Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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After plaintiffs filed suit challenging Texas's absentee-ballot system in August 2019, the district court granted plaintiffs' summary judgment motion in part, issuing an injunction adopting many of plaintiffs' proposed changes to Texas's election procedures. The injunction included three main provisions regarding the 2020 election: first, the district court required the Secretary to issue an advisory, within ten days, notifying local election officials of the injunction, and the notification must inform them that rejecting ballots because of mismatching signatures is unconstitutional unless the officials take actions that go beyond those required by state law; second, the Secretary must either issue an advisory to local election officials requiring them to follow the district court's newly devised signature verification and voter-notification procedures, or else promulgate an advisory requiring that officials cease rejecting ballots with mismatched signatures altogether; and third, the district court mandated that the Secretary take action against any election officials who fail to comply with the district court's newly minted procedures.The Fifth Circuit considered the Nken factors and granted the Secretary's motion to stay the district court's injunction pending appeal, because the Secretary is likely to succeed in showing that Texas's signature-verification procedures are constitutional. The court held that the Secretary is likely to show that plaintiffs have alleged no cognizable liberty or property interest that could serve to make out a procedural due process claim. Given the failure of plaintiffs and the district court to assert that voting—or, for that matter, voting by mail—constitutes a liberty interest, along with the absence of circuit precedent supporting that position, the court stated that the Secretary is likely to prevail in showing that plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on their due process claim should have been denied. The court rejected the district court's reasoning regarding any state-created liberty interest. Even if voting is a protected liberty or property interest, the court held that the Secretary is likely to show that the district court used the wrong test for the due process claim. The court held that the Anderson/Burdick framework provides the appropriate test for plaintiffs' due process claims and Texas's signature-verification procedures are reasonable and nondiscriminatory, and they survive scrutiny under the Anderson/Burdick framework. In this case, Texas's important interest in reducing voter fraud—and specifically in stymying mail-in ballot fraud—justifies its use of signature verification.The court also held that the Secretary is likely to prevail in her defense that sovereign immunity bars the district court's injunction requiring that she issue particular advisories and take specific potential enforcement action against noncomplying officials. Finally, the remaining Nken factors counsel in favor of granting a stay pending appeal where the Secretary will be irreparably injured absent a stay, public interest favors granting a stay, and the balance of harms weighs in favor of the Secretary. View "Richardson v. Texas Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a certified class of minor children in the permanent managing conservatorship (PMC) of the Texas Department of Family Protective Services, filed 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims alleging that the Texas foster-care system violated their substantive due process right to be free from an unreasonable risk of harm. The district court issued a wide-ranging permanent injunction imposing sweeping changes on the Texas foster-care system. The Fifth Circuit vacated and remanded the injunction to the district court for modification; the district court made additional modifications to the injunction; and the state appealed again.The Fifth Circuit then instructed the district court to begin implementing, without further changes, the modified injunction with the alterations the court made. On remand, however, the district court expanded the injunction again by enjoining the state from moving any PMC child from their current placement as a result of enforcement of the court's requirement for 24-hour awake-night supervision unless application is made to the court prior to the proposed discharge. The Fifth Circuit reversed and held that it is black-letter law that a district court must comply with a mandate issued by an appellate court. The Fifth Circuit remanded to the district court to begin implementing, without further changes, the modified injunction with the alterations the court has made. View "M.D. v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA), seeking retrospective and prospective relief for myriad alleged violations of the United States Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Fifth Circuit declined to reach the merits of plaintiff's claims. The court held that, given the altered legal landscape and the potential effects of plaintiff's request for prospective relief, a mootness analysis must precede the merits. In this case, a year after plaintiff filed his lawsuit, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which reduced the shared responsibility payment (imposed on individuals who fail to purchase health insurance) to $0. In the same year, the Department of Health and Human Services created new exemptions to the contraceptive mandate, including