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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
by
Plaintiff filed this pro se action in federal district court alleging, as relevant here, that the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) violated her children’s rights under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), 42 U.S.C. Section 2000ff, et seq. The district court dismissed the GINA claims because Plaintiff lacked Article III standing to bring those claims on her own behalf and because Plaintiff—who is not a licensed attorney—could not proceed pro se on behalf of her children. On appeal, Plaintiff contends that the district court erred in holding that she cannot represent her children in federal court.   The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal of the GINA claims and remanded. The court held that an absolute bar on pro se parent representation is inconsistent with Section 1654, which allows a pro se parent to proceed on behalf of her child in federal court when the child’s case is the parent’s “own.” 28 U.S.C. Section 1654. The court explained this condition would be met if federal or state law designated Plaintiff’s children’s cases as belonging to her. The court remanded because the district court did not have the opportunity to consider whether Plaintiff’s children’s claims under the GINA belong to Plaintiff within the meaning of Section 1654. View "Raskin v. Dallas Indep Sch Dist" on Justia Law

by
Defendant entered a guilty plea to assaulting, resisting, or impeding various officers or employees in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 111(a)(1) and (b). Defendant appealed the district court’s application of a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice, pursuant to U.S.S.G. Section 3C1.1 (U.S. Sent’g Comm’n 2018).   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that a primary issue, in this case, is whether a court may apply Section 3C1.1 when a defendant obstructs another person’s arrest, which in this case is that of Defendant’s brother. The court wrote that when Defendant assaulted the agent, he violated Section 111 and triggered the base offense level in Section 2A2.4. Then, when Defendant physically prevented the agent from arresting another member of Defendant’s group, he obstructed the administration of justice in an offense that was closely related to his instant offense of conviction. In other words, there is a sufficient nexus between Defendant’s relevant conduct and his conviction for the assault of a federal officer. It is, therefore, plausible, in light of the record as a whole, for the district court to have found that Defendant’s conduct is properly categorized as an obstruction of justice under Section 3C1.1. View "USA v. Mendoza-Gomez" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs brought multiple claims against various defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. As relevant here, they asserted two general categories of claims—that the officers used excessive force in executing the search warrant and that the search and seizure were unlawful. As against the individual officers, Plaintiffs asserted both direct claims and claims premised on failure to intervene. And as against Lieutenants, Plaintiffs asserted that the two lieutenants are directly liable for excessive-force and search-and-seizure and liable on a failure to supervise theory. Finally, Plaintiffs also asserted wrongful death and survival as separate “causes of actions,” in their words. Several of the officers moved to dismiss, asserting qualified immunity.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and vacated in part. The court affirmed the aspects of the judgment denying the motions to dismiss the excessive-force claims asserted against several co-Defendants and denying one Lieutenant’s motion to dismiss as to Plaintiffs’ excessive force and search-and-seizure claims premised on a failure-to-supervise theory.   The court reversed the district court’s ruling denying the Lieutenant’s motion to dismiss the excessive force and search-and-seizure claims based on direct liability. The court concluded that this was error because the Lieutenant was not personally involved in obtaining the search warrant or in effectuating the search. “Personal involvement is an essential element” of demonstrating liability under Section 1983. View "Tuttle v. Sepolio" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner was convicted of raping a 17-year-old girl, assaulting a 16-year-old girl with a hammer, and raping and murdering a 20-year-old woman. The present appeal involves only Petitioner’s conviction for raping the 17-year-old girl. Petitioner directly appealed his rape conviction in state court and almost succeeded in getting a new trial: The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed his conviction. Petitioner next filed a habeas petition in federal district court, raising thirteen claims. The district court denied Petitioner’s petition but granted him a certificate of appealability (“COA”) on all thirteen claims. Petitioner timely appealed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that the state court could’ve reasonably found the Ake claim unpreserved. Petitioner’s trial counsel withdrew his Ake motion, so the trial court never ruled on it. Petitioner must thus show that every fair-minded jurist would conclude that this is the extraordinary instance where an unpreserved claim was stronger than the preserved claims and that appellate counsel’s failure to press the unpreserved Ake claim was tantamount to providing no appellate counsel at all. Here, Petitioner cannot come close to that showing.  Further, the court wrote that Petitioner cannot surmount AEDPA’s relitigation bar. Contrary to Petitioner’s suggestion, every fair-minded jurist would not think that the absence of an expert for an insanity defense is per se error. Finally, the court held that law and justice do not compel issuance of the writ in the absence of factual innocence, and Petitioner can’t make the required showing. View "Crawford v. Cain" on Justia Law

