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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Shell in an action brought by plaintiff under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In this case, the day after Shell formally disciplined plaintiff for violating its attendance policy, she missed her scheduled shift because she got arrested for drunk driving and wrecked her truck. The court held that employees cannot immunize themselves from legitimate termination by taking FMLA leave. In regard to plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim, the court held that Shell produced evidence that plaintiff would have been lawfully terminated had she not taken leave, and thus she had no right to return to work. The court held that plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case under the ADA because she did not present admissible evidence establishing that she was disabled or that Shell regarded her as disabled. Even if plaintiff had made a prima facie case, her argument failed for the same reasons her FMLA retaliation claim failed. View "Amedee v. Shell Chemical, L.P." on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting several motions for judgment on the pleadings brought by defendants in a First Amendment retaliation action. The action stemmed from the termination of plaintiffs, two state employees, for allegedly reporting an internal investigation into patrol officers' issuing non-existent traffic violations. The court held that Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity barred plaintiffs' claims. The court also held that the district court correctly dismissed plaintiffs' section 1983 claim for retaliation in violation of First Amendment rights for failure to allege sufficient facts that plaintiffs spoke as a citizen on a matter of public concern. View "Corn v. Mississippi Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's claim of false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment against a sheriff's office deputy. Plaintiff's claim arose from a deputy's visit to plaintiff's house to check on the welfare of her daughter, who had expressed suicidal thoughts. The court held that the deputy may justify the arrest by showing probable cause for any crime, and that probable cause existed to arrest plaintiff for interference with public duties in light of the prevailing law at the time of the arrest. In this case, probable cause existed to arrest plaintiff after plaintiff instructed her child to physically disobey an officer and the child complied. View "Voss v. Goode" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit reversed and vacated the district court's order denying vacatur of sealing orders. The court held that the decision denying vacatur of the sealing orders is appealable under the collateral order doctrine, because the decision is conclusive; the decision addresses important and unsettled questions of law concerning the Louisiana Public Records Law and appellants' First Amendment and common law rights to access settlement agreement information contained in a sealed court recording and sealed minutes, particularly where a minor's privacy interests are involved; the subject of the decision is completely separable from the merits of the litigation; and the decision would be effectively unreviewable on appeal from final judgment. On the merits, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in denying appellants' motion for vacatur by relying on erroneous conclusions of law and misapplying the law to the facts. In this case, the settlement agreement involves public officials or parties of a public nature and matters of legitimate public concern, and it does not appear that the district court weighed as a factor in favor of disclosure the presumption of the public's right of access. View "Bradley v. Ackal" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed suit against the county, the school board, and state officials, alleging claims arising out of the Mississippi legislature's July 2016 decision to administratively consolidate two school districts and restructure the school board responsible for governing the newly-formed district. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, and grant of defendants' motion to dismiss. The court held that the appointive structure of the interim board was rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose; plaintiffs' claim that the structure of the permanent board violates the Equal Protection clause was not supported by law and plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the statute's selective grant of the franchise; and defendants' decision to fire Montgomery County School District employees and retain employees of the former Winona Municipal Separate School District must be upheld where Winona was a higher performing school district than Montgomery, and the Superintendent may have felt that the most seamless and efficient way to implement the consolidation would be to absorb the Montgomery district into the better-performing Winona district. Finally, because plaintiffs' equal protection claims failed on the merits, they have not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success and were not entitled to preliminary relief. View "Butts v. Aultman" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against defendants, alleging that they discriminated against him on the basis of race when they rejected his bid to purchase a parcel of property sold by the city, and that defendants discriminated against him when they refused his attempts to appear on the ballot for the Selma City Council general election. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for sanctions, rejecting plaintiff's claim that a surveillance camera in City Hall captured footage of the conversation that occurred before the bidding deadline. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the Fair Housing Act claim, holding that plaintiff failed to meet his burden of demonstrating a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether race was a significant factor in the denial of his bid. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the equal protection claim filed under 42 U.S.C. 1983, holding that plaintiff provided no evidence to suggest that he was treated differently than other Selma residents who wanted to run for City Council. View "Crain v. City of Selma" on Justia Law

by
After Deputies Vasquez and Sanchez shot and killed Gilbert Flores, Flores's estate filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the deputies violated Flores's Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. The district court denied the deputies' motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that genuine issues of material fact exist. Therefore, the court held that it lacked jurisdiction to review the appeal and dismissed. In this case, a reasonable officer would have understood that using deadly force on a man holding a knife, but standing nearly thirty feet from the deputies, motionless, and with his hands in the air for several seconds, would violate the Fourth Amendment. View "Amador v. Vasquez" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in an action alleging that his former employer, BASF, discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The court held that plaintiff's ADA claim was properly dismissed, because plaintiff failed to offer any evidence of a causal connection between his discharge and his alcoholism. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to show that BASF's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for discharging him, the apparent positive results of his alcohol test and violation of company policy, was pretextual. Even if the court were to consider plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate argument, it would fail because the ADA does not provide a right to an employee's preferred accommodation but only to a reasonable accommodation. The court also held that plaintiff produced no evidence to support his ADEA claim and there was no abuse of discretion in the district court's decision not to mandate the requested production of his discovery request. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining procedural and evidentiary challenges. View "Kitchen v. BASF" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed suit against the school district and its superintendent, alleging free speech and retaliation claims in violation of their First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983; Article 1, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution; and the Texas Whistleblower Act. Plaintiffs, the former principal and assistant principal of an elementary school, served on a 504 committee which convened for the purpose of implementing regulations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Plaintiffs were terminated after an investigation determined that they intentionally authorized inappropriate student testing accommodations based on a misapplication of Section 504 eligibility requirements. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the superintendent was entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established at the time whether First Amendment liability can attach to a public official who did not make the final employment decision. The court also held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's First Amendment claims, because plaintiffs' calls to TEA regarding Section 504 construction and application at the elementary school were clearly activities undertaken in the course of performing their jobs and these actions were therefore not protected by the First Amendment. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs were not entitled to recover lost wages because they failed to exercise reasonable diligence to mitigate their damages; the district court did not err in denying plaintiffs' motion for rescission or modification; the district court did not err in instructing the jury that the IHE's findings were preclusive; and the district court did not err in relying on the jury's verdict that plaintiffs did not report a violation of law in good faith. View "Powers v. Northside Independent School District" on Justia Law

by
Several Organizations and eligible voters filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Texas's winner-take-all (WTA) method of selecting presidential electors, claiming that the WTA violates the one-person, one-vote principle rooted in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and freedom of association under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss. The court held that Williams v. Va. State Bd. of Elections, 288 F. Supp. 622 (E.D. Va. 1968), aff'd, 393 U.S. 320 (1969) (per curiam), did not confront an argument that appointing presidential electors through a WTA system violates freedom of association, and thus the court must address the substance of those claims. The court also held that plaintiffs failed to state a cognizable burden, and rejected plaintiffs' claims that WTA burdens their right to a meaningful vote, to associate with others, or to associate with candidates and petition electoral representatives. More generally, the court held that plaintiffs failed to allege any harms suffered by reasons of their views. Rather, the court wrote that any disadvantage plaintiffs allege is solely a consequence of their lack of electoral success. View "League of United Latin American Citizens v. Abbott" on Justia Law