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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Appellant, a Canadian citizen not legally present in the United States, was arrested and charged with various firearms offenses following the execution of an administrative warrant at his trailer. Appellant unsuccessfully litigated a motion to suppress, claiming that agents exceeded the scope of the administrative warrant by arresting him not in a public place -- in the threshold of his trailer. The district court concluded that Appellant was not seized until after he had exited the trailer and that he was not located on any curtilage of the trailer.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court's resolution of Appellant's motion to suppress was not clearly erroneous. “[A] person standing in the doorway of a house is ʻin a “public” place,’ and hence subject to arrest without a warrant permitting entry of the home.” Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 335 (2001). The Fifth Circuit also held that the district court did not err in finding that Appellant consented to the search of his trailer following his arrest. View "USA v. Malagerio" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. His plea reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress. He challenges the district court’s determination that a firearm and cell phone discovered in his car, as well as statements he made to officers, were admissible.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, the officers relied on their computer records that listed Defendant’s warrants. They did not have the complaints underlying the warrants or other information that might have revealed possible invalidity. Without “deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent” conduct on the part of the police, excluding evidence has little, if any, deterrent value and is therefore unjustified. In sum, the court wrote, there is nothing in the record that would show that the officers’ reliance on the computer records was not objectively reasonable. The district court did not err in applying the good faith exception, and the officers were justified in their reliance on the traffic warrants as a basis for arrest.   Further, the only significant statement was Defendant’s answer to being asked if “there is anything [the officer] should know about” in the vehicle. Defendant responded that there is “something you might take me to jail for if I tell you,” and he then told the officer about a pistol in the console. The statement is not independently significant. Accordingly, the court rejected any prejudicial error from the admission of the statement. View "USA v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Following Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022), the State of Louisiana filed an “emergency Rule 60(b) motion to vacate permanent injunction” concerning the enforcement of Act 620, which requires physicians performing abortions to have “active admitting privileges” within thirty miles of the facility at which the abortions are performed. La. R.S. 40:1299.35.2(A)(2). It requested relief forthwith or, alternatively, relief within two days of filing its motion. Two days later, the district court denied the State’s motion. The State immediately filed an “emergency motion for reconsideration” and requested a ruling by the next day. The district court again denied the State’s motion.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed the appeal holding that the court lacks appellate jurisdiction. The court explained the district court’s orders cannot be read to have denied the underlying request for relief when the district court implicitly and explicitly stated its intent to defer a ruling on the matter. Further, the court reasoned that to have the “practical effect” of refusing to dissolve an injunction, the State must show that the orders have a “direct impact on the merits of the controversy.” The court noted that the district court’s orders did not touch the merits of the State’s underlying request for relief but, for the same reasons stated earlier, acted as the functional equivalent of a scheduling order. Lastly, the court held that the State has not shown it is entitled to mandamus. View "June Medical Svcs v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued Harris County and its Sheriff to enjoin enforcement of Harris County’s allegedly unconstitutional felony-bail system. While doing so, plaintiffs served subpoenas duces tecum on county district judges (Felony Judges)—the non-party movant-appellants here— seeking information about their roles in creating and enforcing Harris County’s bail schedule. The Felony Judges moved to quash on several grounds, including sovereign immunity, judicial immunity, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45’s undue-burden standard, and the “mental processes” rule. The district court denied the motion in part and granted it in part, denying sovereign immunity, judicial immunity, and the mental processes rule and allowing the bulk of the subpoenas to proceed.   The Fifth Circuit reversed explaining that the sovereign immunity bars these subpoenas and the mental processes rule might also apply. The court explained that Plaintiffs and their amicus marshal a variety of cases at common law and the Founding era in an attempt to show that sovereign immunity does not apply to third-party subpoenas. But as the Felony Judges note, these cases fail to show that subpoenas commonly issued over the objection of a public official entitled to sovereign immunity. Thus, because Burr United States v. Burr, arose in a different context and answered a question not asked in this case, it does not tip the balance when weighed against the nature of sovereign immunity as interpreted by the Supreme Court and applied by the Fifth Circuit and others in analogous contexts. View "Russell v. Jones" on Justia Law

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This case involves HB 20, a Texas statute that regulates large social media platforms. The law regulates platforms with more than 50 million monthly active users (“Platforms”), such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Section 120.002(b). In enacting HB 20, the Texas legislature found that the Platforms “function as common carriers are affected with a public interest, are central public forums for public debate, and have enjoyed governmental support in the United States.”  The platforms urged the Fifth Circuit to hold that the statute is facially unconstitutional and hence cannot be applied to anyone at any time and under any circumstances.   The Fifth Circuit vacated the preliminary injunction, explaining that the court rejects the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say. The court explained that the Platforms’ attempt to extract freewheeling censorship right from the Constitution’s free speech guarantee. The Platforms are not newspapers. Their censorship is not speech. They’re not entitled to pre-enforcement facial relief. And HB 20 is constitutional because it neither compels nor obstructs the Platforms’ own speech in any way. The district court erred in concluding otherwise and abused its discretion by issuing a preliminary injunction. View "NetChoice v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the dismissal of his claims challenging tax penalties assessed against him, as well as the revocation of his passport pursuant to those penalties. He also appealed the denial of an award of attorneys’ fees under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiff sought to overturn the penalties, restrain collection of them, or otherwise cast doubt on the validity of the assessment. The government has not waived its sovereign immunity for those challenges, and so the district court was correct to dismiss them for lack of jurisdiction. Further, the court explained that Congress was within its rights to provide the IRS another arrow in its quiver to support its efforts to recoup seriously delinquent tax debts. Under even intermediate scrutiny, the passport-revocation scheme is constitutional. Thus, the district court was correct to dismiss Plaintiff’s challenge.   Finally, the court explained that when considering FOIA attorneys’ fees, the court has generally looked with disfavor on cases with no public benefit. Here, the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to award fees. Plaintiff’s lawsuit is far afield from the purposes for which FOIA, and its attorneys’ fees provision, were designed. There is no public value in the information and no value for anyone other than Plaintiff. Instead, Plaintiff only sought the information to aid him in his personal fight with the IRS regarding his tax penalties. View "Franklin v. United States" on Justia Law

