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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Pennywell delivered his petition for direct review of his state conviction—which resulted in multiple life sentences—to prison guards for mailing. Through some unknown fault in the mailing process, the Louisiana Supreme Court never received the petition. Once Pennywell discovered the petition had never arrived at the Louisiana Supreme Court, he promptly refiled it. As a result of the untimeliness caused by the mailing failure of his first petition, however, the Louisiana Supreme Court dismissed his renewed petition for direct review as untimely. That decision was the basis for all subsequent denials of state and federal post-conviction relief.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Pennywell’s petition, holding that Pennywell was entitled to equitable tolling. The failure to timely deliver the petition to the Louisiana Supreme Court was through no fault of Pennywell; by the failure of the mail system, Pennywell was “prevented in some extraordinary way from asserting his rights.” Given the undisputed facts, Pennywell demonstrated due diligence and an extraordinary circumstance that justify equitable tolling. View "Pennywell v. Hooper" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit treated the petition for rehearing en banc as a petition for panel rehearing; granted the petition for panel rehearing; and withdrew its prior opinion in this case.Plaintiffs, two Planned Parenthood entities and three Jane Does, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Louisiana Department of Health is unlawfully declining to act on Planned Parenthood's application for a license to provide abortion services in Louisiana. The district court denied the Department's motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1); the Department filed an interlocutory appeal; and plaintiffs moved to dismiss.The court denied the motion to dismiss the appeal because the Department asserted sovereign immunity in the district court. Therefore, the court has jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal. The court further concluded that at least one of the plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief is a valid invocation of federal jurisdiction under Ex parte Young. In this case, because plaintiffs' requested injunction to "promptly rule" on the license application satisfies the requirements of Ex parte Young, the court concluded that plaintiffs have survived the Department's Rule 12(b)(1) motion and the case may proceed. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Inc. v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit concluded that unresolved questions of state law must be certified to the Texas Supreme Court. The court certified the following questions of state law to the Supreme Court of Texas: Whether Texas law authorizes the Attorney General, Texas Medical Board, the Texas Board of Nursing, the Texas Board of Pharmacy, or the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, directly or indirectly, to take disciplinary or adverse action of any sort against individuals or entities that violate the Texas Heartbeat Act, given the enforcement authority granted by various provisions of the Texas Occupations Code, the Texas Administrative Code, and the Texas Health and Safety Code and given the restrictions on public enforcement in sections 171.005, 171.207 and 171.208(a) of the Texas Health and Safety Code. View "Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that a jailer at the Shelby County Jail sexually assaulted him and other detainees, and that the sheriff violated plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural and substantive due process. On appeal, the sheriff challenges the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss.The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, concluding that the alleged connection between the jailer's prior termination from the Shelby County Jail for abusing detainees and the alleged abuse of plaintiff and other detainees in the Shelby County Jail is sufficient to state a claim for deliberate indifference in rehiring. However, plaintiff failed to allege any facts regarding the lack of a training program, nor are there allegations that the alleged abusive conduct occurred with such frequency that the sheriff was put on notice that training or supervision was needed. Whether the sheriff is liable for punitive damages is not part of the qualified immunity analysis, and this court does not have jurisdiction to consider this question in this interlocutory appeal. Finally, the court granted the sheriff's motion to strike. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Parker v. Blackwell" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity in an excessive force action brought by plaintiff. During a routine traffic stop, plaintiff repeatedly challenged defendant's reasons for stopping him, refused to comply with his orders, batted his hand away, called him a liar, warned him to call in backup, and dared him to use his taser.The court concluded that defendant did not violate the Fourth Amendment by tasing plaintiff one time in order to arrest him. Even assuming a Fourth Amendment violation, the court concluded that it was not clearly established at the time that defendant's single use of the taser was constitutionally excessive. Therefore, the district court erred in concluding otherwise. