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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (SFFA), a nonprofit organization committed to ending race discrimination in higher-education admissions, sued the University of Texas at Austin (UT) over its use of race in admitting students. The district court concluded SFFA has standing but dismissed its claims as barred by res judicata. It reasoned that SFFA’s claims were already litigated in a prior challenge to UT’s admissions policies. See Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. (Fisher II), 579 U.S. 365 (2016); Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. (Fisher I), 570 U.S. 297 (2013).   The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. The court agreed that SFFA has standing, but disagreed that res judicata bars its claims. The parties here are not identical to or in privity with those in Fisher, and this case presents different claims.   The court first explained that SFFA has associational standing to challenge UT’s race-conscious admissions policy and the district court correctly denied the motions to dismiss based on standing. The court wrote that, however, the district court erred in applying the control exception to nonparty preclusion in two key respects. First, it mistakenly rejected SFFA’s argument about the different capacities in which Fisher and Blum acted in Fisher and act in this case. Second, even if Fisher’s and Blum’s different capacities did not foreclose applying claim preclusion, the district court erred in finding that Fisher and Blum control SFFA. Further, under the court’s transactional test, SFFA’s claims are not the same as those in Fisher because the claims are not related in time and space. View "Students for Fair Admissions v. Univ of TX" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 lawsuit against Hunt County and numerous county employees alleging that Defendants knew her son was suffering from a heart condition but failed to treat him while he was booked into the Hunt County jail.   The individual defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), asserting qualified immunity. The district court denied that motion and entered its “standard QI scheduling order.” Back in district court, the individual defendants moved to stay all discovery and all proceedings. They argued that “[a]ll discovery in this matter should be stayed against all Defendants, including Hunt County, and all proceedings, in this case, should be stayed, pending resolution of the Individual Defendants’ assertions of qualified immunity.” Plaintiff filed an “advisory to the court concerning depositions” indicating that, on the Monell claim, she wished to depose all eight of the individual defendants asserting qualified immunity.   The Fifth Circuit denied Plaintiff’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and vacated the district court’s scheduling order. The court disagreed with Plaintiff’s argument that Monell discovery presents no undue burden to the Individual Defendants because they would be required to participate as witnesses in discovery even if they had not been named as defendants.”  First, there are significant differences between naming an individual defendant and then deposing him in two capacities. Next, it’s no answer to say the defendant can be deposed twice— once on Monell issues (before the district court adjudicates the immunity defense) and once on personal-capacity issues (afterwards).  Third, Plaintiff conceded at oral argument that bifurcation of discovery would radically complicate the case. View "Carswell v. Camp" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff took out a home equity loan on a house in Texas (“Property”). Deutsche Bank National Trust Company (“Deutsche Bank”) is the trustee of the loan. Deutsche Bank sought a non-judicial foreclosure order on the Property.   Plaintiff sued Deutsche Bank in Texas state court, alleging violations of the Texas Debt Collection Act (“TDCA”), breach of the common-law duty of cooperation, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Despite the stipulation, Deutsche Bank removed the case to federal district court. Plaintiff then moved to remand the case back to Texas state court because, in his view, the amount in controversy could not exceed the stipulated maximum of $74,500. The district court denied Plaintiff’s motion to remand.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and concluded that the district court erred in denying Plaintiff’s motion to remand, and it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction when it entered final judgment. The court reasoned that Deutsche Bank failed to establish that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional floor of $75,000.   The court first noted that the bank points out that Plaintiff’s suit requested relief which might be read to suggest Plaintiff also sought injunctive relief. But the bank makes that argument only to establish that Plaintiff’s initial pleading seeks nonmonetary relief not to establish that the requested nonmonetary relief put the house in controversy. Whatever the merit of that latter contention might otherwise be, the court held that Deutsche Bank forfeited it. Moreover, the mere fact that Plaintiff pleaded a demand for specific damages cannot support bad faith. View "Durbois v. Deutsche Bank Ntl Trust" on Justia Law

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A county chapter of the NAACP and four individual Plaintiffs brought suit against the district attorney (“DA”) for the Mississippi counties in which they live, claiming he regularly discriminates against black potential jurors by striking them from juries because of their race. The Plaintiffs asserted violations of their own constitutional rights to serve on juries. The district court determined that it should apply one of the Supreme Court’s abstention doctrines and dismissed the case.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed holding that Plaintiffs have not alleged a certainly impending threat or a substantial risk to their rights that would satisfy the requirements of Article III. The court explained that to prevail on a claim for prospective equitable relief, a plaintiff must demonstrate continuing harm or a “real and immediate threat of repeated injury in the future. Further, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the right of a citizen not to be excluded from a petit jury because of his or her race. A juror who alleges being struck from a jury because of race has alleged a cognizable injury for purposes of Article III standing.Here, Plaintiffs allege that their injury is the imminent threat that the DA will deny them an opportunity for jury service by excluding them because of their race. However, save one, none of the Plaintiffs have ever been struck from a jury by the DA. Further, members of the county chapter cannot demonstrate an imminent threat that they will be struck unconstitutionally from a petit jury by the DA. Thus, Plaintiffs have not established standing. View "Attala County, MS Branch v. Evans" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former FBI special agent, asked a federal district court to order the FBI to issue him a top-secret clearance and reinstate his employment. He also sought damages against FBI officials for revoking his clearance and suspending him, for preventing him from taking other employment while suspended, and for delaying the release of letters that Plaintiff says contain his protected speech. The district court dismissed those claims. It concluded that Plaintiff has no cause of action against the officers in their individual capacities. And it reasoned that its subject matter jurisdiction does not include the power to order the FBI to reinstate his security clearance.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff’s claims must be dismissed. His claims seeking to reverse his suspension and termination fall outside the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. And he has no cause of action to bring the remaining individual capacity claims. The court explained that the Supreme Court has twice rejected federal employees’ attempts to sidestep the Civil Service Reform Act (“CSRA’s”) remedial scheme. The court found that just as the CSRA precludes extra-statutory review of “adverse actions” defined by Section 7712, it precludes extra-statutory review of ancillary constitutional claims brought as a “vehicle by which [plaintiffs] seek to reverse” those adverse actions. View "Zummer v. Sallet" on Justia Law

