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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Petitioner a native and citizen of Guatemala, petitions for review of a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissing his appeal of an immigration judge’s (IJ) denial of his application for cancellation of removal. Petitioner contended that the BIA erred in concluding that he failed to demonstrate that his stepchildren are United States citizens, and thus “qualifying relatives” for purposes of his application, and by improperly reviewing the IJ’s findings of fact de novo. He also asserted that the BIA’s interpretation of 8 U.S.C. Section 1229b(b)(1)(D) violates the Fifth Amendment as it has been construed to guarantee equal protection.   The Fifth Circuit denied the petition. The court concluded that Section1229b(b)(1)(D)’s requirement that an alien demonstrate “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to a qualifying relative, irrespective of hardship suffered by the alien, passes constitutional muster. In enacting the “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” standard, Congress thus emphasized that an alien must provide evidence of harm to a qualifying relative substantially beyond that which ordinarily would be expected due to the alien’s deportation. The court further explained that Congress’s articulated justification provides a “reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis” for the hardship requirement, and Petitioner’s argument on this issue lacks merit. View "Agustin-Matias v. Garland" on Justia Law

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This case concerns the denial of qualified immunity to a police officer. Plaintiff and four of her children sued the officer asserting claims for unlawful arrest, bystander injury, and excessive use of force. The district court denied Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the excessive force claims on qualified immunity grounds. This interlocutory appeal followed.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity on the excessive force claims and render judgment in Defendant’s favor as to those claims. The court explained that Defendant's conduct, in this case, was not objectively unreasonable and did not violate any of the Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights. On this basis alone, Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity.   Further, the court wrote, that even assuming Plaintiffs could show that Defendant committed a constitutional violation, Defendant is nonetheless entitled to qualified immunity under the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis. Defendant’s use of force, in this case, is also far less severe than the use of force in any of the cases Plaintiffs have identified. Although Plaintiffs need not point to a factually identical case to demonstrate that the law is clearly established, they nonetheless must provide some controlling precedent that “squarely governs the specific facts at issue. Here, Plaintiffs have not provided such precedent here and thus have failed to show that the law clearly established that Defendant’s particular conduct was unlawful at the time of the incident. View "Craig v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought suit challenging a Texas law, which was later amended so as to moot their claims before the merits were adjudicated. Nevertheless, the district court determined that their fleeting success in obtaining a preliminary injunction rendered them “prevailing parties” under 42 U.S.C. Section 1988.   The Fifth Circuit disagreed, and accordingly reversed. The court explained that in light of the subsequent authorities from the Supreme Court and the court, the court declined Plaintiffs’ request to apply Doe’s outdated holding. Where a plaintiff’s sought-for preliminary injunction has been granted and the case is thereafter mooted before a final adjudication on the merits, Dearmore applies. As such, the legislature passed the bill with a veto-proof majority shortly thereafter, but Plaintiffs provided nothing to the district court or this court evincing that the legislature had the preliminary injunction in mind when it completed the passage of H.B. 793. And “[t]he mere fact that a legislature has enacted legislation that moots an [action], without more, provides no grounds for assuming that the legislature was motivated by” the “unfavorable precedent.” Am. Bar Ass’n v. FTC 636 F.3d 641, 649 (D.C. Cir. 2011).   The court wrote that the introduction of the ameliorative statute here, however, predated the district court’s action, and given the bill’s speedy passage through both houses and overwhelming legislative support, there is no basis to infer that the Texas legislature was motivated by a desire to preclude attorneys’ fees. View "Amawi v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted on all five counts of a 2011 indictment charging himself and two co-conspirators with a variety of offenses arising from a well-orchestrated scheme to circumvent American export controls designed to prevent dual-use commodities—goods with both civilian and military applications—from falling into the hands of adversaries like Iran. On appeal, Defendant seeks reversal and remand on three independent grounds.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that because of the Government’s diligence and Defendant’s evasiveness, the first two factors in the Barker balancing test weigh decidedly against Defendant’s speedy trial claim. The court wrote this is a case where a defendant who took steps to avoid being caught now faults the Government for not catching him sooner. Further, Defendant’s efforts to avoid apprehension cut against his speedy trial assertion in another way, as well—they betray a lack of diligence in asserting the right. Thus, because the Barker balancing test weighs overwhelmingly against Defendant, the district court was correct to deny his motion to dismiss for lack of speedy trial.   Finally, because the Sixth Amendment does not require a district court to render a particularized dissertation to justify a partial courtroom closure that is reasonable, neutral, and largely trivial (i.e., requiring spectators to watch and listen on live stream rather than in-person), the district court’s partial closure of Defendant’s jury trial was not unconstitutional. View "USA v. Ansari" on Justia Law

