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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Texas state prisoner Haverkamp, a biological male at birth who identifies as a transgender woman, sued, alleging violations of the Equal Protection Clause by denying Haverkamp medically necessary sex-reassignment surgery and by failing to provide certain female commissary items and a long-hair pass. Texas’s Correctional Managed Healthcare Committee has a policy concerning the treatment of gender disorders. Based on the state’s advisory, the district court ordered service of Haverkamp’s operative complaint on Dr. Murray, whom the state identified as the proper defendant if Haverkamp were seeking sex-reassignment surgery, and the nine Committee members who had not yet been named as parties. The district court subsequently denied motions to dismiss, concluding that the state was not entitled to sovereign immunity.The Fifth Circuit vacated. Haverkamp’s suit is barred by sovereign immunity because the Committee members are not proper defendants under Ex Parte Young; Haverkamp fails to allege they have the requisite connection to enforcing the policies Haverkamp challenges. In light of the state’s representations to the district court that these defendants are the proper state officials to sue, the court did not dismiss them from the case. View "Haverkamp v. Linthicum" on Justia Law

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This case arose from Port's efforts, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps, in planning and executing the Freeport Harbor Channel Improvement Project. To construct new facilities, the Port needs land, and has consequently been acquiring properties in the East End with the goal of eventually buying up the entire neighborhood. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendants intentionally discriminated against East End residents during its expansion in violation of section 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and denied plaintiff's administrative complaint in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).The Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's section 601 claim because plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege that the Port acted with discriminatory intent. However, the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's APA claim. The court explained that the Corps' decision to deny plaintiff's administrative complaint was not committed to its discretion and is thus reviewable under the APA. On remand, the court instructed the district court to consider only the issue of whether the Corps correctly denied plaintiff's administrative complaint on the basis that it lacked jurisdiction due to an absence of federal financial assistance within the meaning of Title VI. View "Rollerson v. Brazos River Harbor Navigation District of Brazoria County Texas" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Health Choice's qui tam actions under the False Claims Act on behalf of the United States alleging violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute by pharmaceutical companies. As a preliminary matter, the court explained that there is a potential jurisdictional issue concerning the chronology of two events: Health Choice's voluntary dismissal and the district court's granting of the United States' motion to dismiss. The court declined to create a circuit split and concluded that the prior without-prejudice dismissals did not deprive the district court's subsequent decision of finality. The court explained that the district court's order on the motion to dismiss was final because it adjudicated all the claims against all the remaining parties in the action at the time it was entered, and the prior voluntary dismissal does not alter that conclusion.The court affirmed on the merits, construing the term "hearing" in 31 U.S.C. 3730(c)(2)(A) to require something more than a forum for a relator to convince the government not to dismiss. In this case, Health Choice got a hearing as required by section 3730(c)(2)(A). The court explained that, assuming without deciding, that the more burdensome Sequoia Orange test applies, dismissal of the Eli Lilly and Bayer cases was proper. In this case, the government has satisfied its burden of showing a rational relation between dismissal and its legitimate cost-saving purpose. Considering Health Choice's arguments and the record as a whole, the court held that Health Choice did not show that dismissal was "fraudulent, arbitrary and capricious, or illegal" under the strict Sequoia Orange standard. View "United States ex rel. Health Choice Alliance, LLC v. Eli Lilly and Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied Huawei's petition for review challenging an FCC rule barring the use of government subsidies to buy equipment from companies designated security risks to communications networks. As a preliminary matter, the court dismissed Huawei's claims related to the initial designation for lack of jurisdiction based on ripeness grounds.The court concluded that the FCC reasonably interpreted its authority under the Communications Act in formulating the rule. The court found that the agency reasonably interpreted the Act's "public interest" provisions (47 U.S.C. 254(c)(1)(D), in coordination with section 201(b)), to authorize allocation of universal service funds based on the agency's exercise of limited national security judgment. Furthermore, the agency reasonably interpreted the "quality services" provision in section 254(b)(1) to support that exercise. Therefore, the court deferred to the agency's interpretation under Chevron review and rejected Huawei's argument that the agency lacked statutory authority for the rule. The court also considered the companies' other challenges under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution, finding that claims regarding adequacy of notice, arbitrary and capricious review, vagueness, and due process are unavailing. View "Huawei Technologies USA, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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In this case involving the tragic crash of a sightseeing helicopter in Hawaii, at issue is whether communications between the NTSB and outside consultants must be disclosed to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).The Fifth Circuit concluded that the outside parties solicited by the NTSB qualify as "consultants" under Exemption 5's corollary. The court explained that Department of the Interior v. Klamath Water Users Protection Association, 532 U.S. 1 (2001), does not stand for the broad principle that a consultant's "self-interest" always excludes it from Exemption 5. And, properly applied, the consultant corollary squarely covers the NTSB's communications with the non-agency parties here. The court further explained that subjecting the NTSB's communications with consultants to broad public disclosure would inhibit the agency's ability to receive candid technical input from those best positioned to give it. On remand, the district court will need to undertake the second facet of the Exemption 5 inquiry: determining whether the documents at issue are subject to a litigation privilege ordinarily available to a government agency. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Jobe v. National Transportation Safety Board" on Justia Law

