Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The Prims attended a concert at the Pavilion after consuming wine and consumed more wine during the concert. After the concert, Janet, who suffers from MS, was “stumbling" and unstable. A Pavilion employee called for a wheelchair, escorted the Prims to the security office, and smelled alcohol on Eric’s breath. Deputy Stein, who was working traffic, noticed that Eric had difficulty standing and had slurred speech. Eric admitted that he had been drinking. Eric twice failed a horizontal gaze nystagmus test. A medic evaluated Janet and called Lieutenant Webb. The Prims insisted on walking home but they would have had to cross two busy intersections in the dark. The officers tried, unsuccessfully, to find the Prims a ride home. Stein arrested them for public intoxication. The charges were ultimately dismissed. The Prims brought claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act, and tort claims.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit reversed with respect to Eric’s assault claim but affirmed as to Janet’s assault claim and both false imprisonment claims. The officers are entitled to qualified immunity on the section 1983 claims. Given their apparent intoxication and their route home, the officers reasonably concluded that the Prims posed a danger to themselves or others. With respect to the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, the court affirmed, noting the Pavilion is a private entity and does not receive federal financial assistance. Janet was not discriminated against based on her disability. View "Prim v. Deputy Stein" on Justia Law

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Two Planned Parenthood entities and three Jane Does filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the Louisiana Department of Health is unlawfully declining to act on Planned Parenthood's application for a license to provide abortion services in Louisiana. The district court denied the Department's motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).The Fifth Circuit held that it has jurisdiction over the Department's interlocutory appeal because the Department asserted sovereign immunity in the district court. The court held that plaintiffs' second requested injunction—directing the Department to "promptly rule" on their application "in accordance with all applicable constitutional requirements"—is not barred by Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 106 (1984), because plaintiffs allege a potential violation of their procedural-due-process rights pursuant to Ex parte Young and because requiring the Department to make a decision on the application and comply with the federal Constitution does not infringe the state's sovereign immunity.The court also held that the first and third of plaintiffs' requested injunctions—directing the Department to "not withhold approval" of their application or "grant" them a license—are barred by Pennhurst because there is no free-standing federal right to receive an abortion-clinic license. The court declined to exercise its pendant jurisdiction to consider other issues raised by the Department. Accordingly, the court denied the motion to dismiss, affirmed in part and reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Inc. v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted Judge Mack's motion for a stay pending appeal after the district court held that the judge violated the Establishment Clause, as incorporated against the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, by allowing volunteer chaplains to perform brief, optional, and interfaith opening ceremonies before court sessions.The court concluded that Judge Mack is likely to succeed on the merits of his claims that the district court erred, because the district court's adjudication of FFRF's official-capacity claim was manifestly erroneous and also because FFRF's individual-capacity claim is likely to fail. The court explained that, even assuming Judge Mack could be considered a state official, rather than a county official, FFRF's official-capacity claim must be dismissed because the Supreme Court's Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989), decision squarely prohibits official-capacity claims against state officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In regard to the individual-capacity claim, the court explained that the Supreme Court has held that our Nation's history and tradition allow legislatures to use tax dollars to pay for chaplains who perform sectarian prayers before sessions. See Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983). The court noted that Judge Mack's chaplaincy program raises fewer questions under the Establishment Clause because it uses zero tax dollars and operates on a volunteer basis. The court rejected FFRF's arguments that the evidence of courtroom prayers at the Founding was spotty; that the Supreme Court's invocation does not solicit the participation of the attending public, but that Judge Mack's opening ceremony is "coercive;" that Justice Kagan's hypothetical prayer in the dissent of Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U.S. 565 (2014), supported FFRF's position; and that Judge Mack's practices runs afoul of the Lemon test. The court also concluded that Judge Mack will be irreparably harmed in the absence of a stay pending appeal; any injury to FFRF is outweighed by Judge Mack's strong likelihood of success on the merits; and the public interest warrants a stay. View "Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Mack" on Justia Law

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These consolidated appeals arose from a deadly shootout that occurred at a restaurant in Waco where hundreds of motorcyclists gathered, including gang members. Plaintiffs filed 42 U.S.C. 1983 actions against Waco public officials based on their arrests and detentions following the rampage, alleging Fourth Amendment violations. Defendants appealed after the district court denied their motions for qualified immunity in part.The Fifth Circuit reversed and rendered as to Defendants Stroman and Lanning; affirmed in part and reversed in part as to Defendants Reyna, Chavez, and Rogers; and remanded for further proceedings. The court concluded that District Attorney Reyna's immunity is limited to that of a law enforcement officer. In this case, his conduct exceeded his prosecutorial function, and some of his actions were more akin to those of a law enforcement officer conducting an investigation. In regard to Franks liability, the court concluded that the issues raised by plaintiffs concern both the sufficiency of the warrant affidavit by Detective Chavez and the extent to which non-signer defendants may be held responsible for any material false statements or omissions. The court concluded that Chavez is within the compass of potential Franks liability; the allegations are sufficient to tie Reyna to potential Franks liability; Detective Rogers may also be implicated in potential Franks liability; but Franks liability is not sufficiently alleged as to Asst. Police Chief Lanning or Chief Stroman. The court concluded, however, that plaintiffs' conspiracy and bystander claims failed and thus the district court erroneously allowed these claims to proceed. View "Terwilliger v. Reyna" on Justia Law

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Samuel Abram was convicted by jury of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), the United States Supreme Court decided that that crime required the government to prove the defendant's knowledge of his felony status. Because his indictment didn’t allege such knowledge, Abram petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2241, which the district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Abram provided only a conclusory assertion he was "actually innocent" of his firearm conviction. He did not contend he was unaware of his felony status. "And that’s fatal: Where a prisoner seeks relief under Rehaif but fails to 'argue that he was unaware of his [relevant] status, he has failed to demonstrate that he [is] entitled to proceed under § 2255(e)’s savings clause.'” Accordingly, the district court's dismissal was affirmed. View "Abram v. McConnell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging Louisiana law that forces lawyers to join and pay annual dues to the Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA). Plaintiff contends that compelling dues and membership violates his First Amendment rights, and that LSBA's failure to ensure that his dues are not used to fund the Bar's political and ideological activities also violates his First Amendment rights.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims. The court concluded that Lathrop v. Donahue, 367 U.S. 820 (1961), and Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), foreclose plaintiff's challenge to mandatory membership in LSBA. In this case, plaintiff's claim presents the (previously) open free association question from Keller (which the court closed today in this circuit with the court's concurrently issued opinion in McDonald v. Longley, No. 20-50448, __ F.3d __ (5th Cir. 2021)). The court also concluded that the Tax Injunction Act does not preclude federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over plaintiff's challenge to mandatory dues. The court explained that the bar dues are a fee, not a tax, and thus dismissal under the Act was improper. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiff has standing to pursue his claim that LSBA does not employ adequate procedures to safeguard his dues. The court found that plaintiff has pleaded an injury-in-fact by alleging that LSBA does not regularly provide notice of its expenditures with sufficient specificity. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Boudreaux v. Louisiana State Bar Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, three Texas attorneys, filed suit against officers and directors of the State Bar of Texas under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Bar is engaged in political and ideological activities that are not germane to its interests in regulating the legal profession and improving the quality of legal services. Plaintiffs therefore allege that compelling them to join the Bar and subsidize those activities violates their First Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment to the Bar.As a preliminary matter, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the Tax Injunction Act did not strip the district court of jurisdiction where neither membership fees and legal services fees are taxes. On the merits, the court vacated the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court erred in its reading of Lathrop v. Donahue, 367 U.S. 820 (1961), and Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), and in its application of Keller's germaneness test on the Bar's activities. The court explained that Lathrop held that lawyers may constitutionally be mandated to join a bar association that solely regulates the legal profession and improves the quality of legal services; Keller identified that Lathrop did not decide whether lawyers may be constitutionally mandated to join a bar association that engages in other, nongermane activities; but Keller did not resolve that question. To determine whether compelling plaintiffs to join a bar that engages in non-germane activities violates their freedom of association, the court must decide (1) whether compelling plaintiffs to join burdens their rights and, (2) if so, whether it is nevertheless justified by a sufficient state interest.The court explained that plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment on their freedom-of-association claim if the Bar is in fact engaged in non-germane activities. In this case, the Bar's legislative program is neither entirely germane nor wholly non-germane; the Bar's various diversity initiatives through OMA, though highly ideologically charged, are germane to the purposes identified in Keller; most, but not quite all, of the Bar's activities aimed at aiding the needy are germane; and miscellaneous activities—hosting an annual convention, running CLE programs, and publishing the Texas Bar Journal—are all germane. In sum, the Bar is engaged in non-germane activities, so compelling plaintiffs to join it violates their First Amendment rights. Furthermore, there are multiple other constitutional options. Assuming, arguendo, that plaintiffs can be required to join the Bar, compelling them to subsidize the Bar's non-germane activities violates their freedom of speech. The court also concluded that the Bar's procedures for separating chargeable from non-chargeable expenses is constitutionally inadequate under Chicago Teachers Union, Local No. 1, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292 (1986).Accordingly, the court rendered partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs and remanded to the district court to determine the full scope of relief to which plaintiffs are entitled. The court additionally reversed the denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and rendered a preliminary injunction preventing the Bar from requiring plaintiffs to join or pay dues pending completion of the remedies phase. View "McDonald v. Longley" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to three officers employed by the Coleman County Jail in an action alleging claims regarding Derrek Monroe's death by suicide that occurred at the jail.The court concluded that Defendant Laws's decision to wait for backup before entering the cell after he saw Monroe strangling himself with a phone cord did not violate any clearly established constitutional right. The court explained that it was not sufficiently clear at the time that every reasonable official would have understood that waiting for a backup officer to arrive in accordance with prison policy violates a pretrial detainee's right. Therefore, Laws is entitled to qualified immunity on the deliberate indifference claim. Furthermore, it was not clearly established at the time that Laws should have immediately called 911, where he did call another jailer who called 911. The court also concluded that Defendants Brixey and Cogdill were not deliberately indifferent where holding Monroe in a cell containing a phone cord did not violate a clearly established constitutional right. Finally, Brixey and Cogdill's decision to staff only one weekend jailer did not violate any clearly established constitutional right. The court rendered judgment in defendants' favor. View "Cope v. Cogdill" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity to police officers who shot and killed Travis Stevenson. Stevenson was shot after unsuccessful efforts by police to deescalate a situation where Stevenson repeatedly slammed his vehicle into a police cruiser and a concrete pillar in front of an apartment building while yelling "Kill me!"The court concluded that the district court correctly held, in accordance with precedent, that plaintiffs' excessive-force claim fails as a matter of law. In this case, Stevenson was using his car as a weapon; Stevenson, like the drivers in the court's precedent, exhibited volatile behaviors that contributed to the officers justification in firing to prevent death or great bodily harm; and plaintiffs have not produced any evidence that suggests the officers might have had a reasonable alternative course of action. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiffs forfeited their failure-to-train claim against the sheriff by failing to plead it in their complaint and raising it only in response to the officers' motion for summary judgment. View "Jackson v. Gautreaux" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, her former Sociology teacher at a public high school in Texas, alleging that he violated her First Amendment rights by attempting to compel her to transcribe the United States Pledge of Allegiance and by retaliating against her after she refused. After the district court denied defendant's motion for summary judgment, he filed an interlocutory appeal. Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.The Fifth Circuit granted plaintiff's motion to dismiss, concluding that defendant seeks to have the court resolve the very factual disputes that the district court found to be genuine and properly submitted for trial on the merits, which the court did not have jurisdiction to do. In this case, defendant's legal arguments are inextricably intertwined with his challenges to the facts that the district court found to be disputed. View "Oliver v. Arnold" on Justia Law