Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Plaintiffs are nine female detention service officers working at the Dallas County Jail who are employed by Defendant-Appellee Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. Dallas County (“the County”). A gender-based scheduling policy went into effect and only male officers were given full weekends off whereas female officers were allowed two weekdays off or one weekday and one weekend day off. Plaintiffs alleged that they were told that it would be safer for the male officers to be off during the weekends as opposed to during the week.   Plaintiffs filed suit against the County for violations of Title VII and the Texas Employment Discrimination Act (the “TEDA”). On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the district court erred by considering whether the County’s scheduling policy constituted an adverse employment action rather than applying the statutory text of Title VII and the TEDA. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s motion to dismiss The court held that Plaintiffs’ did not plead an adverse employment action, as required under the Fifth Circuit’s Title VII precedent. The court explained that the conduct complained of here fits squarely within the ambit of Title VII’s proscribed conduct: discrimination with respect to the terms, conditions, or privileges of one’s employment because of one’s sex. Given the generally accepted meaning of those terms, the County would appear to have violated Title VII. However, the court explained it is bound by the circuit’s precedent, which requires a Title VII plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that she “suffered some adverse employment action by the employer.” View "Hamilton v. Dallas County" on Justia Law

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This appeal arises from an alleged sexual assault committed by a law enforcement officer while he was conducting a welfare check on Plaintiff at her home. The district court found that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court found that Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim of excessive force failed because Plaintiff had not been seized, and that the Eighth Amendment claim failed because she was not a prisoner. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her claims under the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment, as well as her claims against the County and Sheriff.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court with respect to the dismissal of Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim, reversed the order of the district court with respect to the dismissal of Plaintiff’s Fourteenth claim, and remanded. The court held that the Deputy’s alleged sexual abuse violated Plaintiff’s clearly established right to bodily integrity. Thus, the Deputy is not entitled to qualified immunity. The court explained it need not reach the claims against the County and the Sheriff. The court remanded those issues to the district court to address in the first instance. View "Tyson v. County of Sabine" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 1983 civil rights complaint against various employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) who worked at the Wallace Pack Unit. Plaintiff, who is Muslim, alleged that when he was evacuated from the Stringfellow Unit (a state prison) to the Wallace Pack Unit due to Hurricane Harvey, he was not provided with kosher meals, even though such meals were received by similarly situated Jewish inmates.   The district court granted Defendants’ summary judgment motion. The court noted that Plaintiff had never submitted an amended complaint, and it explained that it could not consider any new allegations that Plaintiff had presented in his response to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.   The Fifth Circuit previously instructed the district court to make sure that, on remand, Plaintiff had an “adequate opportunity to cure the inadequacies in his pleading,” despite his status as a pro se litigant. Plaintiff argued that the district court erred by not giving him an opportunity to cure the inadequacies in his complaint.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded explaining that the district court read the court’s mandate too narrowly. The court wrote that the record indicates that the district court only explicitly “informed” Plaintiff of its requirement that a motion for leave to amend must be accompanied by a proposed amended complaint. For a pro se litigant, such a denial of a motion to amend is not, by itself, an adequate opportunity to cure. At a minimum, the district court should have construed Plaintiff’s reply to Defendants’ answer as a proposed amended complaint, which it should have accepted. View "Lozano v. Schubert" on Justia Law

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A man detained at the Yazoo County Detention Center died after bleeding internally for hours. His survivors alleged that law enforcement officials knew that the man had been assaulted with a metal pipe and that he was vulnerable to internal bleeding if injured, yet they ignored requests for help from the man his family, and his fellow detainees, and left the man to suffer in his cell until it was too late. In rejecting the officials’ qualified immunity defense at summary judgment, the district court found numerous factual issues that, if resolved in Plaintiffs’ favor, would establish their liability on the federal denial-of-care claim. It did not, however, consider whether that constitutional violation was clearly established at the time of the man’s death.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed Yazoo City’s appeals for lack of jurisdiction, affirmed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to the individual defendants on the federal denial-of-medical-care claim, and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that it has granted qualified immunity when law enforcement misconstrued the symptoms of a serious medical condition for intoxication, or a less serious illness. Here, however, the officers’ knowledge of risk was based on much more than just symptoms: They also knew that the man had a life-threatening condition and had suffered trauma of the type that would trigger that condition. Those additional factors distinguish this case from the symptoms-only scenarios in Roberts and Cheney. Further, is clearly established that an official who refuses to treat or ignores the complaints of a detainee violates their rights. View "Williams, et al v. City of Yazoo, et al" on Justia Law

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While awaiting trial a woman began tapping her hairbrush on the cell door. One of the two primary jailers asked the woman to turn around to be handcuffed. When she did not obey, the jailer used pepper spray which caused her to retreat toward the far wall. While the woman remained at the back of her cell facing away from the jailers, one of the jailers sprayed the woman with pepper spray three more times.   The struggle resulted in the woman lying flat on her stomach with her hands handcuffed behind her back, and one of the jailers, who weighed 230 pounds, sitting atop of her with his knee on her back. The other jailer, who weighed 390 pounds, pressed his forearm against her neck for over two minutes. The jailers rolled the woman over to find her unresponsive and she was declared dead. The woman’s parents filed a section 1983 suit against the county and the jailers. At summary judgment, the district court held that the jailers’ use of force was reasonable.   The Fifth Circuit reversed, explaining that a jury could conclude that the jailers used excessive force. Further, the jailers’ continuing to apply that force for more than two minutes after the woman was subdued would violate clearly established law. The court explained any reasonable officer would see that the woman represented a low threat at the moment when the jailer threw her to the floor and applied continuous force. Further, the woman did not actively resist at these critical stages of the encounter. Finally, the amount of force was not proportional to the need for force. View "Fairchild, et al v. Coryell Cty, et al" on Justia Law

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The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”) has denied prisoner requests to hold religious gatherings for the Nation of Gods and Earths (“the Nation”).   In response, Plaintiff, brought this suit against the TDCJ’s Deputy Director of Volunteer Services and Special Populations, in the hope of vindicating the rights of the Nation’s adherents to congregate. The suit was initially filed pro se over half a decade ago. But Tucker began receiving the aid of pro bono legal counsel a few years later. The State now says that it has promulgated a new policy to govern congregation requests on behalf of the Nation’s adherents. As a result, the State contends that this suit is now moot.   On appeal, the Fifth Circuit vacated the judgment to the congregation claim, holding that there were genuine disputes of material fact as to “whether the state’s ban: (1) advances a compelling interest (2) through the least restrictive means.” Tucker v. Collier (Tucker I), 906 F.3d 295, 302 (5th Cir. 2018). After adopting the changes, TDCJ sought summary judgment on the grounds that Tucker’s case was. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claim as moot.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and found that the case is not moot. The court explained that TDCJ’s policy change gives Plaintiff nothing more than the right to apply for a congregation—to date TDCJ has never approved the Nation for congregation. And it is the latter that this suit seeks to obtain. View "Tucker v. Gaddis" on Justia Law

