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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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At issue is whether Defendant was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment when an officer, with emergency lights engaged, pulled behind Wright’s parked vehicle, and he did not attempt to flee or terminate the encounter but failed to comply fully with the officer’s commands. The district court, at the end of an evidentiary hearing, however, denied Defendant’s motion to suppress, concluding erroneously that the Terry stop was initiated instead at a later point in the encounter.   The Fifth Circuit, while retaining jurisdiction over the appeal, remanded to the district court for it, based on the record developed at the suppression hearing, to prepare expeditiously written findings of fact and conclusions of law on whether the seizure at the earlier point in time was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court explained that Defendant not complying fully with some of the Officer’s commands was improper, to say the least, but his behavior does not show defiance of the Officer’s authority. Defendant sufficiently submitted to the show of authority because he objectively appeared to believe he was not free to leave, and he did not attempt to flee, nor terminate the encounter. The court further explained that because the district court’s findings and conclusions turn instead on events occurring after the Terry stop, the court is unable to deduce from them whether the district court concluded the totality of the circumstances prior to the Officer’s pulling behind Wright’s vehicle provided reasonable suspicion justifying the stop. View "USA v. Wright" on Justia Law

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Movant, a Texas prisoner, moved for authorization to file a second or successive 28 U.S.C. Section 2254 application with respect to his conviction for two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of evading arrest and detention in a motor vehicle. He is one of many Texas prisoners who, after previously filing state habeas applications, have since learned that Weldon Ralph Petty, the state prosecutor who opposed their state habeas applications, was also employed by one or more district judges to prepare findings of fact and conclusions of law in those same habeas cases.   The Fifth Circuit denied the motion for authorization to file a second or successive Section 2254. The court explained that to the extent that Movant attempts to present a claim of actual innocence, the Court “does not recognize freestanding claims of actual innocence on federal habeas review.” Likewise, he may not rely on an assertion of actual innocence to serve as a gateway to overcoming the bar to the successive filing. Additionally, infirmities in state postconviction proceedings are not grounds for relief under Section 2254.9 Thus, none of Movant’s proposed challenges state a claim that is cognizable on federal habeas review View "In Re: Isaias Palacios" on Justia Law

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Defendant challenged the district court's denial of his request for an adjustment to a restitution order. Defendant claimed that the $1,400 stimulus payment he received under the American Rescue Plan was exempt from levy and that any payment would violate the Taking Clause.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant's request to adjust his restitution order. In so holding, the court held that the stimulus payment does not meet any exception and that he was required to apply the complete payment towards any restitution he owed. View "USA v. Stark" on Justia Law