an exemption for individuals like plaintiff. These exemptions were enjoined until the Supreme Court's recent decision in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims and remanded for the district court to conduct a mootness analysis in the first instance. The court also remanded to allow plaintiff to amend his complaint where the parties agreed that the district court incorrectly dismissed plaintiff's claim for retrospective relief. View "Dierlam v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their claims challenging certain Texas voting procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs allege that Black and Latino communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 because these communities have experienced higher infection, hospitalization, and death rates; that Texas's policies and laws individually and cumulatively, operate to deny voters the right to vote in a safe, free, fair, and accessible election; and that long lines, the use of electronic voting devices rather than paper ballots, limited curbside voting, and the permissiveness of mask-wearing at polling locations present substantial health risks that create fear of voting and therefore infringe upon the right to vote. In their brief to the Fifth Circuit, plaintiffs narrowed their challenge to Executive Order GA-29 and four sections of the Texas Election Code. The district court granted the State's motion to dismiss, holding that the case presented non-justiciable political questions.The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiffs' racial discrimination and Voting Rights Act claims do not present political questions. The court also held that, with the exception of the Voting Rights Act claim, the Eleventh Amendment bars all the claims against Governor Abbott and Secretary Hughs. However, there is no sovereign immunity with respect to the Voting Rights Act claim. In this case, much of the relief sought by plaintiffs to remedy the alleged Voting Rights Act injuries and the injuries from alleged constitutional violations (were they not barred by sovereign immunity) is beyond the power of a court to grant. The court explained that, it is one thing for a court to strike down a law that violates the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution and to enjoin a state official from enforcing it. However, it is entirely another matter for a court to order an executive performing executive functions, or an executive performing essentially legislative functions, to promulgate directives mandated by the court. The court reversed in part and remanded the Voting Rights Act claim for further proceedings in the district court. View "Mi Familia Vota v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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Section 82.003 of the Texas Election Code allows mail-in voting for any voter at least 65 years old but requires younger voters to satisfy conditions, such as being absent from the county on election day or having a qualifying disability. In light of the election-year COVID-19 pandemic, the district court entered a preliminary injunction requiring Texas officials to allow any Texan eligible to vote to do so by absentee ballot.The Fifth Circuit held that the preliminary injunction was not properly granted on plaintiffs' Twenty-Sixth Amendment claim and vacated the injunction. After concluding that there are no jurisdictional impediments to plaintiffs' bringing their claims, the court held that the Twenty-Sixth Amendment confers an individual right to be free from the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of age, the violation of which allows for pursuing a claim in court. The court also held that an election law abridges a person's right to vote for the purposes of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment only if it makes voting more difficult for that person than it was before the law was enacted or enforced. In this case, plaintiffs' claim -- that the Twenty-Sixth Amendment prohibits allowing voters who are at least 65 years old to vote by mail without excuse -- fails because conferring a benefit on another class of voters does not deny or abridge plaintiffs' Twenty-Sixth Amendment right to vote. Therefore, Section 82.003 does not violate the Twenty-Sixth Amendment where the Texas Legislature's conferring a privilege to those at least age 65 to vote absentee did not deny or abridge younger voters' rights who were not extended the same privilege. The court remanded for further proceedings where equal protection issues may come to the fore. View "Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted TDCJ's motion to stay the district court's permanent injunction requiring TDCJ to follow specific procedures to protect Pack Unit inmates from COVID-19. Plaintiffs are two inmates incarcerated at the Wallace Pack Unit, a state-run lockup housing geriatric, medically compromised, and mobility-impaired inmates. Plaintiffs filed suit against the TDCJ over its response to the coronavirus, alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. As the suit was progressing, the virus was spreading, infecting over 500 inmates, 20 of whom have died.Considering the Nken factors for granting a stay, the court held that TDCJ is likely to succeed on appeal where plaintiffs failed to comply with the exacting procedural preconditions imposed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), specifically the PLRA’s mandatory and jurisdictional exhaustion requirement. Even putting aside plaintiffs' failure to exhaust their administrative remedies, their