Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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In a healthcare fraud case involving Medicare kickbacks, defendants Lindell King and Ynedra Diggs appealed their convictions and sentences. They challenged the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas's decision to admit recordings involving them and other co-conspirators, and disputed the court's calculation of the improper benefit received for the purpose of their sentence, as well as the restitution award. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit examined these arguments and ruled in favor of the lower court.The defendants were accused of receiving bribes from a Medicare provider, Dr. Paulo Bettega, for referring Medicare beneficiaries to him for unnecessary treatment or non-provided treatment. The Court of Appeals rejected the defendants' Confrontation Clause arguments, stating the recordings were not testimonial and did not violate the Confrontation Clause. It further dismissed the defendants' assertion that the recordings were impermissible hearsay.Regarding the calculation of the improper benefit, the court concluded that the government had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the entire operation was fraudulent. The defendants failed to provide rebuttal evidence of any legitimate medical expenses that should offset the amount paid to Bettega for treatment provided to residents of their group homes.The Court of Appeals also upheld the restitution award. It rejected the defendants' argument that their maximum restitution was limited to the $70,000 they received in kickbacks. The court held the defendants jointly and severally liable for all foreseeable losses within the scope of their conspiracy.In conclusion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment and sentence of the district court, finding no error in its proceedings or decisions. View "USA v. King" on Justia Law

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Thomas Rhone, a property owner in Texas City, Texas, had his apartments declared a nuisance by a Municipal Court of Record. Rhone disputed this decision in state court, but the City moved the case to federal district court. There, Rhone's claims were dismissed on summary judgment. Rhone appealed the district court's decision, challenging the standard of review and its conclusions regarding his constitutional claims. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered a limited remand for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the role of the City Attorney in finalizing the Municipal Court’s order of abatement.Rhone's property, three apartment buildings, passed a city inspection in 2013 without any issues regarding a lack of a certificate of occupancy being raised. However, following an inspection in 2020, Texas City informed Rhone that his buildings were substandard and that he would need a certificate of occupancy to operate them. Rhone argued that city officials interfered with his efforts to remedy the violations claimed by the City and imposed conditions that made it impossible for him to preserve the value of his property by repairing the apartment buildings to bring them into compliance with the Texas City Code instead of demolishing the structures.After the city filed an administrative action in its Municipal Court of Record, the court ordered the demolition of the apartment buildings, finding them to be "dilapidated, substandard, unfit for human habitation, a hazard to the public health, safety, and welfare," and a nuisance. Rhone appealed this order in the 122nd Judicial District Court of Galveston County, but the City removed the action to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Galveston under federal-question jurisdiction. The federal district court ultimately granted partial summary judgment in favor of Texas City.The Court of Appeals held that any of Rhone's claims that would only interfere with the demolition of the buildings on his property were moot due to the demolition of the buildings. However, the court also held that the demolition did not eliminate a potential takings claim. The court ordered a limited remand for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the role of the City Attorney in finalizing the Municipal Court’s order of abatement. The court also held that Rhone has not shown that an initial inspection by a city fire marshal and an issuance of a citation that has consequences on his use of the property violate federal law. View "Rhone v. City of Texas City" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to order Marty Johnson, the owner of a mental health rehabilitation clinic, and Keesha Dinkins, an employee of the clinic, to pay $3.5 million in restitution. Johnson and Dinkins had pleaded guilty to charges related to a fraudulent billing scheme targeting Medicaid that lasted from 2014 to 2018. On the day before their jury trial was set to begin, both defendants pled guilty to their respective charges and agreed in their plea deals to recommend $3.5 million in restitution. However, after their pleas were accepted, both defendants objected to the restitution order, arguing that it was erroneous. Johnson challenged the loss and restitution calculation while Dinkins argued that the entire loss should not have been attributed to her. The court held that the defendants were bound by the plea agreements they had made and affirmed the district court’s order for each defendant to pay $3.5 million in restitution. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the pleas, the restitution amount did not exceed the actual loss, and the district court appropriately used the total loss amount when calculating Dinkins’s sentence. View "USA v. Dinkins" on Justia Law

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In 2009, defendants Corey Deyon Duffey, Jarvis Dupree Ross, and Tony R. Hewitt were convicted on numerous counts of conspiracy, attempted bank robbery, and bank robbery, as well as using a firearm in furtherance thereof, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Following several appeals, resentencings, and unsuccessful motions to vacate their sentences, the defendants appealed once again, this time arguing that § 403 of the First Step Act should apply to their resentencing. This Act eliminates sentence stacking, so each defendant would be subject to only the five-year mandatory minimum sentence set by § 924(c) rather than the 25-year mandatory minimums for every additional § 924(c) conviction that they were serving.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that § 403 of the First Step Act does not apply to the defendants' resentencing. The court's decision was based on the interpretation of the phrase "a sentence" in § 403(b) of the Act, which the court concluded refers to any sentence that has been imposed for the offense, even one that was subsequently vacated. Therefore, because sentences for the defendants' offenses had been imposed upon them prior to the First Step’s Act’s December 21, 2018 enactment date, § 403(a) of the First Step Act does not apply to their resentencing.Additionally, the court ruled that the district court properly applied a two-level sentencing enhancement for physical restraint of a victim during a robbery to defendant Duffey's sentence, as the court's findings showed that in each robbery, the bank managers were held at gunpoint and moved to the vault.Finally, the court affirmed the district court's decision that it did not have jurisdiction to vacate defendant Hewitt's remaining § 924(c) convictions, as these convictions fell outside of the authorization for Hewitt’s motion to vacate his sentence.As a result, the court affirmed the district court's decisions on all issues. View "United States v. Duffey" on Justia Law

