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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of qualified immunity and summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, alleging that defendant, an off-duty sheriff's deputy at the time, used excessive force when he shot her several times. Plaintiff had emerged from a stopped vehicle and would not follow defendant's demands, and when she reached behind her waist, defendant feared that she might be reaching for a weapon and shot her. The court concluded that defendant made a split second decision to use deadly force against a non-compliant person who made a movement consistent with reaching for a weapon, and plaintiff failed to identify clearly established law prohibiting defendant's use of deadly force.Plaintiff also alleged that defendant shot her in retaliation for engagement in activity protected by the First Amendment. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiff did not present evidence that her speech and expressive conduct was a but-for cause of the shooting. In this case, defendant did not discharge his firearm at plaintiff when she began shouting expletives at him or when she was walking towards him. Rather, he shot her when she reached her hand behind her back towards the waistband of her pants. Finally, plaintiff has not shown that defendant responded to her medical needs with deliberate indifference. View "Batyukova v. Doege" on Justia Law

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After Joseph Hutcheson died as a result of police officers restraining him at the Dallas County Jail, Hutcheson's wife and mother filed suit against the county and four individual officers, bringing an excessive force claim against the officers and failure-to-train and wrongful-death claims against the county. Hutcheson died from a combination of the narcotics in his system and the stress from his struggle with and restraint by the officers. The district court dismissed or granted summary judgment on all claims.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the excessive force claim, concluding that plaintiffs failed to raise a dispute of material fact regarding whether the officers used unreasonable force to restrain a resisting suspect. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for limited discovery on the issue of qualified immunity. The court further concluded that the district court properly dismissed the failure-to-train claim where plaintiffs failed to allege that the county provided no training, so they cannot show that the county was deliberately indifferent. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to file a second amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in its entirety. View "Hutcheson v. Dallas County" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of appellant's amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Appellant challenged the denial of his passport applications and sought a declaration of U.S. citizenship under 8 U.S.C. 1503(a). Appellant also brought a statutory claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and a constitutional claim under the Fifth Amendment. Appellant conceded in district court that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider his first two claims (his section 1503(a) claim and his statutory APA claim), leaving only his constitutional claim, which the district court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider.The court held that Congress intended section 1503(a) to be the exclusive remedy for a person within the United States to seek a declaration of U.S. nationality following an agency or department's denial of a privilege or right of citizenship upon the ground that the person is not a U.S. national. Therefore, the "any other statute" proviso of section 702 maintains the United States' sovereign immunity against petitioner's constitutional claim because the statute of limitations contained in section 1503(a) has run and thus expressly forbids the relief sought. View "Cambranis v. Blinken" on Justia Law

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After a deputy sheriff tased, shot, and killed Joshua Cloud, his parents filed suit against the deputy sheriff, alleging excessive force. The district court granted summary judgment to the deputy sheriff after finding no constitutional violation.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the deputy sheriff had reasonable grounds to tase Cloud after Cloud continued to resist arrest. In this case, while the deputy sheriff tried to handcuff Cloud, Cloud partially turned around, took a confrontational stance, and deprived the deputy sheriff of the use of his handcuffs, thwarting efforts to complete the arrest. Furthermore, the deputy sheriff's continued force to complete the arrest, like the initial tase, was reasonable. The court also concluded that the deputy sheriff justifiably used deadly force when Cloud lunged for a revolver that had already discharged and struck the deputy sheriff in the chest. The court explained that at a minimum, the deputy sheriff knew that a loaded revolver lay on the ground behind and to his left; more than that, though, he knew that the gun had just discharged twice—once into his chest—and that he had had to wrest it from Cloud's hands and toss it away; and he saw Cloud make a sudden move in the gun's direction. Even drawing all inferences in plaintiff's favor, the record shows that Cloud was shot while moving toward the revolver and potentially seconds from reclaiming it. Because the court found no constitutional violation, it need not consider whether the deputy sheriff violated any clearly established law. View "Cloud v. Stone" on Justia Law

