Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Fazzino's equal protection right and has taken his property without compensation, and that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Stratta's First Amendment right to free speech. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity, ripeness, Burford abstention, and qualified immunity.  The Fifth Circuit held that the district court erroneously concluded that BVGCD is an arm of the State of Texas and therefore immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment. In this case, five of the six Clark factors weigh against finding BVGCD is an arm of the state of Texas where, most importantly, funds from the Texas treasury will not be used to satisfy a judgment against the entity. Furthermore, the Directors are likewise not entitled to assert such immunity. The court also held that Fazzino's takings claim is ripe for adjudication because Fazzino fully pursued the administrative remedies available to him before filing this action, and the district court abused its discretion in deciding to abstain under Burford. Finally, the court held that neither BVGCD nor its Board was required to respond on the merits, and thus the substance of these allegations must be tested in discovery and further proceedings. The court reversed the district court's Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal as to all defendants and remanded. However, the court affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Stratta's First Amendment claims. View "Stratta v. Harris" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit treated the petition for en banc rehearing as a petition for panel rehearing, granted the rehearing, withdrew its prior opinion, and substituted the following opinion. Petitioner appealed the district court's dismissal of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition as time-barred. Petitioner was then granted a certificate of appealability (COA) to consider whether he was entitled to statutory tolling. The court held that when a state prisoner is implicitly granted extra time to seek supervisory writs from the denial of his state post-conviction application—and he does so within that time—his initial application therefore remains "pending" under the tolling provision in section 2244(d)(2). The court explained that its holding was supported by circuit precedent and the Supreme Court's teaching that a state post-conviction application remains pending for statutory tolling purposes as long as the ordinary state collateral review process is in continuance. In this case, petitioner was entitled to statutory tolling and his petition was therefore not time-barred. View "Leonard v. Deville" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the city and others under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985, alleging violations of his First Amendment, equal protection, and due process rights. Plaintiff's claims relate to his charge, and subsequent jury acquittal, of misdemeanor assault. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss. The court rejected plaintiff's equal protection claim on selective prosecution, holding that plaintiff failed to allege disparate treatment of similarly situated persons. Plaintiff was also not entitled to discovery. The court further rejected plaintiff's contention that it was clearly established that government officials could not selectively prosecute someone based on his First Amendment activities, tamper with a criminal defendant's right to a fair trial, or retaliate against someone for exercising his First Amendment rights. The court held that plaintiff failed to cite any authority showing that the right was clearly established and thus waived the issue; he failed to plead a constitutional violation; and the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. The court also held that plaintiff's conspiracy claim likewise failed. The court rejected plaintiff's claims that the city manager violated his due process rights by submitting letters to the judge ex parte. Even if the city manager's conduct violated plaintiff's due process rights, those rights were not clearly established. The court also held that the Officers, Leaders, and city manager were entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim. Finally, plaintiff failed to state a claim against the other defendants. View "Jackson v. City of Hearne" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the Sheriff's Department and others under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Louisiana state law, alleging wrongful arrest, wrongful detention, and malicious prosecution. The Fifth Circuit vacated in part the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, rendering judgment in favor of each defendant on each of the federal law claims. The court held that the magistrate judge erred in concluding that, if plaintiff's section 1983 claims were barred by limitations, subject matter jurisdiction over those claims was lacking. The court held that the section 1983 claims based on wrongful or false arrest and wrongful detention were time-barred, and the court declined to apply equitable tolling to the claims. The court also held that defendant inadequately briefed his malicious prosecution claim, and dismissal of the pendant state-law claims was within the district court's discretion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment to the extent it dismissed plaintiff's state law claims. View "Bradley v. Sheriff's Department St. Landry Parish" on Justia Law

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When a prison inmate engages in willful misconduct, a prison guard may use reasonable force to restrain him—but after the inmate submits, there is no need, and thus no justification, for the further use of force. Under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), a convicted criminal may not bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983, if success on that claim would necessarily imply the invalidity of a prior criminal conviction. An inmate cannot bring a section 1983 claim for excessive use of force by a prison guard, if the inmate has already been found guilty for misconduct that justified that use of force. However, Heck does not bar a section 1983 claim for a prison guard’s excessive use of force after the inmate has submitted and ceased engaging in the alleged misconduct. In this case, the Fifth Circuit held that Heck barred plaintiff's section 1983 claim as to the alleged use of force in his cell—but not as to the alleged use of force again later in the prison lobby and shower. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's Heck claim and remanded for further proceedings. View "Aucoin v. Cupil" on Justia Law

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After Phillip Garcia, Jr. was shot and killed by an officer, Garcia's parents filed suit against the officers for violation of Garcia's constitutional rights. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the officer. The court held that, while the officer may have violated Garcia's right to be free from deadly force, the law was not clearly established at the time where it was undisputed that Garcia was aware of the officer's presence and that the officer ordered Garcia to put down his weapon, but Garcia refused to do so. View "Garcia v. Blevins" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Texas enacted a law that forbids its governmental entities from contracting with companies who engage in economic boycotts of Israel. Plaintiffs, who support the Palestinian side of the conflict, filed two actions seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in federal district court, alleging that requiring "No Boycott of Israel" clauses in Texas government contracts violates the First Amendment. The district court then preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of the clauses in all contracts with Texas governmental entities. The Fifth Circuit held that the appeal is moot because, twelve days after the district court's ruling, Texas enacted final legislation that exempts sole proprietors from the "No Boycott of Israel" certification requirement. Because plaintiffs are no longer affected by the legislation, the court held that they lacked a personal stake in the outcome of this litigation. Accordingly, the court vacated the preliminary injunction order and remanded the case to the district court to enter an appropriate judgment dismissing the complaints. View "Amawi v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Board over changes to their pension fund, alleging that limiting plaintiffs' ability to withdraw from their Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) funds constituted an unlawful taking under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and violated article XVI, section 66, of the Texas Constitution, which prohibits reducing or otherwise impairing a person’s accrued service retirement benefits. The Fifth Circuit certified two questions to the Supreme Court of Texas, asking (1) whether the method of withdrawing DROP funds is a service retirement benefit protected under Section 66, and (2) whether the Board's decision to change the withdrawal method for plaintiffs' DROP funds violates Section 66. The Supreme Court of Texas held that (1) although plaintiffs' DROP funds are service retirement benefits protected by Section 66, the method of withdrawing DROP funds is not, and (2) the Board's decision to change the withdrawal method of plaintiffs' DROP accounts did not violate Section 66. In this case, the court held that plaintiffs failed to state a takings claim because they do not have a property interest in the method of withdrawing DROP funds, and thus the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' takings claim. Furthermore, the court held that plaintiffs failed to plead a regulatory taking claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal for failure to state a claim. View "Degan v. Board of Trustees of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to prison officials in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action brought by plaintiff, an inmate in custody at the MDOC, alleging that defendants violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by being deliberately indifferent to the risk that another inmate would harm plaintiff. The court held that plaintiff's claims against defendants in their official capacities are barred under sovereign immunity. The court also held that the magistrate judge correctly granted summary judgment on plaintiff's theory that defendants failed to protect him from the other inmate, where there is no evidence in the record to suggest that defendants knew the inmate was a member of a gang or otherwise posed a specific threat to plaintiff when they moved him into plaintiff's zone. Furthermore, the magistrate judge correctly granted summary judgment on plaintiff's theory that defendants violated plaintiff's constitutional rights because they placed the inmate into plaintiff's protective custody zone instead of following MDOC policy and placing the inmate in lockdown. In this case, defendants did not disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety. View "Williams v. Banks" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that TDCJ's adoption and implementation of measures guided by changing CDC recommendations in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic do not go far enough. Plaintiffs filed a class action alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, seeking a preliminary injunction. The Fifth Circuit granted TDCJ's motion to stay the district court's preliminary injunction, which regulates the cleaning intervals for common areas, the types of bleach-based disinfectants the prison must use, the alcohol content of hand sanitizer that inmates must receive, mask requirements for inmates, and inmates' access to tissues (amongst many other things). The court held that TDCJ is likely to prevail on the merits of its appeal because: (1) after accounting for the protective measures TDCJ has taken, plaintiffs have not shown a "substantial risk of serious harm" that amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment"; and (2) the district court committed legal error in its application of Farmer v. Brennan, by treating inadequate measures as dispositive of defendants' mental state. In this case, even assuming that there is a substantial risk of serious harm, plaintiffs lack evidence of defendants' subjective deliberate indifference to that harm. The court also held that TDCJ has shown that it will be irreparably injured absent a stay, and that the balance of the harms and the public interest favor a stay. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies as required in the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), and the district court's injunction goes well beyond the limits of what the PLRA would allow even if plaintiffs had properly exhausted their claims. View "Valentine v. Collier" on Justia Law