Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Plaintiff filed suit against T-Mobile and Broadspire, alleging transgender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from his treatment while working as a retail employee at a T-Mobile store.The Fifth Circuit held that, under Bostock v. Clayton County, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), a plaintiff who alleges transgender discrimination is entitled to the same benefits—but also subject to the same burdens—as any other plaintiff who claims sex discrimination under Title VII. In this case, the court concluded that plaintiff does not allege facts sufficient to support an inference of transgender discrimination—that is, that T-Mobile would have behaved differently toward an employee with a different gender identity. The court explained that, where an employer discharged a sales employee who happens to be transgender—but who took six months of leave, and then sought further leave for the indefinite future, that is an ordinary business practice rather than discrimination. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiff's remaining issues on appeal are likewise meritless. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Olivarez v. T-Mobile USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former boss, the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff, for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for retaliatory discharge under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The district court granted summary judgment against plaintiff.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, concluding that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the sheriff's proffered reason for firing plaintiff -- sleeping on the job -- is pretext for Title VII race discrimination and FMLA retaliation. In regard to plaintiff's Title VII claim, the court explained that plaintiff has produced substantial evidence of pretext based on disparate treatment. In this case, the sheriff treated plaintiff worse than a similarly situated white male who also was caught sleeping on the job. In regard to the FMLA claim, the court explained that the record reflects that "sleeping on the job" is not an infraction that results in termination, the sheriff tolerated "sleeping on the job" by at least one other dispatch supervisor, and the sheriff could not recall any dispatcher that he had ever fired for this reason. Furthermore, when combined with the discredited reason of "sleeping on the job," the near-immediate temporal proximity of the discharge to the protected activity leaves no room to doubt that plaintiff has carried her summary-judgment burden of producing substantial evidence that the sheriff would not have fired her but for her FMLA-protected activity. View "Watkins v. Tregre" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of sovereign immunity in an action brought by voters and political organizations against the Texas Secretary of State seeking to enjoin the enforcement of HB 1888, a state law that bars counties from operating mobile or pop-up early voting locations.The court concluded that Mi Familia Vota v. Abbott, which held that the Secretary has no connection to the enforcement of Texas Election Code 85.062–85.063 because local officials are responsible for administering and enforcing those statutes, is controlling in this case. The court explained that, if the Secretary has no connection to the enforcement of section 85.062 or 85.063, then it follows that she has no connection to the enforcement of HB 1888, as codified in the neighboring section 85.064, which governs the days and hours of voting at temporary branch locations. Because the Secretary is not sufficiently connected to the enforcement of HB 1888, the court need not consider her argument that plaintiffs are seeking improper relief under Ex parte Young. Accordingly, the court remanded from this interlocutory appeal with instructions to dismiss. View "Texas Democratic Party v. Hughs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a handwritten, pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint against defendant, an assistant warden, alleging that he had received threats from "a sexually violent predator inmate" on his cell block. A committee, chaired by defendant, denied plaintiff's transfer requests and, about a month later, plaintiff was attacked by the inmate who had previously threatened him. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendant violated his Eighth Amendment rights by deliberately failing to protect him, seeking a preliminary injunction and damages.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of the action and remanded to the district court for consideration of the merits of plaintiff's allegations in the first instance, as well as any response from the assistant prison warden. In this case, although the complaint did not specifically allege what defendant knew, it does allege that defendant called plaintiff a "snitch" and denied him a transfer for that reason. The court concluded that plaintiff was entitled to have his allegations addressed by the district court in the first instance. View "Alvarez v. Akwitti" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Mann Hospitality, owner of the Sunset Inn in Caldwell, Texas, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging that the inn's information, posted on third-party booking websites, failed to identify rooms accessible to disabled persons like her.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's suit based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction where plaintiff failed to show the necessary concrete interest to support standing. In this case, plaintiff had no definite plans to travel to the Sunset Inn or anywhere else in Texas. Nor does she allege she tried, or intends to try, to book a room at the Sunset Inn. The court vacated the district court's award of attorneys' fees to Mann under 28 U.S.C. 1919, concluding that the district court erred in doing so because section 1919 authorizes "just costs" but not attorneys' fees. View "Laufer v. Mann Hospitality, LLC" on Justia Law

