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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Since 2011, Jonesboro’s wastewater system has spewed sewage onto Stringer’s property and into her home during heavy rains. Stringer repeatedly complained to the town and its mayor, then brought a “citizen suit” under the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1365, with constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for the uncompensated taking of her property and the mayor’s retaliation. Stringer ran against the mayor in 2014 and claims he retaliated by ignoring her pleas, getting the town to sue her frivolously, and refusing to provide sandbags. The Louisiana Departments of Health (LDOH) and Environmental Quality (LDEQ) have long known about the problems. LDEQ sent the town warning letters and issued compliance orders about unauthorized discharges, including those afflicting Stringer. LDOH issued a compliance order about the discharges on Stringer’s property, imposed mandatory ameliorative measures, and assessed a daily fine. The district court dismissed, finding that the CWA prohibits such suits when a state is addressing the problem through “comparable” state law and finding her section 1983 claims untimely under Louisiana’s one-year prescriptive period. The Fifth Circuit affirmed as to the section 1983 claims. Stringer was long aware of the underlying facts and failed to sue within a year. The Fifth Circuit reversed in part. The enforcement action to which the court pointed—the state health department’s enforcement of the sanitary code—is not “comparable” to the CWA under circuit precedent. View "Stringer v. Town of Jonesboro" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Brown was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. Before Brown’s anticipated 2011 release, the state obtained a civil commitment order under the Texas Sexually Violent Predator Act. The Act required civilly committed persons to “reside in a Texas residential facility under contract with" OVSOM or another approved location and to participate in OVSOM-provided “treatment and supervision.” While confined at Fort Worth, Brown was indicted for violating his commitment terms and confined at the Tarrant County Jail as a pre-trial detainee. Brown posted bond and was transferred to the Cold Springs Jail, pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding with OVSOM’s predecessor: Tarrant County (Sheriff Anderson) would provide “housing, meals, and other usual services” in the Work Release Program; OVSOM's predecessor had responsibility for “obtaining and paying for all programs" required for its clients. Brown, acquitted of violating his commitment terms, did not receive sex offender treatment at Cold Springs.Brown filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint, based on the 20-day confinement without sex offender treatment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his claims against Tarrant County and Anderson. Anderson is entitled to qualified immunity and Brown states no claim against the county. At the time of the challenged conduct, there was a circuit split on whether sexually violent or dangerous offenders have a due process right to treatment. Anderson’s failure to provide Brown with sex offender treatment did not violate clearly established law. View "Brown v. Tarrant County" on Justia Law

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Herndon pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Florida to bank fraud with an agreed loss amount of over $3 million. Before sentencing, Herndon was diagnosed with cancer and underwent extensive medical treatment. In 2013, she was sentenced below the guidelines range of 78–97 months to 60 months' imprisonment, supervised release, and $3,008,437 in restitution. Because Herndon needed additional medical treatment, the district court agreed to allow her to voluntarily surrender one year later; Herndon was released to home confinement and obtained several extensions. Ultimately, a warrant was issued and Herndon was taken into custody in April 2015.Herndon learned that the Bureau of Prisons calculated her sentence from the date she had entered custody (April 2015), rather than the March 2013 date she had been sentenced, and calculated her anticipated release date as August 2019. Herndon filed an unsuccessful 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion in the Southern District of Florida asking the court to amend the judgment to reflect its oral pronouncement, which she asserted had awarded her credit for the time she would spend on home confinement. Herndon then filed a section 2241 motion in the Northern District of Texas. While her section petition was pending, Herndon was released in July 2019. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition as moot. Herndon had already received the sole relief sought in her petition: release from confinement. View "Herndon v. Upton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Omni, alleging (1) pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Texas Labor Code, and the Equal Pay Act; (2) promotional discrimination under Title VII and the Texas Labor Code; and (3) retaliation for filing a charge with the EEOC and for taking leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Title VII, the Texas Labor Code, and the Equal Pay Act. The district court granted summary judgment to Omni.In regard to the pay discrimination claims as it pertains to the three men who previously held the same position as plaintiff yet were paid more, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in concluding that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case. Rather, plaintiff showed that she held the same position as two other employees did, at the same hotel, just a few years after they did, and that she was paid less than they were. The court also concluded that Omni failed to set forth a non-discriminatory reason for that pay disparity. Therefore, the court reversed in part and remanded. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiff's Equal Pay Act claim insofar as it relies on other unnamed male food and beverage directors from different Omni hotels, but remanded for a determination of whether plaintiff can establish a prima facie case with respect to those comparators under Title VII and the Texas Labor Code.In regard to the promotional discrimination claims, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Omni because plaintiff withdrew her name from consideration and understood that she would have been given the offer if she reconsidered. In this case, plaintiff was not rejected by Omni. Rather, she rejected the opportunity from Omni. In regard to the retaliation claims, plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation because she could not demonstrate an adverse employment action. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to establish adverse employment action in response to her requesting and taking FMLA leave; plaintiff puts forth no evidence that the deletion of the computer files was in any way motivated by retaliation; and plaintiff's constructive discharge claim failed. View "Lindsley v. TRT Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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After the University terminated her employment as the head coach of the women's basketball team, plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as state-law claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and invasion of privacy.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment as to the breach of contract and Title IX claims. The court concluded that judgment in favor of plaintiff on the breach of contract claim was proper where a reasonable jury could have concluded that plaintiff's management of funds did not give the University cause to terminate her employment. Furthermore, the University was not entitled to a new trial on plaintiff's breach of contract claim. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to provide the requested jury instruction and any error on the district court's part was harmless. In regard to the Title IX claim, the court concluded that denial of plaintiff's jury instruction was not an abuse of discretion or grounds for a new trial. However, the court reversed the district court's judgment as to the privacy claim and concluded that it failed as a matter of law. The court explained that the facts disclosed by the University were of legitimate concern to the public and the district court clearly erred in concluding otherwise. View "Taylor-Travis v. Jackson State University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that state judges in Dallas, Texas are unconstitutionally denying release to indigent arrestees who cannot pay the prescribed cash bail. The district court certified the suit as a class action and allowed three different categories of judges to be defendants; determined that the Sheriff was not a proper defendant for Section 1983 purposes but did not yet dismiss her from the case; and held that there was a likelihood of success by plaintiffs on their equal-protection and procedural-due-process claims and granted injunctive relief against the judges and the County.With one exception, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that plaintiffs have standing. The court concluded that the suit was properly allowed to proceed against most of the judges and the County. However, in regard to the Criminal District Court Judges, the court held that they are not proper defendants because plaintiffs lack standing as to them and cannot overcome sovereign immunity. The court also held that the Sheriff can be enjoined to prevent that official's enforcement of measures violative of federal law. Finally, the court held that the district court correctly concluded that plaintiffs need not first pursue habeas corpus relief. Accordingly, the court affirmed the injunction, with one revision, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Daves v. Dallas County" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to defendant in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims premised on the denial of a name-clearing hearing in violation of procedural due process. The court held that the alleged violative nature of defendant's conduct was not clearly established as unconstitutional. In this case, the law was not clearly established that plaintiff's request "to speak with" defendant constituted a request for a name-clearing hearing in the context of the court's "stigma-plus-infringement" test, such that denying the request would amount to a procedural-due-process violation. View "Cunningham v. Castloo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that MTM's failure to pick him up violated his purported right to non-emergency medical transportation under various federal regulatory and statutory Medicaid provisions.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims, joining its sister circuits in holding that a section 1983 claim may not be brought to enforce an administrative regulation. The court explained that this conclusion is consistent with the principle that federal rights are created by Congress, not agencies of the Executive Branch, as the Supreme Court has affirmed on various occasions. The court also held that none of the statutory provisions invoked by plaintiff clearly and unambiguously create a right to non-emergency medical transportation, as established precedents require for a claim under section 1983. View "Thurman v. Medical Transportation Management, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied petitioner's application for a certificate of appealability (COA). Petitioner was sentenced to death for shooting and killing a police officer. The court held that petitioner's claims, that his sentence violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments because it was based on the jury's unreliable and inaccurate predictions about his future dangerousness, are procedurally defaulted and substantively meritless. Likewise, petitioner's claim that his sentence violates the Due Process Clause is also procedurally defaulted and substantively meritless. Finally, petitioner's claim that the Eighth Amendment prohibits his execution because of how much time he has spent on death row is unexhausted and unreviewable in federal habeas. View "Buntion v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the unions she was affiliated with, as well as a maritime association, for sexual harassment under federal employment law, arguing that defendant's conduct created a hostile work environment. Plaintiff also filed suit against defendant himself for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) under Texas state law. The district court entered a default judgment in plaintiff's favor on the IIED claim and plaintiff ultimately prevailed at trial against the other defendants.The Fifth Circuit first held that a party's failure to file a motion to set aside a default judgment in the district court does not prevent the party from appealing that judgment to the court. On the merits, the court vacated the default judgment on the IIED claim, concluding that plaintiff could not pursue an IIED against defendant in light of the other statutory remedies available to plaintiff. The court explained that a plaintiff generally cannot sustain an IIED claim if the plaintiff could have brought a sexual harassment claim premised on the same facts. In this case, the gravamen of plaintiff's IIED claim is for sexual harassment; plaintiff used defendant's conduct as a basis for her Title VII claims against the other defendants; plaintiff ultimately prevailed on those claims against the union; and the availability of those statutory remedies on the same facts forecloses her IIED claims against defendant. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Stelly v. Duriso" on Justia Law