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

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Plaintiff, a former alien detainee, filed suit alleging that CoreCivic's work programs are not voluntary. Plaintiff claimed that CoreCivic forced her to clean detention facilities, cook meals for company events, engage in clerical work, provide barber services for fellow detainees, maintain landscaping, and other labors. Furthermore, if she refused, CoreCivic would impose more severe living conditions, physical restraints, and deprivation of basic human needs.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of CoreCivic's motion to dismiss under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), 18 U.S.C. 1589(a). The court concluded that sections 1589(a) and 1595 impose civil liability on "[w]hoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person by any one of, or by any combination of" four coercive methods. The court rejected CoreCivic's contention that this language does not capture labor performed in work programs in a federal immigration detention setting. The court explained that nothing in the text supports this claim; CoreCivic is clearly an entity covered by the term "whoever;" and it has clearly "obtain[ed]" the labor of these alien detainees. The court rejected CoreCivic's remaining claims to the contrary and declined to apply the rule of lenity. Because on its face section 1589 unambiguously protects labor performed in work programs in federal immigration detention facilities, the court concluded that the "judicial inquiry is complete." View "Gonzalez v. CoreCivic, Inc." on Justia Law

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Patricia Guadalupe Garcia Cervantes, a Mexican citizen who was attempting to enter the United States illegally by swimming across the Brownsville Ship Channel, was struck and killed by a Coast Guard vessel patrolling the area. Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of his and Cervantes' daughter, filed suit alleging negligence and wrongful death claims against the United States, as well as products liability, gross negligence, and wrongful death claims against the manufacturers of the vessel and its engines, Safe Boats and Mercury Marine.After determining that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction based on admiralty, the Fifth Circuit concluded that, notwithstanding plaintiff's own lack of standing, he may still maintain claims as next-of-friend for his daughter. Reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment and its duty determination de novo, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims. The court held that the negligence claim failed because the United States owed no duty to Cervantes; the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's defective design claims against Safe Boats and Mercury Marine where Cervantes lacked standing to bring those claims under Section 402A of the Second Restatement in regard to maritime products liability claims; even assuming plaintiff could bring these products liability claims, plaintiff failed to show that the asserted defective products proximately caused Cervantes' death; plaintiff's failure-to-warn claims were also properly dismissed; and the district court correctly dismissed the wrongful death claims after dismissing all the underlying tort claims. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims and affirmed the dismissal. View "Ortega Garcia v. United States" on Justia Law

