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

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The case involves two casino operators, PNK (Baton Rouge) Partnership, PNK Development 8 LLC, PNK Development 9 LLC, and Centroplex Centre Convention Hotel, LLC, who incentivize their patrons with rewards, including complimentary hotel stays. The City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge Department of Finance and its director, Linda Hunt, discovered that the operators had not remitted state and local taxes associated with these complimentary stays for several years. The City argued that the operators needed to pay these taxes, while the operators put forth various arguments as to why they did not. The City filed a suit in state court, which the operators removed to federal court on diversity jurisdiction.The operators' cases were initially heard in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. The City filed a Motion to Remand, arguing that the tax abstention doctrine (TAD), as put forth in Levin v. Commerce Energy, Inc., warranted abstention. The District Court agreed with the City, stating that all five TAD factors favored abstention: Louisiana's wide regulatory latitude over its taxation structure, the lack of heightened federal court scrutiny required for the operators' due process rights under the Louisiana Constitution, the potential for the operators to seek an improved competitive position in the federal court system, the familiarity of Louisiana courts with the state's tax regime and legislative intent, and the constraints of the Tax Injunction Act on remedies available in federal court.The case was then reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The court affirmed the District Court's decision, agreeing that the TAD applied and that all five factors favored abstention. The court concluded that the District Court's decision to abstain was within its discretion. View "City of Baton Rouge v. Centroplex Centre Convention Hotel, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves Sharon Lewis, an African-American woman who worked as an assistant athletic director for Louisiana State University’s (LSU) football team. Lewis alleges that she experienced and witnessed numerous instances of racist and sexist misconduct from former head football coach Les Miles and that she received complaints of sexual harassment from student workers that she oversaw. In 2013, LSU retained Vicki Crochet and Robert Barton, partners of the law firm Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips LLP, to conduct a Title IX investigation of sexual harassment allegations made against Miles. The report and its contents were kept confidential, and allegations brought by the student complainants were privately settled.The district court dismissed Lewis's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) claims against Crochet and Barton because Lewis’s claims were time-barred and she failed to establish proximate causation. On appeal of the dismissal order, a panel of this court affirmed the district court on the grounds that Lewis knew of her injuries from alleged racketeering as early as 2013, and thus the four-year statute of limitations had expired before she filed suit in 2021.The district court ordered Lewis to file a motion to compel addressing the lingering “issues of discoverability and the application of [its Crime-Fraud Exception Order].” The district court denied Crochet and Barton’s motion for a protective order and compelled the depositions of Crochet and Barton and the disclosure of documents drafted during the 2013 investigation. Crochet and Barton timely appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s Crime-Fraud Exception Order and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion. The court concluded that the district court clearly erred in holding that Lewis established a prima facie case that the Board violated La. R.S. 14:132(B) and that the alleged privileged communications were made in furtherance of the crime and reasonably related to the alleged violation. View "Lewis v. Crochet" on Justia Law

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A limited-partnership subsidiary of Argent Financial Group, RSBCO, was required to file over 21,000 annual information returns with the IRS for the 2012 tax year. However, due to errors in the files, the returns were not processed on time. The IRS imposed penalties on RSBCO for the delay in filing processable 2012 returns. RSBCO paid the penalties and accrued interest in full and filed an administrative refund claim, asserting a reasonable cause defense. When the IRS failed to act on the claim within six months, RSBCO filed a complaint for a refund in federal district court.The district court denied the Government’s motions for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial. The court then granted RSBCO’s post-trial motion for attorney fees. The court determined that the Government could “not overcome the presumption that it was not substantially justified” in denying RSBCO’s refund claim “because [the IRS] did not follow its applicable published guidance[.]” The district court awarded fees at a rate exceeding the statutory rate provided in I.R.C. § 7430(c)(1)(B)(iii), finding that “special factors” were present.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the jury instructions were irredeemably flawed, vacated the verdict, and remanded for a new trial. The court also vacated the attorney fees and costs awarded to RSBCO because RSBCO was no longer the prevailing party. The court found that the district court’s jury instruction as to “impediments” that would excuse RSBCO’s untimely filing of its 2012 information returns was fatally inconsistent with the governing Treasury Regulation. View "RSBCO v. United States" on Justia Law

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A group of patrons of the Llano County library system in Texas sued the county, its officials, and the library's director and board, alleging that their First Amendment rights were violated when seventeen books were removed from the library due to their content. The plaintiffs claimed that the books, which covered topics such as sexuality, homosexuality, gender identity, and the history of racism, were removed because the defendants disagreed with their messages. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, requiring the defendants to return the books and preventing them from removing any other books during the lawsuit.The defendants appealed the decision, arguing that the removal of the books was part of the library's standard process of reviewing and updating its collection, known as the "Continuous Review, Evaluation and Weeding" (CREW) process. They also claimed that the plaintiffs could still access the books through an "in-house checkout system."The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, but modified the language of the injunction to ensure its proper scope. The court found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim, as the evidence suggested that the defendants' substantial motivation in removing the books was to limit access to certain viewpoints. The court also found that the plaintiffs would likely suffer irreparable harm if the injunction was not granted, as they would be unable to anonymously peruse the books in the library without asking a librarian for access. The court concluded that the balance of the equities and the public interest also favored granting the injunction. View "Little v. Llano County" on Justia Law

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Barbara Harrison, a severely disabled individual, challenged the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's (HHSC) decision to deny funding for medical services she claimed were necessary for her survival. Harrison lived in a group home and received nursing services funded by HHSC’s program for providing home and community-based care to people with disabilities. However, when her condition deteriorated to the point where she required 24/7 one-on-one nursing care, HHSC determined that the cost of providing Harrison’s necessary level of care exceeded the cost cap set by the program. Harrison was therefore denied program-funded nursing services, meaning her only option for receiving government-funded medical care was to move to an institutional setting.Harrison challenged HHSC’s determination in court, arguing that HHSC discriminated against her because of her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, by denying her program-funded nursing services. The district court granted a preliminary injunction requiring HHSC to fund 24/7 one-on-one care for Harrison until she received a hearing on her request for general revenue funds. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated the preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings, holding that Harrison was unlikely to succeed on her due process claim and had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the ADA/Rehabilitation Act claims.After the case was remanded to the district court, Harrison submitted a new application to HHSC for 24-hour nursing care under the Program, the cost of which again exceeded the Cost Cap. HHSC determined that Harrison did not require 24-hour nursing care and that 5.5 hours of nursing care per day would be sufficient to meet her medical needs. The district court found that Harrison’s change in status— from receiving no Program funding to receiving some Program funding— mooted Harrison’s ADA/Rehabilitation Act claims. The court therefore dismissed them and then granted summary judgment to HHSC on Harrison’s due process claim. Harrison appealed this decision.The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to HHSC on Harrison’s due process claim but reversed the district court’s dismissal of Harrison’s discrimination claims. The court found that the district court’s mootness determination was erroneous and that the factual record was still not sufficiently developed to support a judgment as to Harrison’s discrimination claims. The case was remanded for further factfinding and proceedings. View "Harrison v. Young" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the fatal shooting of Jabari Asante-Chioke by police officers in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. The officers, including Nicholas Dowdle, allegedly shot Asante-Chioke after he raised a gun in their direction. An autopsy revealed that thirty-six rounds were fired by the officers, with twenty-four hitting Asante-Chioke. The plaintiff, Asante-Chioke's daughter, filed a lawsuit against the officers and Colonel Lamar Davis, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, alleging unlawful seizure and excessive force.The defendants moved to dismiss the case, asserting qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion, stating that the plaintiff had pled sufficient facts to overcome the defense of qualified immunity. The court also denied the defendants' request to limit discovery. The defendants appealed the denial of limited discovery, and the district court stayed discovery only as to claims against Dowdle and issues regarding his qualified immunity on appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed the district court's order. The court found that it had jurisdiction to review the order under the collateral order doctrine, as the district court's failure to limit discovery was tantamount to the denial of qualified immunity. The court vacated the district court's order and remanded the case, directing the lower court to limit discovery to uncover only the facts necessary to rule on qualified immunity. View "Asante-Chioke v. Dowdle" on Justia Law

