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

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for malicious injury of property located on "Indian country" in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1152 and 1363. On Columbus Day in 2017, defendant poured red paint on a statue of Nestora Piarote, an Indigenous woman, and placed a wooden cross in front of it. The statue was located in El Paso County, Texas, on land reserved to the Yselta Del Sur Indian Tribe (also known as the Tigua Indian Tribe).The court concluded that, with respect to crimes prosecuted via section 1152, settled and reconcilable Supreme Court doctrine, as well as principles of statutory construction, demonstrate that, when the victim is Indian, the defendant's status as Indian is an affirmative defense for which the defendant bears the burden of pleading and production, with the ultimate burden of proof remaining with the Government. In this case, defendant did not raise the issue of Indian status at trial as an affirmative defense, and thus the Government met its burden to prove the jurisdictional element of section 1363 (as extended by section 1152) by introducing evidence sufficient to establish that the offense occurred in Indian country. Finally, the court rejected defendant's contention that the district court erred at sentencing by incorrectly applying USSG 2B1.5, because it should have used the repair cost of $1,800 as the "value" of the statue for purposes of applying the enhancement, rather than its $92,000 purchase price. Rather, the text of section 2B1.5 foreclosed defendant's argument and the Sentencing Commission's explanation of why it promulgated section 2B1.5 further cuts against defendant's view. View "United States v. Haggerty" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against her former boss, the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff, for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for retaliatory discharge under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The district court granted summary judgment against plaintiff.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, concluding that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the sheriff's proffered reason for firing plaintiff -- sleeping on the job -- is pretext for Title VII race discrimination and FMLA retaliation. In regard to plaintiff's Title VII claim, the court explained that plaintiff has produced substantial evidence of pretext based on disparate treatment. In this case, the sheriff treated plaintiff worse than a similarly situated white male who also was caught sleeping on the job. In regard to the FMLA claim, the court explained that the record reflects that "sleeping on the job" is not an infraction that results in termination, the sheriff tolerated "sleeping on the job" by at least one other dispatch supervisor, and the sheriff could not recall any dispatcher that he had ever fired for this reason. Furthermore, when combined with the discredited reason of "sleeping on the job," the near-immediate temporal proximity of the discharge to the protected activity leaves no room to doubt that plaintiff has carried her summary-judgment burden of producing substantial evidence that the sheriff would not have fired her but for her FMLA-protected activity. View "Watkins v. Tregre" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of sovereign immunity in an action brought by voters and political organizations against the Texas Secretary of State seeking to enjoin the enforcement of HB 1888, a state law that bars counties from operating mobile or pop-up early voting locations.The court concluded that Mi Familia Vota v. Abbott, which held that the Secretary has no connection to the enforcement of Texas Election Code 85.062–85.063 because local officials are responsible for administering and enforcing those statutes, is controlling in this case. The court explained that, if the Secretary has no connection to the enforcement of section 85.062 or 85.063, then it follows that she has no connection to the enforcement of HB 1888, as codified in the neighboring section 85.064, which governs the days and hours of voting at temporary branch locations. Because the Secretary is not sufficiently connected to the enforcement of HB 1888, the court need not consider her argument that plaintiffs are seeking improper relief under Ex parte Young. Accordingly, the court remanded from this interlocutory appeal with instructions to dismiss. View "Texas Democratic Party v. Hughs" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed defendant's below-Guidelines sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge. The court concluded that defendant's sentence was substantively unreasonable where the district court did not account for a sentencing factor -- the seriousness of defendant's offense -- that should have received significant weight. In this case, the judge characterized and discounted defendant's conduct effectively so as to contradict the facts defendant admitted in his plea agreement. Furthermore, the judge failed to acknowledge that defendant had facilitated and fully supported the purposes and atrocities of ISIS.Accordingly, the court remanded for a second resentencing. Because the sentencing judge seems immovable from his views of the sentence he imposed, and because the judge displayed bias against the government and its lawyers, the court sua sponte reassigned this case to a different judge. View "United States v. Khan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Michael and Cynthia Herman were convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Michael was convicted of five counts and Cynthia of two counts of willfully filing false tax returns. Defendants' convictions stemmed from their understated gross receipts and claiming of personal expenses as business expenses on their tax returns.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court did not reversibly err in excluding some of the proffered defense exhibits; the district court did not err in excluding testimony from defendants' forensic accountant regarding the overstated gross receipts and payment of personal expenses with business funds; and there was no Confrontation Clause violation in the district court's limiting of the cross-examination of two Government witnesses. The court joined its sister circuits in declining to extend the Marinello nexus requirement to 18 U.S.C. 371's defraud clause, and accordingly hold that Count One of the indictment is legally sufficient. Finally, the court concluded that there are no errors that the court could aggregate to find cumulative error. View "United States v. Herman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, based on their efforts to defraud the FDA and to misbrand drugs. Defendants, along with two corporate entities that they owned and controlled, owned and operated a chain of smoke shops in Texas and New Mexico.The court concluded that the district court's conspiracy-to-defraud jury instructions were correct statements of law; a jury would have concluded that defendants' misbranding tended to influence, or was capable of influencing, the FDA's decisionmaking based on evidence presented at trial; and the district court's jury instruction "substantially covered" defendants' proposed instruction and did not misstate the law. The court also concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction for conspiracy to defraud the FDA; the evidence was sufficient to prove the felony misbranding offense; and defendants' 36-month sentences were substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Gas Pipe, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff filed a handwritten, pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint against defendant, an assistant warden, alleging that he had received threats from "a sexually violent predator inmate" on his cell block. A committee, chaired by defendant, denied plaintiff's transfer requests and, about a month later, plaintiff was attacked by the inmate who had previously threatened him. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendant violated his Eighth Amendment rights by deliberately failing to protect him, seeking a preliminary injunction and damages.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of the action and remanded to the district court for consideration of the merits of plaintiff's allegations in the first instance, as well as any response from the assistant prison warden. In this case, although the complaint did not specifically allege what defendant knew, it does allege that defendant called plaintiff a "snitch" and denied him a transfer for that reason. The court concluded that plaintiff was entitled to have his allegations addressed by the district court in the first instance. View "Alvarez v. Akwitti" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated defendant's guilty plea for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The court concluded that there is no evidence in the record that defendant had either actual or constructive possession of the .38 revolver. In this case, defendant signed a factual basis document indicating the only interaction he had with the firearm was that he had "touched" a .38 caliber revolver while at a friend's house. The court explained that the plain text of section 922(g), logic, and analysis of precedent all reveal that mere touching is insufficient to establish possession. Therefore, the district court plainly erred by accepting the guilty plea and the error affected defendant's substantial rights. The court remanded for entry of a new plea and for further proceedings. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff, on behalf of herself and other employees, filed suit against her former employer, US Corrections, L.L.C. (USC), and two other entities, alleging an overtime-pay claim and a recordkeeping claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The district court dismissed the claims and entered judgment in favor of the employer and the company's payroll administrator.The Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Motor Carrier Act's (MCA) exemption governs plaintiff's job with the employer. The court explained that the district court correctly construed the law to determine that the MCA exemption governs the relationship between plaintiff and USC, irrespective of Jeanna's Act and its implementing regulations. However, the court nonetheless concluded that the district court erred in applying the MCA exemption to foreclose the otherwise plausible FLSA overtime-pay claim alleged by plaintiff in her complaint, at least at the pleading stage. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "White v. U.S. Corrections, LLC" on Justia Law

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NYK Line, a company incorporated and headquartered in Japan, chartered a ship that collided with a U.S. Navy destroyer in Japanese territorial waters, killing seven sailors and injuring at least forty others. Two sets of plaintiffs filed suit against NYK Line: the Douglass plaintiffs are personal representatives of the seven U.S. sailors killed and the Alcide plaintiffs represent those injured in the collision and their family members.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the consolidated actions based on lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). The court first concluded that personal jurisdiction is only proper in this case if the Fifth Amendment due process test is satisfied. The court followed Patterson v. Aker Sols., Inc., 826 F.3d 231, 233 (5th Cir. 2016), and its application of Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014), in addressing whether the district court could constitutionally exercise personal jurisdiction over NYK Line, and agreed with the district court that it could not. Bound by the rule of orderliness, the court agreed with the district court that personal jurisdiction over NYK Line cannot be constitutionally established under existing Fifth Circuit precedent. In this case, NYK Line's contacts with the United States represent a small portion of its contacts worldwide and its American employees represent less than 1.5 percent of all employees. The court explained that, although NYK Line has considerable contacts with the United States, these are not so substantial and of such a nature that NYK Line is essentially rendered at home in the United States. View "Douglass v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure