Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
Turner, et al. v. Pleasant, et al.
Plaintiffs sought to reopen a judgment entered in 2001 after the district judge that entered judgment for defendants in plaintiffs' person injury case was impeached and removed from office. Plaintiffs filed what they termed an independent action in equity on grounds that the judgment was procured by fraud involving the district judge. A new district judge dismissed the suit as barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The court reversed and remanded after applying a five-element analysis of an independent action in equity.
Danos v. Jones, et al
Plaintiff was a secretary of G. Thomas Porteous, Jr. during his service as a district judge until Porteous was impeached and the Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit suspended Porteous's authority to employ staff, which resulted in plaintiff's termination. Plaintiff sued the Judicial Council and fifteen of its members seeking declaratory relief, reinstatement to her position, monetary relief, and attorney's fees and costs. Plaintiff subsequently appealed the district court's order insofar as it dismissed her claims against the members of the Judicial Council. The court held that plaintiff lacked prudential standing to bring her constitutional challenge to the Judicial Council's action. The court rejected plaintiff's claim that the ultra vires exception applied to sovereign immunity where her claims for injunctive relief were moot in light of Porteous's removal from office; claims for back pay and retirement credits were barred by sovereign immunity; and plaintiff lacked the necessary injury-in-fact to pursue declaratory relief. The court also held that even if plaintiff had standing to seek declaratory relief, she had not pleaded a sufficient claim of ultra vires action by the Judicial Council to overcome the jurisdictional bar of sovereign immunity. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.
United States v. Brown
This appeal arose from an earlier trial relating to the Enron scandal. The government alleged that Enron loaned out the stake in the barges that it owned off the Nigerian coast to Merill Lynch, risk-free and with a guaranteed return, but made it seem like a sale so that it could book a pretend profit. Defendant, a managing director at Merrill Lynch and the head of its Strategic Asset and Lease Finance group at the time of the transaction, challenged his convictions related to the sale on the grounds that the government violated his right to due process by withholding materially favorable evidence that it possessed pre-trial. The court affirmed and held that the district court did not clearly err in holding that the evidence at issue was not material.
Reed v. City of Arlington
This case arose when debtor, a former firefighter, and his wife, filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, but failed to disclose on their bankruptcy schedules either his judgment against the City of Arlington (an asset of the estate) or his associated legal fees (a liability of the estate). At issue was whether judicial estoppel barred a blameless bankruptcy trustee from pursuing a judgment that the debtor, having concealed the judgment during bankruptcy, was himself estopped from pursuing. The court held that it did not. The court concluded that this result upheld the purpose of judicial estoppel, which in this context was to protect the integrity of the bankruptcy process, by adhering to basic tenets of bankruptcy law and by preserving the assets of the bankruptcy estate for equitable distribution to the estate's innocent creditors.
USPPS, Ltd. v. Avery Dennison Corp., et al.
This suit stemmed from the efforts of plaintiff and its owner and founder to obtain a patent for an invention related to personalized postage stamps and the suit involved state law claims of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty in connection with a patent application. Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, holding that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff's claims were time-barred such that defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that in the alternative, there was no genuine issue of material fact as to the causation elements of plaintiff's claims. The court held that this case raised issues of patent law, and those issues were substantial because of the special federal interest in developing a uniform body of patent law in the Federal Circuit as recognized in Scherbatskoy v. Halliburton Co. and expressed by Congress's grant of exclusive appellate jurisdiction over patent cases to that court. Therefore, the court held that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal and transferred the suit to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1631.
Conway v. United States
This case stemmed from the transportation excise tax that National Airlines (National) owed the government. Plaintiff appealed the district court's summary judgment determination that, pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 6672, he was personally liable for the excise taxes that National collected from its passengers but failed to pay over to the United States during his tenure as National's CEO. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court and held that the district court properly found that plaintiff was a "responsible person" and that his failure to pay taxes was willful as defined by this circuit's precedents.
Jennings. Jr. v. Patton
Plaintiff sued defendant, a county judge in Mississippi, under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for allegedly causing plaintiff to be prosecuted without probable cause. At issue was whether the district court properly denied defendant's motion, concluding that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment. The court held that defendant was entitled to qualified immunity where the district court did not explain the constitutional right that he had purportedly violated and, under the circumstances of the case, plaintiff had not shown that defendant's actions tainted the deliberations of the magistrate who issued the arrest warrant or the grand jury that returned the indictment. The court also held that, because the appeal was resolved on grounds of qualified immunity, the court need not address whether defendant was entitled to judicial immunity. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment.