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

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Spectrum filed suit against Lifetime and Jay Tuttle for trademark violations under the Lanham Act over a domain name. After Spectrum was awarded statutory damages, the district court declined to award attorneys' fees to Spectrum.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's admission of certain deposition testimony at trial and agreed with the Fourth Circuit that the plain text of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 32(a)(4)(B) is clear that "the place of trial" is the courthouse where trial takes place. In this case, the Lifetime Defendants were not prejudiced by the transfer of trial venue from San Antonio to Waco, and the court rejected the Lifetime Defendants' contention that the witness was not an unavailable trial witness. The court affirmed the district court's statutory damages award, concluding that the district court did not abuse its broad discretion, under 15 U.S.C. 1117(d), in awarding $100,000 for the Infringing Domain. However, the court reversed the district court's finding that Spectrum was not entitled to attorneys' fees in this exceptional case where the record confirms that the Lifetime Defendants engaged in willful, bad-faith infringement of Spectrum's trademarks, justifying an award of maximum statutory damages. The court remanded for a determination of reasonable attorneys' fees. View "Spectrum Association Management of Texas, LLC v. Lifetime HOA Management LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that 11 U.S.C. 363(m) forecloses the creditor's appeal of last-minute modifications to the terms of a bankruptcy sale because it failed to seek the required stay of the Sale Order. The court explained that Am. Grain Ass'n, 630 F.2d at 248, and In re Sneed Shipbuilding, Inc., 916 F.3d 405, 408 (5th Cir. 2019), are controlling in this case and thus the Committee's contentions to the contrary are unavailing. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's ruling that the Committee's appeal was statutorily moot under section 363(m). View "The Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors of Walker County Hospital Corp. v. Walker County Hospital District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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The Fifth Circuit granted petitioner a stay pending review of his petition for immigration relief based on his fear of persecution in India on account of his membership in the Akali Dal Amritsar ("Mann Party"), a Sikh-dominated political party.The court concluded that petitioner has made the requisite showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his claim that the IJ's near total denial rate for asylum applications reflected a bias and violated petitioner's due process rights. The court also concluded that petitioner is likely to succeed on the merits of his challenge to the BIA's conclusion that the IJ adhered to the procedural safeguards the BIA adopted in Matter of R-K-K-, applicable when an IJ relies on inter-proceeding similarities for an adverse credibility determination. The court explained that the appearance of bias painted by the denial of 203 of 204 asylum applications and the IJ's adverse-credibility determination, informed by her noncompliance with the procedural safeguards of Matter of R-K-K-, are here interlaced. In this case, the incredibly high denial rate, when coupled with the IJ's noncompliance with Matter of R-K-K-, presents a substantial likelihood that petitioner will be entitled to relief upon full consideration by a merits panel. The court further concluded that petitioner has demonstrated sufficient probability of irreparable injury. Finally, the balance of the equities, as well as public interest, weigh in favor of a stay of removal. View "Singh v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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The Fifth Circuit granted Judge Mack's motion for a stay pending appeal after the district court held that the judge violated the Establishment Clause, as incorporated against the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, by allowing volunteer chaplains to perform brief, optional, and interfaith opening ceremonies before court sessions.The court concluded that Judge Mack is likely to succeed on the merits of his claims that the district court erred, because the district court's adjudication of FFRF's official-capacity claim was manifestly erroneous and also because FFRF's individual-capacity claim is likely to fail. The court explained that, even assuming Judge Mack could be considered a state official, rather than a county official, FFRF's official-capacity claim must be dismissed because the Supreme Court's Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989), decision squarely prohibits official-capacity claims against state officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In regard to the individual-capacity claim, the court explained that the Supreme Court has held that our Nation's history and tradition allow legislatures to use tax dollars to pay for chaplains who perform sectarian prayers before sessions. See Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983). The court noted that Judge Mack's chaplaincy program raises fewer questions under the Establishment Clause because it uses zero tax dollars and operates on a volunteer basis. The court rejected FFRF's arguments that the evidence of courtroom prayers at the Founding was spotty; that the Supreme Court's invocation does not solicit the participation of the attending public, but that Judge Mack's opening ceremony is "coercive;" that Justice Kagan's hypothetical prayer in the dissent of Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U.S. 565 (2014), supported FFRF's position; and that Judge Mack's practices runs afoul of the Lemon test. The court also concluded that Judge Mack will be irreparably harmed in the absence of a stay pending appeal; any injury to FFRF is outweighed by Judge Mack's strong likelihood of success on the merits; and the public interest warrants a stay. View "Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Mack" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the IRS's motion to dismiss an action brought by plaintiff, seeking to recover penalties that he paid for filing late tax returns and making late tax payments for the 2012-2015 tax years. Plaintiff alleged that he was entitled to the "reasonable cause" exception to the otherwise mandatory penalties.The court concluded that plaintiff failed to sufficiently plead reasonable cause under I.R.C. 6651(a)(1)–(2) for exemption from the mandatory penalties where plaintiff could have used ordinary business care and prudence to assure that his taxes were filed and paid, much like he conducted business and employed a CPA while incarcerated. Likewise, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to demonstrate reasonable cause under I.R.C. 6654 for the same reasons. View "Lindsay v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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Defendants Judith and Dick Brocato were convicted by a jury of conspiracy to commit tax fraud, and filing false returns. Defendants were