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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of Speech First's First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to several policies that intend to regulate speech at the University of Texas at Austin. Speech First sought a preliminary injunction against enforcement of these policies, but the district court dismissed the case based on lack of standing.The court held that Speech First has standing to seek a preliminary injunction. After determining that the case was not moot, the court held that the chilling of allegedly vague regulations, coupled with a range of potential penalties for violating the regulations, was, as other courts have held, sufficient "injury" to ensure that Speech First has a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy. In this case, Speech First's three student-members at the University have an intention to engage in a certain course of conduct, namely political speech; it is likely that the University's policies arguably proscribe speech of the sort that Speech First's members intend to make; and the existence of the University's policies, which the University plans to maintain as far as a federal court will allow it, suffices to establish that the threat of future enforcement, against those in a class whose speech is arguably restricted, is likely substantial. The court also held that the causation and redressability prongs are easily satisfied here. The court remanded for assessment of the preliminary injunction. View "Speech First, Inc. v. Fenves" on Justia Law

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The City of Houston contends that it is being sued for a so-called "zombie" law. The City's Charter allows only registered voters to circulate petitions for initiatives and referenda, even though the Supreme Court held a similar law unconstitutional twenty years ago. Plaintiffs, Trent and Trey Pool, sought a preliminary injunction allowing them to collect signatures for their anti-pay-to-play petition as well as a declaratory judgment that the Charter's voter-registration and residency provisions are unconstitutional, permanent injunctive relief against enforcement of those provisions, and nominal damages. Plaintiffs also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which would allow them to circulate the petition through the deadline of July 9, 2019. The district court granted a TRO, allowing plaintiffs to circulate the petition for the next week, but concluded that plaintiffs had not demonstrated an injury sufficient to support standing with regard to future petitions. The district court later dismissed plaintiffs' remaining claims. Although the City now concedes that the qualified-voter requirement is unconstitutional, at issue is whether plaintiffs may obtain a permanent injunction preventing its enforcement.The Fifth Circuit held that, although there would not usually be a reasonable fear of continued enforcement of a zombie law, the history of Houston's qualified-voter requirement gives Trent Pool standing to seek an injunction that would guard against continued chilling of his speech. The court also held that the City has not met its heavy burden of showing that plaintiffs' challenges are moot. Therefore, because there is a reasonable concern that the City might enforce its unconstitutional Charter provision, the court reversed the judgment dismissing this case and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pool v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the United States and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers for injuries suffered during an incident at the International Port of Entry Gateway Bridge in Brownsville, Texas. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the CBP officers based on qualified immunity. In this case, the court found that plaintiff was neither arrested nor unreasonably seized, and the officers did not use excessive force. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims against the United States for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based on the customs-duty exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). View "Angulo v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion.Plaintiff filed suit against defendant under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of various constitutional rights and under Louisiana tort law. In this case, after defendant approached, questioned, and reached to grab plaintiff outside of his home, plaintiff fled, fell off a fence, and dislocated his shoulder.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the unreasonable search claim and remanded for the district court to consider qualified immunity before proceeding to the merits of the case. The court held that plaintiff's complaint plausibly alleges a trespassory search of his home where the officer's search of the curtilage of plaintiff's home was unreasonable insofar as it infringed on plaintiff's reasonable expectation of privacy and exigent circumstances were lacking. However, the court held that the complaint lacks allegations that would allow the court to draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor and to conclude that he plausibly alleged a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of the unreasonable seizure claim.The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's remaining section 1983 claims, holding that plaintiff failed to state a false arrest/false imprisonment claim because he failed to plausibly allege that his ultimate arrest was false; plaintiff failed to state a claim for malicious prosecution because, as the district court correctly observed, there is no freestanding right under the Constitution to be free from malicious prosecution; and plaintiff failed to state a claim for a violation of procedural and substantive due process because resort to a generalized remedy under the Due Process Clause is inappropriate where a more specific constitutional provision provides the rights at issue. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotion distress under Louisiana law, the district court's grant of summary judgment, and the three evidentiary rulings appealed by plaintiff. View "Arnold v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two brothers and their parents, filed suit seeking injunction relief under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prevent Mathis Independent School District from excluding them from extracurricular activities based on their religiously motivated hairstyles. After the district court granted preliminary injunctions to both brothers, the school district appealed.The Fifth Circuit upheld the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction as to one brother and vacated as to the other. In regard to one brother, C.G., the court held that the district court's conclusion that there was no time to reasonably provide 60-day pre-suit notice was plausible in light of the record as a whole. Therefore, C.G. satisfied the statutory exception to the Act's pre-suit notice requirement and thus the school district's governmental immunity is waived and there is no jurisdictional defect in C.G.'s claim. As to the other brother, D.G., the court held that his noncompliance with the Act's pre-suit notice requirement requires that the court vacate the district court's preliminary injunction as to him. View "Gonzales v. Mathis Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against defendant, an investigator for the Texas Medical Board (TMB), alleging that defendant searched his medical office and seized documents without a warrant.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The court held that defendant violated plaintiff's constitutional rights when she copied documents in plaintiff's office without any precompliance review of the administrative subpoena. However, at the time, it was not clearly established that defendant's search per Texas Occupations Code 153.007(a) and 168.052, and 22 Texas Administrative Code 179.4(a) and 195.3 was unconstitutional. Therefore, defendant's right to a precompliance review was not clearly established at the time of the search. In this case, the TMB had received a complaint that plaintiff was operating an unregistered pain management clinic (PMC); even though plaintiff's license had been revoked at the time of the search, the Board still had the power to take disciplinary action against him, to issue administrative penalties, and to seek injunctions; and thus defendant's search served an administrative purpose, even if the TMB ultimately declined to take further administrative action against plaintiff. View "Cotropia v. Chapman" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted the petition for panel rehearing, withdrew its prior opinion, and substituted the following opinion.The court held that when a court order disposes of a habeas claim on procedural and, in the alternative, substantive grounds, a Rule 60(b) motion contesting this order inherently presents a successive habeas petition. The court affirmed the district court's conclusion that it lacked jurisdiction over petitioner's Rule 60(b) motion -- facially challenging a procedural ruling and implicitly challenging a merits determination -- because it was a successive habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's inherent prejudice claim, because petitioner failed to overcome the arduous standard of review in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). In this case, petitioner identifies no clearly established law that the CCA misapplied, nor any unreasonable factual determinations on which the court based its holding. View "Will v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Petitioner argues, under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), that the prosecution unlawfully withheld impeachment evidence concerning an eyewitness's prior federal conviction for lying on a firearms application. The court concluded that the undisclosed evidence of the eyewitness's conviction for lying does not "directly contradict" or undermine his assertions at trial; fairminded jurists could disagree as to whether the eyewitness's testimony was sufficiently corroborated to sustain confidence in the verdict; and the eyewitness's undisclosed conviction was cumulative of other evidence disclosed to the defense—including the assault and battery conviction that was revealed to the jury during the eyewitness's cross-examination. Therefore, the court found that the state court's Brady determination did not involve an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law. The court also rejected petitioner's argument that the state court's decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts under section 2254(d)(2). View "Reeder v. Vannoy" on Justia Law

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After plaintiffs filed suit challenging Texas's absentee-ballot system in August 2019, the district court granted plaintiffs' summary judgment motion in part, issuing an injunction adopting many of plaintiffs' proposed changes to Texas's election procedures. The injunction included three main provisions regarding the 2020 election: first, the district court required the Secretary to issue an advisory, within ten days, notifying local election officials of the injunction, and the notification must inform them that rejecting ballots because of mismatching signatures is unconstitutional unless the officials take actions that go beyond those required by state law; second, the Secretary must either issue an advisory to local election officials requiring them to follow the district court's newly devised signature verification and voter-notification procedures, or else promulgate an advisory requiring that officials cease rejecting ballots with mismatched signatures altogether; and third, the district court mandated that the Secretary take action against any election officials who fail to comply with the district court's newly minted procedures.The Fifth Circuit considered the Nken factors and granted the Secretary's motion to stay the district court's injunction pending appeal, because the Secretary is likely to succeed in showing that Texas's signature-verification procedures are constitutional. The court held that the Secretary is likely to show that plaintiffs have alleged no cognizable liberty or property interest that could serve to make out a procedural due process claim. Given the failure of plaintiffs and the district court to assert that voting—or, for that matter, voting by mail—constitutes a liberty interest, along with the absence of circuit precedent supporting that position, the court stated that the Secretary is likely to prevail in showing that plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on their due process claim should have been denied. The court rejected the district court's reasoning regarding any state-created liberty interest. Even if voting is a protected liberty or property interest, the court held that the Secretary is likely to show that the district court used the wrong test for the due process claim. The court held that the Anderson/Burdick framework provides the appropriate test for plaintiffs' due process claims and Texas's signature-verification procedures are reasonable and nondiscriminatory, and they survive scrutiny under the Anderson/Burdick framework. In this case, Texas's important interest in reducing voter fraud—and specifically in stymying mail-in ballot fraud—justifies its use of signature verification.The court also held that the Secretary is likely to prevail in her defense that sovereign immunity bars the district court's injunction requiring that she issue particular advisories and take specific potential enforcement action against noncomplying officials. Finally, the remaining Nken factors counsel in favor of granting a stay pending appeal where the Secretary will be irreparably injured absent a stay, public interest favors granting a stay, and the balance of harms weighs in favor of the Secretary. View "Richardson v. Texas Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA), seeking retrospective and prospective relief for myriad alleged violations of the United States Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Fifth Circuit declined to reach the merits of plaintiff's claims. The court held that, given the altered legal landscape and the potential effects of plaintiff's request for prospective relief, a mootness analysis must precede the merits. In this case, a year after plaintiff filed his lawsuit, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which reduced the shared responsibility payment (imposed on individuals who fail to purchase health insurance) to $0. In the same year, the Department of Health and Human Services created new exemptions to the contraceptive mandate, including an exemption for individuals like plaintiff. These exemptions were enjoined until the Supreme Court's recent decision in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims and remanded for the district court to conduct a mootness analysis in the first instance. The court also remanded to allow plaintiff to amend his complaint where the parties agreed that the district court incorrectly dismissed plaintiff's claim for retrospective relief. View "Dierlam v. Trump" on Justia Law