Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal without prejudice of T.B.'s discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. The court held, on the record before it, that T.B. seeks redress for denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and thus, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), he was required to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing this claim to the district court. Because he has failed to do so, his complaint was properly dismissed. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying T.B.'s motion to reconsider or request to amend. View "T. B. v. Northwest Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The en banc court held that 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(23) does not give Medicaid patients a right to challenge, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, a State's determination that a health care provider is not "qualified" within the meaning of section 1396a(a)(23). The en banc court vacated the preliminary injunction issued by the district court prohibiting the termination of the Providers' Medicaid provider agreements.The Providers provide family planning and other health services to Medicaid patients, and each of the Providers is a member of Planned Parenthood. This case stemmed from a pro-life organization's release of video recordings of conversations at Planned Parenthood (PP) Gulf Coast headquarters. The videos depict two individuals posing as representatives from a fetal tissue procurement company discussing the possibility of a research partnership with PP Gulf Coast. The release of the videos prompted congressional investigations, which ultimately led to the OIG sending each Provider a Notice of Termination of its respective Medicaid provider agreement. The Providers and Individual Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the terminations violated rights conferred by section 1396a(a)(23) and sought relief under section 1983.The en banc court held that the Individual Plaintiffs may not bring a section 1983 suit to contest the State's determination that the Providers were not "qualified" providers within the meaning of section 1396a(a)(23). The en banc court rested its decision primarily on two independent bases: (1) the Supreme Court's decision in O'Bannon v. Town Court Nursing Center, 447 U.S. 773 (1980), and (2) the text and structure of section 1396a(a)(23), which does not unambiguously provide that a Medicaid patient may contest a State's determination that a particular provider is not "qualified." Rather, the court held that whether a provider is "qualified" within the meaning of section 1396a(a)(23) is a matter to be resolved between the State (or the federal government) and the provider. In so holding, the en banc court overruled Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast, Inc. v. Gee, 862 F.3d 445 (5th Cir. 2017), which held that a state agency or actor cannot legitimately find that a Medicaid provider is not "qualified" unless under state or federal law the provider would be unqualified to provide treatment or services to the general public, including Medicaid patients who paid for the care or services with private funds. View "Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Family Planning and Preventative Health Services, Inc. v. Kauffman" on Justia Law

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Kendole Joseph's family filed suit against police officers after Joseph died during the course of an arrest. Plaintiffs alleged violations of Joseph's Fourth Amendment rights, as well as claims of excessive force and failure to intervene. In this case, after a middle school official reported that Joseph was acting "strange" near the school, school resource officers approached Joseph. Joseph ran into a nearby convenience store and jumped behind the check out counter. The school resource officers followed, with twelve additional officers joining them. About eight minutes after Joseph entered the store, the officers apprehended him and carried him to a police car, after which he became unresponsive and was taken to the hospital, where he died two days later.Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the Fifth Circuit held that, if a jury found those facts to be true, Officers Martin and Costa violated Joseph's right to be free from excessive force during a seizure by failing to employ a measured and ascending response to the threat Joseph posed. In this case, Joseph was not suspected of committing any crime, was in the fetal position, and was not actively resisting. Nonetheless, Officers Martin and Costa inflicted twenty-six blunt-force injuries on Joseph and tased him twice, all while he pleaded for help and reiterated that he was not armed. Therefore, the actions of Officers Martin and Costa were disproportionate to the situation, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the clearly established law. They are not entitled to summary judgment on the constitutional claims.However, the court held that nine "bystander officers" are entitled to qualified immunity where plaintiffs failed to meet their burden to show that these officers violated clearly established law. The court dismissed the appeal to the extent it challenges the district court's factfinding; affirmed the denial of summary judgment as to Officers Martin and Costa; and reversed the denial of summary judgment as to the nine bystander officers. View "Joseph v. Bartlett" on Justia Law

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After movants, who were the plaintiffs in a separate but similar case, were denied intervention in the district court, they moved to intervene in the Secretary of State's ongoing appeal concerning signature-verification procedures for ballots.The Fifth Circuit denied the motion to intervene because intervention on appeal is reserved for exceptional cases and movants' reasons for intervening do not come close to that high threshold. The court rejected movants' argument in favor of intervention because their appeal needs to be consolidated with the Secretary's appeal. The court explained that, because both movants and the Secretary are appealing from the same order, both appeals have been docketed under the same case number in this court. Therefore, assuming the motion to intervene in the Secretary's appeal is denied, the same merits panel will hear both the Secretary's appeal of the summary judgment and movants' appeal of the denial of their motion to intervene. The court stated that, to the extent movants want their voices heard, the proper procedure is to move to appear as amici curiae, not to move to intervene. Finally, the court declined to strike the motion. View "Richardson v. Texas Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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This case concerns challenges to a 2017 law imposing a temporary but substantial increase in quarterly fees for large Chapter 11 debtors. The Fifth Circuit held that the fee increase is constitutional and applies in this case. The court agreed with the bankruptcy court and its sister circuits that "disbursements" includes all payments a debtor makes. The court explained that, because "disbursements" include all the payments Buffets made in 2018, its roughly $60 million of quarterly disbursements qualify for the heightened fees. The court concluded that the Amendment applies to cases like Buffets' that were pending when the Amendment took effect. The court explained that the 2017 Amendment is prospective and the court found no uniformity problem.The court held that the fee increase easily survives rational basis review where it addresses a shortfall in the U.S. Trustee System Fund, the fee increase is directly tied to the deficit, and it is reasonable to have large debtors shore up the system's finances as their cases typically place greater burdens on the system. Furthermore, taxes and user fees are not takings under the Fifth Amendment. In this case, Buffets had disbursements exceeding $1 million for each of the first three 2018 quarters. The court concluded that the fee increase applies to those disbursements even though the case was pending before the increase became law and the fee increase is constitutional. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for modification of the fee orders. View "Hobbs v. Buffets, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its previous opinion and affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner. Petitioner contends that the state court's decision denying his Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause claim was contrary to and involved an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent.The court held that Tennessee v. Street, 471 U.S. 409, 414 (1985), and Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 88 S. Ct. 1620, 20 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1968), do not even address the Confrontation Clause issue raised by petitioner's claims. To the extent the state district court was applying either opinion, the court concluded that it was an unreasonable application to hold they controlled as to these different facts. Rather, the court concluded that Gray v. Maryland, 523 U.S. 185 (1998), was closer factually and analytically to what occurred in this case. Nonetheless, the court concluded that any error was harmless because it did not have a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict. View "Atkins v. Hooper" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of Speech First's First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to several policies that intend to regulate speech at the University of Texas at Austin. Speech First sought a preliminary injunction against enforcement of these policies, but the district court dismissed the case based on lack of standing.The court held that Speech First has standing to seek a preliminary injunction. After determining that the case was not moot, the court held that the chilling of allegedly vague regulations, coupled with a range of potential penalties for violating the regulations, was, as other courts have held, sufficient "injury" to ensure that Speech First has a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy. In this case, Speech First's three student-members at the University have an intention to engage in a certain course of conduct, namely political speech; it is likely that the University's policies arguably proscribe speech of the sort that Speech First's members intend to make; and the existence of the University's policies, which the University plans to maintain as far as a federal court will allow it, suffices to establish that the threat of future enforcement, against those in a class whose speech is arguably restricted, is likely substantial. The court also held that the causation and redressability prongs are easily satisfied here. The court remanded for assessment of the preliminary injunction. View "Speech First, Inc. v. Fenves" on Justia Law

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The City of Houston contends that it is being sued for a so-called "zombie" law. The City's Charter allows only registered voters to circulate petitions for initiatives and referenda, even though the Supreme Court held a similar law unconstitutional twenty years ago. Plaintiffs, Trent and Trey Pool, sought a preliminary injunction allowing them to collect signatures for their anti-pay-to-play petition as well as a declaratory judgment that the Charter's voter-registration and residency provisions are unconstitutional, permanent injunctive relief against enforcement of those provisions, and nominal damages. Plaintiffs also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which would allow them to circulate the petition through the deadline of July 9, 2019. The district court granted a TRO, allowing plaintiffs to circulate the petition for the next week, but concluded that plaintiffs had not demonstrated an injury sufficient to support standing with regard to future petitions. The district court later dismissed plaintiffs' remaining claims. Although the City now concedes that the qualified-voter requirement is unconstitutional, at issue is whether plaintiffs may obtain a permanent injunction preventing its enforcement.The Fifth Circuit held that, although there would not usually be a reasonable fear of continued enforcement of a zombie law, the history of Houston's qualified-voter requirement gives Trent Pool standing to seek an injunction that would guard against continued chilling of his speech. The court also held that the City has not met its heavy burden of showing that plaintiffs' challenges are moot. Therefore, because there is a reasonable concern that the City might enforce its unconstitutional Charter provision, the court reversed the judgment dismissing this case and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pool v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the United States and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers for injuries suffered during an incident at the International Port of Entry Gateway Bridge in Brownsville, Texas. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the CBP officers based on qualified immunity. In this case, the court found that plaintiff was neither arrested nor unreasonably seized, and the officers did not use excessive force. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims against the United States for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based on the customs-duty exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). View "Angulo v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion.Plaintiff filed suit against defendant under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of various constitutional rights and under Louisiana tort law. In this case, after defendant approached, questioned, and reached to grab plaintiff outside of his home, plaintiff fled, fell off a fence, and dislocated his shoulder.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the unreasonable search claim and remanded for the district court to consider qualified immunity before proceeding to the merits of the case. The court held that plaintiff's complaint plausibly alleges a trespassory search of his home where the officer's search of the curtilage of plaintiff's home was unreasonable insofar as it infringed on plaintiff's reasonable expectation of privacy and exigent circumstances were lacking. However, the court held that the complaint lacks allegations that would allow the court to draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor and to conclude that he plausibly alleged a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of the unreasonable seizure claim.The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's remaining section 1983 claims, holding that plaintiff failed to state a false arrest/false imprisonment claim because he failed to plausibly allege that his ultimate arrest was false; plaintiff failed to state a claim for malicious prosecution because, as the district court correctly observed, there is no freestanding right under the Constitution to be free from malicious prosecution; and plaintiff failed to state a claim for a violation of procedural and substantive due process because resort to a generalized remedy under the Due Process Clause is inappropriate where a more specific constitutional provision provides the rights at issue. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotion distress under Louisiana law, the district court's grant of summary judgment, and the three evidentiary rulings appealed by plaintiff. View "Arnold v. Williams" on Justia Law