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Since 2011, Jonesboro’s wastewater system has spewed sewage onto Stringer’s property and into her home during heavy rains. Stringer repeatedly complained to the town and its mayor, then brought a “citizen suit” under the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1365, with constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for the uncompensated taking of her property and the mayor’s retaliation. Stringer ran against the mayor in 2014 and claims he retaliated by ignoring her pleas, getting the town to sue her frivolously, and refusing to provide sandbags. The Louisiana Departments of Health (LDOH) and Environmental Quality (LDEQ) have long known about the problems. LDEQ sent the town warning letters and issued compliance orders about unauthorized discharges, including those afflicting Stringer. LDOH issued a compliance order about the discharges on Stringer’s property, imposed mandatory ameliorative measures, and assessed a daily fine. The district court dismissed, finding that the CWA prohibits such suits when a state is addressing the problem through “comparable” state law and finding her section 1983 claims untimely under Louisiana’s one-year prescriptive period. The Fifth Circuit affirmed as to the section 1983 claims. Stringer was long aware of the underlying facts and failed to sue within a year. The Fifth Circuit reversed in part. The enforcement action to which the court pointed—the state health department’s enforcement of the sanitary code—is not “comparable” to the CWA under circuit precedent. View "Stringer v. Town of Jonesboro" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Brown was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. Before Brown’s anticipated 2011 release, the state obtained a civil commitment order under the Texas Sexually Violent Predator Act. The Act required civilly committed persons to “reside in a Texas residential facility under contract with" OVSOM or another approved location and to participate in OVSOM-provided “treatment and supervision.” While confined at Fort Worth, Brown was indicted for violating his commitment terms and confined at the Tarrant County Jail as a pre-trial detainee. Brown posted bond and was transferred to the Cold Springs Jail, pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding with OVSOM’s predecessor: Tarrant County (Sheriff Anderson) would provide “housing, meals, and other usual services” in the Work Release Program; OVSOM's predecessor had responsibility for “obtaining and paying for all programs" required for its clients. Brown, acquitted of violating his commitment terms, did not receive sex offender treatment at Cold Springs.Brown filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint, based on the 20-day confinement without sex offender treatment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his claims against Tarrant County and Anderson. Anderson is entitled to qualified immunity and Brown states no claim against the county. At the time of the challenged conduct, there was a circuit split on whether sexually violent or dangerous offenders have a due process right to treatment. Anderson’s failure to provide Brown with sex offender treatment did not violate clearly established law. View "Brown v. Tarrant County" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to dealing methamphetamine, holding that the district court did not clearly err in calculating the drug quantity attributable to defendant. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in attributing to defendant twenty-four kilograms of meth from a text transaction. The court also concluded that the district court did not clearly err in its conversion of cash seized from defendant's residence and from a coconspirator's into a corresponding amount of meth. View "United States v. Lucio" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After debtor filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, his bankruptcy plan proposed retention of his GMC Sierra, "cram down" of the loan for the purchase of the Sierra, and surrender of the Toyota Camry as collateral for the purchase of the Camry. The bankruptcy court approved the plan, but the district court reversed.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. The court explained that the text of 11 U.S.C. 1325(a)(5) does allow debtors to select a different option "with respect to each allowed secured claim." However, allowing a debtor to select a different section 1325(a)(5) option for each claim is different from allowing a debtor to select different options for different collateral securing the same claim. While section 1325(a)(5) allows the former, it does not allow the latter: its use of the conjunction "or" between the options provided in subsection (A), (B), and (C) makes it clear that debtors may choose only one of those three options for each claim. The court stated that a plan violates that requirement when it selects different options for different collateral securing the same claim. Furthermore, Williams v. Tower Loan of Mississippi, 168 F.3d 845 (5th Cir. 1999), which held that debtors must select the same section 1325(a)(5) option for all of the collateral securing a single claim, supports the court's decision. In this case, for the plan to be approvable under section 1325(a)(5), the plan must select the same section 1325(a)(5) option for both items of collateral securing the Camry Loan—the Camry and the Sierra. View "Evolve Federal Credit Union v. Barragan-Flores" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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After employees of M.D. Anderson lost patients' data, HHS fined M.D. Anderson $4,348,000. M.D. Anderson petitioned for review, and HHS conceded that it could not defend a fine in excess of $450,000. HHS then sought a reduction of the penalty by a factor of 10.The Fifth Circuit granted M.D. Anderson's petition for review and held that the civil monetary penalty (CMP) violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law. In this case, HHS steadfastly refused to interpret the statutes at issue; the ALJ likewise refused to consider whether the multi-million-dollar CMP was arbitrary or capricious; and HHS's Departmental Appeals Board agreed with the ALJ. Reviewing de novo, the court concluded that the CMP order was arbitrary, capricious, and otherwise unlawful for at least four independent reasons: 1) based on the Encryption Rule; 2) based on the Disclosure Rule; 3) the ALJ erroneously insisted that the Government can arbitrarily and capriciously enforce the CMP rules against some covered entities and not others; and 4) based on the penalty amounts. Because the Government has offered no lawful basis for its civil monetary penalties against M.D. Anderson, the court vacated the CMP order and remanded for further proceedings. View "University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center v. United States Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Shah, a board-certified pediatric anesthesiology specialist, joined STAR, which became the exclusive provider of anesthesia services at several San Antonio-area acute-care hospitals, including NCB. BHS guaranteed STAR $500,000 in collections for pediatric anesthesia services provided at NCB. In 2012, STAR became the exclusive provider of anesthesia services at four BHS hospitals. Shah was not a party to the 2012 agreement, nor was he named in the pediatric income guarantee but he continued to practice as a STAR pediatric anesthesiologist, becoming the primary beneficiary of STAR’s guaranteed collections. In 2016, STAR and BHS amended the 2012 agreement, eliminating the pediatric income guarantee. The exclusivity provision remained. STAR terminated its relationship with Shah. Shah could no longer provide pediatric anesthesia services at NCB or any other BHS facility included in the exclusivity agreement. Shah requested authorization to provide pediatric anesthesia care at NCB; BHS responded that Shah’s reappointment to the Medical Staff of BHS and his privileges were approved but the exclusivity provision precluded Shah from providing pediatric anesthesia services at six BHS facilities (including NCB). After unsuccessfully suing STAR in Texas state court, Shah sued under the Sherman Act.The Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the BHS parties. Shah’s definition of the relevant market is insufficient as a matter of law; it does not encompass all interchangeable substitute products because it does not include the two non-BHS facilities that the BHS parties contend serve as viable alternatives to BHS facilities. View "Shah v. VHS San Antonio Partners, LLC" on Justia Law

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Louisiana bar owners challenged the Governor’s restrictions to the operation of bars in response to COVID-19. The Bar Closure Order prohibited on-site consumption of alcohol and food at “bars,” but permitted on-site consumption of alcohol and food at “restaurants.” Two district courts denied the bar owners’ motions for preliminary injunctive relief. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court applied “rational basis” review. The classification at issue is based on a business permit, and does not differentiate on the basis of a suspect class. The Bar Closure Order’s differential treatment of bars operating with AG permits is at least rationally related to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in higher-risk environments. A classification does not fail rational-basis review because it is not made with mathematical nicety or because in practice it results in some inequality. View "Big Tyme Investments, L.L.C. v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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Herndon pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Florida to bank fraud with an agreed loss amount of over $3 million. Before sentencing, Herndon was diagnosed with cancer and underwent extensive medical treatment. In 2013, she was sentenced below the guidelines range of 78–97 months to 60 months' imprisonment, supervised release, and $3,008,437 in restitution. Because Herndon needed additional medical treatment, the district court agreed to allow her to voluntarily surrender one year later; Herndon was released to home confinement and obtained several extensions. Ultimately, a warrant was issued and Herndon was taken into custody in April 2015.Herndon learned that the Bureau of Prisons calculated her sentence from the date she had entered custody (April 2015), rather than the March 2013 date she had been sentenced, and calculated her anticipated release date as August 2019. Herndon filed an unsuccessful 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion in the Southern District of Florida asking the court to amend the judgment to reflect its oral pronouncement, which she asserted had awarded her credit for the time she would spend on home confinement. Herndon then filed a section 2241 motion in the Northern District of Texas. While her section petition was pending, Herndon was released in July 2019. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition as moot. Herndon had already received the sole relief sought in her petition: release from confinement. View "Herndon v. Upton" on Justia Law