Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The case was brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The plaintiff, Jarius Brown, alleged that officers from the DeSoto Parish Sheriff's Office attacked him without provocation, leaving him to languish in a jail cell with a broken nose and eye socket. Almost two years later, Brown sued Javarrea Pouncy and two unidentified officers in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged use of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as under Louisiana state law for battery. However, the district court dismissed Brown's Section 1983 claim as untimely under Louisiana's one-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Brown appealed this decision, arguing that the one-year period should not apply to police brutality claims brought under Section 1983 as it discriminates against such claims and practically frustrates litigants' ability to bring them.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, holding that precedent required them to do so. The Court reasoned that while Brown's arguments that a one-year limitations period is too restrictive to accommodate the federal interests at stake in a civil rights action, the Supreme Court has yet to clarify how lower courts should evaluate practical frustration without undermining the solution it has already provided for the absence of a federal limitations period for Section 1983 claims. This was based on the principle that the length of the limitations period and related questions of tolling and application are governed by state law. The Court also noted that states have the freedom to modify their statutes to avoid being outliers in this regard. View "Brown v. Pouncy" on Justia Law

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In October 2018, Warren G. Treme, a member of AJSJS Development, LLC, leased minerals on a tract of land in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, from Dr. Christy Montegut and his siblings. AJSJS intended to join a joint venture formed in 2010 between Treme, AIMS Group, Inc., and Fred Kinsley. The joint venture aimed to extract and process clay material from the tract for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project. However, to conduct mining and excavation activities, the plaintiffs needed to change the zoning classification of the tract. Despite multiple applications for rezoning, the Parish Council denied the applications after hearing complaints from affected residents. The plaintiffs then sued the Parish and the Council, alleging that the denial of the rezoning application constituted a regulatory taking without compensation in violation of the United States and Louisiana Constitutions. The plaintiffs also alleged violations of procedural and substantive due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring a takings claim because their mineral lease was not yet in effect, meaning they had no vested property interest in the tract. The court interpreted the lease to have a suspensive condition that required the plaintiffs to obtain governmental approvals for the lease to become effective. As the plaintiffs had not obtained these approvals, the lease had not yet come into effect. Consequently, the court affirmed the district court’s decision but modified the judgment to be a dismissal without prejudice. View "Treme v. St. John the Baptist" on Justia Law

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In this case, Larry Donnell Gibbs, a pro se plaintiff, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five officers of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He alleged that two officers allowed him to bleed for 45 minutes after being stabbed by another inmate, and three other officers used excessive force against him in retaliation for filing a grievance about the incident. Gibbs attempted to proceed in forma pauperis, which would have allowed service to be made by a United States marshal, but the district court denied this on the basis that he had already paid the filing fee, had sufficient funds in his inmate trust account to serve the defendants, and had not provided the addresses of the defendants.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that the district court had abused its discretion by denying Gibbs's in forma pauperis status. It held that a person who is not a pauper at the commencement of a suit may become one during or prior to its prosecution. The court also found that the district court had arbitrarily determined that the funds in Gibbs's inmate trust account were sufficient for him to serve the defendants and that there's no requirement for an individual to be absolutely destitute to enjoy the benefit of in forma pauperis status. The court also held that a district court's determination of whether a party may proceed in forma pauperis must be based solely upon economic criteria and not on the lack of addresses for the defendants. The court concluded that the denial of Gibbs's in forma pauperis status had prejudiced his chances of effecting service. The case was remanded to the district court with instructions to permit Gibbs to proceed in forma pauperis. View "Gibbs v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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In the case between Jennifer Harris and FedEx Corporate Services, Inc., Harris alleged race discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that Harris's § 1981 claims were time-barred under her employment contract, making them fail as a matter of law. However, the court found sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict for Harris on her Title VII retaliation claim. In view of Title VII’s $300,000 cap on damages and the evidence presented at trial, the court remitted Harris’s compensatory damages to $248,619.57 and concluded she was not entitled to punitive damages. FedEx was not entitled to a new trial because of the court’s evidentiary ruling. View "Harris v. FedEx Corporate Services" on Justia Law

