Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The en banc court unanimously agrees that this court no longer has jurisdiction in this case because it has become moot. The en banc court explained that it is undisputed that the 2019 general election has occurred, and the current district lines will neither be used nor operate as a base for any future election. Therefore, the en banc court vacated the district court's judgment, dismissed the appeal, and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction. View "Thomas v. Reeves" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a Louisiana church and its pastor, filed suit seeking to enjoin stay-at-home orders restricting in-person church services to ten congregants. The Fifth Circuit held that the appeal of the denial of injunctive relief and related request for an injunction under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 8(a)(1) are moot because the challenged orders expired more than a month ago. In this case, plaintiffs failed to cite any authority applying the "capable of repetition" exception to support an injunction against an order that is no longer in effect. View "Spell v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, family members of Chad Ernest Lee Silvis, filed suit against police officers for deliberate indifference after Silvis committed suicide in a jail cell by hanging himself with a blanket that one of the officers gave him. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims based on qualified immunity, holding that the complaint contains sufficient factual allegations to state a claim for relief. In this case, plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient facts that allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity because they were subjectively aware that Silvis was at a significant risk of suicide and responded unreasonably to that risk by failing to remove the blanket from Silvis's cell, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. View "Converse v. City of Kemah" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's adverse grant of summary judgment entered on plaintiff's claims against her employer, the City of Houston, for discrimination and creating a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court held that plaintiff failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the fourth element of her discrimination claim. In this case, plaintiff failed to show that she was similarly situated to other employees who were not members of her protected class and who were treated more favorably. The court held that plaintiff's proffered evidence regarding holdover overtime failed to show that her station-level supervisors treated her less favorably than her white, male comparators. In regard to ride-up overtime, the court held that plaintiff's allegations failed because neither of her coworkers held the same job or responsibilities or shared the same supervisor as her. The court also held that plaintiff failed to show a genuine dispute of material fact regarding her hostile work environment claim because she failed to show that the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to show that her colleagues' actions were severe, physically threatening, or humiliating. View "Jordan v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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During the Coronavirus pandemic, Texas Governor Abbott postponed the May 2020 primary runoff elections to July 14; doubled the period for early voting by personal appearance; and declared that election officials would issue further guidance on social distancing and other precautions. The Democratic Party sought injunctive and declaratory relief that those eligible to vote by mail include all “eligible voter[s], regardless of age and physical condition . . . if they believe they should practice social distancing in order to hinder the known or unknown spread of a virus or disease.” The state trial court granted a preliminary injunction; an interlocutory appeal stayed the injunction. Texas Attorney General Paxton issued a statement, indicating that fear of contracting the Virus unaccompanied by a qualifying sickness or physical condition does not constitute a disability under the Texas Election Code for purposes of receiving a ballot by mail. The plaintiffs filed federal claims that Texas’s rules for voting by mail discriminate by age, restrict political speech, are unconstitutionally vague, and that Paxton’s open letter was a threat constituting voter intimidation. The Fifth Circuit denied relief, referring to the district court’s “audacity” in entering a sweeping preliminary injunction, weeks before the election, that requires officials to distribute mail-in ballots to any eligible voter who wants one. The Constitution principally entrusts the safety and the health of the people to politically accountable state officials The spread of the Virus has not given unelected federal judges a roving commission to rewrite state election code. View "Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against UTSMC, seeking recovery for UTSMC's alleged discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of UTSMC's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss because UTSMC is an arm of the State of Texas and is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. The court applied the Clark factors and held that UTSMC is entitled to arm-of-the-state status where statutes and legal authorities favor treating UTSMC as an arm of Texas; Texas law authorizes state treasury funds to be allocated to UTSMC from the permanent health fund for higher education and a judgment against UTSMC would interfere with Texas's fiscal autonomy; UTSMC does not operate with a level of local autonomy to consider it independent from Texas; because of UT System's statewide presence, components of the UT System shall not be confined to specific geographical areas; and the UT System has the power of eminent domain, and the land it acquires becomes property of the state. View "Daniel v. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Fazzino's equal protection right and has taken his property without compensation, and that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Stratta's First Amendment right to free speech. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity, ripeness, Burford abstention, and qualified immunity.  The Fifth Circuit held that the district court erroneously concluded that BVGCD is an arm of the State of Texas and therefore immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment. In this case, five of the six Clark factors weigh against finding BVGCD is an arm of the state of Texas where, most importantly, funds from the Texas treasury will not be used to satisfy a judgment against the entity. Furthermore, the Directors are likewise not entitled to assert such immunity. The court also held that Fazzino's takings claim is ripe for adjudication because Fazzino fully pursued the administrative remedies available to him before filing this action, and the district court abused its discretion in deciding to abstain under Burford. Finally, the court held that neither BVGCD nor its Board was required to respond on the merits, and thus the substance of these allegations must be tested in discovery and further proceedings. The court reversed the district court's Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal as to all defendants and remanded. However, the court affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Stratta's First Amendment claims. View "Stratta v. Harris" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit treated the petition for en banc rehearing as a petition for panel rehearing, granted the rehearing, withdrew its prior opinion, and substituted the following opinion. Petitioner appealed the district court's dismissal of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition as time-barred. Petitioner was then granted a certificate of appealability (COA) to consider whether he was entitled to statutory tolling. The court held that when a state prisoner is implicitly granted extra time to seek supervisory writs from the denial of his state post-conviction application—and he does so within that time—his initial application therefore remains "pending" under the tolling provision in section 2244(d)(2). The court explained that its holding was supported by circuit precedent and the Supreme Court's teaching that a state post-conviction application remains pending for statutory tolling purposes as long as the ordinary state collateral review process is in continuance. In this case, petitioner was entitled to statutory tolling and his petition was therefore not time-barred. View "Leonard v. Deville" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the city and others under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985, alleging violations of his First Amendment, equal protection, and due process rights. Plaintiff's claims relate to his charge, and subsequent jury acquittal, of misdemeanor assault. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss. The court rejected plaintiff's equal protection claim on selective prosecution, holding that plaintiff failed to allege disparate treatment of similarly situated persons. Plaintiff was also not entitled to discovery. The court further rejected plaintiff's contention that it was clearly established that government officials could not selectively prosecute someone based on his First Amendment activities, tamper with a criminal defendant's right to a fair trial, or retaliate against someone for exercising his First Amendment rights. The court held that plaintiff failed to cite any authority showing that the right was clearly established and thus waived the issue; he failed to plead a constitutional violation; and the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. The court also held that plaintiff's conspiracy claim likewise failed. The court rejected plaintiff's claims that the city manager violated his due process rights by submitting letters to the judge ex parte. Even if the city manager's conduct violated plaintiff's due process rights, those rights were not clearly established. The court also held that the Officers, Leaders, and city manager were entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim. Finally, plaintiff failed to state a claim against the other defendants. View "Jackson v. City of Hearne" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the Sheriff's Department and others under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Louisiana state law, alleging wrongful arrest, wrongful detention, and malicious prosecution. The Fifth Circuit vacated in part the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, rendering judgment in favor of each defendant on each of the federal law claims. The court held that the magistrate judge erred in concluding that, if plaintiff's section 1983 claims were barred by limitations, subject matter jurisdiction over those claims was lacking. The court held that the section 1983 claims based on wrongful or false arrest and wrongful detention were time-barred, and the court declined to apply equitable tolling to the claims. The court also held that defendant inadequately briefed his malicious prosecution claim, and dismissal of the pendant state-law claims was within the district court's discretion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment to the extent it dismissed plaintiff's state law claims. View "Bradley v. Sheriff's Department St. Landry Parish" on Justia Law