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

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In this case involving the tragic crash of a sightseeing helicopter in Hawaii, at issue is whether communications between the NTSB and outside consultants must be disclosed to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).The Fifth Circuit concluded that the outside parties solicited by the NTSB qualify as "consultants" under Exemption 5's corollary. The court explained that Department of the Interior v. Klamath Water Users Protection Association, 532 U.S. 1 (2001), does not stand for the broad principle that a consultant's "self-interest" always excludes it from Exemption 5. And, properly applied, the consultant corollary squarely covers the NTSB's communications with the non-agency parties here. The court further explained that subjecting the NTSB's communications with consultants to broad public disclosure would inhibit the agency's ability to receive candid technical input from those best positioned to give it. On remand, the district court will need to undertake the second facet of the Exemption 5 inquiry: determining whether the documents at issue are subject to a litigation privilege ordinarily available to a government agency. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Jobe v. National Transportation Safety Board" on Justia Law

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T.O. and his parents appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims arising under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974. Plaintiffs' claims arose from a primary school disciplinary incident experienced by T.O.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the substantive due process claim, concluding that the facts simply do not suggest that T.O. was the subject of a random, malicious, and unprovoked attack, which would justify deviation from Fee v. Herndon, 900 F.2d 804. In this case, an aide removed T.O. from his classroom for disrupting class, and the teacher used force only after T.O. pushed and hit her. Even if the teacher's intervention were ill-advised and her reaction inappropriate, the court cannot say that it did not occur in a disciplinary context. Furthermore, the court has consistently held that Texas law provides adequate, alternative remedies in the form of both criminal and civil liability for school employees whose use of excessive disciplinary force results in injury to students in T.O.'s situation.The court also concluded that plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims fail because this court has not conclusively determined whether the momentary use of force by a teacher against a student constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure. In regard to the ADA and section 504 claims, the court concluded that the amended complaint failed to allege facts permitting the inference that either the teacher's actions or the school district's actions were based on T.O.'s disability. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying leave to amend. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's rulings. View "T.O. v. Fort Bend Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Colulmbia City seeks to compel IMA to arbitrate a dispute involving unreimbursed medical fees. The parties are connected by a series of intermediary agreements within a preferred provider organization (PPO) network that allows patients in covered health plans to receive medical services from participating hospitals at discounted rates, and one of these agreements contains an arbitration clause. It is undisputed that IMA is not a party or signatory to the Hospital Agreement that contains the arbitration clause.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Columbia Hospital's motion to compel arbitration. Applying Texas law, the court concluded that the district court correctly applied this circuit's precedent that knowledge of the agreement requires knowledge of the contract's basic terms. In this case, the district court did not clearly err in concluding, based on the record before it, that IMA lacked the requisite knowledge of the Hospital Agreement and its basic terms to be compelled to arbitrate under direct benefits estoppel. Alternatively, the court declined, contrary to Columbia Health's assertions, to construe the series of contracts between IMA, PPOplus, HealthSmart and Columbia Hospital as a unified contract. View "IMA, Inc. v. Columbia Hospital Medical City" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant Clark and Cox's motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity for claims of failure to treat and the wrongful death of Hirschell Wayne Fletcher, Jr., who died from previously sustained head trauma while in custody.The court agreed with plaintiffs that between when paramedics Clark and Cox arrived and allegedly failed to treat Fletcher, but before he was formally transported, a reasonable person in Fletcher's position—surrounded and confronted by five officers—may not have thought he was free to leave, and was therefore detained. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that Clark, Cox, and the surrounding officers harassed and laughed at Fletcher until he was transported to the detention facility, all without any medical treatment. As alleged, the court concluded that such conduct supports that the paramedics may have been both subjectively aware of, and disregarded, Fletcher's serious risk of injury. Furthermore, it is undisputed that, at the time Clark and Cox allegedly failed to treat Fletcher, the law was clearly established that pretrial detainees have a Fourteenth Amendment right to medical care. View "Kelson v. Clark" on Justia Law

