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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion on April 21, 2021 and substituted the following opinion.After petitioner was convicted of capital murder in Texas and sentenced to death, on federal habeas corpus review, the district court granted him relief. The Fifth Circuit court then affirmed the grant of relief, petitioner was retried, and petitioner was resentenced to death. Petitioner again sought federal habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254, but the district court denied relief on all claims.The Fifth Circuit denied petitioner a certificate of appealability (COA) on the issue of whether the admission of testimony from a defense expert was fruit of the poisonous tree where petitioner has not identified any clearly established Supreme Court precedent extending Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219 (1968), to his incriminating statements to his own expert; whether the State's peremptory strike of a black juror violated petitioner's right to a fair and impartial trial under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), where the prosecutor gave six reasons for striking the juror and petitioner failed to present clear and convincing evidence to rebut the determination as objectively unreasonable; whether the State suppressed evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), where he failed to establish cause for defaulting his Brady claim; and (4) whether petitioner received ineffective assistance of trial, appellate, and habeas counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), where he failed to prove either the deficiency prong and/or prejudice prong of Strickland and thus could not overcome the procedural bar. View "Guidry v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Microsoft on plaintiff's claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for failure to accommodate, discrimination, and creation of a hostile work environment. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from his efforts to obtain accommodations for his Autism Spectrum Disorder while employed as an account technology strategist and an Enterprise Architect (EA) at Microsoft.In regard to plaintiff's claim for failure to accommodate, the court concluded that plaintiff's requests for individuals to assist him with translating verbal information into written materials, recording meeting notes, and performing administrative tasks were unreasonable because they would exempt him from performing essential functions. Consequently, plaintiff is not a qualified person under the ADA. Furthermore, there is no genuine dispute of material fact that plaintiff's performance as an EA at this point was deficient and thus there was no genuine dispute of material fact that he could have performed EA essential functions without all of his requested accommodations. The court also concluded that, even if plaintiff were a qualified person under the ADA, he also fails to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Microsoft failed to negotiate in a good-faith manner. The court explained that, because Microsoft had the "ultimate discretion to choose between effective accommodations," it was justified in placing plaintiff on job reassignment over his objections. In this case, the record demonstrates that plaintiff, not Microsoft, was responsible for the breakdown of the interactive process seeking reasonable accommodation in refusing to indicate interest in any vacant position.In regard to plaintiff's discrimination claim, the court concluded that plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie discrimination claim for the same reason his failure-to-accommodate claim fails—he is not a qualified individual under the ADA. Even if he were qualified, plaintiff was not subject to an adverse employment decision. Finally, in regard to plaintiff's hostile-work-environment claim, the court concluded that none of the evidence plaintiff relies on indicates that he was subject to harassment pervasive or severe enough to alter the conditions of his employment. Furthermore, plaintiff's placement on job reassignment is not evidence of a hostile work environment. View "Thompson v. Microsoft Corp." on Justia Law

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T.O. and his parents appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims arising under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974. Plaintiffs' claims arose from a primary school disciplinary incident experienced by T.O.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the substantive due process claim, concluding that the facts simply do not suggest that T.O. was the subject of a random, malicious, and unprovoked attack, which would justify deviation from Fee v. Herndon, 900 F.2d 804. In this case, an aide removed T.O. from his classroom for disrupting class, and the teacher used force only after T.O. pushed and hit her. Even if the teacher's intervention were ill-advised and her reaction inappropriate, the court cannot say that it did not occur in a disciplinary context. Furthermore, the court has consistently held that Texas law provides adequate, alternative remedies in the form of both criminal and civil liability for school employees whose use of excessive disciplinary force results in injury to students in T.O.'s situation.The court also concluded that plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims fail because this court has not conclusively determined whether the momentary use of force by a teacher against a student constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure. In regard to the ADA and section 504 claims, the court concluded that the amended complaint failed to allege facts permitting the inference that either the teacher's actions or the school district's actions were based on T.O.'s disability. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying leave to amend. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's rulings. View "T.O. v. Fort Bend Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant Clark and Cox's motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity for claims of failure to treat and the wrongful death of Hirschell Wayne Fletcher, Jr., who died from previously sustained head trauma while in custody.The court agreed with plaintiffs that between when paramedics Clark and Cox arrived and allegedly failed to treat Fletcher, but before he was formally transported, a reasonable person in Fletcher's position—surrounded and confronted by five officers—may not have thought he was free to leave, and was therefore detained. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that Clark, Cox, and the surrounding officers harassed and laughed at Fletcher until he was transported to the detention facility, all without any medical treatment. As alleged, the court concluded that such conduct supports that the paramedics may have been both subjectively aware of, and disregarded, Fletcher's serious risk of injury. Furthermore, it is undisputed that, at the time Clark and Cox allegedly failed to treat Fletcher, the law was clearly established that pretrial detainees have a Fourteenth Amendment right to medical care. View "Kelson v. Clark" on Justia Law

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After being unable to serve on a jury in part because of the architecture of the Hinds County Courthouse, plaintiff, who needs a wheelchair to move about, filed suit seeking injunctive relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court dismissed for lack of standing, holding it was too speculative that plaintiff would, among other things, again be excluded from jury service.The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded, concluding that plaintiff has standing to seek injunctive relief where he has a substantial risk of being called for jury duty again. The court explained that plaintiff was called twice between 2012 and 2017, and that Hinds County is not extremely populous, and only a subset of its population is eligible for jury service, so it is fairly likely that plaintiff will again, at some point, be called for jury duty. The court also concluded that the architectural barriers plaintiff claims prevented his serving on a jury duty amount to a systemic exclusion. View "Crawford v. Hinds County Board of Supervisors" 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 murder. Petitioner asserts that the State used race-based peremptory strikes during jury selection in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The court concluded that the state appellate court did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law in deciding petitioner's Batson claim by considering the jury panelists' voir dire answers among all the circumstances in deciding whether a prima facie case under Batson was shown. In this case, petitioner identifies no Supreme Court precedent clearly establishing that holistic consideration may not include the remarks of panelists on whom a peremptory strike was exercised. Nor does petitioner identify any evidence in the state court proceedings showing an unreasonable determination of fact by the state courts.Moreover, circuit precedent holds that a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination under the Batson framework is a factual finding entitled to the section 2254(e)(1) presumption of correctness. The court concluded that the district court correctly stated the law in that regard. However, that presumption is not dispositive here because petitioner's habeas claim independently fails both under section 2254(d) and on de novo review. Finally, regardless of section 2254(d) and (e), petitioner must establish entitlement to habeas relief on the merits by showing, as relevant here, a violation of the constitutional right defined in Batson. In this case, petitioner failed to establish a prima facie case, and thus his claim for federal relief is foreclosed. View "Seals v. Vannoy" on Justia Law

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After Houston Methodist fired plaintiff following a job candidate's allegation that he had sexually harassed him, plaintiff filed suit against Houston Methodist for sex discrimination, retaliation, and race discrimination under Title VII.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the sex discrimination and retaliation claims because plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. In this case, plaintiff failed to establish that he satisfied the EEOC verification requirements for a charge. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the race discrimination claim where plaintiff failed to show that he was replaced or that a comparator received more favorable treatment. View "Ernst v. Methodist Hospital" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a federal prisoner filed a Bivens action against various staff members at the Oakdale Federal Correctional complex, claiming, inter alia, that he had been held in the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU) without due process for over 280 days. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's dismissal of his First Amendment and Due Process claims, denial of his motions for appointment of counsel, and denial of leave to file a surreply and amend his complaint.The Fifth Circuit concluded that Watkins v. Three Admin. Remedy Coordinators of Bureau of Prisons, No. 19-40869, 2021 WL 2070612, at *3 (5th Cir. May 24, 2021), foreclosed plaintiff's challenge to the district court's conclusion that Bivens did not create an implied cause of action for his First Amendment retaliation claim. The court upheld the district court's sua sponte dismissal of plaintiff's claim that defendants violated his due process rights by placing him in SHU. In this case, plaintiff failed to allege a protectable liberty interest and thus he has not shown any omissions in process violated the Constitution, regardless of whether the prison did or did not follow its own policies. The court dismissed the portion of plaintiff's appeal challenging the magistrate judge's denial of plaintiff's motions for appointment of counsel. The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to hear appeals directly from a magistrate judge. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's motions to amend his complaint. Accordingly, the court dismissed in part and affirmed in all other respects. View "Butler v. Porter" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), claiming that various prison officials violated his constitutional rights by tampering with his meals and denying his grievance.The court concluded that, even if plaintiff's claims were timely, they must be dismissed. The court declined to extend Bivens to include First Amendment retaliation claims against prison officials, joining its sister courts that have recently considered the matter. In this case, although plaintiff asserts Bivens claims against the food administrators and foremen under the First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, and Eighth Amendment, his claims are best construed under the First Amendment since he claims that defendants retaliated against him for filing grievances. Because plaintiff's claims appear nothing like the Bivens trilogy, the court concluded that his claims arise in a new context. Furthermore, this case presents special factors counseling hesitation. The court explained that Congress should decide whether to provide for a damages remedy. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's claims against the administrative remedy coordinators where, even if plaintiff had a viable Bivens claims, vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens suits. Because he failed to assert standalone claims against the administrative remedy coordinators, plaintiff's claims against them must be dismissed. View "Watkins v. Three Administrative Remedy Coordinators of the Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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Ramirez was the target of a drug trafficking investigation, and wiretaps were placed on his phones, providing access to voice and text conversations. Torres was a member of the Latin Kings, and purportedly a methamphetamine supplier for Ramirez. Torres and nine co-defendants were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(A) and 846.During the first and second days of Torres's trial, the government presented the testimonies of multiple witnesses. On the second day, the last government witness finished at 7:09 P.M. Defense counsel informed the court that Torres intended to testify, expressing that it would take “several hours” to complete direct examination. Torres took the stand at 7:13 P.M. After approximately 50 minutes of direct examination, the judge declared an overnight recess and dismissed the jury. The court instructed Torres: You are to talk to no one about your testimony. The judge told defense counsel: You may not speak to him. Now that he’s started his testimony, you may not consult with him anymore.Convicted, Torres was given a within-Guidelines sentence of 240 months of imprisonment. The Fifth Circuit reversed. Torres’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated when he was barred from speaking with his attorney during an overnight recess. View "United States v. Torres" on Justia Law