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After Hurricane Dolly severely damaged a public housing development in Port Isabel, the conditional grant money that the CCHA was supposed to receive fell through. CCHA then filed suit against the City under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and other statutes, dismissing the FHA claims for lack of standing.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the CCHA's injury-in-fact of which they complain -- the total elimination of federal funding that occurred on December 1, 2015 -- is not fairly traceable to the City. In this case, the summary judgment record makes clear that plaintiffs' December 1 loss of federal funding was the combined result of third-party actions and self-inflicted harm. In this case, it was the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council that sank the four-unit proposal, and it was the Council that enforced the December 1 deadline. View "Cameron County Housing Authority v. City of Port Isabel" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of appellant's amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Appellant challenged the denial of his passport applications and sought a declaration of U.S. citizenship under 8 U.S.C. 1503(a). Appellant also brought a statutory claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and a constitutional claim under the Fifth Amendment. Appellant conceded in district court that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider his first two claims (his section 1503(a) claim and his statutory APA claim), leaving only his constitutional claim, which the district court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider.The court held that Congress intended section 1503(a) to be the exclusive remedy for a person within the United States to seek a declaration of U.S. nationality following an agency or department's denial of a privilege or right of citizenship upon the ground that the person is not a U.S. national. Therefore, the "any other statute" proviso of section 702 maintains the United States' sovereign immunity against petitioner's constitutional claim because the statute of limitations contained in section 1503(a) has run and thus expressly forbids the relief sought. View "Cambranis v. Blinken" on Justia Law

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In 2015, a solder stationed at Fort Hood fatally shot his neighbors, his wife, and himself. The victims' families filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the district court entered final judgment in favor of the United States, dismissing the case with prejudice.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, concluding that the district court did not commit clear error in finding that the harm to the victims was not foreseeable to the Army. The court explained that, under Texas law, a plaintiff must show both forseeability and cause in fact to establish proximate causation. In this case, there were no red flags regarding the soldier's behavior preceding the shootings; the evidence at trial showed that the Army was getting mixed messages about who was the victim of the altercation between the solider and his wife twelve days earlier; and the murders and shootings committed by the solider could not have been reasonably anticipated by the Army. The district court also found that the soldier's killings were "a superseding, unforeseeable event that could not have been anticipated by the Army based on the information they had during that 12-day period" between the February 9 altercation and the February 22 killings. The court also concluded that substantial evidence supported the district court's forseeability finding, and the district court did not commit clear error in making its finding. View "Kristensen v. United States" on Justia Law

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Shortly after COVID-19 struck the Wallace Pack Unit, plaintiffs filed suit seeking injunctive relief on behalf of three certified classes of inmate for violations of the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that defendants acted with deliberate indifference to their health and safety in violation of the Eighth Amendment in light of the dangers of COVID-19 for a geriatric prison population, and that defendants violated the ADA and Rehabilitation Act by failing to accommodate for specific risks to wheelchair-bound and other mobility-impaired inmates.On April 16, 2020, the district court entered a preliminary injunction which was stayed by the Fifth Circuit on April 22 and then vacated on June 5. On September 29, 2020, the district court issued a permanent injunction, concluding that plaintiffs did not need to exhaust administrative remedies; defendants were deliberately indifferent; and defendants violated the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's permanent injunction and rendered judgment for defendants. The court concluded that the prison officials were not deliberately indifferent based on a lack of a systemic approach. After considering Policy B-14.52, its unwritten additions, and its administration, the court explained that the record does not support a finding of deliberate indifference in the way the officials considered and adopted a response to COVID-19. The court also concluded that the prison officials were not deliberately indifferent based on a failure to abide by basic public health guidance regarding testing, social distancing, mask use, handwashing, sanitation, and cleaning. Finally, the court concluded that the mobility-impaired inmates failed to establish their prima facie ADA claim, and consequently their Rehabilitation Act claim. View "Valentine v. Collier" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the DOE, alleging that the TEA had discharged her in retaliation for whistleblowing. Congress enacted a broad-based whistleblower protection program as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA). The NDAA prohibits any recipient of federal dollars from retaliating against whistleblowers who report an abuse of that money.The Fifth Circuit granted the TEA's petition for review, vacated the offending order, and remanded for prompt entry of dismissal. The court agreed with the TEA that the DOE's investigation of plaintiff's complaint and award of damages violated Texas's sovereign immunity. The court explained that whistleblower-retaliation investigations into a state, like any other administrative proceedings brought by private parties, are barred by sovereign immunity. The court joined two other federal courts that have directly addressed the issue and held that the NDAA is not adequately clear for any waiver from sovereign immunity to be effective. Furthermore, the clarity required for a waiver of sovereign immunity to be "knowing" cannot be met by regulations clarifying an ambiguous statute. Rather, the needed clarity must come directly from the statute. View "Texas Education Agency v. United States Department of Education" on Justia Law