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

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In this appeal, the Fifth Circuit addressed the application of the two-level reckless endangerment enhancement under U.S.S.G. 3C1.2 to a certain category of offenses known as "groupable" offenses. Defendant objected to the enhancement on the ground that his reckless flight was related only to the second drug trafficking count, and therefore not related to the offense of conviction.The court concluded that, when it comes to certain groupable offenses such as the drug trafficking offense at issue in this case, the court applies the reckless endangerment enhancement even when the defendant is not convicted for the specific crime from which he recklessly flees—so long as the crime for which he is convicted is part of the "same . . . common scheme or plan." The court affirmed the district court's application of the two-level enhancement because the facts of this case demonstrably satisfy the "same common scheme or plan" standard. View "United States v. Deckert" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit held that a private settlement does not constitute a "successful action to enforce . . . liability" under the fee-shifting provision of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The court affirmed the district court's denial of attorney's fees in this case, concluding that the district court did not commit reversible error in refusing plaintiff's fee application under the FDCPA. The court explained that a "successful action to enforce the foregoing liability" means a lawsuit that generates a favorable end result compelling accountability and legal compliance with a formal command or decree under the FDCPA. In this case, plaintiff settled before his lawsuit reached any end result, let alone a favorable one. Furthermore, by settling, Portfolio Recovery avoided a formal legal command or decree from plaintiff's lawsuit. The court stated that plaintiff's alternative interpretation requires rewriting the FDCPA's fee-shifting provision.The court also concluded that, at most, plaintiff's FDCPA suit was the catalyst that spurred Portfolio Recovery to settle. Therefore, the catalyst theory does not make plaintiff's action a successful one under 15 U.S.C. 1692k(a)(3) and thus plaintiff is not entitled to fees. View "Tejero v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Sentencing Commission's compassionate-release policy statement does not bind district courts in considering prisoners' motions under the First Step Act.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment concluding otherwise. The court concluded that the district court's jurisdictional concerns were misplaced and that the district court plainly had jurisdiction over defendant's 18 U.S.C. 3582 motion. In this case, the district court concluded that an exception to the rule of finality did not apply (on the merits), and then the district court purported to dismiss the motion (rather than deny it). The court also concluded that neither the policy statement nor the commentary to it binds a district court addressing a prisoner's own motion under section 3582. The court stated that the district court on remand is bound only by section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) and, as always, the sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Shkambi" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of appellant's amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Appellant challenged the denial of his passport applications and sought a declaration of U.S. citizenship under 8 U.S.C. 1503(a). Appellant also brought a statutory claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and a constitutional claim under the Fifth Amendment. Appellant conceded in district court that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider his first two claims (his section 1503(a) claim and his statutory APA claim), leaving only his constitutional claim, which the district court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider.The court held that Congress intended section 1503(a) to be the exclusive remedy for a person within the United States to seek a declaration of U.S. nationality following an agency or department's denial of a privilege or right of citizenship upon the ground that the person is not a U.S. national. Therefore, the "any other statute" proviso of section 702 maintains the United States' sovereign immunity against petitioner's constitutional claim because the statute of limitations contained in section 1503(a) has run and thus expressly forbids the relief sought. View "Cambranis v. Blinken" on Justia Law

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In 2015, a solder stationed at Fort Hood fatally shot his neighbors, his wife, and himself. The victims' families filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the district court entered final judgment in favor of the United States, dismissing the case with prejudice.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, concluding that the district court did not commit clear error in finding that the harm to the victims was not foreseeable to the Army. The court explained that, under Texas law, a plaintiff must show both forseeability and cause in fact to establish proximate causation. In this case, there were no red flags regarding the soldier's behavior preceding the shootings; the evidence at trial showed that the Army was getting mixed messages about who was the victim of the altercation between the solider and his wife twelve days earlier; and the murders and shootings committed by the solider could not have been reasonably anticipated by the Army. The district court also found that the soldier's killings were "a superseding, unforeseeable event that could not have been anticipated by the Army based on the information they had during that 12-day period" between the February 9 altercation and the February 22 killings. The court also concluded that substantial evidence supported the district court's forseeability finding, and the district court did not commit clear error in making its finding. View "Kristensen v. United States" on Justia Law

