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

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Plaintiff was hired by Kirby to pilot a seagoing vessel. While plaintiff was aboard the vessel, he injured his foot when he tripped over a stair inside a hatch door. Plaintiff filed suit against Kirby for lost wages and the district court ultimately determined that Kirby was liable to plaintiff on his claim of Sieracki seaworthiness and that Kirby was alternatively liable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The district court awarded plaintiff $11,695,136.00 in damages.The Fifth Circuit concluded that plaintiff is not an employee of Riben Marine and thus is not eligible to sue under section 905(b) of the LHWCA; the district court did not clearly err in concluding that the vessel was unseaworthy; plaintiff was not contributorily negligent for wearing sunglasses on the vessel and the district court did not make insufficient factual findings on the contributory negligence question; assuming arguendo that the district court erroneously admitted evidence of a subsequent remedial measure, Kirby has not demonstrated that the error affected its substantial rights; and the district court did not err in assessing plaintiff's lost future earnings. View "Rivera v. Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

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After Mark Braswell died when his road bike collided with a stopped truck, his survivors filed suit against the truck's owner, the Brickman Group. Brickman was primarily insured by ACE and secondarily insured by AGLIC. ACE rejected plaintiffs' three settlement offers before and during trial. The jury ultimately awarded plaintiffs nearly $28 million, plaintiffs and Brickman settled for nearly $10 million, and AGLIC paid nearly $8 million of the amount. AGLIC then filed suit against ACE, arguing that because ACE violated its Stowers duty to accept one of the three settlement offers for the primary policy limits, ACE had to cover AGLIC's settlement contribution. The district court agreed.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that ACE's Stowers duty was triggered by plaintiffs' third offer, and that ACE violated this duty. In this case, the offer generated a Stowers duty because it "proposed to release the insured fully" and it was not conditional. Furthermore, the evidence was sufficient to support that ACE violated its Stowers duty by failing to reevaluate the settlement value of the case and accept plaintiffs' reasonable offer. View "American Guarantee & Liability Insurance Co. v. ACE American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted this opinion in its place. The petition for rehearing en banc remains pending.Plaintiff worked as a tool pusher for Helix and was paid a daily rate. Although Helix concedes that it required plaintiff to work over forty hours per week, Helix nevertheless attempts to avoid the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime penalty by characterizing plaintiff as either an executive or highly compensated employee—both of which are exempt from the FLSA overtime requirements. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Helix.The court reversed, holding that an employer can pay a daily rate under 29 C.F.R. 541.604(b) and still satisfy the salary basis test of section 541.602—but only if the employer complies with both the minimum weekly guarantee requirement and the reasonable relationship test. In this case, Helix does not comply with either prong because it pays plaintiff a daily rate without offering a minimum weekly required amount that is paid regardless of the number of hours, days or shifts worked, and Helix does not comply with the reasonable relationship test. The court noted that its reading of the regulations finds support not only from the Sixth and Eighth Circuits, but also in repeated statements by the Labor Department. The court rejected contentions to the contrary and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hewitt v. Helix Energy Solutions Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Carmen and Jessie Ramirez and their company, Black Magic, alleging that the Ramirezes violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Plaintiffs claimed that the Ramirezes brought them to the United States under the H-2B visa program to work as construction workers, but once plaintiffs arrived in the country, they were made to work as truck drivers. Plaintiffs also claimed that the Ramirezes unlawfully deducted from their paychecks, denied them overtime pay, and sometimes failed to pay them entirely. The district court dismissed the claims for failure to state a claim, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs' related state law claims, and denied plaintiffs' later-filed motion for leave to amend the complaint.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' RICO claims where plaintiffs failed to adequately plead proximate causation; affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend; reversed the dismissal of plaintiffs' FLSA claims where plaintiffs have adequately alleged that they handled goods or materials that had at some point travelled interstate, and that they lost wages as a result of the alleged FLSA violations; vacated the dismissal of the state law claims for new consideration of supplemental jurisdiction; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Molina-Aranda v. Black Magic Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit certified the following question to the Supreme Court of Texas: Under Texas products-liability law, is Amazon a "seller" of third-party products sold on Amazon's website when Amazon does not hold title to the product but controls the process of the transaction and delivery through Amazon's Fulfillment by Amazon program? View "McMillan v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to defendant in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims premised on the denial of a name-clearing hearing in violation of procedural due process. The court held that the alleged violative nature of defendant's conduct was not clearly established as unconstitutional. In this case, the law was not clearly established that plaintiff's request "to speak with" defendant constituted a request for a name-clearing hearing in the context of the court's "stigma-plus-infringement" test, such that denying the request would amount to a procedural-due-process violation. View "Cunningham v. Castloo" on Justia Law