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Defendants dismissed Plaintiff from two graduate nursing studies programs. She sued, claiming that her dismissal violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act, and the Due Process Clause. The district court refused to dismiss some of her claims. The Defendants appealed part of that order, contending that they have sovereign immunity from Plaintiff’s ADA claims and that she failed to state Fourteenth Amendment claims.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed Defendants' appeal in part finding that the court lacks appellate jurisdiction over the Fourteenth Amendment claims. The court affirmed the order in part and reversed the order in part, concluding that Plaintiff stated some Title II claims but not all of the claims that the district court refused to dismiss. Defendants were not entitled to sovereign immunity at this stage of the litigation because Plaintiff’s allegations did not permit the court to assume that Defendants did not violate her due-process rights. The court explained that it has appellate jurisdiction over only the denial of sovereign immunity from Plaintiff’s ADA claims. The court wrote it must assume that Plaintiff’s allegations are true and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. The state may or may not be correct that its rebuttal evidence vitiates any inference that Defendants discriminated against Plaintiff because of her disability. But the pleading stage was not the right time to raise those contentions. Although the court has done so in the past, Plaintiff’s allegations do not permit the court to assume that the Due Process Clause was not violated. View "Pickett v. Texas Tech Univ" on Justia Law

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Before the Fifth Circuit were three emergency motions to stay, pending appeal, and an order of the district court that requires the Louisiana Legislature to enact a new congressional map with a second black-majority district. The Fifth Circuit concluded that though Plaintiffs’ arguments and the district court’s analysis are not without weaknesses, Defendants have not met their burden of making a “strong showing” of likely success on the merits. The court concluded that the cautionary principle from Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1 (2006), prevents the ordered remedy from taking effect. Thus, the court vacated the administrative stay and denied the motion for stay pending appeal. The court explained that while Defendants urged the court to stay the district court’s order to give the Louisiana Legislature more time to enact a remedial plan, they have not explained why they cannot enact a new plan in the time that the district court allotted. View "Robinson v. Ardoin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his claims as barred by 28 U.S.C. Section 1915(g), colloquially known as the “three strikes” provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”).   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court explained that Rule 11 provides courts with a “means to penalize the pursuit of frivolous suits that are removed to federal court.” And “[i]f a prisoner fails to pay a penalty imposed under Rule 11, the court may take other steps, such as revoking the privilege of litigating [IFP] or barring new suits altogether.” Courts may consider these measures where appropriate even where Section 1915(g) is inapplicable. Because Plaintiff did not bring this action in any court of the United States, the magistrate judge erred by determining that his claims were barred by Section 1915(g). Further, the record is devoid of any findings regarding exhaustion. The issue of exhaustion was in discovery by the parties when this appeal occurred. As Plaintiff suggested, the court held that remand is required to answer this question. View "Mitchell v. Goings, et al" on Justia Law

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Sunoco sued the Internal Revenue Service  (“IRS”) in Texas federal court, seeking a partial refund of its income tax payments for 2010 and 2011. Sunoco’s claims rested on a theory of reduced tax liability that the company had argued unsuccessfully for prior tax years in the Court of Federal Claims. Because the issue was fully and actually litigated in the earlier case, the district court dismissed Sunoco’s new suit based on collateral estoppel, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.   The court held that the only question is the correctness of the issue preclusion ruling. Sunoco did not dispute that the three traditional elements of preclusion are satisfied. It argued, however, that the court should have considered a fourth factor: whether there are “special circumstances that would render preclusion inappropriate or unfair.”  The court found that because Sunoco and the IRS were both parties to Sunoco I, “an inquiry into special circumstances is unnecessary.” Sunoco is barred from relitigating the Federal Circuit’s conclusion that it cannot use the mixture credits to offset both excise-tax and income-tax liability. View "ETC Sunoco Holdings v. USA" on Justia Law

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Rusco Operating, L.L.C. and Planning Thru Completion, L.L.C. are two companies that offer an online application (“app”) that connects oil field workers looking for work with oil-and-gas operators looking for workers. The companies seek to intervene here because some app-using workers have opted-in as plaintiffs alleging claims for unpaid overtime, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, against an operator that used the app to hire them. The app companies’ asserted interests in the litigation related to arbitration agreements between them and the workers, their belief that a win by the workers would destroy their business model, and a demand for indemnity allegedly made by Defendant operator for liability it might incur as to Plaintiffs’ claims. The district court found these interests insufficient to justify intervention and denied leave   The Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding that the arbitration agreements at issue give rise to sufficient interest in this action to support the app companies’ intervention. The court explained that Appellants  have shown adequate interest in the subject of this lawsuit by virtue of their contracts with the parties, and “disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the [Intervenors’] ability to protect [their] interest.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 24(a)(2). By contrast, no other party in this action will adequately represent the Intervenors’ interest. They should therefore be allowed to intervene of right. View "Field v. Rusco Operating" on Justia Law