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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiffs, who identify as Moorish Americans, sought to enter the Caddo Parish Courthouse to file documents with the court clerk. Upon arriving at the security-screening station, plaintiffs informed the officers on duty that they wished to enter without passing through the security screening. After Plaintiffs’ repeated refusals to depart, the officers stated they would count to three and, if Plaintiffs refused to leave, they would be arrested. They did not depart and were arrested, charged with violating Louisiana Revised Statutes Section 14:63.3.Plaintiffs brought a litany of claims against various officials serving in Caddo Parish and the Louisiana state government based on their actions taken during the arrest. Plaintiffs also moved for recusal of the magistrate judge, which the district court denied.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiffs have pointed to no precedent that abrogates the general “search incident to arrest” rule when religious headwear is involved. Accordingly, the district court correctly granted summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity. Further, the court held that there was no error in the district court’s denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for recusal of the magistrate judge. The magistrate judge did not work on this case in private practice nor work with Defendants’ counsel in the practice of law while he was working on this case. Nor is there evidence of any bias or knowledge of the case that would have required the district court, in its discretion, to order recusal. View "Foley Bey v. Prator" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was dismissed from her role as a Cadre On-Call Response Employee (CORE) for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2017. Plaintiff claimed that her dismissal resulted from race-based discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Following administrative proceedings in which an administrative law judge rejected her complaint, Plaintiff filed suit in federal district court. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s order granting FEMA summary judgment and denying her motion for additional time to conduct discovery, arguing that the court abused its discretion by declining to grant a continuance under Rule 56(d) as required by Chandler v. Roudebush.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that because Plaintiff failed to diligently pursue her limited discovery needs during the two-month continuance, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying her Rule 56(d) motion. Further, Chandler cannot be construed as demanding further discovery where, as here, the government acquiesces, but the employee fails to diligently pursue it. Plaintiff received a de novo trial and treatment equal to that afforded to a private-sector employee. The district court did not contravene Chandler by denying further discovery and granting the summary judgment motion. View "Dominick v. DHS" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleges that when she was fourteen years old, she was brutally sexually assaulted by another student in a stairwell at Cypress Creek High School, following an abusive relationship with the same student. After suffering severe injuries and weathering subsequent harassment, Plaintiff says that instead of investigating her assault and providing her with academic or other appropriate support, Cypress Creek recommended that she drop out of school. After doing so—and never returning to any high school—Plaintiff sued the school district under Title IX, arguing that it was deliberately indifferent both to the risk of her sexual assault and in response to her abusive relationship, sexual assault, and subsequent related harassment and bullying on school property.   The district granted Cypress Creek’s motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff appealed. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court explained that because the district court correctly concluded that the District was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff’s risk of sexual assault, the court affirmed that portion of the judgment.   However, the totality of the circumstances, including the District’s lack of investigation, awareness of the pre-assault abusive relationship, failure to prevent in-person and cyberattacks from the assailant and other students post-assault, and failure to provide any academic or other appropriate support to Plaintiff culminated in exactly what Title IX is designed to prevent—the tragedy of Plaintiff dropping out of school. A reasonable jury could find that the District violated Title IX based on these facts. Accordingly, the court reversed that portion of the judgment. View "Roe v. Cypress-Fairbanks Indep" on Justia Law

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Golden Glow Tanning Salon filed a civil rights suit against the City of Columbus, which shut down its business for seven weeks at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The district court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment. Subsequent experience strongly suggests that draconian shutdowns were debatable measures from a cost-benefit standpoint, in that they inflicted enormous economic damage without necessarily “slowing the spread” of Covid-19. Golden Glow contends that the City Ordinance created an arbitrary distinction between tanning salons and liquor stores that bore no rational relationship to public health given the salon’s ability to operate safely and without customer contact   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that the proffered reason is not arbitrary. Further, this conclusion is not altered by Golden Glow’s contention that it could have maintained a safer environment than could liquor stores. Under rational basis review, overinclusive and underinclusive classifications are permissible, as is some resulting inequality. Further, here, the closure of the salon constitutes a deprivation of some economically productive uses (i.e., the uses forbidden by the Ordinance’s Section 2). Nothing in the record supports the conclusion that the City Ordinance rendered the entire property “valueless.” The district court was correct to find that there had been no per se taking. View "Golden Glow v. City of Columbus, MS" on Justia Law

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Four years ago, L.L. was having a “severe mental health episode” and voicing “suicidal ideations.” So, his mother called the police. When the Chief of Police arrived, he ordered his officers to enter the home and, in the mix-up, L.L. was shot. Plaintiff sued the City of Duncanville for the Chief’s decision, namely “ordering officers . . . into the house.” Plaintiff argued that the Chief was a “policymaker” who—with a “callous disregard for individuals suffering from mental health episodes”—caused the “deprivation” of L.L.’s Fourth Amendment rights. The district court wasn’t convinced and dismissed the case.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that the Chief’s decision to intervene wasn’t based on deliberate indifference to any risk to L.L.’s rights. The court explained that first, it wasn’t “highly predictable” that a Fourth Amendment violation would result from the Chief’s order. The single decision exception—especially when tied to deliberate indifference—applies in rare and narrow scenarios.   Second, Plaintiff can’t show that the Chief, at the time of his order, had the “requisite degree of culpability,” namely that he completely disregarded any risk to Liggins’s Fourth Amendment rights. L.L. had stopped taking his prescription medication and was “suffering from a severe mental health episode.” View "Liggins v. Duncanville TX" on Justia Law