by
This qualified immunity case arises from the death of a man who was shot and killed by officers of the Stratford Police Department when he attempted to evade arrest by fleeing in a stolen car. Plaintiffs, the man’s minor child and his estate appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendants.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the district court. The court explained that the officer would have been put on notice that his conduct violated the man’s constitutional rights. The court explained that Plaintiffs have not pointed to sufficient authority clearly establishing that the officer’s conduct violated the law under the specific circumstances he was facing, and thus he is entitled to qualified immunity. However, the court held that it is not convinced that the degree of force used was objectively reasonable. A jury could reasonably find that Defendants violated the man’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. View "Baker v. Coburn" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner, Mississippi prisoner # 145868, was arrested on December 21, 2006. Eight months later, he was indicted by a grand jury on charges of aggravated assault with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In January 2009, he was tried in state court, and a jury found him guilty on both counts. Sentenced as a habitual offender, he received two concurrent life sentences without the possibility of parole. Petitioner unsuccessfully pursued post-conviction relief in state court. After exhausting state-court review, Petitioner filed a federal habeas petition, which the district court granted. The State appealed that ruling.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and rendered judgment in favor of the State on Petitioner’s petition for federal habeas relief. The court considered Petitioner’s federal habeas claims that his conviction violated his right to a speedy trial and that his public defenders provided ineffective assistance of counsel. While two state courts rejected these claims, the federal district court disagreed and held that relief was warranted. The court held that the lack of deference to the state court’s determination constituted “an improper intervention in state criminal processes,” such that the district court erred in granting Petitioner’s habeas application on the speedy-trial issue. View "Russell v. Denmark" on Justia Law

by
After the Texas Legislature amended the Election Code in 2021, the United States and others sued, alleging the changes were racially discriminatory. When Plaintiffs sought discovery from individual, nonparty state legislators, those legislators withheld some documents, citing legislative privilege. The district court largely rejected the legislators’ privilege claims, and they filed this interlocutory appeal.   The Fifth Circuit reversed. The court explained that for their part, the legislators rely on the privilege for each of the disputed documents. Plaintiffs, too, do not argue that the documents are non-legislative. Instead, they argue only that the privilege either “was waived” or “must yield.” The court wrote that the legislators did not waive the legislative privilege when they “communicated with parties outside the legislature, such as party leaders and lobbyists.” The district court’s contrary holding flouts the rule that the privilege covers “legislators’ actions in the proposal, formulation, and passage of legislation.” Finally, the court reasoned that Plaintiffs’ reliance on Jefferson Community Health Care Centers, Inc. v. Jefferson Parish Government is misplaced. That decision stated that “while the common-law legislative immunity for state legislators is absolute, the legislative privilege for state lawmakers is, at best, one which is qualified.” But that case provides no support for the idea that state legislators can be compelled to produce documents concerning the legislative process and a legislator’s subjective thoughts and motives. View "LULAC Texas v. Hughes" on Justia Law

by
This qualified immunity case arises from the death of a man who was shot and killed by officers of the Stratford Police Department after he attempted to evade arrest while fleeing in a stolen car. Plaintiffs, the man’s minor child and his estate appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendants.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the district court. The court explained that Plaintiffs have not pointed to sufficient authority clearly establishing that the officer’s conduct violated the law under the specific circumstances he was facing, and thus he is entitled to qualified immunity. Further, the court explained that here there are significant factual disputes about the manner in which the incident took place. If the facts are as the officers alleged them—that the man drove straight at the officer and missed, deadly force may well be reasonable. However, at the summary stage, the court must draw all inferences in favor of Plaintiffs’ version of facts. The district court did not address whether the man’s rights with respect to the second round of shots were clearly established. The court reversed the district court’s opinion granting summary judgment as to the second round of shots and remanded to the district court. View "Baker v. Coburn" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff was detained beyond the expiration of his sentence because Department officials gave him credit for time served in pre-trial detention but only for one (rather than both) of his two consecutive sentences. That was the right thing to do under the law, then in effect. But Plaintiff was entitled to the more generous provision in effect at the time his sentence was entered. As a result, he served over a year longer than he should have. After his release, Plaintiff brought suit against various Louisiana officials under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, among other claims. This appeal concerns only one of those claims: Plaintiff’s claim against the head of the Department, Secretary James LeBlanc (“Defendant”). Defendant appealed the denial of qualified immunity, arguing that his conduct wasn’t objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law.   The Fifth Circuit reversed. The court explained that while the right to timely release is clearly established, Plaintiff does not show how Defendant’s conduct was objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law. Plaintiff contends that Defendant was objectively unreasonable because he failed to assign the task of calculating release dates to an attorney. But nothing in the Constitution requires that such actions be undertaken by a member of the bar. View "Taylor v. LeBlanc" on Justia Law

by
Defendant was convicted by a jury on five counts arising from a series of armed robberies of cell phone stores. He appealed his convictions and sentence. Defendant contends that he suffered a Speedy Trial Act violation because he was indicted more than thirty days after his arrest.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Defendant does not dispute that the continuance satisfies the statutory language for exclusion. He contends instead that the extended time should nonetheless not be excluded because his counsel did not consult with him before filing the motion to continue. The court explained that this contention runs counter to the statutory text of the Speedy Trial Act, which expressly carves out delays resulting from continuances sought “at the request of the defendant or his counsel.” The text does not require that counsel obtain her client’s consent to seek a continuance.   Defendant also argued that the district court erred in its jury instructions on his Section 924(c) charges. He contends that the court erroneously defined the predicate offense, a “crime of violence,” as including attempted Hobbs Act robbery. The court held that because Defendant has not shown that his substantial rights were affected by the erroneous jury instruction, he fails plain-error review. Even if the error affected his substantial rights, the court would not exercise its discretion to correct the error because the error here did not seriously affect the fairness, integrity or public reputation of the proceeding. View "USA v. Robinson" on Justia Law