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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Loggerhead Holdings, Inc., a holding company that owned a scuba diving cruise business, was one of many plaintiffs who brought suit against an oil company because of the explosion of an offshore drilling rig and the resulting discharge of a massive quantity of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Loggerhead’s claims were dismissed on summary judgment.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court explained that Loggerhead had been able to continue operations for several years despite its fraught financial condition, and indeed despite reporting net losses on its taxes for the three years preceding the disastrous events of April 2010 in the Gulf. Whether it could have continued to survive, if not thrive, had the April events not occurred presents a fact question. Thus, the court concluded that a reasonable factfinder could find the requisite causal link between the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Loggerhead’s demise. Summary judgment should not have been granted.   However, because Loggerhead was not able to offer more than Dixon’s allegations and an unsupported estimate — evidence “so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant” — the district court properly granted BP’s motion for summary judgment on the Section 2702(b)(2)(B) claim. View "Loggerhead Holdings v. BP" on Justia Law

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This is an appeal from a district court’s grant of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that Defendant Biloxi H.M.A., L.L.C., doing business as Merit Health Biloxi (“Merit Health”), a hospital, has a duty to disclose that it charges a “facility fee,” also referred to as a “surcharge,” to all emergency room patients who receive care at its facility. The district court, making an Erie guess informed by the Mississippi Supreme Court’s references to, and partial application of, the Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 551, determined that Merit Health did not have a duty to disclose because the surcharge was not a “fact basic to the transaction”, and it, therefore, granted the motion to dismiss.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court explained that in applying relevant legal precepts, the court thinks that the Mississippi Supreme Court would hold that Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged facts that Merit Health had a duty to exercise reasonable care to disclose the surcharge. First, Plaintiff alleged that the surcharge was a material fact. Second, Plaintiff alleged that Merit Health was aware that patients like her were unaware of the surcharge, but nonetheless failed to disclose it. Third, Plaintiff alleged that she had a reasonable expectation of disclosure because Merit Health holds itself out to be a “caring community-based organization” and patients like her expected Merit Health to disclose the surcharge based on the confidence and trust that they placed in the hospital. View "Henley v. Biloxi H.M.A." on Justia Law

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Environmental groups sued ExxonMobil under the Clean Air Act for thousands of unauthorized emissions from the company’s complex in Baytown, Texas. Applying guidance from the Fifth Circuit, the district court determined that Plaintiffs proved traceability for only 3,651 of the 16,386 violation days. It ordered Exxon to pay $14.25 million dollars, lessening the penalty by more than five million dollars to reflect the reduced number of justiciable violations.   The Fifth Circuit found no error in the district court’s fact-intensive analysis of standing or penalty. The court explained that the district court properly accounted for the reduced number of violations in its final balancing of the statutory factors, reducing the penalty multiplier from 50% of the value of noncompliance to 10%. Thus, the district court’s conclusion on economic benefit stands.   Further, the court explained that in considering the length of only select few of those thousands of violations would not fully reflect the extent of Exxon’s unlawfulness. Thus, the court would not disturb the district court’s conclusion that the duration factor weighs for a penalty. The court additionally explained that there was no abuse of discretion on the seriousness factor. The district court considered each violation; it found that the traceable violations involved relatively high levels of emissions and necessarily considered the amount of each violation when it added them up to reach the 1.5-million-pound figure. Exxon does not offer any alternative definitions of “seriousness” that the district court could have applied instead. View "Env TX Citizen Lobby, et al v. ExxonMobil, et al" on Justia Law

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Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (“NYK”), incorporated and headquartered in Japan, is a major global logistics company that transports cargo by air and sea. On June 17, 2017, the ACX Crystal, a 730-foot container ship chartered by NYK, collided with the destroyer USS Fitzgerald in Japanese territorial waters. Personal representatives of the seven sailors killed sued NYK in federal court, asserting wrongful death and survival claims under the Death on the High Seas Act.  In both cases, the plaintiffs alleged that NYK, a foreign corporation, is amenable to federal court jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(2) based on its “substantial, systematic and continuous contacts with the United States as a whole. The district court granted NYK’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2).   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Plaintiffs’ invitation to craft an atextual, novel, and unprecedented Fifth Amendment personal jurisdiction standard. The court explained that under the Supreme Court’s reigning test for personal jurisdiction, the district court did not err in absolving NYK from appearing in federal court. The court wrote that general jurisdiction over NYK does not comport with its Fifth Amendment due process rights. NYK is incorporated and headquartered in Japan. As a result, exercising general jurisdiction over NYK would require that its contacts with the United States “be so substantial and of such a nature to render [it] at home” in the United States. Here, NYK’s contacts with the United States comprise only a minor portion of its worldwide contacts. View "Douglass v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki" on Justia Law