constitutional claim failed on the merits. The court held that TDCJ's response, albeit imperfect did not amount to deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment. The court also held that TDCJ will be irreparably harmed absent a stay, and the balance of harms and public interest favor a stay. View "Valentine v. Collier" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted the Secretary's emergency motion for stay pending appeal of the district court's order enjoining the Secretary and local officials from enforcing Governor Abbot's October 1, 2020 Proclamation which restricted hand-delivering mail ballots to a single designated early voting clerk's office. The Proclamation left in place the previous forty-day expansion for delivering mail-in ballots and the always-available option of the U.S. mail.The court considered the Nken factors in determining whether to grant a stay and held that the Secretary has made a strong showing that she will likely succeed on the merits, because the district court erred in analyzing plaintiffs' voting rights and equal protection claims. Assuming that the Anderson-Burdick balancing framework applies, the court concluded that the district court erred in applying it to the voting rights claim where the district court vastly overstated the "character and magnitude" of the burden allegedly placed on voting rights by the Proclamation. Rather, the Proclamation is part of the Governor's expansion of opportunities to cast an absentee ballot in Texas well beyond the stricter confines of the Election Code. Furthermore, the district court undervalued the state interests furthered by the Proclamation in ballot security, election uniformity, and avoiding voter confusion. In regard to the equal protection claims, the court concluded that the district court misconstrued the nature of the alleged burden imposed by the Proclamation. The court explained that the proclamation establishes a uniform rule for the entire State: each county may designate one early voting clerk's office at which voters may drop off mail ballots during the forty days leading up to the election. That voters who live further away from a drop-off location may find it inconvenient to take advantage of this particular, additional method to cast their ballots does not limit electoral opportunity. Therefore, the Secretary is likely to show that the Proclamation does not impermissibly classify voters based on county of residence, and a state's important regulatory interests are generally sufficient to justify reasonable, nondiscriminatory voting regulations. Finally, the court held that the remaining Nken factors favored a stay where the Secretary has shown irreparable harm absent a stay; the balancing of harms weighs in favor of the state officials; and the public interest favors the Secretary. View "Texas League of United Latin American Citizens v. Hughs" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's order staying administrative proceedings that were initiated by the FTC against the Board under the Federal Trade Commission Act. The district court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over the Board's lawsuit because the Act vests exclusive jurisdiction to review challenges to Commission proceedings in the courts of appeals.The court held that, even if the Act does not preclude the Administrative Procedure Act's default review provision, 5 U.S.C. 704,—an issue the court need not address—the Board fails to meet Section 704's jurisdictional prerequisites. The court explained that case law does not support jurisdiction based on the collateral order doctrine as applied through Section 704. In this case, the issues relevant to immunity pertain to the reach of the Sherman Act and thus a judicial decision at this point would not resolve an issue completely separate from the merits of the action. Therefore, the April 10, 2018 order does not constitute final agency action under Section 704, and the collateral order doctrine does not apply. View "Louisiana Real Estate Appraisers Board v. Federal Trade Commission" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the government's motion to dismiss Sahara's suit for injunctive relief in a Medicare recoupment case, holding that the government provided Sahara adequate process. Applying the Mathews factors, the court held that the sufficiency of the current procedures and the minimal benefit of the live hearing weighs so strongly against Sahara that its due process claim fails. In this case, Sahara received some procedure, chose to forego additional protections, and cannot demonstrate the additional value of the hearing it requests. The court also held that Sahara failed to state a claim for ultra vires actions under 42 U.S.C. 1395ff. View "Sahara Health Care, Inc. v. Azar" on Justia Law

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Federal regulations establish a compensation formula for the payment of certain health care providers—a formula that changes once a year. However, each formula takes effect on January 1 and runs until January 1 of the following year. On January 1, two competing formulas purport to apply, making it unclear which one governs: the new one, or the one from the preceding year.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the government, holding that the context of the rule makes clear that the court should construe the 2005 rule to give effect to the new formula, and not the formula from the preceding year, when presented with a cost report that begins on January 1. View "Greenbrier Hospital, LLC v. Azar" on Justia Law