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Texas City’s “permit officer” handles applications for ambulance permits for the City. One day, he spotted an ambulance without a permit. He knew he was powerless to issue citations to the drivers himself, so he summoned someone who could (the Fire Marshal). While waiting for the Fire Marshal to show up, the officer repeatedly told the ambulance drivers that they were detained, that they could not leave, and that they must stay. He did not have that power, but he did it anyway. The Fire Marshal showed up about thirty minutes later and issued them citations. The ambulance drivers sued, claiming this violated their Fourth Amendment rights.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part finding that because the officer acted beyond the scope of his discretionary duties as “permit officer,” he is not entitled to qualified immunity. But the claim against the City fails because the officer did not have final policymaking authority. The court explained that the officer was not acting within the scope of his discretionary authority because state law does not give a permit officer the authority to conduct stops of any kind.   However, the court wrote, that the City cannot be held liable under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 because Wylie does not have any final policymaking authority. Section 1983 allows suits against persons for violating federal rights. That term includes municipalities like Texas City. But a city cannot be held liable under Section 1983 on a respondeat superior theory of liability. Rather, a city can be liable only if one of its policies or customs caused the injury. View "Sweetin v. City of Texas City" on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the dismissal of his 28 U.S.C. Section 2241 habeas corpus petition for lack of jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit explained that because Petitioner could have raised all his present claims in a Section 2255 motion, he may not raise them in a Section 2241 petition. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s denial of Section 2241 relief.   The court explained that Section 2255 provides for a one-year statute of limitations. All of the pieces that comprise Petitioner’s claim were in place well before that period expired. Congress had amended the statute at issue. The Supreme Court had decided the cases on which he relies. Because a Section 2255 motion could have accommodated the challenge, a Section 2241 petition is foreclosed. View "Hammoud v. Ma'at" on Justia Law

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Texas recently enacted such a ban on new entrants in a market with a more direct connection to interstate commerce than the drilling of oil wells: the building of transmission lines that are part of multistate electricity grids. The operator of one such multistate grid awarded Plaintiff NextEra Energy Capital Holdings, Inc. the right to build new transmission lines in an area of east Texas that is part of an interstate grid. But before NextEra obtained the necessary construction certificate from the Public Utilities Commission of Texas, the state enacted the law, SB 1938, that bars new entrants from building transmission lines. NextEra challenges the new law on dormant Commerce Clause grounds. It also argues that the law violates the Contracts Clause by upsetting its contractual expectation that it would be allowed to build the new lines   The Fifth Circuit concluded that the dormant Commerce Clause claims should proceed past the pleading stage. But the Contracts Clause claim fails as a matter of law under the modern, narrow reading of that provision. The court explained that limiting competition based on the existence or extent of a business’s local foothold is the protectionism that the Commerce Clause guards against. Thus, the court reversed the Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of the claim that the very terms of SB 1938 discriminate against interstate commerce. Further, the court held that SB 1938 did not interfere with an existing contractual right of NextEra. NextEra did not have a concrete, vested right that the law could impair. It thus fails at the threshold question for proving a modern Contracts Clause violation. View "NextEra, et al v. D'Andrea, et al" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his guilty plea conviction for attempted bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 2113(a). Defendant contends that the district court violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1) by improperly involving itself in plea negotiations and that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation. Defendant, now represented by counsel, asserts that the district court violated Rule 11(c)(1) by participating in plea negotiations before the parties reached an agreement. Second, he contends that his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation was violated during the plea-bargaining process.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed holding that Defendant failed to show reversible error. The court held that the district court’s participation in negotiations here was far less egregious than that in other cases requiring reversal under the harmless error standard. Here, Defendant indicated that he understood the plea agreement, that it was voluntarily entered, and that his decision to plead guilty was based on conversations between himself, standby counsel, and the prosecution. These facts fall short of demonstrating manifest injustice.   Further, the court concluded, that Defendant was not deprived of his right to self-representation. From April 29, 2020, the date Defendant elected to proceed pro se, to January 8, 2021, the date of the plea discussions at issue. The court could not say Defendant was deprived of his right to self-representation by virtue of his exclusion from this one conference. At all times, Defendant maintained “actual control” over the plea negotiations. View "USA v. Mamoth" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was prosecuted for knowing failure to report scrap metal transactions to the Texas Department of Public Safety, as required by state law. A jury acquitted him. Plaintiff then sued Houston Police Sergeant, claiming Defendant had provided false information that led to Plaintiff’s arrest and prosecution. The district court, concluding Defendant’s affidavit omitted material facts, denied him qualified immunity. The Fifth Circuit reversed and rendered judgment for Defendant.   The court explained that contrary to the district court’s ruling, C&D’s computer problems were not material to whether probable cause existed to suspect Plaintiff had violated the reporting provisions. By his own admission, Plaintiff did not submit approximately twenty-four required reports to DPS. Plaintiff also knew Scrap Dragon was failing to send reports to DPS. The court explained that one could reasonably believe Plaintiff knew that continuing to use the flawed system would result in reporting failures. He had been warned about the system’s deficiencies months before his arrest and yet failed to use the statutory safe haven. So, even had Defendant mentioned the Scrap Dragon glitch, his affidavit still would have shown probable cause. Thus, Plaintiff failed to allege a Fourth Amendment violation. Further, even assuming a Fourth Amendment violation, the claimed right was not clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct. View "Laviage v. Fite" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was sentenced to death. He did not appeal or pursued state habeas relief. However, he subsequently filed for a Certificate of Appealability with the Fifth Circuit on several grounds. The Fifth Circuit rejected two of the grounds based on current precedent. However, the Fifth Circuit granted the Certificate of Appealability on the following issues:(1) Did Petitioner's state habeas counsel render inadequate assistance by conceding that Petitioner was competent to waive review?(2) Can the court reach that conclusion based on evidence consistent with Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez, 142 S. Ct. 1718 (2022)?(3) If Petitioner's state habeas counsel rendered inadequate assistance, was the inadequate assistance a cause external to Petitioner? View "Mullis v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law