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After he sustained an ankle injury by stepping on a chafed stern line while he was a seaman aboard a tugboat owned by Kirby, plaintiff filed a Jones Act negligence claim against Kirby. The district court concluded that Kirby was negligent, based on an order by its vessel's captain to replace the stern line in unfavorable weather. Furthermore, plaintiff was contributorily negligent for placing the removed stern line near him and subsequently stepping on it while carrying out that order, reducing his damages award in proportion to his fault.The Fifth Circuit concluded that changing out the chafed line fell within the class of ordinary "heavy lifting" plaintiff performed routinely, and thus the district court was not precluded, as a matter of law, from reducing his award proportional to his fault. The court explained that the district court did not clearly err in finding that plaintiff was negligent in stepping on the chafed line, but the district court did err in finding him negligent for failing to move it. In this case, Kirby did not present any evidence showing that plaintiff placed the chafed line on the deck in an imprudent manner and the tugboat's captain, who gave plaintiff the order, watched the entire procedure, testifying that there were no irregularities in how the task was performed. Therefore, in the absence of any evidence, the district court's finding of fifty percent negligence based on plaintiff's placement of the chafed stern line is clearly erroneous. Finally, the court upheld the general damages award and concluded that the district court did not clearly err in awarding $60,000. The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Knight v. Kirby Offshore Marine Pacific, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that MTM's failure to pick him up violated his purported right to non-emergency medical transportation under various federal regulatory and statutory Medicaid provisions.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims, joining its sister circuits in holding that a section 1983 claim may not be brought to enforce an administrative regulation. The court explained that this conclusion is consistent with the principle that federal rights are created by Congress, not agencies of the Executive Branch, as the Supreme Court has affirmed on various occasions. The court also held that none of the statutory provisions invoked by plaintiff clearly and unambiguously create a right to non-emergency medical transportation, as established precedents require for a claim under section 1983. View "Thurman v. Medical Transportation Management, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant alleged that appellee played a key role as a strawman purchaser in a fraudulent land transfer where valuable property passed from a limited partnership, A&D, to another limited partnership in appellee's control, TAFI. Before the action was removed to federal court under bankruptcy jurisdiction, a Texas state trial court granted several evidentiary objections to appellant's detriment, dismissed his claims against appellee and TAFI on summary judgment, and expunged a notice of lis pendens that appellant had placed on the property.The Fifth Circuit found that the state trial court abused its discretion in granting the evidentiary objections and granting summary judgment despite there being issues of material fact with respect to all of appellant's claims. The court also found that the controversy surrounding the state court's expungement of the notice of lis pendens is moot because the property at issue was sold to a third party months after the trial court's expungement. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cohen v. Gilmore" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied petitioner's application for a certificate of appealability (COA). Petitioner was sentenced to death for shooting and killing a police officer. The court held that petitioner's claims, that his sentence violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments because it was based on the jury's unreliable and inaccurate predictions about his future dangerousness, are procedurally defaulted and substantively meritless. Likewise, petitioner's claim that his sentence violates the Due Process Clause is also procedurally defaulted and substantively meritless. Finally, petitioner's claim that the Eighth Amendment prohibits his execution because of how much time he has spent on death row is unexhausted and unreviewable in federal habeas. View "Buntion v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law