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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiffs, an abortion clinic and two of its doctors, brought a cumulative-effects challenge to Louisiana's laws regulating abortion, arguing that the provisions taken as a whole were unconstitutional, even if the individual provisions were not. The district court denied Louisiana's motion to dismiss, but certified its order for interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. 1292(b). The district court then rescinded its certification so that plaintiffs could amend their complaint. The district court again denied Louisiana's motion to dismiss. Louisiana subsequently petitioned the Fifth Circuit for mandamus relief. Although the district court's failure to consider the state's jurisdictional challenges and the inadequacy of a later appeal support issuance of the writ, the court nonetheless exercised its discretion not to issue it at this time. In this case, it was not clear from the district court's order how it would resolve the state's jurisdictional challenge, and much of the state's argument in its mandamus petition went beyond jurisdiction. Therefore, the court elected to allow the district court to consider the state's jurisdictional challenges in the first instance. View "In re: Rebekah Gee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his parents filed suit against the school district, seeking damages under the Rehabilitation Act and 42 U.S.C. 1983 after plaintiff was expelled from high school. The Fifth Circuit explained that, because plaintiff did not exhaust the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act's (IDEA) procedures, his suit asserting other federal claims must be dismissed if it seeks relief that is also available under the IDEA. In this case, both the substance and language of plaintiff's complaint reveal that he was challenging the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that the IDEA promised him. The court held that plaintiff did not seek awards tied to the cost of providing him with an adequate education. Rather, he sought damages for injuries like emotional distress, and such traditional compensatory damages were not available under the IDEA. Therefore, the IDEA's exhaustion requirement applied to plaintiffs who seek damages for the denial of a FAPE. In this case, because plaintiff did not first seek relief through the IDEA administrative process, his lawsuit was properly dismissed. View "McMillen v. New Caney Independent School District" on Justia Law

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In the Fourth Amended Complaint (FAC), plaintiffs alleged that they are the victims of an extensive, long-lasting conspiracy designed to prevent African-American individuals in Beaumont from gaining power and influence in order to perpetuate "white dominion over Beaumont local politics." The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all claims and all parties named in the complaint. In regard to RICO claims, the court held that plaintiffs failed to allege a RICO enterprise and pattern of racketeering activity. The court also held that the district court did not err by determining that government attorneys were entitled to prosecutorial immunity from their acts as prosecutors and officers of the court. Furthermore, there was no error in the district court's dismissal of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers defendants. The court also held that claims premised on allegedly defamatory statements made prior to July 16, 2014 were time-barred. In regard to the timely filed defamation claims against the Beaumont Enterprise defendants, the court held that these claims failed on the elements of actual malice and falsity, and when considered against the fair reporting defense. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's tortious interference, equal protection, immunity, and state-law civil conspiracy claims. View "Walker v. Beaumont Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The burden of proof for the four factor test that prosecutors must satisfy before a court may compel the medication of the accused in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), is by clear and convincing evidence, not just by the preponderance of the evidence. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, because it was not clear from the record what burden of proof the district court applied and in light of the sensitivity of the interest involved. The court remanded for the district court to apply the clear and convincing evidence standard. View "United States v. James" on Justia Law

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After O.W. was withdrawn from school, the administrative hearing officer found that the school district violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and awarded O.W. two years of private school tuition. The district court affirmed and the school district appealed. The Fifth Circuit held that the IDEA's text and structure, including its implementing regulations, compel a conclusion that the child find and expedited evaluation requirements are separate and independent such that a violation of the latter does not mean a violation of the former. Therefore, the district court erred to the extent it held otherwise. The court also held that the continued use of behavioral interventions was not a proactive step toward compliance with the school district's child find duties, and thus a child find violation occurred. In regard to claims that the district court failed to implement O.W.'s individualized education program (IEP), the district court did not err in finding that the use of the take-discipline was a significant or substantial departure from the IEP; the district court erred in concluding that eight instances of physical restraints violated O.W.'s IEP; and the single instance of police involvement did not rise to the level of an actionable violation. Furthermore, the district court correctly concluded the May 18, 2015, modification rose to the level of an actionable violation, but erred in finding the May 6, 2015, modification represented an actionable failure to implement O.W.'s IEP. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the remedy issue for reconsideration. View "Spring Branch Independent School District v. O.W." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of attempted aggravated robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court rejected petitioner's claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial attorney failed to conduct a sufficient pretrial investigation. In this case, petitioner failed to show prejudice under Strickland v. Washington or other clearly established federal law, because he did not allege what a sufficient investigation would have uncovered or how it would have changed his trial outcome. View "Adekeye v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against a prison nurse, alleging that she violated Paul Cleveland's Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment and held that defendant was entitled to qualified immunity. In this case, given the lack of evidence about defendant's subjective awareness of a substantial risk of serious harm to Cleveland, plaintiffs could not show a constitutional violation. Furthermore, plaintiffs failed to show a potential violation of clearly established law. View "Cleveland v. Bell" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that 28 U.S.C. 2244(b) barred movant's successive application, and thus denied his motion for authorization to file a successive application for a writ of habeas corpus and to stay execution. The court held that movant's latest filing did not present a new claim of a retroactive constitutional right recognized by the Supreme Court that was previously unavailable to him. To the extent that movant argued that he has now raised an actual Atkins claim for the first time, it would nevertheless be barred. The court stated that any claim similar to what it discussed in In re Johnson, -- F.3d – , 2019 WL 3814384 (5th Cir. 2019), and earlier in In re Cathey, 857 F.3d 221 (5th Cir. 2017), was available to movant at the time of his earlier application for a writ of habeas corpus. View "In Re: Mark Soliz" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was struck by a fellow inmate on the back of the head with a yard tool that the prison issued to inmates, he filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action, alleging claims of deliberate indifference and failure to train in violation his Eighth Amendment rights. The district court granted qualified immunity as to one official and denied it as to three other officials. The Fifth Circuit reversed and granted qualified immunity to all four officials, holding that Defendant Ladner and Pierce's alleged individual conduct did not rise to deliberate indifference and thus they were immune from suit. In regard to Defendant Tanner, the warden, the court held that it was not the lack of training that caused the risk to plaintiff, but rather the sufficiency of the overall protocol. In this case, there was no repeated pattern of violations and thus Tanner could not be held liable for inadequately training Pierce and Ladner. View "Jason v. Tanner" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the legislative boundaries for Mississippi State Senate District 22, arguing that the district, as drawn in 2012, diluted African-American voting strength. After determining that it had jurisdiction over the declaratory judgment action and that a single district judge had the authority to decide the case, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting the State's laches defense. On the merits, the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that the evidence established a section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 violation under the standards set forth in Thornburg v. Gingles. In this case, the district court did not err in determining that plaintiffs' section 2 challenge to a majority-minority, single-member district was legally cognizable; the district court did not clearly err in determining that plaintiffs met their burden of proving the three Gingles preconditions; the district court did not clearly err in its ultimate finding of vote dilution; and the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs were entitled to section 2 relief was fully supported by the record and not clearly erroneous. Finally, the court dismissed the State's appeal of the district court's judgment granting injunctive relief as moot, because no matter the resolution of the State's appeal, the court-ordered plan will never become operative. View "Thomas v. Bryant" on Justia Law