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In March 2019, the Waxahachie Police Department (WPD) SWAT Team mistakenly executed a search warrant on the wrong house, which was the home of Karen Jimerson, James Parks, and their two young children, instead of the intended target house. The error was due to Mike Lewis, the WPD SWAT Team Commander, incorrectly identifying the target house. The plaintiffs sued the officers under Section 1983 for violations of the Fourth Amendment and several state laws. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment to Lewis on the issue of qualified immunity. The appellate court held that while Lewis's efforts to identify the correct residence were deficient, they did not violate clearly established law. The court found no genuine disputes of material fact, and it concluded that the disputed issue was one of law. The case was remanded for dismissal. View "Jimerson v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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An inmate in Texas, Raul Gerardo Favela, Jr., alleged that prison officials had ignored warnings and failed to prevent him from being assaulted by another inmate. Favela sued several employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that their failure to protect him violated his constitutional rights. However, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, stating that Favela had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the decision of the district court, finding that the summary judgment was inappropriate. Favela's declaration that he had filed and timely submitted grievances relating to his claims was found to be sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact, thereby meeting his burden to counter the defendant's prima facie case. The court concluded that the matter of the credibility of Favela's statement was a matter for trial, and not for summary judgment. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Favela v. Collier" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the parents of Ashtian Barnes, who was fatally shot by Officer Roberto Felix, Jr. during a lawful traffic stop, alleged violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officer Felix and Harris County. The parents argued that Officer Felix's use of force was unreasonable because even if Barnes attempted to flee, he did not pose a threat justifying deadly force. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgement, stating that Officer Felix did not violate Barnes's constitutional rights and was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court found that Barnes posed a threat of serious harm to Officer Felix in the moment the car began to move, thus making Officer Felix's use of deadly force reasonable and not excessive. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that under the Circuit's precedent on the "moment of threat" analysis, there was no violation of Barnes's constitutional rights. Consequently, the court also affirmed the grant of summary judgement to Harris County, as there was no finding of constitutional injury. View "Barnes v. Felix" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was presented with a case involving police officers who shot and killed Schaston Hodge after he refused to pull over his vehicle, led the officers on a chase, and exited his car with a gun in his hands. The officers' actions were captured on their bodycam footage. Hodge's mother, Shandra Hodge, filed a suit against the officers, Joshua Engleman and Robert Litvin, as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS) and the City of Dallas, alleging excessive force and failure to train and supervise. The district court granted the officers' motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity (QI), treating the dismissal as an implicit conversion to summary judgment, even though the footage was not included in the pleadings.On appeal, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the lower court's decision. The court found that the bodycam footage showed a complete account of the incident, including Hodge raising a gun and pointing it at one of the officers. The court concluded that the officers' use of deadly force was reasonable given the circumstances they faced. As a result, the court held that the officers did not violate Hodge's Fourth Amendment rights and were entitled to QI. Therefore, the court affirmed the summary judgment in favor of the officers. View "Hodge v. Engleman" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dismissed an appeal by police officer Rudy Guillen, who was seeking qualified immunity in a lawsuit brought against him by Akeem Bagley. Bagley had sued Guillen under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging excessive force, unlawful arrest, and illegal detention in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The lawsuit stemmed from an incident in which Guillen had pulled Bagley over for a minor traffic violation and subsequently tased him. The district court had granted Guillen qualified immunity as to Bagley’s unlawful arrest and illegal detention claims, but denied it as to Bagley’s excessive force claim.On appeal, the court held that at the time of the conduct in question, it was clearly established that an officer may not use force on a suspect who is complying with his commands. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Bagley, the court found that Bagley had presented sufficient evidence of excessive force to defeat qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. View "Bagley v. Guillen" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed an appeal by Carolyn Johnson, an African-American female who worked at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) as an Administrative Coordinator. Johnson alleged that she experienced sexual and racial harassment as well as retaliation from her former employer, LSUHSC. The harassment claims were based on a specific incident involving a colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Schumacher, slapping her on the buttocks, as well as several other instances of inappropriate behavior by Schumacher in the months preceding this incident. After reporting the conduct to her supervisor and Human Resources, Johnson was temporarily relocated to a different workspace while an investigation was conducted. Johnson claimed this relocation was in retaliation for her reporting the harassment.The court affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of LSUHSC on all counts. Regarding the harassment claims, the court found that while Johnson had sufficiently demonstrated that she was the victim of uninvited sexual and racial harassment, she failed to show that LSUHSC knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action. The court determined that LSUHSC took action to separate Johnson and Schumacher in response to Johnson's complaint and began an investigation into the matter, which was ultimately substantiated.In terms of the retaliation claim, the court found that Johnson failed to demonstrate that LSUHSC's decision to relocate her was a pretext for retaliation. The court noted that LSUHSC provided a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for her relocation, which was to separate Johnson and Schumacher during the investigation. Johnson did not present evidence to suggest that this reason was pretextual. Therefore, the court affirmed summary judgment on Johnson’s retaliation claim. View "Johnson v. Board of Suprs of LSU" on Justia Law