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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Plaintiffs are two voter registration organizations who challenged Texas’s recently revised requirements for voter residency. The district court concluded Plaintiffs had organizational standing because the new laws caused them to divert resources from other projects and also chilled their ability to advise and register voters. On the merits, the district court ruled that the challenged laws, in large part, impermissibly burdened the right to vote. Texas appealed.   The Fifth Circuit agreed with Texas that Plaintiffs lack organizational standing. So, without reaching the merits, the court reversed the district court’s judgment and rendered judgment dismissing Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs argue that it is “a crime under Texas law to help someone to register to vote in violation of [S.B. 1111’s] confusing new requirements.” But Texas law does not criminalize giving good faith but mistaken advice to prospective voters. Rather, the statute on which Plaintiffs rely applies only “if the person knowingly or intentionally” “requests, commands, coerces, or attempts to induce another person to make a false statement on a [voter] registration application.” Plaintiffs do not assert that they plan to “knowingly or intentionally” encourage people to register who are ineligible under S.B. 1111. Plaintiffs’ argument turns on the “confusion and uncertainty” S.B. 1111 supposedly injects into their voter outreach efforts. Uncertainty is not the same as intent, however. Accordingly, Plaintiffs have not shown a serious intention to engage in protected activity arguably proscribed by the challenged law. In sum, the district court erred in concluding Plaintiffs had organizational standing based on a chilled-speech theory View "Texas State LULAC v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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in 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Financial Protection Act, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and transferred to the Bureau administrative and enforcement authority over 18 federal statutes which prior to the Act were overseen by seven different agencies. In 2016, then-Director of the CFPB proposed a rule to regulate payday, vehicle title, and certain high-cost installment loans (the “Payday Lending Rule”). The Rule's “Payment Provisions” limit a lender’s ability to obtain loan repayments via preauthorized account access.Plaintiffs sued the Bureau seeking an order seeking to enjoin the enforcement of the Payday Lending Rule under the theory that it violates the separation of powers doctrine.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision granting summary judgment to the CFPB in total, finding that Congress’s cession of its power of the purse to the Bureau violates the Appropriations Clause and the Constitution’s underlying structural separation of powers. View "Cmty Fin Assoc America v. CFPB" on Justia Law

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Defendants were convicted of numerous crimes stemming from their participation in a violent New Orleans street gang. Defendants filed timely notices of appeal, raising a number of issues. The Fifth Circuit affirmed their convictions in large part, vacated them in part, and remanded. The court explained that because the jury may have improperly relied on the charged RICO conspiracy as a predicate for Defendants’ Section 924 convictions, the court vacated some of the Defendants’ convictions under Counts 3, 6, 8, 11, 13, 16, and 18 and remanded for further proceedings. For similar reasons, the court vacated some of the Defendants’ restitution orders and remanded. Otherwise, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "USA v. Hankton" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant of three counts of producing, distributing, receiving, and possessing an obscene visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1466A(a)(1); five counts of using an interactive computer service to transport obscene matters, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1462(a); and one count of engaging in the business of selling or transferring obscene matters, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1466(a). On appeal, Defendant challenged his conviction and sentence.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed convictions on Counts 2 through 9, reversed the conviction on Count 1, and remanded for resentencing. The court explained that the fact that the charged drawings here do not depict real minors does not render Arthur’s convictions on Counts 1, 8, and 9 unconstitutional. However, as to Count 1, the court wrote it was not satisfied that the charged image, which was admitted at trial as Government’s Exhibit 10A, is “patently offensive.”   While the charged images in Counts 8 and 9 are both detailed, color, cartoonlike drawings depicting pre-adolescent girls being forced to perform fellatio on disembodied and engorged male genitalia, the charged image in Count 1 is a simple black and white pencil or charcoal drawing with minimal detail depicting an adolescent girl alone, reclining and apparently masturbating. Importantly, unlike the children depicted in the images in Counts 8 and 9, there is no indication that the subject of the image in Count 1 is being forced to perform a sexual act. View "USA v. Arthur" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff fled from three officers investigating drug activity. An officer chased Plaintiff and commanded him to stop. Eventually, Plaintiff stopped and turned suddenly toward the officer. The officer feared Plaintiff was reaching for a weapon, so he tased him. Plaintiff and his grandmother sued Harris County and the officer. The district court dismissed the Monell claim against Harris County for failure to state a claim and granted summary judgment to the officer based on qualified immunity.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that to establish Monell liability on a failure-to-train theory, a plaintiff must prove that: “(1) the city failed to train or supervise the officers involved; (2) there is a causal connection between the alleged failure to supervise or train and the alleged violation of the plaintiff’s rights; and (3) the failure to train or supervise constituted deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.”   Here, first, Plaintiff has not plausibly alleged that the County failed to train the officers involved on the constitutional use of tasers. Second, Plaintiff has not plausibly alleged a causal connection between any failure to train officers and the alleged violation here. Third, has not plausibly alleged that any failure to train constituted deliberate indifference. The court further explained that Plaintiff concededly ran from police, then stopped suddenly and turned toward the pursuing officer. Thus, neither Newman nor Darden involves materially similar facts and hence cannot clearly establish the law. View "Henderson v. Harris County" on Justia Law

