Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The burden of proof for the four factor test that prosecutors must satisfy before a court may compel the medication of the accused in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), is by clear and convincing evidence, not just by the preponderance of the evidence. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, because it was not clear from the record what burden of proof the district court applied and in light of the sensitivity of the interest involved. The court remanded for the district court to apply the clear and convincing evidence standard. View "United States v. James" on Justia Law

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After O.W. was withdrawn from school, the administrative hearing officer found that the school district violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and awarded O.W. two years of private school tuition. The district court affirmed and the school district appealed. The Fifth Circuit held that the IDEA's text and structure, including its implementing regulations, compel a conclusion that the child find and expedited evaluation requirements are separate and independent such that a violation of the latter does not mean a violation of the former. Therefore, the district court erred to the extent it held otherwise. The court also held that the continued use of behavioral interventions was not a proactive step toward compliance with the school district's child find duties, and thus a child find violation occurred. In regard to claims that the district court failed to implement O.W.'s individualized education program (IEP), the district court did not err in finding that the use of the take-discipline was a significant or substantial departure from the IEP; the district court erred in concluding that eight instances of physical restraints violated O.W.'s IEP; and the single instance of police involvement did not rise to the level of an actionable violation. Furthermore, the district court correctly concluded the May 18, 2015, modification rose to the level of an actionable violation, but erred in finding the May 6, 2015, modification represented an actionable failure to implement O.W.'s IEP. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the remedy issue for reconsideration. View "Spring Branch Independent School District v. O.W." 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 attempted aggravated robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court rejected petitioner's claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial attorney failed to conduct a sufficient pretrial investigation. In this case, petitioner failed to show prejudice under Strickland v. Washington or other clearly established federal law, because he did not allege what a sufficient investigation would have uncovered or how it would have changed his trial outcome. View "Adekeye v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against a prison nurse, alleging that she violated Paul Cleveland's Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment and held that defendant was entitled to qualified immunity. In this case, given the lack of evidence about defendant's subjective awareness of a substantial risk of serious harm to Cleveland, plaintiffs could not show a constitutional violation. Furthermore, plaintiffs failed to show a potential violation of clearly established law. View "Cleveland v. Bell" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that 28 U.S.C. 2244(b) barred movant's successive application, and thus denied his motion for authorization to file a successive application for a writ of habeas corpus and to stay execution. The court held that movant's latest filing did not present a new claim of a retroactive constitutional right recognized by the Supreme Court that was previously unavailable to him. To the extent that movant argued that he has now raised an actual Atkins claim for the first time, it would nevertheless be barred. The court stated that any claim similar to what it discussed in In re Johnson, -- F.3d – , 2019 WL 3814384 (5th Cir. 2019), and earlier in In re Cathey, 857 F.3d 221 (5th Cir. 2017), was available to movant at the time of his earlier application for a writ of habeas corpus. View "In Re: Mark Soliz" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was struck by a fellow inmate on the back of the head with a yard tool that the prison issued to inmates, he filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action, alleging claims of deliberate indifference and failure to train in violation his Eighth Amendment rights. The district court granted qualified immunity as to one official and denied it as to three other officials. The Fifth Circuit reversed and granted qualified immunity to all four officials, holding that Defendant Ladner and Pierce's alleged individual conduct did not rise to deliberate indifference and thus they were immune from suit. In regard to Defendant Tanner, the warden, the court held that it was not the lack of training that caused the risk to plaintiff, but rather the sufficiency of the overall protocol. In this case, there was no repeated pattern of violations and thus Tanner could not be held liable for inadequately training Pierce and Ladner. View "Jason v. Tanner" on Justia Law

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Shareholders filed suit against the Agencies after the FHFA placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in conservatorship. In 2012, FHFA and Treasury adopted a Third Amendment to their financing agreements wherein Fannie and Freddie give Treasury nearly all their net worth each quarter as a dividend. Shareholders contend that the arrangement exceeded FHFA's statutory powers and that FHFA lacked authority to adopt the Third Amendment. The court held that shareholders plausibly alleged that the Third Amendment exceeded FHFA’s conservator powers by transferring Fannie and Freddie’s future value to a single shareholder, Treasury. Therefore, a majority of the en banc court held that this claim survived dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A majority of the en banc court held that the Director's "for cause" removal protection was unconstitutional and therefore FHFA lacked authority to adopt the Third Amendment. The court explained that FHFA's design, an independent agency with a single Director removable only "for cause," violates the separation of powers. Finally, a different majority of the en banc court held that prospective relief was the proper remedy. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Collilns v. Mnuchin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the legislative boundaries for Mississippi State Senate District 22, arguing that the district, as drawn in 2012, diluted African-American voting strength. After determining that it had jurisdiction over the declaratory judgment action and that a single district judge had the authority to decide the case, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting the State's laches defense. On the merits, the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that the evidence established a section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 violation under the standards set forth in Thornburg v. Gingles. In this case, the district court did not err in determining that plaintiffs' section 2 challenge to a majority-minority, single-member district was legally cognizable; the district court did not clearly err in determining that plaintiffs met their burden of proving the three Gingles preconditions; the district court did not clearly err in its ultimate finding of vote dilution; and the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs were entitled to section 2 relief was fully supported by the record and not clearly erroneous. Finally, the court dismissed the State's appeal of the district court's judgment granting injunctive relief as moot, because no matter the resolution of the State's appeal, the court-ordered plan will never become operative. View "Thomas v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that the magistrate judge's dual role—generator and administrator of court fees—creates a conflict of interest when the judge sets an arrestee's bail, and therefore violates due process. Like the mayor in Ward v. Monroeville, the court held that because a magistrate judge must manage his chambers to perform the judicial tasks the voters elected him to do, he has a direct and personal interest in the fiscal health of the public institution that benefits from the fees his court generates and that he also helps allocate. Furthermore, the bond fees impact the bottom line of the court to a similar degree that the fines did in Ward. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's determination that the magistrate judge's institutional incentives create a substantial and unconstitutional conflict of interest when he determines the class's ability to pay bail and sets the amount of that bail. View "Caliste v. Cantrell" on Justia Law

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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