Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging violations of their due process rights after a social worker and other officials seized all seven of their children and put them in foster homes. The Fifth Circuit held that the complaint did not allege a violation of clearly established substantive due process rights because there was an ongoing investigation into domestic violence and the removal lasted only 24 hours. However, the court held that the removal violated clearly established procedural due process rights because there was neither a court order nor exigent circumstances to support the social worker's taking the children from their mother. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Romero v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' disability-related claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plaintiffs' claims stemmed from an officers' treatment of their autistic, eight year old son. The Fifth Circuit vacated, holding that there were material disputes of fact and this case was distinguishable from Hainze v. Richards, 207 F.3d 795 (2000), because there was no exigent circumstance. In this case, the court held that a jump rope in the hands of an eight year old child was not a weapon and was not capable of inflicting the same injuries or damage as an actual weapon, even if he called the jump rope his "nunchucks." At the very least, the court held that whether an eight year old twirling a child's jump rope created a danger of physical harm or a potentially life-threatening situation is a dispute of material fact. Because there are disputes of material fact, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Wilson v. City of Southlake" on Justia Law

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LULAC filed suit against the Edwards Aquifer Authority, alleging that the Authority's electoral scheme violated the "one person, one vote" principle of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit granted summary judgment for the Authority, holding that the Authority's powers are expressly tailored to protecting the quantity and quality of groundwater in the Edwards Aquifer and do not extend to any surface water or other aquifers located within its jurisdiction; the Authority's limited functions disproportionately impact the western agricultural and eastern spring-flow counties, whose residents are most empowered by its elections; and the Authority's electoral scheme was rationally related to the legitimate goal of protecting the aquifer because it equitably balances the rival interests of the agricultural, spring-flow, and urban counties to ensure that no one region can dominate the aquifer's management. Furthermore, the apportionment scheme was likely necessary to ensure the creation of the Authority. View "League of United Latin American Citizens v. City of San Marcos" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of murder. Petitioner claimed that his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated because his trial attorney failed to object when the prosecution asked a witness whether petitioner was in the United States legally. The court held that, even if counsel's nonobjection constituted ineffective assistance, petitioner failed to show prejudice. In this case, evidence of petitioner's guilt was overwhelming. View "Sanchez v. Davis" on Justia Law

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After a state court jury found that Mississippi state officials violated the Takings Clause by exceeding the scope of a state easement on private property, the jury granted a monetary award considerably lower than the amount of "just compensation" sought by the property owner. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the State's motion to dismiss, on sovereign immunity grounds, plaintiff's federal case. While this case was pending on appeal, the Supreme Court decided Knick v. Township of Scott, 139 S. Ct. 2162 (2019), which overturned prior sovereign immunity law in cases arising under the Takings Clause. The court held that, to the extent that Knick has any effect on suits against state governments, the Court simply put takings claims against state governments on equal footing with claims against the federal government. Furthermore, nobody disputes that takings claims against the federal government require the waiver of sovereign immunity contained in the Tucker Act. Therefore, the court held that the takings claim against the Utah Department of Corrections must be dismissed based on Eleventh Amendment immunity. View "Bay Point Properties, Inc. v. MS Transportation Commission" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a law enforcement officer, dismissing plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 excessive force claim. The court held that plaintiff failed to present a genuine issue of material fact regarding his excessive force claim where this circuit has repeatedly held that an officer's use of deadly force is reasonable when an officer reasonably believes that a suspect was attempting to use or reach for a weapon. In this case, it was undisputed that the officer saw plaintiff intentionally brandish a firearm at the approaching officers. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the officer's motion to strike certain evidence and statements offered by plaintiff in summary judgment proceedings. View "Valderas v. City of Lubbock" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiffs in an action against Judges of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Judges' practices in collecting criminal fines and fees violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court agreed and held that the district court did not err in applying the principles from Tumey v. State of Ohio, which held that officers acting in a judicial or quasi judicial capacity are disqualified by their interest in the controversy to be decided, and Ward v. Vill. of Monroeville, which presented a situation in which an official perforce occupies two inconsistent positions and necessarily involves a lack of due process of law in the trial of defendants charged with crimes before him. In this case, the Judges have exclusive authority over how the Judicial Expense Fund is spent, they must account for the OPCDC budget to the New Orleans City Council and New Orleans Mayor, and the fines and fees make up a significant portion of their annual budget. View "Cain v. White" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which is a type of anti-SLAPP statute, does not apply to diversity cases in federal court. In this case, plaintiff's son committed suicide after being refused permission to graduate. The son was allegedly the victim of defendant's false charge of homophobic harassment, for which the University administered its severe punishment after allegedly violating Title IX procedures designed to achieve due process. Plaintiff filed suit against the University for Title IX violations and defendant for common law defamation and defamation per se. Defendant moved to dismiss the defamation claims under the Act. In light of its holding, the court reversed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to dismiss and remanded, holding that plaintiff may pursue his case under the federal rules unhindered by the Act. View "Klocke v. Watson" on Justia Law

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On petition for rehearing en banc following remand from the Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of summary judgment on plaintiff's excessive force claim. Plaintiff and his parents filed suit against police officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the officers violated plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights during an incident in which the officers shot plaintiff without warning and then lied about what happened. The en banc court held that it will be for a jury, and not judges, to resolve the competing factual narratives as detailed in the district court opinion and the record as to the excessive force claim. Accordingly, the en banc court dismissed the officers' appeal. The court also affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss the Fourteenth Amendment false charge claim; reversed the denial of the motion to dismiss the Fourth Amendment and Brady fabrication-of-evidence claims based on qualified immunity; and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Cole v. Carson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against state prison officials, alleging Eighth Amendment violations and state-law wrongful death and survival claims arising out of her son’s death. Plaintiff discovered a year later that her son had two children and thus she substituted their natural tutors (their mothers) as plaintiffs after the expiration of the statutory limitations period. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's reversal of the tutors' wrongful death and 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, holding that the substitution satisfied the four Giroir factors and related back to the date of the initial complaint. View "Moore v. LA Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law