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BP Corporation North America Inc. (“BP America”) a Defendant-Appellee in this action, acquired Standard Oil of Ohio (“Sohio). BP America converted the Sohio Plan into a new plan called the BP America Retirement Plan (the “ARP”). The ARP was also a defined benefit plan that retained the formula used by the Sohio Plan to calculate its members’ pension distributions. BP America converted the ARP into the BP Retirement Accumulation Plan (the “RAP,” the conversion from the ARP to the RAP as the “Conversion,” and the date of the Conversion as the “Conversion Date”), the other Defendant-Appellee in this action. Plaintiffs-Appellees, two Sohio Legacy Employees, (the “Guenther Plaintiffs”) filed a class action complaint against the RAP and BP America.   Four years after the Guenther Plaintiffs filed their original complaint, Movant-Appellant, along with 276 other individuals (the “Press Plaintiffs”) moved to intervene in the Guenther Action “for the purpose of objecting” to the magistrate judge’s recommendation. Press Plaintiffs contend that the certified class in the Guenther Action inadequately represents their interests, and therefore, they have a right to intervene in this case.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling denying the intervention. The court held that the Press Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that their interests diverge from those of the Guenther Plaintiffs in any meaningful way. Further, the Press Plaintiffs did not identify a unique interest of their own, they are unable to specify how a determination in the Guenther Action could have a future detrimental preclusive effect. The court wrote it is satisfied that the Press Plaintiffs will be adequately represented. View "Guenther v. BP Retr Accumulation" on Justia Law

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In 2012 the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Eight states and the Governors of two states, led by Texas, have challenged DACA’s validity. In ruling on competing motions for summary judgment, the district court held that the DACA Memorandum violates procedural and substantive requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The district court vacated the DACA Memorandum and remanded to DHS for further consideration but temporarily stayed that vacatur as it applies to current DACA recipients. The district court further ruled that DHS may continue to accept new and renewal DACA applications but enjoined DHS from approving any new DACA applications.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in part but remanded to the district court rather than DHS in light of a final rule promulgated by DHS in August 2022. The court explained that it affirmed the district court’s judgment with regard to the procedural and substantive provisions of the DACA memorandum.   There is evidence that if DACA were no longer in effect, at least some recipients would leave, and their departure would reduce the State’s Medicaid, social services and education costs for those individuals and their families who depart with them. Especially with the benefit of special solicitude, Texas has established that rescinding DACA would redress its harm. Accordingly, Texas has demonstrated standing based on its direct injury. Further, the court held that because DACA did not undergo notice and comment, it violates the procedural requirements of the APA. View "State of Texas v. USA" on Justia Law

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T.C.’s estate and the passengers of T.C.’s car sued an Arlington police officer and the City of Arlington for the use of excessive force during a traffic stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court dismissed the passengers’ claims, finding that they could not bring claims as bystanders, and granted summary judgment to the police officer and the City after determining that the police officer was entitled to qualified immunity.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the passengers’ claims and vacated the grant of summary judgment on T.C.’s claims and remanded it to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The court reasoned that here, under T.C’s account, he was shot while he was held in a chokehold in a parked car while evading arrest for several confirmed misdemeanors and an unconfirmed felony parole violation. The police officer was on notice that the use of deadly force is objectively reasonable only where an officer has “a reasonable belief that he or the public was in imminent danger . . . . of death or serious bodily harm.” Again, the officer’s alleged belief that T.C. had a gun was not reasonable, nor was his belief that a parked car posed a danger to himself, the passengers, or the other officers standing on the side of the car. Therefore, the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the officer and perforce dismissing the City. However, because there was no unreasonable use of force against the passengers, no constitutional injury occurred. View "Crane v. City of Arlington" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a Texas prisoner, appealed the summary judgment dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 claim that a correctional officer at the Allred Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), confiscated Plaintiff’s religious materials in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.   The primary issue on appeal is whether confiscation of Plaintiff’s materials violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights under the Free Exercise Clause. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court explained that Plaintiff conceded that he did not store his religious materials as required by AD-03.72. And the Fifth Circuit Court has previously indicated that TDCJ policies regarding the storage of personal property do not infringe on a prisoner’s right to free exercise of religion. Evaluating AD-03.72 in view of the relevant considerations, the confiscation of Plaintiff’s religious materials was reasonably related to a legitimate penological objective.   The impact of accommodating Plaintiff’s constitutional rights on other prisoners, guards, and prison resources could be great, given the management and safety concerns underlying the policy. Moreover, even if the confiscation had violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, the district court correctly found that the correctional officer was entitled to qualified immunity because his actions were objectively reasonable. View "DeMarco v. Bynum" on Justia Law

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Tavis Crane’s estate and the passengers of Crane’s car sued Arlington Police Officer (Officer) and the City of Arlington for the use of excessive force during a traffic stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court dismissed the passengers’ claims, finding that they could not bring claims as bystanders, and granted summary judgment to the Officer and the City after determining that the Officer was entitled to qualified immunity.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the passengers’ claims and vacate the grant of summary judgment as to Crane’s claims and dismiss the appeals of those claims for want of jurisdiction. The court explained that there is no express requirement for a physical injury in an excessive force claim,80 but even if the passengers stated a plausible claim for psychological injuries, the officer is entitled to qualified immunity. “Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it.” Here, there was no unreasonable use of force against the passengers, so no constitutional injury occurred. View "Crane v. City of Arlington" on Justia Law