Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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A certified class of minor children in the Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) of DFPS filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking injunctive relief and alleging that Texas' maintenance of its foster care system exposes them to a serious risk of abuse, neglect, and harm to their physical and psychological well-being. The district court granted plaintiffs a permanent injunction requiring sweeping changes to the state's foster care system. The Fifth Circuit held that facts in the record adequately supported the finding that a policy or practice of maintaining overburdened caseworkers directly causes all PMC children to be exposed to a serious risk of physical and psychological harm; the district court correctly found that the State was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm to the Licensed Foster Care (LFC) subclass as a result of its insufficient monitoring and oversight, and that these deficiencies were a direct cause of the constitutional harm; the district court erred in concluding that inadequate placement array causes constitutionally cognizable harm to the LFC subclass and that the State was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm; and to the extent that the lack of awake-night supervision may have sustained a constitutional claim under the circumstances, the remaining policies and their effects did not cause foster group homes (FGH) children an amplified risk of harm sufficient to overcome the threshold hurdle. The court also held that Rule 23-specific arguments were waived. While the district court entered an expansive injunction mandating dozens of specific remedial measures and it was entitled to grant plaintiffs injunctive relief, the court held that the injunction was significantly overbroad. Accordingly, the court vacated the injunction and remanded with instructions to remove the remedial provisions related to placement array and FGHs, and to strike provisions that were not necessary to achieve constitutional compliance. View "M.D. v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was exonerated for a crime that he served seventeen years in prison for, he filed suit against various government and law enforcement personnel over his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. The Fifth Circuit held that false imprisonment was a "continuing tort" in Texas and defendant's claim was timely filed; defendant's due process claim against the county defendants was properly dismissed as time-barred; but absolute immunity barred defendant's due process claim against the prosecutor. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Moon v. City of El Paso" on Justia Law

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A party is bound by the terms of a consent decree that it voluntarily entered. The Fifth Circuit mostly affirmed the district court's judgment finding that Delta had violated a consent decree requiring Delta to comply with a desegregation order that it had voluntarily entered into. In this case, the desegregation requirements arose out of and served to resolve a longstanding desegregation effort in Concordia Parish properly overseen by the district court; were within the scope of the case; and furthered the equal protection objectives of the original complaint. The court rejected Delta's alternative argument that the district court's order granting further relief exceeded its remedial authority. Finally, the court vacated a portion of the district court's order requiring Delta to obtain authorization before enrolling students from other parishes under separate desegregation orders. View "Smith v. School Board of Concordia Parish" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of habeas corpus ordering petitioner to be retried for killing the victim in a bar fight. The court held that the federal court failed to defer to the state court's reasonable application of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), and therefore erred in granting petitioner habeas corpus relief. The court held that, given counsel's all-or-nothing strategy, he reasonably declined a "double-edged" manslaughter instruction that could have lowered petitioner's chances of an acquittal; even assuming counsel should have sought a sudden passion instruction, it was unlikely that the instruction would have changed petitioner's sentence; and neither conclusion would have been an objectively unreasonable application of Strickland by the state habeas court. View "Mejia v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit dismissed as moot an action challenging the discontinued practice of Louisiana public defenders of placing indigent, non-capital defendants on wait lists for appointed counsel. The court held that the Louisiana Legislature's recent $5 million reallocation of indigent-defense funding has eliminated all wait lists for non-capital defendants. Therefore, because current wait lists in the districts for noncapital defendants were non-existent, there was no live case or controversy. View "Yarls v. Bunton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a physician licensed in Texas who worked part time at the Red Bluff Clinic in California, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of his Fourth Amendment rights when defendants, employees of the Texas Medical Board, executed an administrative subpoena instanter. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal and rendered judgment for defendants. The court held that plaintiff failed to establish a cognizable interest in the subpoenaed records and thus he could not assert a Fourth Amendment claim. View "Barry v. Freshour" on Justia Law

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Louisiana's Unsafe Abortion Protection Act passed constitutional muster even under the stringent requirements of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, 136 S. Ct. 2292 (2016) (WWH). The Act requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital located within thirty miles of the clinic where they perform abortions. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment invalidating the Act as facially unconstitutional after this case was remanded to the district court for reconsideration in light of WWH. The court held that the records from Texas in WWH and Louisiana in this case diverged in all relevant respects. The court found that the Act resulted in a potential increase of 54 minutes at one of the state's clinics for at most 30% of women, and this was not a substantial burden at all, much less a substantial burden on a large fraction of women as was required to sustain a facial challenge. View "June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's Fourth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. 1983 excessive force, and state law claims against the city and a police officer after the officer shot and killed Antwun Shumpert. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the City on plaintiff's Fourth Amendment and section 1983 claims where plaintiff failed to satisfy the requirements for municipal liability under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978). Because plaintiff failed to provide evidence of an official policy or custom of which a policy maker could be charged with actual or constructive knowledge that caused the constitutional violations, the district court properly granted summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claims. The court also held that the district court properly determined that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity on the K9 force claim where plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the officer's use of K9 force was objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law. Furthermore, the officer was entitled to qualified immunity on the deadly force claim where his use of deadly force did not violate clearly established law. Finally, the state law claims were properly dismissed against the officer, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to sanction defendants. View "Shumpert v. City of Tupelo" on Justia Law

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Three exotic dancers under the age of 21 filed suit challenging Louisiana's amendment of two statutes (Act No. 395) that required entertainers on premises licensed to serve alcohol and whose breasts or buttocks are exposed to view be 21 years of age or older. The district court concluded that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims that the Act was unconstitutionally overbroad and vague, and issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the Act. The Fifth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s determination that the statute failed to comply with time, place, and manner standards on expressive conduct under United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 376 (1968), and that the statute was overbroad. However, the court held that the statute was unconstitutionally vague, and the standards for an injunction have been met. In this case, there was a substantial likelihood that plaintiffs would prevail on the merits of their vagueness claim where plaintiffs have shown that the Act had the capacity to chill constitutionally protected conduct, especially conduct protected by the First Amendment. The court held that the Act's vagueness and its resultant capacity to chill protected conduct supported a finding that the remaining injunctive relief requirements were satisfied. View "Doe v. Marine-Lombard" on Justia Law

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This case was reheard en banc after plaintiff obtained a $2.3 million judgment that was reversed and his claims were dismissed. The court held that plaintiff's Brady v. Maryland claim should have been dismissed as a matter of law on summary judgment because the city should not have been subjected to municipal liability for plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim. The court also declined the invitation to disturb its precedent concerning a defendant's constitutional right to Brady material prior to entering a guilty plea. View "Alvarez v. City of Brownsville" on Justia Law