Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The case involves Lion Elastomers, a synthetic rubber manufacturer, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Lion Elastomers had been found guilty of unfair labor practices by the NLRB for threatening, disciplining, and discharging an employee, Joseph Colone, for engaging in protected activities. The NLRB applied the Atlantic Steel standard to assess whether Colone's behavior lost its protected status. However, before the appeal of the Board’s decision had been briefed, the NLRB issued a new interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in a case called General Motors, which overruled Atlantic Steel. The NLRB then sought a remand to apply this new interpretation to the Lion Elastomers case.The case was remanded to the NLRB by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, instead of applying the new interpretation from General Motors as expected, the NLRB used the remand proceeding to overrule General Motors and return to the Atlantic Steel standard. Lion Elastomers argued that the NLRB exceeded the scope of the remand and violated its due-process rights during the remand proceeding.The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Lion Elastomers. The court found that the NLRB had exceeded the scope of the remand by not applying the General Motors standard as expected. The court also found that the NLRB had violated Lion Elastomers's due-process rights by not giving the company an opportunity to be heard before deciding to overturn General Motors. The court vacated the NLRB's decision and remanded the case back to the NLRB, instructing it to apply the General Motors standard to this case. View "Lion Elastomers v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Shanita Terrell, alleges that two deputies from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office forced her into a patrol car, and one of them sexually assaulted her. The deputies were off-duty but were in uniform and using patrol vehicles while working side jobs at a bar. Terrell woke up the next morning at home with pain in her vaginal area and no memory of having sex. A DNA test revealed that semen in her underwear matched one of the deputies, Michael Hines. Hines was later charged with sexually assaulting Terrell.Terrell sued Deputy Hines, Deputy Mark Cannon, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Harris County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court dismissed her claims against Cannon, Gonzalez, and Harris County for failing to state a claim. Terrell appealed the dismissal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Terrell failed to establish that Deputy Cannon violated a clearly established constitutional right. She also failed to allege the type of pattern of deliberate indifference required to establish liability for the County or its Sheriff. The court also dismissed Terrell's supervisory and municipal liability claims against Sheriff Gonzalez and Harris County, respectively. The court concluded that Terrell's allegations were insufficient to show a failure-to-train policy or a widespread pattern of misconduct. View "Terrell v. Harris County" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of self-described "lawful and peaceful protestors" who sued the City of Dallas, Dallas County, and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages for alleged constitutional violations stemming from their participation in the George Floyd demonstrations in Dallas. The plaintiffs claimed that they were wrongfully arrested and mistreated by the police during the protests. They also alleged that the City of Dallas had a policy of failing to adequately discipline its police officers, which led to their constitutional rights being violated.The district court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims against the City, the County, and the Sheriff’s Office. The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their municipal liability claims against the City, arguing that the district court erred in doing so.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the plaintiffs failed to show that the City of Dallas had a persistent and widespread practice of failing to discipline its police officers that amounted to deliberate indifference. The court also found that the plaintiffs failed to establish a causal link between the City's alleged failure to discipline and the violation of their rights. Furthermore, the court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that General Order 609.00, an official policy relating to mass arrests, was unconstitutional on its face. The court concluded that the policy did not affirmatively allow or compel unconstitutional conduct. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims against the City of Dallas. View "Verastique v. City of Dallas" on Justia Law

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A state agency (the Agency) is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) for alleged criminal wrongdoing by senior Agency personnel. The DOJ requested the district court to determine that certain Agency communications were not protected by the attorney-client privilege. The district court agreed, ruling that the Agency could not invoke the attorney-client privilege to avoid producing evidence and witness testimony regarding four general categories of information. The Agency did not challenge the district court’s ruling as to the first three categories, but disputed the fourth category, which pertained to any actions or communications contemplated or undertaken by the Agency to interfere in or obstruct the current Federal investigation.The district court had previously granted the DOJ's application, ruling that the Agency could not invoke the attorney-client privilege to avoid producing evidence and witness testimony regarding four general categories of information. The Agency sought to modify or rescind this order, but the district court only partially granted the Agency's motion. In April 2024, DOJ served grand jury subpoenas on two senior Agency employees. The Agency moved to quash the subpoenas, but the district court denied the motion.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied the Agency's petition for a writ of mandamus, which sought to override the district court's order allowing grand jury testimony to proceed. The court found that the Agency failed to show a clear and indisputable right to relief. The court also denied the Agency's emergency motion to stay grand jury proceedings. The court clarified that government attorneys may assert the attorney-client privilege as to state agency communications that were conducted in confidence and for the purpose of providing legal advice. However, the court also noted that the crime-fraud exception to the privilege may apply, and left this determination to the discretion of the district court. View "In re Sealed Petitioner" on Justia Law

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The case involves the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which allocated nearly $200 billion to states and the District of Columbia to assist with economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic. However, to accept the funds, states had to agree not to use them to "directly or indirectly offset" reductions in state tax revenue. The states of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the enforcement of this provision, arguing that it was unconstitutionally ambiguous and violated the Spending Clause and the anticommandeering doctrine.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the states, finding that the provision was unduly coercive and commandeered the states. It held that the amount of money at stake was too great to present the states with a real choice and that the provision unlawfully forced the states to adopt certain tax policies. The court permanently enjoined the enforcement of the provision, and the federal defendants appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the provision was impermissibly ambiguous and fell short of Congress's constitutional obligation to clearly outline the conditions for states accepting federal funding. The court held that the provision violated the Spending Clause's requirement for clarity, as it left states unable to determine the terms of the deal they were agreeing to. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the provision. View "State of Texas v. Yellen" on Justia Law

