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

Articles Posted in Military Law
by
Plaintiffs, in this case, are a group of Mississippi municipalities and associations harmed and threatened by this turn of events. They sued the Army Corps of Engineers (the “Corps”) under Administrative Procedure Act (APA) Section 706(1) for the Corps’ refusal to prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as assertedly required by NEPA and accompanying regulations. Invoking the federal government’s sovereign immunity, the Corps moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The parties agreed on the legal question at issue—namely, whether NEPA and related regulations impose on the Corps a discrete duty to act that a federal court can compel it to honor under APA Section 706(1)—but disagreed on the answer to the question.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling granting summary judgment to the Corps. The court explained that because the Corps has no duty to prepare the supplemental EIS the plaintiffs seek, Plaintiffs have no APA claim for unlawful agency inaction, and the Corps is immune from their suit claiming otherwise. For better or worse, Congress and the Corps have authority to act on Plaintiffs’ dire environmental concerns. The federal courts do not. View "Harrison County, MS v. U.S. Army Corps" on Justia Law

by
This case arises from major flooding events in the Houston area in 2016 and 2017. Local political subdivisions sued the United States Army Corps of Engineers, seeking compliance with alleged regulatory obligations. The district court dismissed with prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. The fundamental issue in the case is whether the Corps has violated any enforceable, legal obligation in the management of the relevant dams and reservoirs. A potential source for obligations imposed on the Corps is the 2012 Water Control Manual (“WCM”) adopted by the Corps for flood control in the relevant watershed.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court held that Section 702 of the APA has been satisfied in that the complaint alleges Plaintiffs have been aggrieved by agency action, that the suit is not one for money damages, and that the injury arises from an officer or employee who has acted or failed to act in an official capacity or under color of law. Further, the court held that the Tucker Act does not provide an “adequate remedy” to the County’s claims within the meaning of Section 704. Further, the court wrote that since the regulation does not specify when such conditions require the Corps to update a WCM, the Corps must exercise discretion in deciding when updating a WCM is necessary. Such discretion is antithetical to a mandatory duty. Thus the court concluded there is no discrete, mandatory duty to revise. View "Ft Bend Cty v. US Army Corps" on Justia Law

by
A former military prisoner violated a condition of his supervision. After being arrested and while being detained, he brought the current lawsuit claiming that the condition he violated was unconstitutional. He has been released, and his term of supervision has ended. He has been denied all veterans’ benefits due to the violation. The court addressed whether the denial of the benefits is a collateral consequence sufficient to avoid finding his claim to be moot now that he has completed his term of supervision.Plaintiff argues that his claims remain viable because of collateral consequences resulting from his alleged violation of the special condition. The Department of Veterans Affairs notified him that his benefits were terminated because he was a “fugitive felon”. The VA stated to Plaintiff that he would have to provide evidence showing that he was not a fugitive felon to resume his benefits.The court explained that there is little authority on whether the denial of VA benefits would be a collateral consequence sufficient to defeat an otherwise moot habeas petition. The loss of VA benefits due to his violation of the condition challenged in his petition may be an ongoing collateral consequence that prevents this case from being moot. However, the court stated while some of Plaintiff's claims are moot they cannot make a holding in the absence of briefing from the government. Thus, the court remanded the issue for the district court to consider. View "Foster v. Warden, et al" on Justia Law

Posted in: Military Law
by
The Fifth Circuit denied defendants' motion for a partial stay of the district court's preliminary injunction enjoining the Department of Defense, United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and United States Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro from enforcing certain COVID-19 vaccination requirements against 35 Navy special warfare personnel and prohibiting any adverse actions based on their religious accommodation requests. Specifically, defendants seek a partial stay pending appeal insofar as the injunction precludes them from considering plaintiffs' vaccination statuses "in making deployment, assignment and other operational decisions."The court weighed the Mindes abstention factors and determined that this dispute is justiciable. However, the court concluded that defendants have not carried their burden to warrant the issuance of the stay. The court agreed with the district court that defendants have not shown a compelling interest to deny religious accommodations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to each of the 35 plaintiffs at issue. Rather, the "marginal interest" in vaccinating each plaintiff appears to be negligible and thus defendants lack a sufficiently compelling interest to vaccinate plaintiffs. The court also concluded that the preliminary injunction does not irreparably damage the Navy and the public; partially staying the preliminary injunction pending appeal would substantially harm plaintiffs; and issuance of the requested stay would disserve the public interest. View "U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 v. Biden" on Justia Law