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After a deputy sheriff tased, shot, and killed Joshua Cloud, his parents filed suit against the deputy sheriff, alleging excessive force. The district court granted summary judgment to the deputy sheriff after finding no constitutional violation.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the deputy sheriff had reasonable grounds to tase Cloud after Cloud continued to resist arrest. In this case, while the deputy sheriff tried to handcuff Cloud, Cloud partially turned around, took a confrontational stance, and deprived the deputy sheriff of the use of his handcuffs, thwarting efforts to complete the arrest. Furthermore, the deputy sheriff's continued force to complete the arrest, like the initial tase, was reasonable. The court also concluded that the deputy sheriff justifiably used deadly force when Cloud lunged for a revolver that had already discharged and struck the deputy sheriff in the chest. The court explained that at a minimum, the deputy sheriff knew that a loaded revolver lay on the ground behind and to his left; more than that, though, he knew that the gun had just discharged twice—once into his chest—and that he had had to wrest it from Cloud's hands and toss it away; and he saw Cloud make a sudden move in the gun's direction. Even drawing all inferences in plaintiff's favor, the record shows that Cloud was shot while moving toward the revolver and potentially seconds from reclaiming it. Because the court found no constitutional violation, it need not consider whether the deputy sheriff violated any clearly established law. View "Cloud v. Stone" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court in light of Davis v. United States, 140 S. Ct. 1060, 1061 (2020), which requires that unpreserved claims of factual error be reviewed under the full plain error test, the Fifth Circuit again affirmed defendant's sentence because he failed to show that the district court committed a clear or obvious error.The court concluded that, because the district court's implicit finding that the two state offenses were not relevant to the federal offense is plausible in light of the record as a whole, defendant's arguments related to his prior state convictions must fail. Furthermore, the district court's implicit finding that the pending state charges were not relevant to the federal offense is also plausible in light of the record as a whole, and defendant's argument that the district court erred in declining to concurrently run his sentence with the anticipated state sentences fails as well. The court also concluded that the district court did not clearly err by failing to explain its decision to deny defendant's request to run his federal sentence concurrently with the uncharged state sentence. Even assuming the district court's failure to state the reasons for running the sentence consecutively was an error that was clear or obvious, defendant has not shown that the error affected his substantial rights. The court further concluded that any additional explanation of the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, or the imposition of the maximum 262-month sentence of the guidelines range, would not have changed his sentence. View "United States v. Horton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this case, the en banc court considered the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901 et seq., and the validity of implementing regulations promulgated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in its 2016 Final Rule (Final Rule). The district court granted plaintiffs summary judgment in part, declaring that the ICWA and the Final Rule contravene multiple constitutional provisions and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). After defendants appealed, a panel of this court reversed and rendered judgment for defendants. The en banc court then reconsidered the case.The en banc court unanimously held that at least one plaintiff has standing to challenge Congress's authority under Article I of the Constitution to enact ICWA and to press anticommandeering and nondelegation challenges to specific ICWA provisions, and that plaintiffs have standing to challenge the Final Rule as unlawful under the APA. The en banc court is equally divided as to whether plaintiffs have standing to challenge two provisions of ICWA, 25 U.S.C. 1913 and 1914, on equal protection grounds, and the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs can assert this claim is therefore affirmed without a precedential opinion. An en banc majority also held that plaintiffs have standing to assert their equal protection challenges to other provisions of ICWA.On the merits, the en banc majority agrees that, as a general proposition, Congress had the authority to enact ICWA under Article I of the Constitution, and that the ICWA's "Indian child" classification does not violate equal protection. The en banc court is equally divided, however, as to whether plaintiffs prevail on their equal protection challenge to ICWA's adoptive placement preference for "other Indian families," and its foster care placement preference for a licensed "Indian foster home." An en banc majority held that ICWA's "active efforts," section 1912(d), expert witness, section 1912(e) and (f), and recordkeeping requirements, section 1915(e), unconstitutionally commandeer state actors. However, the en banc court is equally divided on whether the placement preferences, section 1915(a)–(b), violate anticommandeering to the extent they direct action by state agencies and officials; on whether the notice provision, section 1912(a), unconstitutionally commandeers state agencies; and on whether the placement record provision, section 1951(a), unconstitutionally commandeers state courts.Furthermore, an en banc majority held that several challenged ICWA provisions validly preempt state law and so do not commandeer states, and that section 1915(c) does not violate the non-delegation doctrine. Finally, an en banc majority held that the BIA did not violate the APA by concluding in the Final Rule that it may issue regulations binding on state courts. However, an en banc majority also held that the Final Rule violated the APA to the extent it implemented these unconstitutional provisions and that 25 C.F.R. 23.132(b) violated the APA. An en banc majority held that the Final Rule did not violate the APA in any other respect. Accordingly, the en banc court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment accordingly. View "Brackeen v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's 120-month sentence for wire fraud where he defrauded the victim out of his life savings. Defendant told the victim that he would invest the money in a "high-performing fund called Blueshare Capital Fund" but no such fund existed. The court concluded that defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court applied an eighty-seven-month variance based on the devastating impact of defendant's crime on the victim. In this case, defendant's crime took all of the victim's life savings, forcing the victim to live off of government assistance for the rest of his life. The district court also relied on the need to deter defendant from future crimes and to promote respect for the law. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion purely based on the length of the sentence. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in choosing how much weight to give the sentencing factors and, at bottom, by determining that defendant's promise to pay was not credible in light of his fraud. View "United States v. Navarro-Jusino" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after she violated her conditions of supervised release. In this case, the district court considered an incorrect advisory range, but defendant failed to object. Applying plain error review, the court declined to exercise its discretion in remedying the error because defendant's sentence on revocation does not undermine the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. View "United States v. Mims" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law