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In the wake of a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, interpreted existing regulations on machineguns as extending to bump stocks. Plaintiff relinquished several bump stocks and then filed this case, seeking to invalidate ATF's interpretation.The district court found in favor of the ATF, as did a panel of Fifth Circuit judges. However, on rehearing en banc, the Eleventh Circuit reversed, finding that "a plain reading of the statutory language, paired with close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm, reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of 'machinegun' set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act."The court went on to explain that, even if it determine the language to be ambiguous, it would apply the rule of lenity to interpret the statute against imposing criminal liability. Notably, three judges concurred with the court's opinion on lenity grounds, and the opinion also garnered a three-judge dissent. View "Cargill v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff began working as an environmental, safety, and health specialist at Targa’s Venice, Louisiana plant. He alleged that Targa violated the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute (“LEWS”) by discharging him after he refused and reported a manager’s directive to dilute sewage samples. The district court denied Targa’s motion for summary judgment and, following a bench trial, rendered judgment for Plaintiff. Targa argues on appeal that Plaintiff’s report of the manager’s directive and refusal to comply do not constitute “protected activities” under LEWS.     The court certified questions to the Louisiana Supreme Court, explaining that certification is necessary because the court lacks clear guidance from the Louisiana Supreme Court on how to resolve these issues, and the outcome is determinative of the entire appeal. The certified questions are: (1) Whether refusals to engage in illegal or environmentally damaging activities are “disclosures” under the current version of the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute, La. Stat. Ann. 30:2027; and (2) Whether the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute affords protection to an employee who reports to his supervisor an activity, policy, or practice of an employer which he reasonably believes is in violation of an environmental law, rule, or regulation, where reporting violations of environmental law, rules, or regulations, is a part of the employee’s normal job responsibilities. View "Menard v. Targa Resources" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs’ son was caught in a sting operation conducted by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force for the City of Conroe, Texas. Via a dating app, Plaintiffs’ son agreed to meet up with a 14-year-old boy—who was actually an undercover Task Force detective. After circling the meeting spot for two hours, all the while communicating with the detective via the dating app, Plaintiffs’ son was arrested and later charged with online solicitation of a minor. He posted bail and was released. Two days later, Plaintiffs’ son committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Thereafter, his parents sued numerous defendants in a Section 1983 lawsuit alleging claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, municipal liability, and state law negligence claims. The district court granted Defendants’ motions to dismiss.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court did not err in granting Defendants’ motions to dismiss. Plaintiffs do not state plausible claims against the detective or the City of Conroe under Sections 1983 and 1985, as the detective had probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs’ son and therefore did not violate his constitutional rights. Plaintiffs’ municipal liability claim against the City of Conroe fails for the same reason. The Wellpath Defendants owed Plaintiffs’ son no duty upon his release from custody, thus defeating the Plaintiffs’ Sections 1983 and 1985 claims against them. And finally, Plaintiffs cannot show the requisite causation to sustain their state law negligence claims. View "Petersen v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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An individual and an advocacy group seek to appeal from the denial of a motion to quash two grand jury subpoenas and an order compelling compliance with one of them. There is no jurisdiction for appeals challenging a grand jury subpoena for production of documents unless (1) the appellant has been held in contempt, or (2) a client-intervenor asserts that documents in the possession of a subpoenaed, disinterested third party are protected by attorney-client privilege.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed the appeal explaining that neither exception applied. The court explained that the subpoenaed documents are in the hands of Appellants. They are interested third parties in that they are being investigated for witness tampering. They have a direct and personal interest in suppressing the documents that could potentially corroborate the witness tampering accusation. Consequently, Appellants obviously have “a sufficient stake in the proceeding to risk contempt by refusing compliance.” Accordingly, the court wrote it lacks jurisdiction over the appeal, and Appellants must either comply with the subpoena or be held in contempt to seek the court’s review. View "In re: Grand Jury Subpoena" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff claimed a law enforcement officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights by punching him in the face, knocking him to the pavement, then standing over him for a time. The officer punched Plaintiff because he had not moved his vehicle quickly enough at an airport passenger pickup area. The district court dismissed on the pleadings.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the judgment for the officer, and affirmed judgment for the city. The court concluded that the allegations in the complaint present a plausible claim that, viewed objectively, the excessive force used by the law enforcement officer was not just to insist the vehicle be moved, but it constituted a seizure that would prolong the encounter. On the other hand, Plaintiff does not sufficiently allege a municipal policy to support a claim against the city defendant. View "Vardeman v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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Two members of a group of criminals whose business model was to steal drugs and money from other criminals were jointly tried. The multiple counts in the indictment charged the defendants with offenses involving drugs, firearms, carjackings, and robbery. Both Defendants were convicted after a jury trial. Among the many appellate issues are the propriety of introducing certain evidence gathered from cell phones, possible errors in the description of certain offenses in the indictment and jury instructions, and whether the judge improperly made fact findings about drug quantities.   The Fifth Circuit vacated and remanded the judgment of conviction on Counts Six and Eight for resentencing, reversed the judgment of conviction on Count Seventeen and remanded for entry of a judgment of acquittal, and affirmed in all other respects. In regards to counts Six and Eight, the court explained that though the two counts allege separate incidents on different dates, multiple firearm counts cannot be predicated on the same conspiracy: “imposing consecutive sentences in these circumstances is inconsistent with the rule in this circuit.” The drug conspiracy was the only predicate offense for each of these counts. The Government stated and the court agreed, the convictions on those two counts must be vacated and, on remand, the Government will be required to elect which count to dismiss. View "USA v. Montemayor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation produce, and make accessible, information related to the 3D printing of firearms. The U.S. Government and various states have imposed restraints on the publication of that information. Plaintiffs have challenged those restraints in federal courts as violating the First Amendment. The instant case involves publication restraints that Defendant, first as Acting Attorney General, then as Attorney General, of New Jersey (“NJAG”), has placed on Plaintiffs.   On remand, the district court severed the claims against the State Department and NJAG and transferred the claims against NJAG to the District of New Jersey. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit held that that decision was a clear abuse of discretion and ordered the district court to vacate it sever-and-transfer order. The New Jersey court refused to transfer the case back to the Western District of Texas. In response, Plaintiffs moved, in the Western District of Texas, for a preliminary injunction against the publication restraints imposed by NJAG. The district court entered a short order holding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider claims against NJAG and dismissed the preliminary-injunction motion.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal holding that the court no longer has the power to hear the case or grant the relief requested. The court explained that the expectation is that circuit courts direct “the transferor district court to request that the transferee district court return the case.” The refusal of the District of New Jersey to retransfer is unprecedented in that regard. The effect of that decision permits a New Jersey district court functionally to nullify a Fifth Circuit decision. View "Defense Distributed v. Platkin" on Justia Law