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After a man was found incompetent to stand trial, and his civil commitment proceeding was dismissed, he stayed in jail for six more years. Plaintiff, the man’s guardian, filed suit against the District Attorney, Sheriffs, and Clay County under Section 1983, challenging the man’s years-long detention.   The district court first dismissed the District Attorney from the case. However, the court determined that the Sheriffs were not entitled to qualified immunity on the detention claim because their constitutional violations were obvious. It denied summary judgment to Clay County too, finding that there was strong evidence that the Sheriffs were final policymakers for the county.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed Clay County’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction and affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment as to the Sheriffs.  The court first held that it lacked jurisdiction over the ruling keeping Clay County in the case. The Court explained that, unlike the Sheriffs, municipalities do not enjoy immunity. Further, the court wrote it did not have pendent party jurisdiction over Clay County. Defendants assume that if Clay County’s liability is “inextricably intertwined” with that of the individual officers, that provides “support [for] pendent appellate jurisdiction.” But the court has never permitted pendent party (as opposed to pendent claim) interlocutory jurisdiction.   Further, taking the evidence in Plaintiff’s favor, the Sheriffs violated the man’s due process right by detaining him for six years in violation of the commit-or-release rule and the circuit court’s order enforcing that rule. The court explained that it was clearly established that the Sheriffs could be liable for a violation of the man’s clearly established due process right. View "Harris v. Clay County, MS" on Justia Law

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Texas applicants may transmit a voter registration form to the county registrar via fax, then deliver or mail a hardcopy of the application within four days, Elec.Code 13.143(d-2). Vote.org, a non-profit, non-membership organization, launched a web application, with which a user would supply the required information and an electronic image of her signature. The application would assemble a completed voter registration application, then transmit it to a third-party vendor, who would transmit the form via fax to the county registrar; another vendor would mail a hardcopy to the registrar. A 2018 pilot program in four counties “was an unmitigated disaster. Because applications submitted using the web application lacked an original, “wet” signature, the Secretary of State advised that those applications were incomplete. In 2021, House Bill 3107 clarified that for “a registration application submitted by [fax] to be effective, a copy of the original registration application containing the voter’s original signature must be submitted by personal delivery or mail” within four days.The district court concluded that the wet-signature requirement violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 52 U.S.C. 10101(a)(2)(B), because an original signature is “not material” to an individual’s qualification to vote and granted a permanent injunction. The Fifth Circuit granted a stay pending appeal, concluding that Vote.org lacks statutory standing and is unlikely to prevail on the merits. The wet-signature rule imposes a very slight burden on the right to vote and helps deter voter registration fraud. View "Vote.Org v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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In 2012, then-sheriff Gusman of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office claimed constitutional violations at the Orleans Parish Prison, including inadequate housing for detainees with mental-health needs. The United States intervened that September, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997c. That same month, the sheriff brought in the city as a third-party defendant. At issue here was whether the district court abused its discretion in denying the city’s motion for relief from January and March 2019 orders, pursuant to Rule 60(b)(5). The Fifth Circuit held that '[a] Rule 60(b) motion, of course, is not a substitute for a timely appeal from the judgment or order from which relief is requested." The Court determined it had jurisdiction to review the denial of the Rule 60(b) motion, but not the underlying January and March 2019 orders. The denial of the city's Rule 60(b) motion was affirmed. View "Anderson v. City of New Orleans" on Justia Law

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John Jay’s assistant coach (“Coach”) was “increasingly agitated, angry and enraged over his belief that the referee crew was making ‘bad calls,’” and over “alleged racial comments” Plaintiff, a referee, had directed at players. Coach told John Jay players “to hit” Plaintiff because “he need[ed] to pay the price.” The Coach pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily injury, affirming that he did “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to Plaintiff by striking him.” This civil rights suit, filed in state court and later removed to federal court, followed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the school district. The court held no policy or custom of Northside Independent School District directed the assault on Plaintiff—quite the opposite, the Coach had gone rogue in ordering the assault—so the district is not liable under section 1983.   But the state-created-danger theory does not even fit this situation in which a public employee ordered private actors to commit an assault. Instead, the theory applies when a state actor creates a dangerous condition that results in harm. It involves a mens rea of deliberate indifference, not the intentional infliction of harm. Instead, it is an example of a public official’s ordering private actors to engage in the conduct. The law has long recognized that state action exists when a state actor commands others to commit acts as much as when the state actor commits those act. Further, the court left it to the district court to determine complaint has alleged a violation of clearly established due process law. View "Watts v. Northside Indep Sch Dist, et al" on Justia Law