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After Eli Gauna, Jr. committed suicide while being held in the Bell County jail as a pretrial detainee, his mother filed suit against the licensed clinical social worker who was the mental health professional that evaluated Gauna and took him off suicide watch. The district court granted summary judgment for the social worker, concluding that she was entitled to qualified immunity and had not acted with deliberate indifference to Gauna's serious medical needs.The Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding that the social worker, as an employee of a private organization systematically organized to perform a major administrative task, is not entitled to qualified immunity. Furthermore, plaintiff provided sufficient evidence regarding whether the social worker knew about Gauna's suicide risk to raise a genuine dispute of material fact over whether the social worker was deliberately indifferent to Gauna's medical needs. In this case, the social worker knew of Gauna's suicidal ideations and chose to have him taken off suicide watch, placing him into the general population where he would have access to tie-off points and ligatures, including the bedsheets with which he eventually hanged himself. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Sanchez v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, an inmate on death row in Texas, filed a federal habeas application under 28 U.S.C. 2254, arguing that his counsel was constitutionally ineffective in numerous ways at trial and sentencing. Petitioner's convictions stemmed from his murder of his wife, son, and step-daughter. The Fifth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability on four of petitioner's issues.As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that petitioner's notice of appeal was timely and thus the court has jurisdiction. The court affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief, concluding that the state court's decision was not contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding. In this case, the court concluded that petitioner is not entitled to relief on the basis that the state court improperly resolved the claim that any partial jurors were seated; on the basis of the claim involving the jurors who expressed opposition to interracial marriage; and on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to challenge petitioner's competency to stand trial, in rebutting the voluntary-intoxication theory, and in presenting a mitigation defense. View "Thomas v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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Jesse Aquirre's family filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the San Antonio Police Department violated Aguirre's constitutional rights by causing his death through the use of excessive force. The district court granted summary judgment to the individual officers based on qualified immunity and to the City of San Antonio.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the officers in regard to the excessive force claims. The court weighed the Graham factors and concluded that the first Graham factor—the severity of any crime of which Aguirre was suspected—weighs in favor of it being unreasonable and excessive for the officers to hold Aguirre in the dangerous maximal-restraint position for five and a half minutes, and there are at very least genuine disputes as to the second two Graham factors—whether Aguirre posed a safety threat to officers or others or was resisting the officer's efforts to remove him from the highway and hold him safely until the police wagon arrived. The court explained that these disputes of material facts alone are enough to preclude a finding of summary judgment that the force used by the officers in holding Aquirre in a hog-tie position was constitutionally reasonable. Under Graham and its progeny, the court concluded that it is unreasonable for an officer to use injurious force against a non-resisting, non-dangerous individual who is not suspected of a serious crime, which the court must assume occurred here under Aguirre's version of events. The court also concluded that the summary judgment evidence indicates that a reasonable officer in the officers' position would have known that applying the maximal-restraint position to Aguirre and holding him in this position for an extended period posed a substantial risk of causing his death or serious bodily injury. Therefore, a reasonable jury could find that the officers' use of force constituted "deadly force." Accordingly, the officers are not entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity.However, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiffs' deliberate indifference claims. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' municipal liability claim; rejected plaintiffs' claims against the City under the Texas Tort Claims Act; and granted the motion to supplement the record and denied the motion to take judicial notice as moot. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Aguirre v. City of San Antonio" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of qualified immunity and summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, alleging that defendant, an off-duty sheriff's deputy at the time, used excessive force when he shot her several times. Plaintiff had emerged from a stopped vehicle and would not follow defendant's demands, and when she reached behind her waist, defendant feared that she might be reaching for a weapon and shot her. The court concluded that defendant made a split second decision to use deadly force against a non-compliant person who made a movement consistent with reaching for a weapon, and plaintiff failed to identify clearly established law prohibiting defendant's use of deadly force.Plaintiff also alleged that defendant shot her in retaliation for engagement in activity protected by the First Amendment. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiff did not present evidence that her speech and expressive conduct was a but-for cause of the shooting. In this case, defendant did not discharge his firearm at plaintiff when she began shouting expletives at him or when she was walking towards him. Rather, he shot her when she reached her hand behind her back towards the waistband of her pants. Finally, plaintiff has not shown that defendant responded to her medical needs with deliberate indifference. View "Batyukova v. Doege" on Justia Law

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After Joseph Hutcheson died as a result of police officers restraining him at the Dallas County Jail, Hutcheson's wife and mother filed suit against the county and four individual officers, bringing an excessive force claim against the officers and failure-to-train and wrongful-death claims against the county. Hutcheson died from a combination of the narcotics in his system and the stress from his struggle with and restraint by the officers. The district court dismissed or granted summary judgment on all claims.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the excessive force claim, concluding that plaintiffs failed to raise a dispute of material fact regarding whether the officers used unreasonable force to restrain a resisting suspect. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for limited discovery on the issue of qualified immunity. The court further concluded that the district court properly dismissed the failure-to-train claim where plaintiffs failed to allege that the county provided no training, so they cannot show that the county was deliberately indifferent. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to file a second amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in its entirety. View "Hutcheson v. Dallas County" on Justia Law