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

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Health Choice's qui tam actions under the False Claims Act on behalf of the United States alleging violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute by pharmaceutical companies. As a preliminary matter, the court explained that there is a potential jurisdictional issue concerning the chronology of two events: Health Choice's voluntary dismissal and the district court's granting of the United States' motion to dismiss. The court declined to create a circuit split and concluded that the prior without-prejudice dismissals did not deprive the district court's subsequent decision of finality. The court explained that the district court's order on the motion to dismiss was final because it adjudicated all the claims against all the remaining parties in the action at the time it was entered, and the prior voluntary dismissal does not alter that conclusion.The court affirmed on the merits, construing the term "hearing" in 31 U.S.C. 3730(c)(2)(A) to require something more than a forum for a relator to convince the government not to dismiss. In this case, Health Choice got a hearing as required by section 3730(c)(2)(A). The court explained that, assuming without deciding, that the more burdensome Sequoia Orange test applies, dismissal of the Eli Lilly and Bayer cases was proper. In this case, the government has satisfied its burden of showing a rational relation between dismissal and its legitimate cost-saving purpose. Considering Health Choice's arguments and the record as a whole, the court held that Health Choice did not show that dismissal was "fraudulent, arbitrary and capricious, or illegal" under the strict Sequoia Orange standard. View "United States ex rel. Health Choice Alliance, LLC v. Eli Lilly and Company, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Samuel Abram was convicted by jury of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), the United States Supreme Court decided that that crime required the government to prove the defendant's knowledge of his felony status. Because his indictment didn’t allege such knowledge, Abram petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2241, which the district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Abram provided only a conclusory assertion he was "actually innocent" of his firearm conviction. He did not contend he was unaware of his felony status. "And that’s fatal: Where a prisoner seeks relief under Rehaif but fails to 'argue that he was unaware of his [relevant] status, he has failed to demonstrate that he [is] entitled to proceed under § 2255(e)’s savings clause.'” Accordingly, the district court's dismissal was affirmed. View "Abram v. McConnell" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs-Appellants Walter “Gil” Goodrich (individually and in his capacity as the executor of his father—Henry Goodrich, Sr.’s— succession), Henry Goodrich, Jr., and Laura Goodrich Watts brought suit against Defendant-Appellee United States of America. Plaintiffs claimed that, in an effort to discharge Henry Sr.’s tax liability, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) wrongfully levied their property, which they had inherited from their deceased mother, Tonia Goodrich, subject to Henry Sr.’s usufruct. A magistrate judge previously determined Plaintiffs were not the owners of money seized by the IRS, and that represented the value of certain liquidated securities. The Fifth Circuit determined that whether Plaintiffs were in fact owners of the disputed funds was an issue governed by Louisiana law. The Fifth Circuit declined further review until the Louisiana Supreme Court had a chance to review the ownership issue in the first instance. View "Goodrich, et al v. United States" on Justia Law

by
After an IJ found that petitioner was a removable alien, petitioner sought to have his removal cancelled. The IJ denied the petition, determining that petitioner could not be considered for discretionary relief because he had not shown his removal would result in "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to his U.S.-citizen children. The BIA affirmed the IJ's assessment.The Fifth Circuit concluded that it has jurisdiction to review the IJ and BIA's determination. The court explained that, although 8 U.S.C. 1252(a)(2)(B) deprives it of jurisdiction to review the discretionary decision of whether to actually grant cancellation of removal, recent Supreme Court precedent makes clear that applying a legal standard to established facts in order to determine whether an alien is eligible for discretionary relief is a question of law, not a discretionary decision. Therefore, the court may review the IJ's determination that the events that would befall petitioner's children if he were removed would not amount to "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" as Congress intended the phrase. On the merits, the court concluded that petitioner has not shown that the events that the agency found would befall his children if he were removed amount to suffering substantially beyond the hardship usually associated with a parent's removal. In this case, the children's mothers care for them, petitioner's brother lives with the youngest two, the children will not move to Mexico with petitioner, and petitioner has family in Mexico in any event. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Guerrero Trejo v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
by
Plaintiff filed suit challenging Louisiana law that forces lawyers to join and pay annual dues to the Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA). Plaintiff contends that compelling dues and membership violates his First Amendment rights, and that LSBA's failure to ensure that his dues are not used to fund the Bar's political and ideological activities also violates his First Amendment rights.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims. The court concluded that Lathrop v. Donahue, 367 U.S. 820 (1961), and Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), foreclose plaintiff's challenge to mandatory membership in LSBA. In this case, plaintiff's claim presents the (previously) open free association question from Keller (which the court closed today in this circuit with the court's concurrently issued opinion in McDonald v. Longley, No. 20-50448, __ F.3d __ (5th Cir. 2021)). The court also concluded that the Tax Injunction Act does not preclude federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over plaintiff's challenge to mandatory dues. The court explained that the bar dues are a fee, not a tax, and thus dismissal under the Act was improper. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiff has standing to pursue his claim that LSBA does not employ adequate procedures to safeguard his dues. The court found that plaintiff has pleaded an injury-in-fact by alleging that LSBA does not regularly provide notice of its expenditures with sufficient specificity. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Boudreaux v. Louisiana State Bar Ass'n" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, three Texas attorneys, filed suit against officers and directors of the State Bar of Texas under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Bar is engaged in political and ideological activities that are not germane to its interests in regulating the legal profession and improving the quality of legal services. Plaintiffs therefore allege that compelling them to join the Bar and subsidize those activities violates their First Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment to the Bar.As a preliminary matter, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the Tax Injunction Act did not strip the district court of jurisdiction where neither membership fees and legal services fees are taxes. On the merits, the court vacated the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court erred in its reading of Lathrop v. Donahue, 367 U.S. 820 (1961), and Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), and in its application of Keller's germaneness test on the Bar's activities. The court explained that Lathrop held that lawyers may constitutionally be mandated to join a bar association that solely regulates the legal profession and improves the quality of legal services; Keller identified that Lathrop did not decide whether lawyers may be constitutionally mandated to join a bar association that engages in other, nongermane activities; but Keller did not resolve that question. To determine whether compelling plaintiffs to join a bar that engages in non-germane activities violates their freedom of association, the court must decide (1) whether compelling plaintiffs to join burdens their rights and, (2) if so, whether it is nevertheless justified by a sufficient state interest.The court explained that plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment on their freedom-of-association claim if the Bar is in fact engaged in non-germane activities. In this case, the Bar's legislative program is neither entirely germane nor wholly non-germane; the Bar's various diversity initiatives through OMA, though highly ideologically charged, are germane to the purposes identified in Keller; most, but not quite all, of the Bar's activities aimed at aiding the needy are germane; and miscellaneous activities—hosting an annual convention, running CLE programs, and publishing the Texas Bar Journal—are all germane. In sum, the Bar is engaged in non-germane activities, so compelling plaintiffs to join it violates their First Amendment rights. Furthermore, there are multiple other constitutional options. Assuming, arguendo, that plaintiffs can be required to join the Bar, compelling them to subsidize the Bar's non-germane activities violates their freedom of speech. The court also concluded that the Bar's procedures for separating chargeable from non-chargeable expenses is constitutionally inadequate under Chicago Teachers Union, Local No. 1, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292 (1986).Accordingly, the court rendered partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs and remanded to the district court to determine the full scope of relief to which plaintiffs are entitled. The court additionally reversed the denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and rendered a preliminary injunction preventing the Bar from requiring plaintiffs to join or pay dues pending completion of the remedies phase. View "McDonald v. Longley" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to three officers employed by the Coleman County Jail in an action alleging claims regarding Derrek Monroe's death by suicide that occurred at the jail.The court concluded that Defendant Laws's decision to wait for backup before entering the cell after he saw Monroe strangling himself with a phone cord did not violate any clearly established constitutional right. The court explained that it was not sufficiently clear at the time that every reasonable official would have understood that waiting for a backup officer to arrive in accordance with prison policy violates a pretrial detainee's right. Therefore, Laws is entitled to qualified immunity on the deliberate indifference claim. Furthermore, it was not clearly established at the time that Laws should have immediately called 911, where he did call another jailer who called 911. The court also concluded that Defendants Brixey and Cogdill were not deliberately indifferent where holding Monroe in a cell containing a phone cord did not violate a clearly established constitutional right. Finally, Brixey and Cogdill's decision to staff only one weekend jailer did not violate any clearly established constitutional right. The court rendered judgment in defendants' favor. View "Cope v. Cogdill" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion seeking to vacate his sentence based on the ineffective assistance of counsel. The court concluded that defendant failed to meet his burden of showing that counsel's decision to forego a suppression motion was unreasonable under prevailing professional norms and that her decision was not sound strategy. Therefore, defendant failed the first prong of the Strickland v. Washington analysis. In this case, counsel provided constitutionally adequate representation when she decided to forego a suppression motion to follow her strategy of preventing additional charges from being brought against defendant. View "United States v. Scott" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The Fifth Circuit denied a petition for review an order of removal based on defendant's conviction of online solicitation of a minor. In this case, an IJ terminated petitioner's removal proceedings, but the BIA partially vacated the IJ's decision and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the IJ ordered petitioner removed.After determining that the court has jurisdiction to consider the petition for review, the court concluded that the BIA did not err in finding petitioner removable under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(E)(i) for a crime of child abuse. The court explained that Garcia v. Barr, 969 F.3d 129, 132 (5th Cir. 2020), foreclosed petitioner's argument that the court should not give deference to the BIA's broad interpretation of a "crime of child abuse" under section 1227(a)(2)(E)(i). The court agreed with the BIA that petitioner's conviction for online solicitation of a minor in violation of section 33.021(c) of the Texas Penal Code falls within the BIA's definition of a crime of child abuse. View "Adeeko v. Garland" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Couvillion in a declaratory judgment action brought by Taylor, seeking tort damages and equitable relief for Couvillion's trespass and unauthorized activities at the MC20 Site. The court concluded that Couvillion was entitled to immunity under Yearsley v. W.A. Ross Construction Company, 309 U.S. 18 (1940), where there was no genuine fact dispute as to whether Couvillion's actions were authorized and directed by the government, and where Couvillion's authority to carry out its actions was validly conferred by Congress. View "Taylor Energy Company, LLC v. Couvillion Group, LLC" on Justia Law