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Appellants, two police officers, arrested Plaintiff, a student, at a school basketball game. The district court denied summary judgment based on qualified immunity, finding a dispute of material fact regarding the events surrounding Plaintiff's arrest. The officers filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the district court’s decision.The Fifth Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The issues raised by Plaintiff create factual disputes that meet the required threshold to overcome Appellant's qualified immunity defense at this stage. View "Byrd v. Cornelius" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff fled from three officers investigating drug activity. An officer chased Plaintiff and commanded him to stop. Eventually, Plaintiff stopped and turned suddenly toward the officer. The officer feared Plaintiff was reaching for a weapon, so he tased him. Plaintiff and his grandmother sued Harris County and the officer. The district court dismissed the Monell claim against Harris County for failure to state a claim and granted summary judgment to the officer based on qualified immunity.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that to establish Monell liability on a failure-to-train theory, a plaintiff must prove that: “(1) the city failed to train or supervise the officers involved; (2) there is a causal connection between the alleged failure to supervise or train and the alleged violation of the plaintiff’s rights; and (3) the failure to train or supervise constituted deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.”   Here, first, Plaintiff has not plausibly alleged that the County failed to train the officers involved on the constitutional use of tasers. Second, Plaintiff has not plausibly alleged a causal connection between any failure to train officers and the alleged violation here. Third, has not plausibly alleged that any failure to train constituted deliberate indifference. The court further explained that Plaintiff concededly ran from police, then stopped suddenly and turned toward the pursuing officer. Thus, neither Newman nor Darden involves materially similar facts and hence cannot clearly establish the law. View "Henderson v. Harris County" on Justia Law

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T.C.’s estate and the passengers of T.C.’s car sued an Arlington police officer and the City of Arlington for the use of excessive force during a traffic stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court dismissed the passengers’ claims, finding that they could not bring claims as bystanders, and granted summary judgment to the police officer and the City after determining that the police officer was entitled to qualified immunity.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the passengers’ claims and vacated the grant of summary judgment on T.C.’s claims and remanded it to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The court reasoned that here, under T.C’s account, he was shot while he was held in a chokehold in a parked car while evading arrest for several confirmed misdemeanors and an unconfirmed felony parole violation. The police officer was on notice that the use of deadly force is objectively reasonable only where an officer has “a reasonable belief that he or the public was in imminent danger . . . . of death or serious bodily harm.” Again, the officer’s alleged belief that T.C. had a gun was not reasonable, nor was his belief that a parked car posed a danger to himself, the passengers, or the other officers standing on the side of the car. Therefore, the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the officer and perforce dismissing the City. However, because there was no unreasonable use of force against the passengers, no constitutional injury occurred. View "Crane v. City of Arlington" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued her school district under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging racial discrimination by other students. After a bench trial, the district court ruled for the school district. Plaintiff argued the district court committed three reversible legal errors in finding the District was not deliberately indifferent.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the magistrate judge recommended granting the District summary judgment “so far as Plaintiff attempts to couch her Title VI claim on [the District’s] alleged failure to comply with its own policies and regulations[.]” Plaintiff did not object to this recommendation, which the district court adopted. Accordingly, the most Plaintiff could argue on appeal is that the district court committed plain error in adopting this conclusion. But, the court wrote, that Plaintiff does not even raise the possibility of plain error. Nowhere in her briefing, much less the portion devoted to the District’s policies, does she argue that the district court committed plain error. This argument is therefore forfeited in its entirety.   Further, the court explained that a Title VI defendant is not deliberately indifferent where it actively responds to harassment, provided that its response is not pretextual or knowingly ineffective. Here, Plaintiff failed to explain why any of the District’s particular responses were deficient. Thus, the court found no error much less clear error, in the court’s findings that the District was not deliberately indifferent with respect to any of these incidents, whether considered singularly or collectively. View "Sneed v. Austin Indep School Dist" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights
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Plaintiff, a Texas prisoner, appealed the summary judgment dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 claim that a correctional officer at the Allred Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), confiscated Plaintiff’s religious materials in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.   The primary issue on appeal is whether confiscation of Plaintiff’s materials violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights under the Free Exercise Clause. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court explained that Plaintiff conceded that he did not store his religious materials as required by AD-03.72. And the Fifth Circuit Court has previously indicated that TDCJ policies regarding the storage of personal property do not infringe on a prisoner’s right to free exercise of religion. Evaluating AD-03.72 in view of the relevant considerations, the confiscation of Plaintiff’s religious materials was reasonably related to a legitimate penological objective.   The impact of accommodating Plaintiff’s constitutional rights on other prisoners, guards, and prison resources could be great, given the management and safety concerns underlying the policy. Moreover, even if the confiscation had violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, the district court correctly found that the correctional officer was entitled to qualified immunity because his actions were objectively reasonable. View "DeMarco v. Bynum" on Justia Law