Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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After Glenn Ford was wrongly convicted of murder and spent 30 years in solitary confinement on death row before being fully exonerated, he filed suit against law enforcement officials alleging suppression of evidence, fabrication of witness statements, withholding of exculpatory evidence, and other violations. The district court denied appellants' Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion for being untimely and denied alternative relief under Rule 7(a). The Fifth Circuit held that it did not have jurisdiction to consider this appeal, because the district court's decision on the Rule 12(b)(6) motion was based on timing rather than a substantive legal disposition regarding qualified immunity. Therefore, the court dismissed the appeal based on lack of appellate jurisdiction. View "Armstrong v. Ashley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the county sheriff and others had conspired to violate his civil rights in an action arising from the political feud in Karnes County stemming from the Eagle Ford Shale oil boom. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to the county sheriff and the deputy sheriff. The court applied the independent-intermediary doctrine and held that the district court erred in denying qualified immunity to the county sheriff and deputy sheriff given plaintiff's bare-bones allegations that defendants arrested him purely because of their political feud with plaintiff's wife. The court held that plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1985 claim failed because he failed to allege facts sufficient to show an actual deprivation of his rights. Furthermore, plaintiff's conspiracy to violate 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim failed because plaintiff only asserted legal allegations, unsupported by sufficient factual content, that was insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. View "Shaw v. Villanueva" on Justia Law

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After Austin Moon died in an accident where he drove his motorcycle into a criminal district attorney investigator's SUV, Moon's estate filed suit alleging that Moon was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit held that the investigator was entitled to qualified immunity in the 42 U.S.C. 1983 action. The court held that plaintiff failed to identify precedent rendering it beyond debate that any reasonable officer would know, even in only seven seconds, and even in the midst of a high-speed chase, that the investigator's rolling block violated the Fourth Amendment. To the extent the court could identify clearly established law in excessive force cases, it supported the investigator rather than Moon. View "Morrow v. Meachum" on Justia Law

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In1998, police responded to a call at Hayslip’s apartment, where Hayslip’s boyfriend, Cain, was arguing with Thompson, Hayslip’s ex-boyfriend. They let Thompson leave. Three hours later, Thompson returned and shot Cain, killing him. Thompson shot Hayslip in the face, threw the gun into a creek, and went to Zernia's house. Hayslip died days later. Thompson later described the shootings to Zernia, then called his father, who took him to the police. In detention, Thompson talked with inmates Reid and Humphrey, about arranging for Zernia’s death using the Hayslip murder weapon Thompson drew a map of the weapon’s location, and asked Reid to pass the information to a contact. Reid relayed the information to the police. Divers were unable to locate the gun. Although Thompson’s right to counsel had attached, officers instructed Reid to tell Thompson his contact had been unable to find the weapon, and would visit for better directions. Posing as Reid’s outside contact, Investigator Johnson visited Thompson and recorded their conversation. Thompson offered Johnson $1,500 to retrieve the weapon and murder Zernia. The police then recovered the gun. Thompson later spoke with inmate Rhodes, to solicit the murder of witnesses. Thompson was convicted of capital murder; the court imposed the death penalty. After direct appeal and collateral review in Texas state court, he unsuccessfully sought federal habeas corpus relief. The Fifth Circuit grant a Certificate of Appealability on whether Thompson has established a Brady violation in the state’s nondisclosure of its past relationship with Rhodes and whether the introduction of Rhodes’s testimony constituted a “Massiah” violation, which requires determination of whether the informant was promised, reasonably led to believe, or actually received a benefit in exchange for soliciting information from the defendant and whether he acted pursuant to state instructions or otherwise submitted to the state’s control. View "Thompson v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Dispatchers received calls about a man on a rural street, shooting a pistol and yelling “everyone’s going to get theirs.” Dispatchers relayed descriptions of a black male wearing a brown shirt. Officers arrived and observed a suspect matching that description, who fired at them, then disappeared into the trees. The suspect re-appeared 100-500 yards away. The officers advanced but again lost sight of the suspect. They began ordering him to drop his weapon and come out. After a few minutes, the officers spotted a figure on a bicycle, wearing a blue jacket, not a brown shirt, over 100 yards away. All of the officers claim the rider was armed. The rider was Gabriel, not the suspect. His father, Henry, claims that Gabriel was “unarmed” and did not move his hands in any way that might have suggested that he was reaching for something. An officer yelled “put that down!” Officers fired 17 shots within seconds of spotting Gabriel. Hit, Gabriel fled. While Henry was attempting to help Gabriel in their yard, officers advanced. Henry stated that the only gun they had was a toy, which he tossed toward the officers. When the officers attempted to cuff Henry and Gabriel, both resisted. Officers tased them. EMS pronounced Gabriel dead at the scene. In the family's civil rights suit, the court granted the officers summary judgment on limitations and qualified immunity defenses. The Fifth Circuit affirmed that claims against two officers were time-barred but reversed in part. With respect to qualified immunity, the district court erred in excluding Henry’s affidavit. Genuine issues of material fact remain with respect to whether the use of deadly force was objectively reasonable. View "Winzer v. Kaufman County" on Justia Law

