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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The Fifth Circuit denied TDCJ's motion to vacate the district court's order granting Texas death row inmate Patrick Henry Murphy's motion seeking to stay his execution. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the stay and agreed with the district court's implicit finding that Murphy had a strong likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that the TDCJ policy violates his rights by allowing inmates who share the same faith as TDCJ-employed clergy greater access to a spiritual advisor in the death house. The court held that Murphy's claim was timely, and rejected TDCJ's exhaustion argument. View "Murphy v. Collier" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Texas Secretary of State and the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, alleging that the DPS System violates the Equal Protection Clause and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment declaring defendants in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and the NVRA, holding that plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to pursue their claims. The court held that plaintiffs have not established a substantial risk that they will attempt to update their voter registrations using the DPS System and be injured by their inability to do so. Therefore, plaintiffs have not established an injury in fact sufficient to confer standing to pursue declaratory and injunctive relief. Furthermore, the capable-of-repetition-yet-evading-review doctrine was not implicated by plaintiffs' claims. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's injunction and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint. View "Stringer v. Whitley" on Justia Law

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After M.L. was dismissed from the cheerleading squad when her coaches discovered her Twitter posts contained profanity and sexual innuendo, her mother filed suit against defendants under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of M.L.'s rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection. The district court held that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and dismissed M.L.'s complaint for failure to state a claim. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that no clearly established law placed the constitutionality of defendants' conduct beyond debate at the time of M.L.'s dismissal from the team. The court held that nothing in its precedent allows a school to discipline nonthreatening off campus speech simply because an administrator considers it offensive, harassing, or disruptive; it is indisputable that non-threatening student expression is entitled to First Amendment protection, even though the extent of that protection may be diminished if the speech is composed by a student on campus, or purposefully brought onto a school campus; and as a general rule, speech that the speaker does not intend to reach the school community remains outside the reach of school officials. In this case, the court held that no clearly established law placed M.L.'s right's beyond debate at the time of the sanction, particularly given the unique extracurricular context. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claims for municipal liability, vagueness, and overbreadth, because M.L. failed to plead facts that would entitle her to relief. View "Longoria v. San Benito Independent Consolidated School District" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, an inmate convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, filed a federal petition for habeas corpus relief. After his petition was denied, he requested a certificate of appealability (COA), which was also denied. Petitioner then applied for a COA from the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit granted petitioner's COA on his Batson claim and Strickland guilt phase claim, holding that reasonable jurists could conclude that the issues presented were adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further. However, the court denied petitioner's application for a COA on his Strickland mitigation phase claim, holding that petitioner failed to show what more trial counsel could have done at the mitigation phase. Therefore, reasonable jurists would not debate the district court's decision to uphold the state court's reasoning. View "Ramey v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the school district in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging claims under Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) for discrimination on the basis of her national origin, sex, and age. Plaintiff alleged that the school district discriminated against her and retaliated against her when she complained of said discrimination. The court held that plaintiff's employment discrimination claim failed, because plaintiff failed to prove that the district court imposed an adverse employment action where she never received a reprimand from the school district. Rather, plaintiff was placed in a growth plan that sought to improve upon her weaknesses. The court also held that plaintiff's unsupported speculation, that the principal's failure to provide plaintiff with a recommendation letter constituted an adverse employment action, did not create a genuine issue of material fact. Finally, the court held that, at best, plaintiff's humiliation as a result of another teacher's comment was an unpleasant workplace experience, not an adverse employment action. The court also held that plaintiff's retaliation claim and constructive discharge claim failed as a matter of law. View "Welsh v. Fort Bend Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner because he failed to show any evidence demonstrating that the State controlled, or even consented to, a government informant's activity. Therefore, there was no valid Massiah claim that could have affected the outcome of the punishment at retrial. View "Thompson v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Kingdom Builders and its CEO filed suit against defendant, the Superintendent of the Louisiana Department of Education, alleging that defendant caused the denial of Kingdom Builders' charter school application in retaliation for the CEO expressing her views on disciplinary practices—including corporal punishment—on a nationally televised show. The district court held that the CEO failed to state a valid claim for retaliation. The Fifth Circuit affirmed on a different ground, holding that defendant was entitled to qualified immunity because, at the time of his alleged violation, it was not clearly established that First Amendment liability could attach to a public official who did not possess final decisionmaking authority. View "Clarkston v. White" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's Title IX complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Plaintiff's claims stemmed from an incident at school where another student raped her special needs child. Based on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, 137 S. Ct. 743 (2017), the court held that if a disabled person seeks Title IX relief that a non-disabled person could also seek and requests relief that is different from or in addition to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), the IDEA's exhaustion requirement does not apply. In this case, plaintiff's claim involved simple discrimination, irrespective of the IDEA's FAPE obligation. Were all traces of the child's disabilities removed, the court explained that plaintiff's claim would look nearly identical to allegations that the school was deliberately indifferent to the child's sexual abuse. Therefore, the court held that the gravamen of the complaint was not about the denial of a FAPE, and the IDEA's exhaustion requirement does not apply. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. Dallas Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the university in an action brought by a student, alleging substantive due process and equal protection claims in connection with the university's evaluation of allegations that the student cheated on an exam. The court held that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to consider the student's expert reports solely because they were unsworn, without considering whether the opinions were capable of being presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence. In regard to the substantive due process claim, the court held that the student failed to identify any summary judgment evidence raising a genuine fact issue that defendants did not actually exercise professional judgment in resolving the cheating allegations, or that the result of the process was beyond the pale of reasoned academic decision-making. Likewise, the court held that the student failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to his equal protection claim. In this case, there was nothing in the record to suggest that the student was intentionally treated in a manner irrationally different from other similarly situated students. View "Patel v. Texas Tech University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, an abortion clinic and two of its doctors, brought a cumulative-effects challenge to Louisiana's laws regulating abortion, arguing that the provisions taken as a whole were unconstitutional, even if the individual provisions were not. The district court denied Louisiana's motion to dismiss, but certified its order for interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. 1292(b). The district court then rescinded its certification so that plaintiffs could amend their complaint. The district court again denied Louisiana's motion to dismiss. Louisiana subsequently petitioned the Fifth Circuit for mandamus relief. Although the district court's failure to consider the state's jurisdictional challenges and the inadequacy of a later appeal support issuance of the writ, the court nonetheless exercised its discretion not to issue it at this time. In this case, it was not clear from the district court's order how it would resolve the state's jurisdictional challenge, and much of the state's argument in its mandamus petition went beyond jurisdiction. Therefore, the court elected to allow the district court to consider the state's jurisdictional challenges in the first instance. View "In re: Rebekah Gee" on Justia Law