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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The Fifth Circuit certified a question of state law to the Supreme Court of Texas: Does the application of the Texas Dealers Act to the parties' agreement violate the retroactivity clause in article I, section 16 of the Texas Constitution? View "Fire Protection Service, Inc. v. Survitec Survival Products, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and her now-adult son K.S., a former high school student with a specific learning disability, filed suit under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), alleging that the school district neither provided K.S. with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) nor complied with procedural safeguards meant to ensure such.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision affirming two administrative decisions concluding that the school district did not violate the IDEA's substantive and procedural requirements. The court reviewed the voluminous record and the magistrate judge's thorough report that the district court adopted, discerning no reversible error in the district court's holding that: (1) the school district did not violate its obligation to identify and evaluate K.S. as a student with a suspected disability; (2) the individualized education programs and transition plan created for K.S. complied with IDEA's substantive requirements; and (3) the school district's procedural foot-faults in failing to include K.S. for the first manifestation determination review and failing to consider certain relevant information were not actionable. View "H v. Riesel Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants Galman, Sutton, and the City of New Orleans, alleging a violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983, as well as various state law claims including assault, battery, and false arrest. Plaintiff also alleged a section 1983 claim against the City for failure to hire, train, supervise, or discipline officers, as well as various state law claims including negligent hiring, negligent supervision and retention, and vicarious liability. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from Galman and Sutton's actions harassing plaintiff while he was sitting at a local bar in his military fatigues and beating plaintiff unconscious. Galman and Sutton were local police officers who were off duty. The district court dismissed plaintiff's federal claims because it found that the officers were not acting under color of law.The Fifth Circuit concluded that plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to support all of his claims where plaintiff has adequately pleaded facts which establish that Galman and Sutton acted under color of law. In this case, plaintiff alleges that when he exited the bar, Sutton acted as a police officer and gave plaintiff a direct order to stop and not leave the patio area of the bar; plaintiff obeyed; when plaintiff attempted to drive away after getting violently beaten, Sutton and Galman ordered him to stop and to step out of his vehicle; and, because they acted like police officers, plaintiff believed he was not free to leave, and did as he was ordered. However, the court concluded that plaintiff does not allege sufficient facts to support a Monell claim against the City based on the officers' actions. The court further concluded that plaintiff has pleaded sufficient facts to support his state-law negligent hiring, retention, and supervision claims against the City. Finally, the district court correctly dismissed the vicarious liability claim against the City. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Gomez v. Galman" on Justia Law

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Gray claims that officers came to his cell, attacked Gray without provocation, took him to a shower, where, despite complying with all orders, he was sprayed with a chemical agent, and passed out. Upon waking up, he was placed in restraints and dragged to a transportation van. Officers continued to beat him. Gray’s injuries included a broken nose and a bruised kidney. These allegations are contradicted by the disciplinary reports indicating that officers went to Gray’s cell for a targeted search. Gray was intoxicated. There was vomit on the floor and Gray failed to answer questions. The officers moved Gray to the shower area, where he resisted by kicking and spitting, necessitating the use of a chemical agent to gain compliance. He knocked a radio from an officer's belt, breaking it. The prison disciplinary board found Gray guilty of intoxication, defiance, aggravated disobedience, property destruction, and having synthetic marihuana in his cell. Gray sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit vacated in part. Gray’s claims cannot be deemed to be Heck-barred because it is impossible to know which of his allegations might necessarily contradict his disciplinary convictions. The allegations of excessive force after Gray left the shower area were properly dismissed because Gray failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required by 42 U.S.C. 1997e. View "Gray v. White" on Justia Law

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Santos alleges that he witnessed six prison officers beating another inmate. Santos intervened. He claims that he was then knocked to the ground, hit, kicked, choked, handcuffed, and dragged so that his head hit poles. He was then placed in a shower cell, where Captain Wells sprayed him in the face, genitals, and anus with a chemical agent. Wells allegedly cut Santos with a knife and threatened to kill him. Santos was ultimately transferred to a medical center where, he alleges, he was denied adequate attention. According to prison officials, Santos physically attacked them. Despite initially being restrained, he hit Wells hard enough to break his dentures. His actions necessitated the use of a chemical agent to gain compliance. A prison disciplinary board concluded that Santos was guilty of defiance, aggravated disobedience, property destruction, and unauthorized area.Santos sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, determining that Santos’s claims were barred by “Heck” because prison disciplinary reports contradicted Santos’s allegations. The Fifth Circuit upheld the decision to admit the disciplinary reports, rejecting a hearsay argument, but remanded with regard to the application of Heck. The reports were offered to demonstrate that the disciplinary board found Santos guilty, not to prove the truth of the assertions. Whether the board’s findings related to the assault on Wells bar the corresponding claims by Santos must be determined by a fact-specific analysis. View "Santos v. White" on Justia Law