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The panel opinion, special concurrence, and dissent previously issued in this case were withdrawn, and the following opinions were substituted in their place. Plaintiff filed suit against his employer, BNSF, for disability discrimination and retaliation after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and later placed on medical leave. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to BNSF on plaintiff's disability discrimination claim because there was a fact issue as to whether BNSF discriminated against plaintiff. However, the court affirmed the district court's judgment on the retaliation claim and held that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of an unlawful retaliation. View "Nall v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing and petition for rehearing en banc. The court substituted this opinion in place of its prior opinion. The court affirmed the district court's judgment as to plaintiff's hostile work environment claim and held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged sustained harassment that undermined his ability to work. In this case, he was repeatedly subjected to behavior that was hostile, intimidating, and bullying, and it was done publicly over a period of more than three years. Furthermore, defendant was deliberately indifferent to this racially hostile work environment. The court also affirmed as to the 42 U.S.C. 1981 claim and held that defendant retaliated after plaintiff complained about discrimination by transferring him to the night shift in a different division. Therefore, plaintiff's allegations supporting unlawful retaliation establish a violation of his constitutional rights, one that a reasonable official would know was unlawful. However, the court held that defendant was entitled to qualified immunity on the First Amendment retaliation claim where it was not clearly established that an internal complaint of discrimination made only to supervisors, primarily to vindicate one's own rights, qualified as speech made as a "citizen" rather than as an "employee." View "Johnson v. Halstead" on Justia Law

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A former student filed suit against the school district for violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, alleging that the school district was deliberately indifferent to her alleged sexual harassment and that the school district retaliated against her by withholding Title IX protections. The district court granted in part and denied in part the school district's motion for summary judgment. At issue on appeal was the deliberate indifference claim. The Fifth Circuit rejected plaintiff's contention that the question of whether a school district acted with deliberate indifference generally should be decided by a jury. The court held that summary judgment in the school district's favor was appropriate because there was no genuine dispute that the school district was not deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's claims of harassment. The court rejected plaintiff's claim that allowing deliberate-indifference claims to be resolved by jury deliberations served the underlying purpose of discouraging gender-based discrimination. View "I.F. v. Lewisville Independent School District" on Justia Law

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In Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., 597 F.2d 936 (5th Cir. 1979), the Fifth Circuit held that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The court held that Blum remained binding precedent. Nonetheless, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in an action alleging that Phillips 66 discriminated against an employee based on the employee's transgender status. The court held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment for the employer because the employee failed to present sufficient evidence to support a prima facie case of discrimination, and because the employee failed to present a genuine issue of material fact concerning pretext. In this case, the employee did not present evidence that any non-transgender applicants were treated better, and Phillips 66 identified a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for rescinding the offer—namely, the employee's misrepresentations regarding her prior employment. View "Wittmer v. Phillips 66 Co." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew the prior opinion and substituted the following opinion. In this case, a nurse alleged that an assisted living center allowed a hostile work environment to continue by not preventing a resident's repetitive harassment. Plaintiff filed suit under Title VII after she was terminated in part for refusing to care for an aggressive patient in a nursing home. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the harassment claim and held that the evidence of persistent and often physical harassment by the aggressive patient was enough to allow a jury to decide whether a reasonable caregiver on the receiving end of the harassment would have viewed it as sufficiently severe or pervasive even considering the medical condition of the harasser. In this case, an objectively reasonable caregiver would not expect a patient to grope her daily, injure her so badly she could not work for three months, and have her complaints met with laughter and dismissal by the administration. The court allowed the district court to consider plaintiff's retaliation claim via direct evidence for the first instance on remand. View "Gardner v. CLC of Pascagoula, LLC" on Justia Law