sentenced to 33 months imprisonment on all counts, to run concurrently. On appeal, defendants seek recusal of the district judge, vacatur of their sentences, and resentencing by a different judge. In this case, defendants argued that the district court's "sua sponte, ex parte investigation into Judith's credibility," its accusation of perjury, and its decision to increase both defendants' bond obligations evinced actual or apparent bias warranting recusal.The Fifth Circuit concluded that certain statements of the district court judge were ill-advised and certain actions of her staff were improper, but nonetheless affirmed because, after a thorough review of the record, the court concluded that there was no actual bias or reasonable question as to the judge's impartiality in this case that would require recusal. The court explained that a reasonable and objective observer, aware of all of the facts and circumstances, would not harbor doubts about the judge's impartiality. View "United States v. Brocato" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against defendants for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and civil conspiracy. However, after defendants' voluntary dismissal of the allegedly malicious and abusive suit, he moved for attorney's fees based on 28 U.S.C. 1927 and the common law bad-faith exception to the American rule.The Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's claims based on res judicata and collateral estoppel. The court explained that, given that the claims for malicious prosecution and abuse of process arise out of the fact of the first lawsuit—and not the facts underlying that lawsuit—they do not arise from the same transaction and are thus not compulsory counterclaims. Furthermore, the district court's denial of defendant's motion for attorney's fees does not collaterally estop him from bringing his current claims, and no factual finding in the order denying the motion for attorney's fees collaterally estops plaintiff from proving his current claims. Finally, because defendants' proposed alternative path for relief is entirely separate from plaintiff's main argument on appeal, was not fully briefed by him, and has not been analyzed by the district court in even a passing fashion, the court declined to affirm on those grounds. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Hammervold v. Blank" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that Texas's intoxication manslaughter statute, Tex. Penal Code 49.08(a), does not constitute a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. 16. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court erred when it convicted and sentenced defendant under 8 U.S.C. 1326(b)(2) based on his prior conviction under Texas Penal Code 49.08(a). Nonetheless, the court concluded that the error did not ultimately affect defendant's sentence because there is no indication anywhere in the record that the sentence imposed here was influenced in any way by an incorrect understanding of the statutory maximum sentence. Rather, defendant concedes that the district court entered a sentence within the Guidelines range, and below the statutory maximum of section 1326(b)(1). Moreover, the district court did not even cite section 1326(b)(2) in its sentencing decision. Accordingly, the court reformed the judgment to correct the error under section 1326(b)(2) and affirmed the sentence as reformed. View "United States v. Trujillo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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These consolidated appeals arose from a deadly shootout that occurred at a restaurant in Waco where hundreds of motorcyclists gathered, including gang members. Plaintiffs filed 42 U.S.C. 1983 actions against Waco public officials based on their arrests and detentions following the rampage, alleging Fourth Amendment violations. Defendants appealed after the district court denied their motions for qualified immunity in part.The Fifth Circuit reversed and rendered as to Defendants Stroman and Lanning; affirmed in part and reversed in part as to Defendants Reyna, Chavez, and Rogers; and remanded for further proceedings. The court concluded that District Attorney Reyna's immunity is limited to that of a law enforcement officer. In this case, his conduct exceeded his prosecutorial function, and some of his actions were more akin to those of a law enforcement officer conducting an investigation. In regard to Franks liability, the court concluded that the issues raised by plaintiffs concern both the sufficiency of the warrant affidavit by Detective Chavez and the extent to which non-signer defendants may be held responsible for any material false statements or omissions. The court concluded that Chavez is within the compass of potential Franks liability; the allegations are sufficient to tie Reyna to potential Franks liability; Detective Rogers may also be implicated in potential Franks liability; but Franks liability is not sufficiently alleged as to Asst. Police Chief Lanning or Chief Stroman. The court concluded, however, that plaintiffs' conspiracy and bystander claims failed and thus the district court erroneously allowed these claims to proceed. View "Terwilliger v. Reyna" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit in Texas district court against Mabe after plaintiff was involved in a car accident with a truck owned by Mabe and operated by a Mabe employee. The accident occurred in Louisiana, a few miles from its border with Texas. Although the Texas district court concluded that Mabe lacked sufficient contacts with Texas to subject the company to personal jurisdiction in the state, the Texas district court found that it was in the interests of justice not to dismiss the case and instead transferred it to the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, which was the federal district court sitting in the district in which the accident occurred. The Louisiana federal district court concluded that plaintiff's claims were time-barred and granted summary judgment for Mabe.The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded, concluding that 28 U.S.C. 1631 is an on-point federal statute that does not conflict with the Louisiana Civil Code Articles and that would preempt any contrary Louisiana law, rule, or practice under the Supremacy Clause, and the Erie doctrine provides no reason to avoid the statute's application. Therefore, the statute can and must govern the court's determination of when and where plaintiff is considered to have filed this action. Applying section 1631, the court accepted that, as far as it was concerned, plaintiff is deemed to have filed his suit in the Western District of Louisiana on November 22, 2016, the date he actually filed suit in the Eastern District of Texas. Accordingly, for the court's purposes, plaintiff must be deemed to have filed his claim "in a court of competent jurisdiction and venue" on that date and thereby interrupted the one-year prescriptive period under Louisiana law, rendering his claim timely. The court concluded that the Louisiana district court erred by granting Mabe summary judgment on the basis that plaintiff's claim had prescribed. View "Franco v. Mabe Trucking, Co., Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure