Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Judge Higginson concluded that the restrictions on the President's removal authority under the Consumer Financial Protection Act are valid and constitutional. Judge Higginson found that neither the text of the United States Constitution nor the Supreme Court's previous decisions support appellants' arguments that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutionally structured, and thus he affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. All American Check Cashing, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in an action alleging that his former employer, BASF, discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The court held that plaintiff's ADA claim was properly dismissed, because plaintiff failed to offer any evidence of a causal connection between his discharge and his alcoholism. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to show that BASF's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for discharging him, the apparent positive results of his alcohol test and violation of company policy, was pretextual. Even if the court were to consider plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate argument, it would fail because the ADA does not provide a right to an employee's preferred accommodation but only to a reasonable accommodation. The court also held that plaintiff produced no evidence to support his ADEA claim and there was no abuse of discretion in the district court's decision not to mandate the requested production of his discovery request. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining procedural and evidentiary challenges. View "Kitchen v. BASF" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the school district and its superintendent, alleging free speech and retaliation claims in violation of their First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983; Article 1, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution; and the Texas Whistleblower Act. Plaintiffs, the former principal and assistant principal of an elementary school, served on a 504 committee which convened for the purpose of implementing regulations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Plaintiffs were terminated after an investigation determined that they intentionally authorized inappropriate student testing accommodations based on a misapplication of Section 504 eligibility requirements. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the superintendent was entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established at the time whether First Amendment liability can attach to a public official who did not make the final employment decision. The court also held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's First Amendment claims, because plaintiffs' calls to TEA regarding Section 504 construction and application at the elementary school were clearly activities undertaken in the course of performing their jobs and these actions were therefore not protected by the First Amendment. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs were not entitled to recover lost wages because they failed to exercise reasonable diligence to mitigate their damages; the district court did not err in denying plaintiffs' motion for rescission or modification; the district court did not err in instructing the jury that the IHE's findings were preclusive; and the district court did not err in relying on the jury's verdict that plaintiffs did not report a violation of law in good faith. View "Powers v. Northside Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Several Organizations and eligible voters filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Texas's winner-take-all (WTA) method of selecting presidential electors, claiming that the WTA violates the one-person, one-vote principle rooted in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and freedom of association under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss. The court held that Williams v. Va. State Bd. of Elections, 288 F. Supp. 622 (E.D. Va. 1968), aff'd, 393 U.S. 320 (1969) (per curiam), did not confront an argument that appointing presidential electors through a WTA system violates freedom of association, and thus the court must address the substance of those claims. The court also held that plaintiffs failed to state a cognizable burden, and rejected plaintiffs' claims that WTA burdens their right to a meaningful vote, to associate with others, or to associate with candidates and petition electoral representatives. More generally, the court held that plaintiffs failed to allege any harms suffered by reasons of their views. Rather, the court wrote that any disadvantage plaintiffs allege is solely a consequence of their lack of electoral success. View "League of United Latin American Citizens v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction enjoining Senate Bill 2116, which makes it a crime to perform an abortion, with exceptions only to prevent the death of, or serious risk of "substantial and irreversible" bodily injury to, the patient, after a "fetal heartbeat has been detected." The court previously upheld an injunction enjoining a law prohibiting abortions, with limited exceptions, after 15 weeks' gestational age. The court held that S.B. 2116 bans abortions at a previability stage of pregnancy regardless of the reason the abortion is sought. In this case, the parties agree that cardiac activity can be detected well before the fetus is viable. Therefore, the court held that if a ban on abortion after 15 weeks is unconstitutional, then it follows that a ban on abortion at an earlier stage of pregnancy is also unconstitutional. View "Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Dobbs" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its original opinion and substituted the following opinion. After decedent was struck and killed by a motor vehicle as he walked along a highway in the dark after being dropped off at the county line by a law enforcement officer, plaintiffs filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit against the county, the city, and officers, alleging state law claims and constitutional claims. In this interlocutory appeal, the court held that the district court erred in denying the officer that dropped decedent off qualified immunity as to plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. In regard to the Fourth Amendment claim, the court held that, without a valid exception to the probable cause requirement, the seizure of the decedent was presumptively unreasonable, and a constitutional violation was present. However, plaintiffs failed to prove that a reasonable officer like the one here would have understood that his actions violated clearly established law. In regard to the Fourteenth Amendment claim, the court held that plaintiffs failed to allege a substantive due process right where the law did not clearly establish that a special relationship would have existed under the facts of this case. The court explained that, while the decedent was killed by a motorist after the officer dropped him off, prior case precedent established that officials have no affirmative duty to protect individuals from violence by private actors. View "Keller v. Fleming" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint as frivolous under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). Plaintiff's allegations stemmed primarily from the aftermath of a prison riot. The court held that plaintiff failed to carry his burden to show that the district court abused its discretion in determining that he failed to demonstrate an actual injury in support of his access-to-courts claim; plaintiff waived his argument that TDCJ personnel failed to assist him adequately in his disciplinary hearing and failed to demonstrate an abuse of discretion regarding his claim; the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing plaintiff's claim that his grievances were mishandled or improperly denied, because prisoners have no due process rights in the inmate grievance process; plaintiff's allegations about the conditions of his lockdown were not so harsh that it posed an atypical or significant hardship; and plaintiff failed to adequately brief a challenge to the district court's determination that his allegations were insufficient to show that any of the defendants knew of his complaints or grievances against them, much less that their actions were motivated by his protected activity. The court rejected plaintiff's claims regarding the condition of his cell and his request for appointment of counsel on appeal. Finally, the court issued a sanctions warning. View "Alexander v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors filed suit against Vizaline to enjoin its business and disgorge its profits. Vizaline then filed suit against the Board, alleging that as applied to its practice, Mississippi's surveyor-licensing requirements violate the First Amendment. The district court dismissed Vizaline's suit. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court's ruling -- that Mississippi's licensing requirements for surveyors do not trigger any First Amendment scrutiny -- was inconsistent with the Supreme Court's recent decision in Nat'l Inst. of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra [NIFLA], 138 S. Ct. 2361, 2375 (2018). NIFLA disavowed the notion that occupational-licensing regulations are exempt from First Amendment scrutiny. Therefore, the district court erred by categorically exempting occupational-licensing requirements from First Amendment scrutiny. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Vizaline, LLC v. Tracy" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Clifford Mecham took his computer to a technician for repairs. The technician discovered thousands of images showing nude bodies of adults with faces of children superimposed. The technician reported the pornography to the Corpus Christi Police Department. Unlike virtual pornography, this “morphed” child pornography used an image of a real child. Like virtual pornography, however, no child actually engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the circuits disagreed about whether morphed child pornography was protected speech. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the majority view that morphed child pornography did not enjoy First Amendment protection, so it affirmed defendant's conviction for possessing child pornography. "But the fact that the pornography was created without involving a child in a sex act does mean that a sentencing enhancement for images that display sadistic or masochistic conduct does not apply," so defendant's case was remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Mecham" on Justia Law

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Clarence Roy, a Christian street preacher, was issued a summons outside a nightclub in Monroe, Louisiana, after a woman accused him of following her and making inflammatory remarks. The summons, which was issued by Sergeant James Booth of the Monroe Police Department, cleared the way for formal charges under the city of Monroe’s “disturbing the peace” ordinance. Roy was tried and ultimately acquitted by a municipal court judge. Shortly thereafter, he filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, in which he argued Booth and the city deprived him of numerous constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Two district court judges denied relief, first in part and then in whole, respectively. Finding no reversible error, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Roy v. City of Monroe" on Justia Law