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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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In October 2018, Warren G. Treme, a member of AJSJS Development, LLC, leased minerals on a tract of land in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, from Dr. Christy Montegut and his siblings. AJSJS intended to join a joint venture formed in 2010 between Treme, AIMS Group, Inc., and Fred Kinsley. The joint venture aimed to extract and process clay material from the tract for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project. However, to conduct mining and excavation activities, the plaintiffs needed to change the zoning classification of the tract. Despite multiple applications for rezoning, the Parish Council denied the applications after hearing complaints from affected residents. The plaintiffs then sued the Parish and the Council, alleging that the denial of the rezoning application constituted a regulatory taking without compensation in violation of the United States and Louisiana Constitutions. The plaintiffs also alleged violations of procedural and substantive due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring a takings claim because their mineral lease was not yet in effect, meaning they had no vested property interest in the tract. The court interpreted the lease to have a suspensive condition that required the plaintiffs to obtain governmental approvals for the lease to become effective. As the plaintiffs had not obtained these approvals, the lease had not yet come into effect. Consequently, the court affirmed the district court’s decision but modified the judgment to be a dismissal without prejudice. View "Treme v. St. John the Baptist" on Justia Law

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Thomas Rhone, a property owner in Texas City, Texas, had his apartments declared a nuisance by a Municipal Court of Record. Rhone disputed this decision in state court, but the City moved the case to federal district court. There, Rhone's claims were dismissed on summary judgment. Rhone appealed the district court's decision, challenging the standard of review and its conclusions regarding his constitutional claims. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered a limited remand for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the role of the City Attorney in finalizing the Municipal Court’s order of abatement.Rhone's property, three apartment buildings, passed a city inspection in 2013 without any issues regarding a lack of a certificate of occupancy being raised. However, following an inspection in 2020, Texas City informed Rhone that his buildings were substandard and that he would need a certificate of occupancy to operate them. Rhone argued that city officials interfered with his efforts to remedy the violations claimed by the City and imposed conditions that made it impossible for him to preserve the value of his property by repairing the apartment buildings to bring them into compliance with the Texas City Code instead of demolishing the structures.After the city filed an administrative action in its Municipal Court of Record, the court ordered the demolition of the apartment buildings, finding them to be "dilapidated, substandard, unfit for human habitation, a hazard to the public health, safety, and welfare," and a nuisance. Rhone appealed this order in the 122nd Judicial District Court of Galveston County, but the City removed the action to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Galveston under federal-question jurisdiction. The federal district court ultimately granted partial summary judgment in favor of Texas City.The Court of Appeals held that any of Rhone's claims that would only interfere with the demolition of the buildings on his property were moot due to the demolition of the buildings. However, the court also held that the demolition did not eliminate a potential takings claim. The court ordered a limited remand for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the role of the City Attorney in finalizing the Municipal Court’s order of abatement. The court also held that Rhone has not shown that an initial inspection by a city fire marshal and an issuance of a citation that has consequences on his use of the property violate federal law. View "Rhone v. City of Texas City" on Justia Law

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In 1999, Ruben Gutierrez was convicted of capital murder in a Texas state court and sentenced to death. Since 2011, Gutierrez’s efforts to secure post-conviction DNA testing have been denied in state and federal court. In this federal case, Gutierrez claimed that a certain limitation in Texas’s DNA testing statute was unconstitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, however, ultimately concluded that Gutierrez did not have standing to make this claim. The court found that even if the DNA testing statute was declared unconstitutional, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had already held that Gutierrez would have no right to DNA testing. The court reasoned that any new evidence would not overcome the overwhelming evidence of Gutierrez's direct involvement in the multi-assailant murder. Therefore, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for the complaint to be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. View "Gutierrez v. Saenz" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the parents of Ashtian Barnes, who was fatally shot by Officer Roberto Felix, Jr. during a lawful traffic stop, alleged violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officer Felix and Harris County. The parents argued that Officer Felix's use of force was unreasonable because even if Barnes attempted to flee, he did not pose a threat justifying deadly force. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgement, stating that Officer Felix did not violate Barnes's constitutional rights and was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court found that Barnes posed a threat of serious harm to Officer Felix in the moment the car began to move, thus making Officer Felix's use of deadly force reasonable and not excessive. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that under the Circuit's precedent on the "moment of threat" analysis, there was no violation of Barnes's constitutional rights. Consequently, the court also affirmed the grant of summary judgement to Harris County, as there was no finding of constitutional injury. View "Barnes v. Felix" on Justia Law

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In 2023, the Texas Legislature passed the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources Act (READER), which requires vendors selling books to Texas public schools to issue sexual-content ratings for all library materials they have ever sold or will sell. Certain Texas bookstores, trade associations, and a legal defense organization sued for injunctive relief, alleging that READER violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, which Texas appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the grant of the preliminary injunction against the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, vacated the preliminary injunction against the Chairs of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the Texas State Board of Education, and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the suit against them. The court held that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claim that READER unconstitutionally compels speech. The court also found that the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm if the injunction was not granted, the balance of equities tipped in their favor, and an injunction was in the public interest. View "Book People, Inc. v. Wong" on Justia Law