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This case concerns OSHA's November 5, 2021 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring employees of covered employers to undergo COVID-19 vaccination or take weekly COVID-19 tests and wear a mask.The Fifth Circuit granted petitioners' motion for a stay pending review, holding that the Nken factors favored a stay. The court concluded that petitioners' challenges to the Mandate are likely to succeed on the merits. The court stated that, on the dubious assumption that the Mandate does pass constitutional muster, it is nonetheless fatally flawed on its own terms. The court wrote that the Mandate's strained prescriptions combine to make it the rare government pronouncement that is both overinclusive (applying to employers and employees in virtually all industries and workplaces in America, with little attempt to account for the obvious differences between the risks facing, say, a security guard on a lonely night shift, and a meatpacker working shoulder to shoulder in a cramped warehouse) and underinclusive (purporting to save employees with 99 or more coworkers from a "grave danger" in the workplace, while making no attempt to shield employees with 98 or fewer coworkers from the very same. The court found that promulgation of the Mandate grossly exceeds OSHA's statutory authority and found arguments to the contrary unavailing.The court also concluded that it is clear that denial of petitioners' proposed stay would do them irreparable harm where the Mandate threatens to substantially burden the liberty interests of reluctant individuals, companies, and the States. In contrast, the court stated that a stay will do OSHA no harm whatsoever. Finally, the court concluded that a stay is firmly in the public interest. View "BST Holdings, LLC v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, the Bank, alleging that the Bank violated 42 U.S.C. 1981 by taking retaliatory employment actions against him because he opposed racial discrimination occurring within his department.The Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err in denying defendant leave to amend his complaint where he failed to offer any grounds as to why his leave should be granted or how deficiencies in his complaint could be corrected. However, the court concluded that the district court erred in finding that plaintiff failed to state a claim under section 1981 when it concluded that he did not engage in a protected activity. Construing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court concluded that plaintiff has successfully pleaded facts that could support a reasonable belief. In this case, plaintiff alleged that he overheard a supervisor state that "he intended to terminate four (4) African American employees." The court explained that a supervisor's considering of the race of an employee when deciding to terminate that employee is an unlawful employment practice. Furthermore, after plaintiff gave a statement to a human resources investigator, he alleges that the company began to retaliate against him by denying his loans, giving him multiple warnings, sending him to unnecessary training, and ultimately terminating him. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Scott v. U.S. Bank National Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Kapordelis notified the prison medical unit that he broke his CPAP mask. After Kapordelis twice refused to leave the medical unit, an incident report was filed, including charges for destroying, altering, or damaging government property in excess of $100, 28 C.F.R. 541.3(b). Kapordelis contended that he did not deliberately break the mask. The prison's physician and a CPAP representative indicated that the mask was unlikely to break accidentally. The Discipline Hearing Officer sustained the charge and sanctioned Kapordelis with a loss of 27 days of good conduct time. Kapordelis administratively appealed, claiming that the broken part was the plastic “flexible spacebar,” which is “designed to bend when the mask is removed” and that replacing the spacebar “would likely cost less than $20.” Kapordelis’s administrative appeal was denied.Kapordelis filed a pro se petition for habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. 2241, asserting that his due process rights were violated because no evidence was presented that he intentionally destroyed his CPAP mask. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his petition. Kapordelis’s admission that the mask broke in his possession, coupled with the statements from the CPAP representative and the doctor, were sufficient to support the disciplinary conviction under the “some evidence” standard and there was “some evidence” to support the finding that Kapordelis caused damage in excess of $100. View "Kapordelis v. Myers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against various LPD officers, Webb County prosecutors, Webb County, and the City of Laredo, alleging a pattern of harassment and retaliation by various local officials, culminating in her arrest, in violation of her First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiff is a journalist who regularly reports on local crime, missing persons, community events, and other news on her Facebook page. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from her arrest under Texas Penal Code 39.06(c), which prohibits obtaining information from a public servant that is nonpublic for personal benefit. The district court dismissed all claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).The Fifth Circuit joined its sister circuits in holding that the doctrine of qualified immunity does not permit government officials to invoke patently unconstitutional statutes like section 39.06(c) to avoid liability for their actions. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's First Amendment infringement claim against various officials on official qualified immunity grounds, concluding that it should be patently obvious to any reasonable police officer that locking up a journalist for asking questions of public officials violates the First Amendment. However, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to sufficiently plead a First Amendment retaliation claim. Just as the First Amendment violation alleged in the complaint was obvious for purposes of qualified immunity, the court concluded that so too was the Fourth Amendment violation alleged here. Therefore, the district court erred in dismissing the Fourth Amendment claim. The court also concluded that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's selective enforcement claim for failure to identify similarly situated individuals; given the court's conclusion that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims, the court also remanded her conspiracy claim; and the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the municipal liability claim against the City. View "Villarreal v. City of Laredo" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Fifth Circuit reversed Davis’s convictions for health care fraud and conspiracy to commit health care fraud because the convictions were based on insufficient evidence. Davis had been incarcerated for approximately one year before the reversal. Davis sought a certificate of innocence arguing that she fulfilled the requirements in 28 U.S.C. 2513 (Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Statute) and, in the alternative, that the statute is unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Nelson v. Colorado.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of Davis’s motion. Under the Statute, Davis had to prove that she “did not commit any of the acts charged” and that she “did not by misconduct or neglect cause or bring about [her] own prosecution.” The district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Davis did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she “did not commit any of the acts charged.” The 2018 decision “went no further than concluding that the government did not implicate Davis in the scheme with proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Nelson is inapplicable because it did not involve a request for compensation. View "United States v. Davis" on Justia Law