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

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The Fifth Circuit granted a petition for review of the BIA's decision dismissing petitioner's appeal challenging the IJ's denial of his motion to reopen removal proceedings and rescinding his in absentia removal order. The court concluded that the BIA based its decision on a legally erroneous interpretation of 8 U.S.C. 1229(a). In this case, the initial notice to appear did not contain the time and date of petitioner's hearing, and the BIA found that the notice combined with the subsequent notice of hearing containing the time and place of petitioner's hearing satisfied the written notice requirement of section 1229(a). However, the court concluded that this was directly contrary to the Supreme Court's interpretation of section 1229(a) in Niz-Chavez v. Garland, 141 S. Ct. 1474 (2021), which made clear that subsequent notices may not cure defects in an initial notice to appear. View "Rodriguez v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the insurer in an insurance coverage dispute regarding flood damage to the property at issue. The insureds interpreted the flood deductible in the policy as covering most of the damage to the property, but the district court determined that the policy is unambiguous and adopted the insurer's interpretation.The court applied Louisiana law and concluded that the policy is ambiguous. The court explained that the predominant use of "Total Contract Value" to denote the value of the entire project indicates that the policy, read in its entirety, does not provide clarity regarding the term "total insured values at risk . . . as respects flood." The court remanded for the district court to determine whether extrinsic evidence resolves the ambiguity. View "Jung v. Starr Surplus Lines Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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Abushagif, a Libyan national admitted to the U.S. as a non-immigrant student, was placed in removal proceedings in 2010. Libya became engulfed in a civil war, with Muammar Qadhafi leading the country. Abushagif applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), claiming that his brother had been jailed for declining to join Qadhafi’s forces in killing civilians. Abushagif stated that he did not want to participate in the civil war. Nothing suggested that Abushagif’s father had ever worked for the Qadhafi regime. After Qadhafi’s administration collapsed, Abushagif withdrew his application and agreed to pre-conclusion voluntary departure but did not leave. In 2019, he moved to reopen, arguing that the country conditions in Libya had materially changed and that he would be a target for persecution if he returned. Abushagif declared that his father had been kidnapped and tortured by militias because of his work for the Qadhafi administration and that they planned to kidnap him once he landed in Libya. Abushagif also stated that he had converted to Christianity, had come out as bisexual, and that he had served in the Qadhafi regime’s national guard.The I.J. denied the motion. The Fifth Circuit remanded for a limited purpose; the BIA abused its discretion by entirely failing to address the CAT claim. A CAT “claim is separate from . . . claims for asylum and withholding of removal and should receive separate analytical attention. View "Abushagif v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Louisiana Trooper Curlee observed a handicap-plated truck after nightfall stopped on the road's shoulder, high atop the Pontchartrain Expressway. Curlee stopped to investigate, saw men spray painting the overpass wall, and based upon their odd statements, sought their identification. Evans, the driver, and Gizzarelli complied. Kokesh refused to comply and videotaped the encounter. Curlee arrested Kokesh because of his failure to provide identification, determined that the two other men were acting on Kokesh’s instructions, decided Gizzarelli should be released, photographed the overpass, and wrote Evans a ticket for illegally stopping on the interstate shoulder.Kokesh subsequently sued. The district court dismissed all claims for injunctive and declaratory relief, all official-capacity claims, and all state law claims, leaving only 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against Curlee in his individual capacity for unreasonable seizure and excessive force and First Amendment retaliation. The district court granted Curlee qualified immunity as to the excessive force claim but denied it as to the unreasonable seizure claim and the First Amendment claim. The Fifth Circuit reversed, in favor of Curlee, describing the incident as “a regular investigation of an extraordinary and hazardous situation created voluntarily by the plaintiff.” Curlee’s conduct was in accord with reasonable expectations. “The Fourth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. 1983 should not be employed as a daily quiz tendered by videotaping hopefuls seeking to metamorphosize law enforcement officers from investigators and protectors, into mere spectators, and then further converting them into federal defendants.” View "Kokesh v. Curlee" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Luminant in a trespass-to-try-title action against defendants. The court concluded that Luminant demonstrated, by uncontested evidence, its adverse and peaceable possession of the tracts of land also claimed by defendants for at least ten years, satisfying Texas's adverse possession statutes. Therefore, Luminant is vested with a fee simple interest in the disputed tracts and summary judgment in its favor was proper. View "Luminant Mining Co., LLC v. PakeyBey" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that the Chisom decree, which created Louisiana's one majority-black supreme court district, does not govern the other six districts. Therefore, the district court properly denied Louisiana's motion to dismiss this Voting