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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction enjoining Senate Bill 2116, which makes it a crime to perform an abortion, with exceptions only to prevent the death of, or serious risk of "substantial and irreversible" bodily injury to, the patient, after a "fetal heartbeat has been detected." The court previously upheld an injunction enjoining a law prohibiting abortions, with limited exceptions, after 15 weeks' gestational age. The court held that S.B. 2116 bans abortions at a previability stage of pregnancy regardless of the reason the abortion is sought. In this case, the parties agree that cardiac activity can be detected well before the fetus is viable. Therefore, the court held that if a ban on abortion after 15 weeks is unconstitutional, then it follows that a ban on abortion at an earlier stage of pregnancy is also unconstitutional. View "Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Dobbs" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit withdrew its original opinion and substituted the following opinion. After decedent was struck and killed by a motor vehicle as he walked along a highway in the dark after being dropped off at the county line by a law enforcement officer, plaintiffs filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit against the county, the city, and officers, alleging state law claims and constitutional claims. In this interlocutory appeal, the court held that the district court erred in denying the officer that dropped decedent off qualified immunity as to plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. In regard to the Fourth Amendment claim, the court held that, without a valid exception to the probable cause requirement, the seizure of the decedent was presumptively unreasonable, and a constitutional violation was present. However, plaintiffs failed to prove that a reasonable officer like the one here would have understood that his actions violated clearly established law. In regard to the Fourteenth Amendment claim, the court held that plaintiffs failed to allege a substantive due process right where the law did not clearly establish that a special relationship would have existed under the facts of this case. The court explained that, while the decedent was killed by a motorist after the officer dropped him off, prior case precedent established that officials have no affirmative duty to protect individuals from violence by private actors. View "Keller v. Fleming" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint as frivolous under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). Plaintiff's allegations stemmed primarily from the aftermath of a prison riot. The court held that plaintiff failed to carry his burden to show that the district court abused its discretion in determining that he failed to demonstrate an actual injury in support of his access-to-courts claim; plaintiff waived his argument that TDCJ personnel failed to assist him adequately in his disciplinary hearing and failed to demonstrate an abuse of discretion regarding his claim; the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing plaintiff's claim that his grievances were mishandled or improperly denied, because prisoners have no due process rights in the inmate grievance process; plaintiff's allegations about the conditions of his lockdown were not so harsh that it posed an atypical or significant hardship; and plaintiff failed to adequately brief a challenge to the district court's determination that his allegations were insufficient to show that any of the defendants knew of his complaints or grievances against them, much less that their actions were motivated by his protected activity. The court rejected plaintiff's claims regarding the condition of his cell and his request for appointment of counsel on appeal. Finally, the court issued a sanctions warning. View "Alexander v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice" on Justia Law

by
The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors filed suit against Vizaline to enjoin its business and disgorge its profits. Vizaline then filed suit against the Board, alleging that as applied to its practice, Mississippi's surveyor-licensing requirements violate the First Amendment. The district court dismissed Vizaline's suit. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court's ruling -- that Mississippi's licensing requirements for surveyors do not trigger any First Amendment scrutiny -- was inconsistent with the Supreme Court's recent decision in Nat'l Inst. of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra [NIFLA], 138 S. Ct. 2361, 2375 (2018). NIFLA disavowed the notion that occupational-licensing regulations are exempt from First Amendment scrutiny. Therefore, the district court erred by categorically exempting occupational-licensing requirements from First Amendment scrutiny. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Vizaline, LLC v. Tracy" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Clifford Mecham took his computer to a technician for repairs. The technician discovered thousands of images showing nude bodies of adults with faces of children superimposed. The technician reported the pornography to the Corpus Christi Police Department. Unlike virtual pornography, this “morphed” child pornography used an image of a real child. Like virtual pornography, however, no child actually engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the circuits disagreed about whether morphed child pornography was protected speech. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the majority view that morphed child pornography did not enjoy First Amendment protection, so it affirmed defendant's conviction for possessing child pornography. "But the fact that the pornography was created without involving a child in a sex act does mean that a sentencing enhancement for images that display sadistic or masochistic conduct does not apply," so defendant's case was remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Mecham" on Justia Law

by
Clarence Roy, a Christian street preacher, was issued a summons outside a nightclub in Monroe, Louisiana, after a woman accused him of following her and making inflammatory remarks. The summons, which was issued by Sergeant James Booth of the Monroe Police Department, cleared the way for formal charges under the city of Monroe’s “disturbing the peace” ordinance. Roy was tried and ultimately acquitted by a municipal court judge. Shortly thereafter, he filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, in which he argued Booth and the city deprived him of numerous constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Two district court judges denied relief, first in part and then in whole, respectively. Finding no reversible error, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Roy v. City of Monroe" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Phillip Horton appealed his sentence imposed following his guilty plea conviction for possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Horton argued the district court erred in assessing criminal history points, failing to adjust his sentence for time served on an undischarged state sentence, ordering the instant sentence to run consecutively to anticipated state sentences, and failing to adequately explain its decision to impose the sentence. After review, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found no abuse of the district court's discretion in arriving at Horton's sentence, and affirmed it. View "United States v. Horton" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity to a correctional officer in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action. Plaintiff, a Texas prisoner, filed suit alleging that the officer violated his Eighth Amendment rights by spraying him in the face with a chemical agent without provocation. The court held that, although a reasonable jury could conclude that the officer's use of force was excessive, it was not beyond debate that the officer's single use of spray stepped over the de minimis line. Therefore, the law was not clearly established at the time and the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err by refusing plaintiff leave to amend his complaint and for injunctive relief. View "McCoy v. Alamu" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit on behalf of her 12 year old son, alleging that an assistant principal violated her son's Fourth Amendment rights by searching his pockets after a teacher caught him selling contraband candy. Plaintiff initially alleged that the principal had grabbed her son's genitalia. The district court denied the principal qualified immunity. After the undisputed record evidence later demonstrated that, at most, the principal had only searched the boy's pocket and did not grab his genitalia, the district court granted the principal qualified immunity. On appeal, plaintiff complained that the district court misunderstood her earlier argument and that she never claimed that the principal grabbed her son's genitalia, but that he unreasonably searched the son's pockets. Accepting plaintiff's contention as true, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court should have granted qualified immunity to the principal earlier. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment. View "S. O. v. Hinds County School District" on Justia Law

by
When a state prisoner is implicitly granted extra time to seek supervisory writs from the denial of his state post-conviction application—and he does so within that time—his initial application therefore remains "pending" under the tolling provision in 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(2). The Fifth Circuit relied on its own precedents and by the Supreme Court's teaching that a state post-conviction application remains pending for statutory tolling purposes as long as the ordinary state collateral review process is in continuance. The court vacated the district court's dismissal of a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition as time-barred and held that petitioner was entitled to statutory tolling and thus his petition was not time-barred. View "Leonard v. Deville" on Justia Law