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

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Ex-wife filed suit against her ex-husband, a Chapter 7 debtor, in bankruptcy court over a debt of $32,500 plus interest. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision reversing the bankruptcy court's ruling in favor of the ex-husband. The court held that the ex-husband's payment to the ex-wife's former attorney did not terminate his obligation to the ex-wife because the attorney was no longer authorized to transact on the ex-wife's behalf. In this case, the attorney did not have actual or apparent authority to collect on the ex-wife's behalf. View "Russell v. Russell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy, Family Law
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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging violations of their due process rights after a social worker and other officials seized all seven of their children and put them in foster homes. The Fifth Circuit held that the complaint did not allege a violation of clearly established substantive due process rights because there was an ongoing investigation into domestic violence and the removal lasted only 24 hours. However, the court held that the removal violated clearly established procedural due process rights because there was neither a court order nor exigent circumstances to support the social worker's taking the children from their mother. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Romero v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana, and seven individuals seeking to adopt Indian children filed suit against the United States, several federal agencies and officials, and five intervening Tribes, raising facial constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and statutory and constitutional challenges to the 2016 administrative rule (the Final Rule) that was promulgated by the Department of the Interior to clarify provisions of ICWA. The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to bring all claims; the ICWA and the Final Rule are constitutional because they are based on a political classification that is rationally related to the fulfillment of Congress's unique obligation toward Indians; ICWA preempts conflicting state laws and does not violate the Tenth Amendment anticommandeering doctrine; and ICWA and the Final Rule do not violate the nondelegation doctrine. The court also held that the Final Rule implementing the ICWA is valid because the ICWA is constitutional, the BIA did not exceed its authority when it issued the Final Rule, and the agency's interpretation of ICWA section 1915 is reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. View "Brackeen v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a mother and her three minor children, filed suit against two employees of the state's child protective services agency, claiming a constitutional violation based on defendants' taking of the three children from their mother's custody under a temporary removal order. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because there was no constitutional violation. In this case, there was an adequate basis for the issuance of the temporary conservatorship order and therefore there was no Fourth Amendment violation based on the Protective Services employee's affidavit. Furthermore, there was no vicarious liability that applied to the Protective Services supervisor and the claim was properly dismissed. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Marks v. Hudson" on Justia Law

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Appellants asserted claims for child support arrearages against debtor. Although debtor filed for bankruptcy, appellants claimed that they never received notice of debtor's bankruptcy case. Therefore, appellants argued that they were denied the opportunity to timely file proofs of claim. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's finding that the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, from which appellants had sought child support enforcement services, had received timely notice and ultimately afforded their claims distribution status under 11 U.S.C. 726(a)(2). In this case, the Department was properly the creditor for the purposes of debtor's child support obligations and the Department's proofs of claim were untimely. View "Pate v. Tow" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy, Family 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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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Southwest in an action filed by plaintiff under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), alleging claims of interference and retaliation. The court held that the district court correctly determined that plaintiff failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she provided the required notice to her employer to sustain her FMLA claims. Even if plaintiff had made a prima facie showing for her FMLA interference claim, she was still required, and failed, to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Southwest's proffered nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her employment was merely pretextual. View "DeVoss v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's grave-risk defense in plaintiff's action seeking return of their child to Mexico pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The court rejected defendant's claims that the district court improperly used a heightened standard in making its rulings. The court held that the record demonstrated that the district court's reference to "objective evidence" did not compel ruling that the findings of fact were "based on a misconception of the underlying legal standard." The court also held that defendant failed to show that the district court "labored under" the mistaken "assumption that threats against a parent can never create a grave risk of harm to his or her children." View "Ontiveros Soto v. Contreras" on Justia Law

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Father petitioned the district court to order mother to return their three-year-old daughter to Paraguay, where she lived with both parents from October 2014 to October 2016. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that Paraguay was the daughter's habitual residence and that mother had wrongfully removed her to the United States. The court held that the district court did not legally err in assessing the parties' shared intent about their child's habitual residence; nor did the district court clearly err in finding that they agreed that their daughter would habitually reside in Paraguay; and any purported evidentiary error was harmless. View "Cartes v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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Two former sheriff's deputies were terminated for violating the Sheriff's Code of Conduct because they moved in with each other's wife and family before getting divorced from their current wives. The district court held that the Code policies invoked against the deputies were supported by the rational grounds of preserving a cohesive police force and upholding the public trust and reputation of the Sheriff's Department, and that the Code was not unconstitutionally vague as written or enforced. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of defendants, holding that the district court made no reversible error of fact or law. The court explained that Obergefell v. Hodges does not alter applicable law, and did not create "rights" based on relationships that mock marriage. View "Coker, v. Whittington" on Justia Law