Rights Act suit for lack of jurisdiction. In this case, the state argued that the Chisom decree centralizes perpetual federal control over all supreme court districts in the Eastern District of Louisiana, which issued the decree. The court concluded that the district court rejected that reading for good reason because it is plainly wrong. Rather, the present suit addresses a different electoral district untouched by the decree. View "Allen v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence, issued by the district court on remand, after he pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute cocaine base. The court concluded that the district court's order, as amended, complied with the court's mandate, including the spirit of it as embodied by United States v. Evbuomwan, 992 F.2d 70, 74 (5th Cir. 1993). In this case, the district court made the three required findings for USSG 1B1.3 liability and unequivocally held defendant indirectly responsible for all of the $7,809.The court had remanded defendant's case to the district court to determine whether defendant was directly or indirectly responsible for the currency at issue, and the district court made a determination as to the latter. The court concluded that the district court's findings were plausible in light of the record, including the district court's finding that defendant was indirectly responsible for the entire amount of the currency seized from the residence at issue. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After defendant was convicted of violating both the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Analogue Enforcement Act, the district court sentenced him to 120 years in prison. On appeal, the parties agree that the jury instructions regarding the Analogue Act were erroneous because they omitted an element of the offense. Defendant claimed that the error was structural.The Fifth Circuit concluded that there is more than enough to demonstrate defendant's knowledge of the chemical structure of the drugs he sold and the controlled substances they mimicked. The court rejected defendant's contention that United States v. Stanford, 823 F.3d 814 (5th Cir. 2016), permits the court to bypass the "thorough examination" of the "whole record" that is required in Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1 (1999). Rather, the court applied the Neder harmless-error standard on the same "functional, case-by-case" basis as usual, and concluded that a jury could not rationally find that the Government failed to prove the knowledge requirement in McFadden v. United States, 576 U.S. 186, 188–89 (2015). Therefore, the court concluded that the omitted element in defendant's jury instruction was harmless. The court rejected defendant's remaining arguments on appeal. View "United States v. Muhammad" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit granted in part and denied in part the United States' motion for a stay pending appeal of the district court's nationwide preliminary injunction preventing the United States from relying on immigration enforcement priorities outlined in memos from DHS and ICE. On Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, the Acting Secretary of DHS issued a memo announcing that the Department would undergo a comprehensive review of enforcement policies, announcing DHS's interim enforcement priorities, and directing an immediate 100-day pause on removals. ICE issued a memo on February 18, 2021 that incorporates the same three interim priorities.The court did not see a strong justification for concluding that the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 detention statutes override the deep-rooted tradition of enforcement discretion when it comes to decisions that occur before detention, such as who should be subject to arrest, detainers, and removal proceedings. Therefore, the United States has shown a likelihood of prevailing on appeal to the extent the preliminary injunction prevents officials from relying on the memos' enforcement priorities for nondetention decisions. The court also concluded that the remaining factors also support a partial stay.The court stated that the injunction will go into effect to the extent it prevents DHS and ICE officials from relying on the memos to refuse to detain aliens described in 8 U.S.C. 1226(c)(1) against whom detainers have been lodged or aliens who fall under section 1231(a)(1)(A) because they have been ordered removed. The court stayed the injunction pending appeal in all other respects including the reporting requirements. View "Texas v. United States" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a petition with the U.S. Tax Court challenging the IRS's deficiency determination and the imposition of an accuracy-related penalty. The Tax Court issued a decision upholding in part the IRS's deficiency determination and imposition of the accuracy-related penalty.After the Fifth Circuit found that collateral estoppel does not bar the Commissioner from litigating this issue, the court concluded that the Tax Court did not clearly err in finding that petitioner is not entitled to deduct his 2014 legal expenses under 26 U.S.C. 162(a). In this case, petitioner has not carried his burden of proof to show that the origin of the claims underlying his litigation to recoup his trading agreement losses—the trading agreement venture—was related to his engagement in a trade or business within the meaning of section 162(a). The court also concluded that the Tax Court did not err in finding that petitioner cannot deduct his legal expenses incurred litigating to recover on his ex-wife's indebtedness as expenses for the production of income under 26 U.S.C. 212(1). However, the court concluded that petitioner is entitled to a reasonable cause and good faith defense for his understatement attributable to deducting his trading agreement legal fees under section 162(a) rather than section 212. View "Ray v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law