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After a federal jury found that 3 Star Properties fraudulently sold SED Holdings millions in loans and awarded SED over $14 million in damages, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the liability judgment against 3 Star but concluded that the damages award was excessive, remanding for remittitur of the award.The court concluded that res judicata does not bar SED's claims and the district court did not err by denying the Hyland Defendants' motion for JMOL on that basis. On the merits, the court concluded that the district court correctly denied the Hyland Defendants’ renewed JMOL as to the fraudulent transfer claim; the district court properly denied their new trial motion as to the conspiracy claim; and the district court did not commit reversible error in instructing the jury on the fraudulent transfer claim and did not abuse its discretion by declining to ask the jury whether subsequent transfers out of the escrow account were fraudulent, when those transfers were not at issue.The court remanded for remittitur and instructed the district court to subtract at least the following three identifiable amounts from the jury award: (1) the double-counted $2 million; (2) the $4 million in lost profits; and (3) the $551,578.17 already recovered from the Biltmore II settlement (in total, $6,551,578.17). The court concluded that no evidence supports the jury conclusion that Home Servicing breached the Servicing Agreement with SED Holdings and thus a new trial is warranted. Therefore, the court vacated the judgment as to SED’s breach of contract claim against Home Servicing and remanded for a new trial. In regard to SED's cross appeal against Nations Law firm, the court concluded that the SED has not shown a fact dispute as to Nations' "full knowledge of all material facts" and the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to Nations. View "SED Holdings, LLC v. TM Prop Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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Internet services and social media providers may not be held secondarily liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) for aiding and abetting a foreign terrorist organization—here, Hamas—based only on acts committed by a sole individual entirely within the United States.In July 2016, plaintiff and thirteen other police officers were shot and either injured or killed during a tragic mass-shooting committed by Micah Johnson in Dallas, Texas. Plaintiff and his husband filed suit against Twitter, Google, and Facebook, alleging that defendants are liable because they provided material support to Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization that used Internet services and social media platforms to radicalize Johnson to carry out the Dallas shooting.The Fifth Circuit held, based on plaintiffs' allegations, that the Dallas shooting was committed solely by Johnson, not by Hamas's use of defendants' Internet services and social media platforms to radicalize Johnson. Therefore, it was not an act of international terrorism committed, planned, or authorized by a foreign terrorist organization. The court also held that defendants did not knowingly and substantially assist Hamas in the Dallas shooting, again because the shooting was committed by Johnson alone and not by Hamas either alone or in conjunction with Johnson. Therefore, the district court was correct in concluding that defendants are not secondarily liable under the ATA. The court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Retana v. Twitter, Inc." on Justia Law

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After being unable to serve on a jury in part because of the architecture of the Hinds County Courthouse, plaintiff, who needs a wheelchair to move about, filed suit seeking injunctive relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court dismissed for lack of standing, holding it was too speculative that plaintiff would, among other things, again be excluded from jury service.The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded, concluding that plaintiff has standing to seek injunctive relief where he has a substantial risk of being called for jury duty again. The court explained that plaintiff was called twice between 2012 and 2017, and that Hinds County is not extremely populous, and only a subset of its population is eligible for jury service, so it is fairly likely that plaintiff will again, at some point, be called for jury duty. The court also concluded that the architectural barriers plaintiff claims prevented his serving on a jury duty amount to a systemic exclusion. View "Crawford v. Hinds County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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After LAPIA terminated defendant's employment, it filed suit against him in state court seeking damages for disparaging comments defendant allegedly made about the company while soliciting his former clients, as well as an injunction enforcing a non-compete clause in defendant's employment contract. Defendant counterclaimed, seeking to recover unpaid commissions, and then removed the case to federal court. For nearly two years, LAPIA failed to file an answer to defendant's counterclaims, only finally seeking leave to file the document after the parties had fully briefed cross summary judgment motions. The district court accepted LAPIA's answer without explanation, then granted the company summary judgment based on a new defense theory that had been raised for the first time in LAPIA’s belated answer.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to LAPIA and its denial of defendant's motion for partial summary judgment, because LAPIA failed to demonstrate that its failure to initially file an answer was the product of "excusable neglect," as is required to obtain an extension of time once a filing period has elapsed under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "L.A. Public Insurance Adjusters, Inc. v. Nelson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of murder. Petitioner asserts that the State used race-based peremptory strikes during jury selection in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The court concluded that the state appellate court did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law in deciding petitioner's Batson claim by considering the jury panelists' voir dire answers among all the circumstances in deciding whether a prima facie case under Batson was shown. In this case, petitioner identifies no Supreme Court precedent clearly establishing that holistic consideration may not include the remarks of panelists on whom a peremptory strike was exercised. Nor does petitioner identify any evidence in the state court proceedings showing an unreasonable determination of fact by the state courts.Moreover, circuit precedent holds that a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination under the Batson framework is a factual finding entitled to the section 2254(e)(1) presumption of correctness. The court concluded that the district court correctly stated the law in that regard. However, that presumption is not dispositive here because petitioner's habeas claim independently fails both under section 2254(d) and on de novo review. Finally, regardless of section 2254(d) and (e), petitioner must establish entitlement to habeas relief on the merits by showing, as relevant here, a violation of the constitutional right defined in Batson. In this case, petitioner failed to establish a prima facie case, and thus his claim for federal relief is foreclosed. View "Seals v. Vannoy" on Justia Law

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The government sought to revoke defendant's citizenship based on his role as a former Salvadorian military officer in extrajudicial killings and a subsequent cover-up occurring during armed conflict in El Salvador. The district court conducted a three-day bench trial and declined to cancel defendant's American citizenship.The Fifth Circuit found that, although defendant may have refused to actually shoot civilians, he "assisted" and "participated in the commission of" extrajudicial killings during the Salvadorian Civil War, rendering him statutorily ineligible to assume the "high privilege" of American citizenship. In this case, defendant captured the innocent civilians who were killed; he detained them knowing that their unlawful deaths were imminent; and he thoroughly helped with the coverup and coached others to do the same. The court concluded that these actions—undisputed by the parties—show that defendant assisted and participated in the extrajudicial killing of ten Salvadorians at San Sebastian. Therefore, he was not a person of good moral character, was not eligible to become a citizen, and illegally procured his citizenship. Accordingly, the district court erred in concluding otherwise, the court reversed the district court's judgment, and remanded. View "United States v. Vasquez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law