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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
by
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

by
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

by
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

by
Plaintiff led police on a high-speed chase through a residential neighborhood. Once Plaintiff exited his vehicle, Defendant sheriff's deputy tased Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued the deputy, claiming he violated Defendant's Fourth Amendment Rights. The District Court denied the deputy's claim of qualified immunity, finding there were material factual disputes as to whether a reasonable officer would have viewed Plaintiff as an immediate threat; whether Plaintiff's apparent surrender was a ploy to evade arrest; and whether Plaintiff was tased once or twice.The Fifth Circuit reversed. After considering the threat posed by Plaintiff in fleeing law enforcement as well as the force used by the deputy, the court determined that the deputy did not violate Plaintiff's clearly established constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. Thus, Plaintiff was unable to overcome the bar of qualified immunity. View "Salazar v. Molina" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
Plaintiff filed suit in federal court against his ex-wife, two state judges, and several others under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. The district court sua sponte dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, pointing to related state court proceedings pending on appeal.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in dismissing his suit under Rooker-Feldman because the relevant state-court cases were pending on appeal when he filed this lawsuit. The Fifth Circuit agreed and reversed the district court’s judgment finding. The court explained that in denying Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration, the district court relied on Hale and the court’s unpublished Houston decision.” The court concluded that Hale is no longer good law after Exxon Mobil and hold that Rooker-Feldman is inapplicable where a state appeal is pending when the federal suit is filed. The court further reasoned that the Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that Rooker-Feldman is a “narrow” jurisdictional bar. It applies only to cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments. View "Miller v. Dunn" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, an inmate, brings a Section 1983 suit alleging the Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and unidentified prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court requested the Texas State Attorney General’s Office provide a supplemental administrative report, known as a Martinez report, to develop the record. Upon reviewing the report, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims as frivolous.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part. The court explained that in reviewing whether a district court properly dismissed a prisoner’s complaint for failure to state a claim, it applies the same standard as dismissals under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Further to show deliberate indifference a plaintiff must demonstrate that the official was aware that an inmate faces a substantial risk of serious harm and disregarded that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it. Here, Plaintiff did not mention any relationship between the allegedly unconstitutional acts and the Director or any prison policy. Without such an allegation, Plaintiff cannot state a claim against him.   Next, the court concluded that if the Martinez report conflicts with the pro se plaintiff’s allegations, the district court must accept the plaintiff’s allegations as true, not the records in the report. Here, the district court relied on the Martinez report’s medical records in the face of Plaintiff’s conflicting allegations to conclude Plaintiff’s treatment was sufficient and any delay in treatment was not due to deliberate indifference. View "Davis v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 action shortly after her son’s death, alleging that officers violated her son’s constitutional rights by failing to provide him with medical treatment while he was dying in a jail cell. The officers moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The district court denied the officers’ motion. It found genuine disputes of material fact surrounding Plaintiff’s claims that the officers were deliberately indifferent to the man’s serious medical needs. And it concluded that the law was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and found that (1) the fact disputes identified by the district court are material to Plaintiff’s deliberate indifference claims, and (2) the court’s decision in Easter clearly established the man’s rights before the officers allegedly violated them.The court explained that in reviewing qualified immunity it looks to: (1) whether the defendant violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional or statutory rights; and (2) whether those rights were clearly established at the time of the violation. The court reasoned those it lacks jurisdiction to review the genuineness argument because the officers’ arguments do not address why the fact disputes the district court did find cannot affect the outcome of Plaintiff’s lawsuit—the materiality inquiry. Further, in reviewing Easter v. Powell, 467 F.3d 459 (5th Cir. 2006), the court held that a reasonable jury could find that the officers each refused to treat the man, ignored his cries for help, and overall evinced a wanton disregard for his serious medical needs. View "Sims v. Griffin" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff sued her employer under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), claiming that Defendant engaged in unlawful age discrimination and retaliation. Plaintiff filed a motion with the district court requesting additional time so that Defendant could respond to her requests for production. The court denied the motion and Plaintiff later filed a supplement to her Rule 56(d) motion, again asking the court to defer consideration of Defendant’s summary-judgment motion and allow Plaintiff to conduct discovery, or alternatively, deny Defendant’s motion. The district court granted Defendant’s motion and entered final judgment in their favor.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s order and held that a district court cannot deny discovery rights protected by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court explained that a Rule 56(d) movant first must demonstrate that additional discovery will create a genuine issue of material fact. Here, Plaintiff identified such evidence for (1) her age-discrimination claim, and (2) her retaliation claim. The court reasoned it was an abuse of discretion for the district court to deny Plaintiff the opportunity to conduct discovery on the relevant issues in question and then fault her for having “no evidence of a causal connection” between her protected activity and the adverse employment actions. Further, the fact that Plaintiffs requests for discovery were repeatedly denied does not reveal a lack of diligence on her part. View "Bailey v. KS Mgmt Services" on Justia Law