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Eric Salvador Pena, a convicted felon, sold a firearm to a confidential informant working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”). He was subsequently arrested for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and pleaded guilty. At sentencing, the district court applied an enhanced offense level as the firearm sold was capable of accepting a large-capacity magazine, offering a guideline range of 51 to 63 months of incarceration. Pena objected, arguing that the firearm could not function with a fully loaded magazine and therefore did not meet the definition of being "capable of accepting a large capacity magazine".The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit disagreed with Pena's argument. It held that the firearm in question met the definition because it could accept and function with a magazine containing more than 15 rounds of ammunition, even though it had jammed during a test when fully loaded. The court also determined that the district court had not erred procedurally or substantively in sentencing. It affirmed the district court’s decision to impose a 63-month sentence of incarceration and 3 years of supervised release. View "USA v. Pena" on Justia Law

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An inmate in Texas, Raul Gerardo Favela, Jr., alleged that prison officials had ignored warnings and failed to prevent him from being assaulted by another inmate. Favela sued several employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that their failure to protect him violated his constitutional rights. However, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, stating that Favela had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the decision of the district court, finding that the summary judgment was inappropriate. Favela's declaration that he had filed and timely submitted grievances relating to his claims was found to be sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact, thereby meeting his burden to counter the defendant's prima facie case. The court concluded that the matter of the credibility of Favela's statement was a matter for trial, and not for summary judgment. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Favela v. Collier" on Justia Law

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This case arose from an appeal against the grant of summary judgment by a district court on a claim related to disability benefits. The appellant, Emily Seago, had contended that Nancy Berryhill was unlawfully serving as the acting Social Security Commissioner in July 2018 when she ratified the appointment of the Administrative Law Judge who later denied Seago’s claim.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected Seago's argument and affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The court held that Berryhill was lawfully serving as Acting SSA Commissioner under 5 U.S.C. § 3346(a)(2) when she ratified the appointments of all SSA Administrative Law Judges in July 2018.The court noted that 5 U.S.C. § 3346(a) provides for two independent periods of acting service, during the 210-day period following a vacancy, and for the duration of a nomination's pendency in the Senate. The court found that these periods can operate independently, as indicated by the use of the word "or" to separate the two subsections. The court noted that the statutory text does not suggest that service under one subsection excludes someone from also serving under the other.The court also found that this interpretation aligned with the statutory purpose, providing an incentive for the President to submit timely nominations without denying vital public services to the American people due to delays in the Senate confirmation process. View "Seago v. O'Malley" on Justia Law

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The case was an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit against a lower court's decision that the structure of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was unconstitutional. The plaintiffs, By Two, L.P., and Consumers’ Research, argued that the CPSC's structure violated the separation-of-powers doctrine because the President could only remove the CPSC's commissioners for cause. The district court agreed with the plaintiffs, but the appellate court reversed this decision.The appellate court held that the CPSC's structure was constitutional and did not violate the separation-of-powers doctrine. The court based its decision on the Supreme Court's precedent in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, which allowed for-cause removal protections for commissioners of independent agencies like the CPSC. The court noted that while the CPSC does exercise substantial executive power, this alone does not remove it from the protection of the Humphrey’s Executor exception. The court also pointed out that the CPSC's structure was not novel or lacking historical precedent, which further supported its constitutionality.The court emphasized that any changes to the Humphrey’s Executor exception would have to be made by the Supreme Court, not the lower courts. Until such a change occurred, the CPSC's structure remained constitutional. Thus, the court reversed the district court's decision and sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. View "Consumers’ Research v. Consumer Product Safety Commission" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was presented with a case involving police officers who shot and killed Schaston Hodge after he refused to pull over his vehicle, led the officers on a chase, and exited his car with a gun in his hands. The officers' actions were captured on their bodycam footage. Hodge's mother, Shandra Hodge, filed a suit against the officers, Joshua Engleman and Robert Litvin, as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS) and the City of Dallas, alleging excessive force and failure to train and supervise. The district court granted the officers' motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity (QI), treating the dismissal as an implicit conversion to summary judgment, even though the footage was not included in the pleadings.On appeal, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the lower court's decision. The court found that the bodycam footage showed a complete account of the incident, including Hodge raising a gun and pointing it at one of the officers. The court concluded that the officers' use of deadly force was reasonable given the circumstances they faced. As a result, the court held that the officers did not violate Hodge's Fourth Amendment rights and were entitled to QI. Therefore, the court affirmed the summary judgment in favor of the officers. View "Hodge v. Engleman" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between American Precision Ammunition, L.L.C. (APA) and the City of Mineral Wells in Texas. APA and the City entered into a Tax Abatement Agreement ("Agreement") where the City promised to gift APA $150,000 and provide APA ten years of tax abatements. However, the City terminated the Agreement, claiming that the $150,000 gift was illegal under the Texas Constitution. APA sued the City for breach of contract, violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA), and denial of federal due process and due course of law under the Texas Constitution. The district court dismissed all claims, and APA appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. It held that the Agreement was illegal and unenforceable under Texas law because the City's contractual obligation to "gift" APA $150,000 constitutes a gratuitous payment of public money. The court also dismissed APA's TOMA claim as moot because there was no "agreement" to reinstate given that the Agreement was unenforceable. Furthermore, the court found that APA's due process claims failed because the promise for the $150,000 gift was void and did not constitute a contract, and therefore, APA had no protected property interest in the gift. Even assuming that APA had a property interest in the tax abatements, the court held that APA's due process and due course of law claims still fail because Texas law affords APA sufficient opportunity to pursue that claim in state court. View "American Precision v. Mineral Wells" on Justia Law