendant's sentence was not substantively unreasonable and the district court did not abuse its discretion by imposing a 240-month sentence on each count, to run concurrently. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in considering the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors, including the fact that death resulted from defendant's offense; the upward variance fell within the statutory maximum; and the district court did not improperly consider that the drugs defendant provided the deceased caused her death. View "United States v. Hudgens" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for possessing child pornography. The court concluded that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence of his statements to HSI agents and the evidence from his laptop. The court weighed the totality of the circumstances and concluded that defendant was not in custody at the time he made the statements and thus Miranda warnings were not necessary. The court also weighed the factors for determining whether a consent to a search was voluntary and concluded that the district court did not err in determining that defendant's consent to the search of his laptop was voluntary.The court further concluded that there was no error in the admission of several pieces of evidence and witness testimony. Even if the district court did err, the error was harmless. Finally, the court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to convict defendant of knowing possession of child pornography. View "United States v. Michalik" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Two Planned Parenthood entities and three Jane Does filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the Louisiana Department of Health is unlawfully declining to act on Planned Parenthood's application for a license to provide abortion services in Louisiana. The district court denied the Department's motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).The Fifth Circuit held that it has jurisdiction over the Department's interlocutory appeal because the Department asserted sovereign immunity in the district court. The court held that plaintiffs' second requested injunction—directing the Department to "promptly rule" on their application "in accordance with all applicable constitutional requirements"—is not barred by Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 106 (1984), because plaintiffs allege a potential violation of their procedural-due-process rights pursuant to Ex parte Young and because requiring the Department to make a decision on the application and comply with the federal Constitution does not infringe the state's sovereign immunity.The court also held that the first and third of plaintiffs' requested injunctions—directing the Department to "not withhold approval" of their application or "grant" them a license—are barred by Pennhurst because there is no free-standing federal right to receive an abortion-clinic license. The court declined to exercise its pendant jurisdiction to consider other issues raised by the Department. Accordingly, the court denied the motion to dismiss, affirmed in part and reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Inc. v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 2114(a) by assaulting mail carriers and putting their lives in danger, and violating 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A) and (c)(3)(B) by using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. Defendant was sentenced to 552 months in prison, including four concurrent sentences for 168 months based on the fact that defendant put his victims' lives in jeopardy by the use of a dangerous weapon. Defendant was subsequently granted a certificate of appealability (COA) on whether the district court erred by denying defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion as untimely. In this case both sides agree that defendant's COA is invalid because it fails to specify a constitutional issue.Given the plain text of 28 U.S.C. 2253(c)(2), Supreme Court precedent, and the similarities between the COA requirement and other habeas doctrines, the Fifth Circuit held that an invalid COA can and should be vacated. In so holding, the court aligned its circuit with the strong majority of circuits that have confronted this issue. View "United States v. Castro" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions and sentence for his role in an alien smuggling operation during which an alien died. The court concluded that there was no Confrontation Clause violation where the government undertook reasonable efforts to secure the attendance of deported witnesses at trial. The court also concluded that the government was not required to prove that defendant directly received payments for transporting the illegal aliens, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by including a statement saying such in the jury instructions. The court further concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions.In regard to defendant's sentence, the court concluded that there was no error in the district court's denial of a downward departure for defendant's acceptance of responsibility where he put the government to its burden of proof at trial. Furthermore, there was no error in the application of a ten-level enhancement for the death of one of the aliens. Finally, the court concluded that defendant's bottom-of-the-Guidelines sentence of 78 months was procedurally and substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Gaspar-Felipe" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law