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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Clarence Roy, a Christian street preacher, was issued a summons outside a nightclub in Monroe, Louisiana, after a woman accused him of following her and making inflammatory remarks. The summons, which was issued by Sergeant James Booth of the Monroe Police Department, cleared the way for formal charges under the city of Monroe’s “disturbing the peace” ordinance. Roy was tried and ultimately acquitted by a municipal court judge. Shortly thereafter, he filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, in which he argued Booth and the city deprived him of numerous constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Two district court judges denied relief, first in part and then in whole, respectively. Finding no reversible error, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Roy v. City of Monroe" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Phillip Horton appealed his sentence imposed following his guilty plea conviction for possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Horton argued the district court erred in assessing criminal history points, failing to adjust his sentence for time served on an undischarged state sentence, ordering the instant sentence to run consecutively to anticipated state sentences, and failing to adequately explain its decision to impose the sentence. After review, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found no abuse of the district court's discretion in arriving at Horton's sentence, and affirmed it. View "United States v. Horton" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity to a correctional officer in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action. Plaintiff, a Texas prisoner, filed suit alleging that the officer violated his Eighth Amendment rights by spraying him in the face with a chemical agent without provocation. The court held that, although a reasonable jury could conclude that the officer's use of force was excessive, it was not beyond debate that the officer's single use of spray stepped over the de minimis line. Therefore, the law was not clearly established at the time and the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err by refusing plaintiff leave to amend his complaint and for injunctive relief. View "McCoy v. Alamu" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit on behalf of her 12 year old son, alleging that an assistant principal violated her son's Fourth Amendment rights by searching his pockets after a teacher caught him selling contraband candy. Plaintiff initially alleged that the principal had grabbed her son's genitalia. The district court denied the principal qualified immunity. After the undisputed record evidence later demonstrated that, at most, the principal had only searched the boy's pocket and did not grab his genitalia, the district court granted the principal qualified immunity. On appeal, plaintiff complained that the district court misunderstood her earlier argument and that she never claimed that the principal grabbed her son's genitalia, but that he unreasonably searched the son's pockets. Accepting plaintiff's contention as true, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court should have granted qualified immunity to the principal earlier. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment. View "S. O. v. Hinds County School District" on Justia Law

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When a state prisoner is implicitly granted extra time to seek supervisory writs from the denial of his state post-conviction application—and he does so within that time—his initial application therefore remains "pending" under the tolling provision in 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(2). The Fifth Circuit relied on its own precedents and by the Supreme Court's teaching that a state post-conviction application remains pending for statutory tolling purposes as long as the ordinary state collateral review process is in continuance. The court vacated the district court's dismissal of a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition as time-barred and held that petitioner was entitled to statutory tolling and thus his petition was not time-barred. View "Leonard v. Deville" on Justia Law

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Emotional distress damages are not available under the Rehabilitation Act (RA) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). In this case, plaintiff filed suit against Premier, a federal funding recipient, for disability discrimination. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Premier's motion to dismiss, holding that because punitive damages are unavailable for a funding recipient's "breach" of its Spending Clause "contract," despite the existence of exceptions to the general prohibition against such damages, emotional distress damages are unavailable for a funding recipient's "breach" of the RA or the ACA, despite the existence of exceptions. The court did not believe that it was within its power to expand the Spending Clause contract-law analogy, which would expose federal funding recipients to greater liability. The court found that the Bell rule was not a vehicle for importing remedies that have already been rejected. View "Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, PLLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Second Amendment advocates, filed suit seeking to prevent the State Department from blocking their efforts to publish plans for how to assemble a firearm using a 3D printer. Plaintiffs settled with the State Department and then voluntarily dismissed the suit. Now plaintiffs seek to revive their Texas suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) in response to a nationwide injunction against enforcement of the settlement issued by the Western District of Washington. The Fifth Circuit declined plaintiffs request to revive the lawsuit, holding that Rule 59(e) authorizes motions to alter or amend judgments, not to revive lawsuits. The court explained that the initiation and prosecution of the Washington suit did not render any action by the district court in Texas erroneous, let alone manifestly erroneous. View "Defense Distributed v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the county's 2011 redistricting plan for electing county commissioners, alleging a violation of their rights under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by providing only one Anglo-majority district. Determining that plaintiffs had standing, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not clearly err in finding that plaintiffs failed to meet the threshold conditions in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 79 (1986), and in finding that plaintiffs failed to make a claim for voter dilution. In this case, the district court concluded that plaintiffs did not prove that Anglos, a minority in Dallas County, have the potential to elect their preferred candidate, a Republican, in a second commissioner district. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the district court applied the wrong standard, and that they need only provide an alternative map with two Anglo-majority districts. The court explained that an alternative map containing an additional majority-minority district does not necessarily establish an increased opportunity for the Anglo-preferred candidate. Furthermore, there was no case in which the ability to create an influence district was considered sufficient to establish a section 2 vote dilution claim. The court also held that plaintiffs failed to plead a racial gerrymandering claim, because the complaint did not allege a Shaw claim. Rather, the complaint only once alleged that race predominated, and it made this allegation five pages before stating the claim for relief. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's refusal to entertain a claim of racial gerrymandering and its denial of the vote dilution claim after trial. View "Harding v. County of Dallas" on Justia Law

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White Glove appealed the district court's dismissal of its 42 U.S.C. 1981 racial discrimination claim and grant of summary judgment on its 42 U.S.C. 1981 retaliation claim. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of White Glove's racial discrimination claim, holding that White Glove did not need a racial identity to have standing to assert a 42 U.S.C. 1981 racial discrimination claim and White Glove has statutory standing to assert a section 1981 racial discrimination claim. However, the court held that no genuine factual dispute existed regarding whether White Glove engaged in protected activities, and thus the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the section 1981 retaliation claim. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "White Glove Staffing, Inc. v. Methodist Hospitals of Dallas" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was shot five times during an armed confrontation with two sheriff's deputies, he filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the deputies used unreasonable and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit held that there was no error in the district court's conclusion that plaintiff failed to produce sufficient pleadings to state a Monell claim against the county. In this case, plaintiff failed to establish an official custom or policy of excessive force because the only facts he alleged with any specificity related to his shooting. The court also held that, even if the district court erred by excluding testimony from plaintiff's criminal trial, such error was harmless and the testimony's exclusion was not a basis for reversal. Finally, the court held that the deputies were entitled to qualified immunity where plaintiff failed to meet his burden of establishing a Fourth Amendment violation in the form of unreasonable and excessive force, much less a violation that every reasonable officer in Deputy Scudder's position would appreciate. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in all respects. View "Ratliff v. Aransas County" on Justia Law