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The case involves SKAV, L.L.C., the owner of a Best Western hotel in Abbeville, Louisiana, and Independent Specialty Insurance Company. The hotel was damaged by Hurricane Laura in August 2020, and SKAV filed a claim on a surplus lines insurance policy it had purchased from Independent Specialty. The policy contained an arbitration clause requiring all disputes to be settled by arbitration. However, SKAV sued Independent Specialty in the Western District of Louisiana, alleging that the insurance company had failed to adequately cover the hotel's hurricane damage under the policy's terms. Independent Specialty moved to compel arbitration, but the district court denied the motion, citing a prior decision that concluded that § 22:868 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes voids an arbitration provision in a contract for surplus lines insurance.The case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The main dispute was the effect of § 22:868 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes on the insurance policy's arbitration clause. The statute bars insurance policies from depriving Louisiana courts of jurisdiction and permits, in limited circumstances, forum- and venue-selection provisions. The court noted that there were conflicting decisions on this issue from district courts in Louisiana and New York.The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the arbitration clause in the surplus lines insurance policy was void under § 22:868. The court reasoned that the Louisiana Legislature's 2020 amendments to the statute did not reverse the state's longstanding anti-arbitration policy. The court also rejected Independent Specialty's argument that the issue of the arbitration clause's validity must itself go to arbitration, stating that when a statute prevents the valid formation of an arbitration agreement, the court cannot compel arbitration, even on threshold questions of arbitrability. View "S. K. A. V. v. Independent Specialty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The case involves Mid Valley Pipeline Company, an interstate pipeline company, and the Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners. In 1949, the Levee Board granted Mid Valley a permit to construct and maintain two pipelines across a levee in Mississippi. The permit was not limited to a term of years and could be revoked by the Levee Board if Mid Valley failed to comply with any of the permit's conditions. In 2005, Mid Valley was instructed to relocate its pipelines, which it did at a cost of over $700,000. In 2020, the Levee Board informed Mid Valley that it would be charging an annual pipeline crossing fee and would revoke all existing permits for pipelines not currently paying the fee. Mid Valley did not respond to these notices.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi granted summary judgment in favor of the Levee Board, dismissing Mid Valley's claim that the imposition of the annual fee and the revocation of the permit violated the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution. The court reasoned that the 1949 permit was not a contract.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court agreed with the district court that the 1949 permit was not a contract. The court noted that under Mississippi law, a contract requires mutual assent, among other elements. The court found that the permit was a unilateral grant of permission by the Levee Board, and there was no evidence of mutual assent to form a contract. Therefore, the Levee Board's actions did not violate the Contract Clause. View "Mid Valley Pipeline v. Rodgers" on Justia Law

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The case involves a challenge to a rule adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) aimed at enhancing the regulation of private fund advisers. The rule was designed to protect investors who invest in private funds and to prevent fraud, deception, or manipulation by the investment advisers to those funds. The petitioners, a group of associations representing private fund managers, challenged the rule, arguing that the SEC exceeded its statutory authority in adopting it.The case was heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The petitioners argued that the SEC had overstepped its authority under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and the Dodd-Frank Act. They contended that the rule imposed requirements that were not authorized by these statutes and that the SEC had failed to adequately consider the rule's impact on efficiency, competition, and capital formation.The SEC, on the other hand, argued that it had the authority to adopt the rule under sections 206(4) and 211(h) of the Advisers Act. It contended that these provisions authorized it to define and prescribe means to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative acts by investment advisers.The Fifth Circuit sided with the petitioners, holding that the SEC had exceeded its statutory authority in adopting the rule. The court found that the rule was not authorized by the relevant provisions of the Advisers Act and that the SEC had failed to establish a close nexus between the rule and the prevention of fraud or deception. As a result, the court vacated the rule. View "NA of Private Fund Managers v. SEC" on Justia Law

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The case involves Disability Rights Texas (DRTx), an advocacy organization for individuals with mental illness, and Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital (Houston Behavioral). DRTx sought to compel Houston Behavioral to disclose video footage related to the involuntary confinement of its client, G.S., who alleged abuse during his detention at the hospital. G.S. had signed a waiver allowing DRTx to access his records. Houston Behavioral initially cooperated with DRTx's requests for information but refused to provide the requested video footage, citing confidentiality regulations related to substance use disorder treatment.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas granted summary judgment in favor of DRTx and issued an injunction, compelling Houston Behavioral to disclose the video footage. Houston Behavioral appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act (PAIMI Act) grants broad investigatory powers to organizations like DRTx, including access to "all records of any individual." The court held that the video footage requested by DRTx falls within the definition of "records" under the PAIMI Act. The court also found that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does not bar the disclosure of such records, as the required-by-law exception in HIPAA permits disclosure when another law, such as the PAIMI Act, requires it. The court concluded that Houston Behavioral's refusal to provide the video footage violated the PAIMI Act. View "Disability Rights Texas v. Hollis" on Justia Law