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In this case, the en banc court considered the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901 et seq., and the validity of implementing regulations promulgated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in its 2016 Final Rule (Final Rule). The district court granted plaintiffs summary judgment in part, declaring that the ICWA and the Final Rule contravene multiple constitutional provisions and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). After defendants appealed, a panel of this court reversed and rendered judgment for defendants. The en banc court then reconsidered the case.The en banc court unanimously held that at least one plaintiff has standing to challenge Congress's authority under Article I of the Constitution to enact ICWA and to press anticommandeering and nondelegation challenges to specific ICWA provisions, and that plaintiffs have standing to challenge the Final Rule as unlawful under the APA. The en banc court is equally divided as to whether plaintiffs have standing to challenge two provisions of ICWA, 25 U.S.C. 1913 and 1914, on equal protection grounds, and the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs can assert this claim is therefore affirmed without a precedential opinion. An en banc majority also held that plaintiffs have standing to assert their equal protection challenges to other provisions of ICWA.On the merits, the en banc majority agrees that, as a general proposition, Congress had the authority to enact ICWA under Article I of the Constitution, and that the ICWA's "Indian child" classification does not violate equal protection. The en banc court is equally divided, however, as to whether plaintiffs prevail on their equal protection challenge to ICWA's adoptive placement preference for "other Indian families," and its foster care placement preference for a licensed "Indian foster home." An en banc majority held that ICWA's "active efforts," section 1912(d), expert witness, section 1912(e) and (f), and recordkeeping requirements, section 1915(e), unconstitutionally commandeer state actors. However, the en banc court is equally divided on whether the placement preferences, section 1915(a)–(b), violate anticommandeering to the extent they direct action by state agencies and officials; on whether the notice provision, section 1912(a), unconstitutionally commandeers state agencies; and on whether the placement record provision, section 1951(a), unconstitutionally commandeers state courts.Furthermore, an en banc majority held that several challenged ICWA provisions validly preempt state law and so do not commandeer states, and that section 1915(c) does not violate the non-delegation doctrine. Finally, an en banc majority held that the BIA did not violate the APA by concluding in the Final Rule that it may issue regulations binding on state courts. However, an en banc majority also held that the Final Rule violated the APA to the extent it implemented these unconstitutional provisions and that 25 C.F.R. 23.132(b) violated the APA. An en banc majority held that the Final Rule did not violate the APA in any other respect. Accordingly, the en banc court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment accordingly. View "Brackeen v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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After a police officer shot and killed Jason Roque, a suicidal man experiencing a mental-health crisis, Roque's parents filed suit against the officer, alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment, concluding that there are factual disputes regarding whether the officer's second and third shots were excessive and objectively unreasonable. In this case, the factual disputes relate to whether a reasonable officer would have known that Jason was incapacitated after the first shot. The court also concluded that precedent shows that by 2017, it was clearly established—and possibly even obvious—that an officer violates the Fourth Amendment if he shoots an unarmed, incapacitated suspect who is moving away from everyone present at the scene. Therefore, if the factual disputes are resolved in plaintiffs' favor, the officer is not entitled to qualified immunity. View "Roque v. Harvel" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the school district, alleging race, sex, and age discrimination claims under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act as well as retaliation and due process claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Plaintiff was employed by the school district as principal of a middle school until the school district concluded that plaintiff had violated several district policies and voted not to renew her contract.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the school district. In regard to plaintiff's state-law discrimination claims, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of race discrimination where she failed to show either that she was replaced by someone outside her protected class or treated less favorably than similarly situated individuals who were outside her protected class. The court also concluded that plaintiff's sex discrimination claim failed where the undisputed facts establish that plaintiff was not replaced by someone outside her protected class and she failed to raise a dispute of fact to show that she was treated less favorably than other similarly situated individuals. The court further concluded that plaintiff's age discrimination claim failed where the school district rebutted the presumption of discrimination by offering a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its nonrenewal of plaintiff's contract. In this case, the school district's investigation found, among other things, that plaintiff engaged in impermissible fundraising activities and worked on an outside film project during her working hours. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to present evidence that the school district's stated reasons were pretextual. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's due process claim where she failed to establish that she has a protected liberty interest. View "Ross v. Judson Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Shortly after COVID-19 struck the Wallace Pack Unit, plaintiffs filed suit seeking injunctive relief on behalf of three certified classes of inmate for violations of the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that defendants acted with deliberate indifference to their health and safety in violation of the Eighth Amendment in light of the dangers of COVID-19 for a geriatric prison population, and that defendants violated the ADA and Rehabilitation Act by failing to accommodate for specific risks to wheelchair-bound and other mobility-impaired inmates.On April 16, 2020, the district court entered a preliminary injunction which was stayed by the Fifth Circuit on April 22 and then vacated on June 5. On September 29, 2020, the district court issued a permanent injunction, concluding that plaintiffs did not need to exhaust administrative remedies; defendants were deliberately indifferent; and defendants violated the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's permanent injunction and rendered judgment for defendants. The court concluded that the prison officials were not deliberately indifferent based on a lack of a systemic approach. After considering Policy B-14.52, its unwritten additions, and its administration, the court explained that the record does not support a finding of deliberate indifference in the way the officials considered and adopted a response to COVID-19. The court also concluded that the prison officials were not deliberately indifferent based on a failure to abide by basic public health guidance regarding testing, social distancing, mask use, handwashing, sanitation, and cleaning. Finally, the court concluded that the mobility-impaired inmates failed to establish their prima facie ADA claim, and consequently their Rehabilitation Act claim. View "Valentine v. Collier" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action brought by plaintiff, a former police officer, alleging claims of sex discrimination, retaliation, and constructive discharge under Title VII and Texas law, as well as a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim and a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. In this case, plaintiff worked as an officer for the Windcrest Police Department but resigned during her first, probationary year.In this same-sex sexual harassment case, the court conducted a two-step inquiry pursuant to E.E.O.C. v. Boh Brothers Constr. Co., 731 F.3d 444, 453 (5th Cir. 2013) (en banc). The court concluded that plaintiff's claim failed at the first prong of the inquiry where the alleged conduct was not sex discrimination. The court explained that plaintiff did not allege that another officer's conduct was motivated by sexual desire nor does plaintiff otherwise contend that the conduct was sexual in nature or a display of explicit sexual animus. As for plaintiff's contention that the other officer treated women worse than men, these allegations are highly speculative. Therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment on the sex discrimination claim. The court also concluded that plaintiff's constructive discharge, retaliation, and sex discrimination claims also failed. In regard to the section 1983 claim, the court rejected plaintiff's contention that the city violated her privacy by surreptitiously activating her police body camera when she was off duty and filming her inside her apartment. The court explained that plaintiff failed to present any evidence showing that the city has a policy or practice of furtively recording employees off duty, even if she was recorded remotely. View "Newbury v. City of Windcrest" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) dismissal of plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from his arrest for aggravated sexual assault where the district attorney's officer subsequently dismissed the case based on lack of probable cause to believe that plaintiff committed the offense.The court concluded that the district court did not err by dismissing plaintiff's constitutional claims for false arrest where the arrest was reasonable and established no constitutional violation; for malicious prosecution because he abandoned this claim on appeal and, to the extent that he does not concede the issue, there is no freestanding right under the Constitution to be free from malicious prosecution; and for equal protection where plaintiff failed to allege that he was treated differently than persons similarly situated to him and that the treatment stemmed from discriminatory intent. Furthermore, the district court did not err by dismissing the claim for failure to train where plaintiff has not plausibly alleged that the City's training practices were inadequate or that the City was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's rights. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's fourth request for leave to amend, and did not err by sua sponte dismissing plaintiff's constitutional claims against the officer. View "Anokwuru v. City of Houston" on Justia Law