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A time-chartered vessel allided with a barge and a dock in the Houston Ship Channel. The owner of the barge and the lessee of the dock sued both the vessel’s owner and her then-time charterer, seeking damages for negligence. The district court granted summary judgment in the time-charterer’s favor. It held that the time charterer did not function as the vessel’s de facto owner, nor did it negligently discharge its duties as her time charterer. The lessee of the dock, on behalf of itself and certain other interested parties, timely appealed.The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The two relevant question son appeal are whether there are two questions on appeal. The first is confined to the facts of this case: Did China Navigation exercise sufficient operational control over the Yochow such that it should be considered her de facto owner? The second is more general and, if resolved in TPC’s favor, would have potentially far-reaching consequences for the shipping industry: Does a time charterer have a duty to vet a vessel owner prior to executing a charter party?The court explained that the facts do not demonstrate that China Navigation retained contractual control over the Yochow. Nor do they suggest that it exercised operational control over the Yochow to such an extent that it should be considered her de facto owner. Further, the court wrote that China Navigation did not owe a duty to vet Grand Famous’ finances or the Yochow’s safety management protocols prior to executing the time charter. View "TPC Group v. China Navigation" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Plaintiff sued Defendant in a Texas federal court to recover unpaid legal fees. The federal rules allow service under the law of the state “where service is made,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e)(1), so Plaintiff tried serving Defendant by publication under Florida law. But that publication notice was defective. Noting that defect, Defendant moved to vacate his default. Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(c). But the district court declined and soon entered a default judgment.The Fifth Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s judgment. The court held that it was an error for the district court to decline to consider Defendant’s objection to improper service. The court explained that because Defendant was never properly served, he showed good cause to set aside his default and the default judgment that followed. View "Espinoza v. Humphries" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs seek to hold Bodum USA, Inc., responsible for an alleged manufacturing defect in one of its French press coffee makers (“the Press”) that they claim caused it to malfunction and injure their young child. The district court granted summary judgment for Bodum, concluding that no reasonable jury could find that the Press deviated from its intended design.The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court explained that a manufacturing defect may be established exclusively through circumstantial evidence and plaintiffs must allege a specific deviation from the product’s intended design that allegedly caused the injury. Here, Plaintiffs show the alleged defect was present when the Press left Bodum’s control, Plaintiffs point to French press coil assemblies advertised on Bodum’s website that also contain an outwardly protruding coil. Moreover, the court wrote that the following evidence creates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Press contained a manufacturing defect: (1) testimony from Plaintiffs that they purchased their Press in brand-new condition; (2) a specific alleged defect consisting of a metal coil protruding beyond its mesh enclosure; (3) the district court’s finding that “the metal mesh was intended to completely engulf the metal coil,” which is corroborated by expert testimony; (4) an expert witness who examined the Press, tested it, compared it with two exemplars, and opined that the protruding metal coil deviated from the Press’s intended design, and caused the glass to fracture and ultimately shatter; and (5) the shattering of the Press’s glass carafe allegedly during ordinary use, albeit by a five-year-old child. View "Norman v. Bodum USA" on Justia Law

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Appellee brought a retaliatory arrest claim against the Mayor and Chief of Police of Castle Hills, claiming that she was arrested for engaging in protected speech. However, Appellee acknowledges that there was probable cause for her arrest. Appellants asserted a qualified immunity defense. The district court denied Appellants' motion to dismiss.On appeal, the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying Appellant's motion to dismiss, finding Appellee failed to establish a violation of her constitutional rights in her retaliatory arrest claim because the arresting officer had probable cause to arrest. While probable cause to arrest does not necessarily preclude a retaliatory arrest claim, Appellee failed to establish any of these exceptions. View "Gonzalez v. Trevino" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued a nursing home and its insurer in state court after their mother contracted COVID-19 at the facility and died. The home, Woodlawn Manor, removed the action to federal court. After dismissing Plaintiffs’ federal claims, the district court remanded to state court, declining supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims that remained.Woodlawn contested that remand arguing that the state-law claims pose federal questions that the district court could and should have heard. Further, Woodlawn argued that even if those claims did not pose federal questions the court should have exercised supplemental jurisdiction over them despite having dismissed all federal claims.The Fifth Circuit affirmed holding the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (“PREP” or “Act”) does not preempt state-law negligence claims. Second, Plaintiffs did not plead willful-misconduct claims. But even if they had, they could not have brought them under the Act. Further, Plaintiffs asserted state-law claims for negligence. Under Mitchell, the PREP Act does not preempt those claims, so they cannot support original federal jurisdiction. Thus, because Plaintiffs’ factual allegations, taken as true, do not state and could not support a willful-misconduct claim under the Act, there is no federal question here. View "Manyweather v. Woodlawn Manor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged that they contracted COVID-19 while working at two Tyson Foods, Inc (“Tyson”) facilities in Texas during the first few months of 2020. Some of them died as a result. They alleged that Tyson failed to follow applicable COVID-19 guidance by directing employees to work in close quarters without proper protective equipment. They also alleged that Tyson knew some of its employees were coming to work sick with COVID-19 but ignored the problem and that Tyson implemented a “work while sick” policy to keep the plant open.   Tyson argued that it was “acting under” direction from the federal government when it chose to keep its poultry processing plants open during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the district courts erred in remanding these cases back to state court.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's orders. The court explained that Tyson received, at most, strong encouragement from the federal government. But Tyson was never told that it must keep its facilities open. The court wrote that from the earliest days of the pandemic all the way through the issuance of Executive Order 13917, the federal government’s actions followed the same playbook: encouragement to meat and poultry processors to continue operating, careful monitoring of the food supply, and support for state and local governments. Tyson was exhorted, but it was not directed. Thus, Tyson has not shown that it was “acting under” a federal officer’s directions” and so the court need not consider whether it meets the remaining elements of the federal officer removal statute. View "Glenn v. Tyson Foods" on Justia Law