by
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

by
The Commission alleged that the Army violated the Randolph-Sheppard Act by failing to give priority to blind vendors in the bidding process for a vending facility services contract at an Army base cafeteria. After the arbitration panel found in favor of the Army, the Commission appealed the panel's decision.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Commission. The court held that the statutory language is ambiguous; applied the presumption against ineffectiveness; supported a broader interpretation of "operate" in the context in which it is used within the Act; and held that the district court did not err in holding that the Act may apply to Dining Facility Attendant (DFA) contracts generally. In this case, the DFA contract at issue is subject to the Act and the Army violated the Act by not giving the Commission priority in the bidding process. View "Texas Workforce Commission v. United States Department of Education" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed suit against the Government, alleging that the male-only military draft unlawfully discriminates based on sex. The Military Selective Service Act requires essentially all male citizens and immigrants between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six to register with the Selective Service System. The district court granted plaintiffs declaratory judgment and held that requiring only men to register for the draft violated their Fifth Amendment rights.The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court's judgment directly contradicts the Supreme Court's holding in Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57, 78–79 (1981). In Rostker, the Supreme Court held that the male-only Selective Service registration requirement did not offend due process where women at the time were barred from combat. The court explained that here, as in State Oil Co. v. Khan, 522 U.S. 3, 22 (1997), the factual underpinning of the controlling Supreme Court decision has changed, but that does not grant a court of appeals license to disregard or overrule that precedent. Accordingly, the court dismissed the case. View "National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs brought a putative class action under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), alleging that they and similarly situated individuals were on active duty with the military when defendants variously foreclosed on their properties through executory proceedings in Louisiana state courts based on mortgage, privilege, or security agreements each plaintiff and putative class member had entered with one of the defendants.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motions to dismiss and Trustmark National Bank's motion for judgment on the pleadings. The court held that 50 U.S.C. 3931 does not encompass Louisiana executory proceedings where, as here, the debtors confessed judgment. The court explained that the SCRA's waiver requirements were thus inapplicable because there was nothing to waive where plaintiffs were never protected under section 3931. Therefore, the court rejected plaintiffs' argument that the state court orders authorizing seizure and sale of their respective properties constitute default judgments under the SCRA. View "Fodge v. Trustmark National Bank" on Justia Law

by
Federal Rule of Evidence 601 requires federal courts to apply state rules of witness qualification when determining the competency of expert witnesses to testify regarding medical malpractice claims that turn on questions of state substantive law. Plaintiff filed suit challenging the district court's grant of summary judgment on some of her claims and the dismissal of her other claims brought against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).The Fifth Circuit held that the district court was correct in its determination that Rule 601 requires that plaintiff's proffered expert witness must satisfy the state law standards for expert witness competency in addition to the Federal Rule of Evidence 702 standards for the admissibility of expert witness testimony. However, the district court erred in its assertion that it was "undisputed" that the expert was not "practicing medicine" as the term is used in Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. 74.401. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's judgment deeming it to be undisputed that the expert was not competent to testify as a medical expert and remanded for the dispute to be adjudicated in the first instance. The court also held that the district court erred in analyzing plaintiff's privacy-related allegations as federal Privacy Act claims brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but the district court nonetheless did not err by dismissing the claims. The district court did not err by granting summary judgment for the government on the three privacy-related claims that it construed as Privacy Act claims and considered on the merits. Although the district court erred by holding plaintiff's claim of assault and battery was jurisdictionally-barred, summary judgment was nevertheless appropriate. View "Coleman v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Military Law
by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's action against the Installation Commander of Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center and the denial of remand. The court held that the district court did not err by finding that Colonel Michel was a federal employee under 32 U.S.C. 502(f) and 28 U.S.C. 26781, and was therefore a federal employee shielded by the Westfall Act from individual liability. The court also held that the district court appropriately credited the certifications made here when it decided to substitute the United States as the party defendant in Michel's place and deny remand. Finally, plaintiff waived her challenge of the district court's order granting defendants' motion to dismiss. View "Gilmore v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

Posted in: Military Law