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A group of individuals and businesses challenged the Affordable Care Act's requirement for private insurers to cover certain types of preventive care, including contraception, HPV vaccines, and drugs preventing HIV transmission. The plaintiffs argued that the mandates were unlawful because the agencies issuing them violated Article II of the Constitution, as their members were principal officers of the United States who had not been validly appointed under the Appointments Clause. The district court mostly agreed, vacating all agency actions taken to enforce the mandates and issuing both party-specific and universal injunctive relief.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed that the United States Preventive Services Task Force, one of the challenged administrative bodies, was composed of principal officers who had not been validly appointed. However, the court found that the district court erred in vacating all agency actions taken to enforce the preventive-care mandates and in universally enjoining the defendants from enforcing them. The court also held that the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services had not validly cured the Task Force’s constitutional problems.The court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court did not rule on the plaintiffs' challenges against the other two administrative bodies involved in the case, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the Health Resources and Services Administration, reserving judgment on whether the Secretary had effectively ratified their recommendations and guidelines. View "Braidwood Mgmt v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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Randal Hall filed a civil rights case against Officer Travis Trochesset and the City of League City, Texas, alleging constitutional violations following his arrest for interference with a police investigation. The incident began when Hall's wife was involved in a minor car accident. The other driver reported the incident as a hit-and-run, leading to an investigation by Officer Trochesset. When Trochesset arrived at the Halls' home to gather information, Hall, who was not present, instructed his wife over the phone not to provide the requested information to Trochesset. As a result, Trochesset obtained an arrest warrant for Hall for interfering with public duties.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas dismissed Hall's suit, ruling in favor of Trochesset and the City of League City. Hall appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that probable cause existed for Hall's arrest, as Hall had interfered with Trochesset's investigation. The court also applied the independent intermediary doctrine, which states that an officer who presents all relevant facts to an impartial intermediary (in this case, a justice of the peace) is not liable if the intermediary's independent decision leads to an arrest. The court found that Trochesset had not withheld any relevant information from the justice of the peace. Furthermore, the court ruled that Hall failed to establish that Trochesset violated the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendments. The court also dismissed Hall's claim against the City of League City, as there was no constitutional violation by Trochesset, and Hall failed to identify an official policy or custom that led to the alleged violation. The court rejected Hall's argument to discontinue the application of the qualified immunity doctrine, stating that it is bound by the Fifth Circuit rule of orderliness to follow established precedent. View "Hall v. Trochessett" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of civil rights organizations, voters, and an election official who sought to challenge recent amendments to Texas's election code, alleging that these amendments violated the United States Constitution and several federal statutes. The defendant was the District Attorney for Harris County, sued in her official capacity. The district court denied the District Attorney's motion to dismiss, holding that she was not immune from the plaintiffs' constitutional claims and that the plaintiffs had standing to bring their claims against her.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal and that the district court should have dismissed the plaintiffs' constitutional claims as barred by sovereign immunity. The court did not reach the issue of standing. The court reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings.The court's decision was based on the principle of sovereign immunity, which generally protects state officials from being sued in their official capacities. However, there is an exception to this rule, known as the Ex parte Young exception, which allows federal courts to enjoin state officials from enforcing unconstitutional state statutes. The court found that the District Attorney did not have a sufficient connection to the enforcement of the challenged laws to fall within this exception. Therefore, the court concluded that the District Attorney was immune from the plaintiffs' constitutional claims. View "Mi Familia Vota v. Ogg" on Justia Law

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The case involves two casino operators, PNK (Baton Rouge) Partnership, PNK Development 8 LLC, PNK Development 9 LLC, and Centroplex Centre Convention Hotel, LLC, who incentivize their patrons with rewards, including complimentary hotel stays. The City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge Department of Finance and Linda Hunt, its director, discovered through an audit that the operators had not remitted state and local taxes associated with these complimentary stays for several years. The City argued that the operators needed to pay these taxes, while the operators presented various arguments as to why they did not. The City filed a lawsuit in state court, which the operators removed to federal court on diversity jurisdiction grounds.The operators' removal of the case to federal court was challenged by the City, which argued that the tax abstention doctrine (TAD) warranted abstention in this case. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana agreed with the City, finding that all five TAD factors favored abstention: Louisiana's wide regulatory latitude over its taxation structure, the lack of heightened federal court scrutiny required by the operators' due process rights invocation, the potential for the operators to seek an improved competitive position in the federal court system, the greater familiarity of Louisiana courts with the state's tax regime and legislative intent, and the constraints on remedies available in federal court due to the Tax Injunction Act.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. The Appeals Court found that the District Court had correctly applied the TAD and had not abused its discretion in deciding to abstain. The Appeals Court agreed that all five TAD factors favored abstention and that any doubt about the propriety of removal should be resolved in favor of remand. View "City of Baton Rouge v. PNK" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Deborah Strickland, an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), who was suspended for 15 days without pay following a series of incidents involving her supervisor. Strickland appealed her suspension to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), claiming disability discrimination. The MSPB refused to consider the entire disciplinary decision after determining one part of the decision was correct. Strickland then appealed to the district court, which affirmed the MSPB's decision.The district court upheld the MSPB's decision and dismissed Strickland's Rehabilitation Act claims. Strickland then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Court of Appeals found that the MSPB erred in refusing to review the VA's entire disciplinary decision and that both the MSPB and the VA erred by failing to analyze the non-exhaustive factors articulated in Douglas v. Veterans Admin. The Court of Appeals vacated the district court's and the MSPB's orders, reversed the district court in part, and remanded to the district court with instructions to remand to the MSPB for additional proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Strickland v. Wilkie" on Justia Law