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The case was an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit against a lower court's decision that the structure of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was unconstitutional. The plaintiffs, By Two, L.P., and Consumers’ Research, argued that the CPSC's structure violated the separation-of-powers doctrine because the President could only remove the CPSC's commissioners for cause. The district court agreed with the plaintiffs, but the appellate court reversed this decision.The appellate court held that the CPSC's structure was constitutional and did not violate the separation-of-powers doctrine. The court based its decision on the Supreme Court's precedent in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, which allowed for-cause removal protections for commissioners of independent agencies like the CPSC. The court noted that while the CPSC does exercise substantial executive power, this alone does not remove it from the protection of the Humphrey’s Executor exception. The court also pointed out that the CPSC's structure was not novel or lacking historical precedent, which further supported its constitutionality.The court emphasized that any changes to the Humphrey’s Executor exception would have to be made by the Supreme Court, not the lower courts. Until such a change occurred, the CPSC's structure remained constitutional. Thus, the court reversed the district court's decision and sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. View "Consumers’ Research v. Consumer Product Safety Commission" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between American Precision Ammunition, L.L.C. (APA) and the City of Mineral Wells in Texas. APA and the City entered into a Tax Abatement Agreement ("Agreement") where the City promised to gift APA $150,000 and provide APA ten years of tax abatements. However, the City terminated the Agreement, claiming that the $150,000 gift was illegal under the Texas Constitution. APA sued the City for breach of contract, violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA), and denial of federal due process and due course of law under the Texas Constitution. The district court dismissed all claims, and APA appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. It held that the Agreement was illegal and unenforceable under Texas law because the City's contractual obligation to "gift" APA $150,000 constitutes a gratuitous payment of public money. The court also dismissed APA's TOMA claim as moot because there was no "agreement" to reinstate given that the Agreement was unenforceable. Furthermore, the court found that APA's due process claims failed because the promise for the $150,000 gift was void and did not constitute a contract, and therefore, APA had no protected property interest in the gift. Even assuming that APA had a property interest in the tax abatements, the court held that APA's due process and due course of law claims still fail because Texas law affords APA sufficient opportunity to pursue that claim in state court. View "American Precision v. Mineral Wells" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied the NAACP and other plaintiffs' emergency motions for an injunction to halt the implementation of Mississippi's House Bill 1020 (H.B. 1020). This law created a new lower court for Jackson’s Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID), which allegedly has a disproportionate share of Jackson's white residents. The judge and prosecutors for this new court would be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Attorney General, respectively, rather than by locally elected officials, as is typical for other municipal courts in Mississippi. The plaintiffs claimed that this appointment process violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection of the law.However, the court found that plaintiffs lacked standing because they failed to demonstrate a legally protected interest in the accountability of the CCID court to locally elected officials, or that H.B. 1020 would affect their voting rights by diluting the local government's control over the enforcement of its laws within the CCID's borders. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claim of stigmatic harm, finding that they did not allege discriminatory treatment as required. Finally, the court found no merit in the argument that benefits from the CCID court would primarily go to a disproportionately white population, as the plaintiffs failed to show how H.B. 1020 would erect a barrier making it more difficult for members of one group to obtain benefits than another. View "NAACP v. Tindell" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a lower court's decision to grant a preliminary injunction against a Texas state prosecutor, Lucas Babin, who had initiated criminal charges against Netflix for promoting child pornography through its film, Cuties. The court found that Babin had acted in bad faith, as he multiplied the initial indictment into four after Netflix asserted its First Amendment right, selectively presented evidence to the grand jury, and charged Netflix for a scene that involved an adult actress. The court rejected Babin's argument that the indictments were validated by grand juries, finding that Babin's selective presentation of evidence undermined the independence of the grand juries. The court also noted that Netflix had shown that the prosecution was likely a bad faith prosecution, which constituted an irreparable injury, and that an injunction protecting First Amendment rights was in the public interest. The court ruled that these factors justified the district court's decision not to abstain under the Younger doctrine, which generally requires federal courts to refrain from interfering in ongoing state proceedings. View "Netflix v. Babin" on Justia Law

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Derrick Durrell Jones, a convicted felon, pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Jones argued that the law under which he was convicted, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), was unconstitutional because it violated the Commerce Clause and the Second Amendment. Addressing the Commerce Clause argument, the court stated that their circuit precedent has consistently upheld the constitutionality of § 922(g)(1), and that Jones had not presented any Supreme Court decisions that had expressly overruled this.In response to the Second Amendment argument, the court noted that Jones' challenge came in light of a new test for assessing the constitutionality of a statute under the Second Amendment as set forth by the Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen. However, the court pointed out that it had previously held that § 922(g)(1) did not violate the Second Amendment, and a concurring opinion in Bruen had stated that the decision should not cast doubt on prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons. The court also observed that there was no binding precedent holding that § 922(g)(1) was unconstitutional, and that two other federal circuits have reached conflicting conclusions on the issue.Given these considerations, the court concluded that Jones had failed to demonstrate that the district court’s application of § 922(g)(1) constituted clear or obvious error, and thus affirmed the decision of the lower court. View "USA v. Jones" on Justia Law