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Betts v. Brennan" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's rulings in an action brought by plaintiff against Wal-Mart Stores under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Texas law. Plaintiff, a pharmacist and black man from Cameroon, West Africa, alleged that Wal-Mart intentionally subjected and/or allowed him to be subjected to discrimination based on race, color, and national origin, illegal harassment, and a hostile work environment. Plaintiff also alleged that Wal-Mart retaliated against him for complaining about discrimination and asserting his rights.The court concluded that the district court did not reversibly err in granting summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart on plaintiff's hostile work environment claim where it is not evident that a triable dispute exists relative to whether Wal-Mart remained aware that plaintiff suffered continued harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in instructing the jury and in refusing to provide the specific Cat's Paw instructions that plaintiff requested. The court also concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict on the retaliation claim under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981; the court rejected challenges to the jury verdict form; and the court rejected claims challenging the punitive damages award and claims of evidentiary errors. View "Wantou v. Wal-Mart Stores Texas, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that the district court erred in sealing and ordering redaction of voluminous documents related to litigation challenging Louisiana's abortion laws without a proper legal basis, and therefore vacated the district court's sealing orders. The sealed or redacted documents include a transcript of proceedings held in open court, a famous Pennsylvania grand jury report that is available as a book on www.amazon.com and that was adapted as a motion picture, an arrest report from a police department's public website, articles from The New York Times and Rolling Stone, and an obituary from a public website. The court concluded that the district court misapprehended the nature and extent of the public's right to judicial records; on remand, the district court shall not seal or order redaction of any publicly available documents or information; the district court also used the wrong legal standard for sealing documents; and the district court erred by failing to evaluate all of the documents individually. The court issued a limited remand for the district court to evaluate the sealing orders under the proper legal standard within 30 days of the issuance of this opinion. View "June Medical Services, LLC v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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The en banc court vacated the district court's preliminary injunction and remanded to the district court for the limited purpose of conducting such proceedings as it considers appropriate and making detailed findings and conclusions concerning abstention under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), and related caselaw, and on the effect of Senate Bill 6 on the issues in this case.The court agreed with its sister circuit that, on the appeal from a preliminary injunction, issues relating to whether there is a proper suit at all can be decided, such as the existence of subject-matter and personal jurisdiction and questions regarding abstention. The court concluded that it is possible on this record and briefing to make limited holdings now about whether any defendant was acting on behalf of Dallas County and about standing. In regard to abstention, the court concluded that briefing exists but is cursory. Therefore, the court ordered a limited remand for the district court to conduct such proceedings as it finds appropriate and decide whether abstention is required. Once that decision is made, the court will complete its review. View "Daves v. Dallas County" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a federal habeas application as time-barred, concluding that petitioner is not entitled to equitable tolling. The court stated that petitioner offers little to no support for his argument that the circumstances in his case are so extraordinary as to necessitate equitable tolling. More importantly, the court concluded that petitioner's plight is entirely self-inflicted and stems from his failure to comply with basic state procedural rules—about which he had notice. Furthermore, in responding to petitioner's initial, unexhausted 28 U.S.C. 2254 application, the State pointed out that petitioner had failed to exhaust his state remedies and that he needed to refile in state court before proceeding to federal court. Therefore, the district court did not err, much less abuse its discretion, in declining to equitably toll the limitations period under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The court denied petitioner's motion to appoint counsel as moot. View "Jones v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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This case, involving a dispute about the effect of provisions in the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act on the contraceptive mandate found in the Affordable Care Act, became moot with issuance of the Supreme Court's decision in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, 140 S. Ct. 2367 (2020).The Fifth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs no longer have a cognizable injury and the underlying dispute is moot. The court also concluded that Nevada did not cause the case to become moot; it was moot after the ruling in Little Sisters, and vacatur serves public interests in that it vacates a permanent injunction that Nevada never had proper opportunity to litigate the merits of before the district court; and, regardless, plaintiffs conceded Nevada was entitled to vacatur at oral argument. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss as moot. View "DeOtte v. Nevada" on Justia Law