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The government challenged the district court’s partial grant of Defendant’s motion to suppress. The Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding that the evidence at issue was obtained following a constitutionally valid investigatory stop and thus did not warrant suppression on that account.   The court explained that all three of the Navarette factors favor the government. The tipster identified himself as an eyewitness to the events in the liquor store parking lot; he professed to describe those events as they unfolded, and the setting the officers found on their arrival five minutes later tended to support that timeline; and he used the 911 emergency system, which, as reflected by the record, both traced his number and recorded his call. Accordingly, to the extent that the factor concerning the informant’s reliability tends in any direction, it leans the government’s way. Second, the court wrote, that the information provided by the informant, despite his requested anonymity, was highly specific. Third, although some discrepancies were encountered, the information conveyed by the informant was mostly consistent with what the officers discovered when they arrived on the scene. Thus, having determined that all the factors weigh in favor of the government, the court concluded that, even when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Defendant, no reasonable view of it supports the district court’s ruling. View "USA v. Rose" on Justia Law

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Petitioner a native and citizen of Guatemala, petitions for review of a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissing his appeal of an immigration judge’s (IJ) denial of his application for cancellation of removal. Petitioner contended that the BIA erred in concluding that he failed to demonstrate that his stepchildren are United States citizens, and thus “qualifying relatives” for purposes of his application, and by improperly reviewing the IJ’s findings of fact de novo. He also asserted that the BIA’s interpretation of 8 U.S.C. Section 1229b(b)(1)(D) violates the Fifth Amendment as it has been construed to guarantee equal protection.   The Fifth Circuit denied the petition. The court concluded that Section1229b(b)(1)(D)’s requirement that an alien demonstrate “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to a qualifying relative, irrespective of hardship suffered by the alien, passes constitutional muster. In enacting the “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” standard, Congress thus emphasized that an alien must provide evidence of harm to a qualifying relative substantially beyond that which ordinarily would be expected due to the alien’s deportation. The court further explained that Congress’s articulated justification provides a “reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis” for the hardship requirement, and Petitioner’s argument on this issue lacks merit. View "Agustin-Matias v. Garland" on Justia Law

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This case concerns the denial of qualified immunity to a police officer. Plaintiff and four of her children sued the officer asserting claims for unlawful arrest, bystander injury, and excessive use of force. The district court denied Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the excessive force claims on qualified immunity grounds. This interlocutory appeal followed.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity on the excessive force claims and render judgment in Defendant’s favor as to those claims. The court explained that Defendant's conduct, in this case, was not objectively unreasonable and did not violate any of the Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights. On this basis alone, Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity.   Further, the court wrote, that even assuming Plaintiffs could show that Defendant committed a constitutional violation, Defendant is nonetheless entitled to qualified immunity under the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis. Defendant’s use of force, in this case, is also far less severe than the use of force in any of the cases Plaintiffs have identified. Although Plaintiffs need not point to a factually identical case to demonstrate that the law is clearly established, they nonetheless must provide some controlling precedent that “squarely governs the specific facts at issue. Here, Plaintiffs have not provided such precedent here and thus have failed to show that the law clearly established that Defendant’s particular conduct was unlawful at the time of the incident. View "Craig v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought suit challenging a Texas law, which was later amended so as to moot their claims before the merits were adjudicated. Nevertheless, the district court determined that their fleeting success in obtaining a preliminary injunction rendered them “prevailing parties” under 42 U.S.C. Section 1988.   The Fifth Circuit disagreed, and accordingly reversed. The court explained that in light of the subsequent authorities from the Supreme Court and the court, the court declined Plaintiffs’ request to apply Doe’s outdated holding. Where a plaintiff’s sought-for preliminary injunction has been granted and the case is thereafter mooted before a final adjudication on the merits, Dearmore applies. As such, the legislature passed the bill with a veto-proof majority shortly thereafter, but Plaintiffs provided nothing to the district court or this court evincing that the legislature had the preliminary injunction in mind when it completed the passage of H.B. 793. And “[t]he mere fact that a legislature has enacted legislation that moots an [action], without more, provides no grounds for assuming that the legislature was motivated by” the “unfavorable precedent.” Am. Bar Ass’n v. FTC 636 F.3d 641, 649 (D.C. Cir. 2011).   The court wrote that the introduction of the ameliorative statute here, however, predated the district court’s action, and given the bill’s speedy passage through both houses and overwhelming legislative support, there is no basis to infer that the Texas legislature was motivated by a desire to preclude attorneys’ fees. View "Amawi v. Paxton" on Justia Law