Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Plaintiff was an engineer for the City of Pharr, Texas. When his supervisors asked him to sign a document he did not believe was true, Plaintiff refused. Ultimately, he was terminated and filed this case against the city and two of Plaintiff's supervisors.Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court held a hearing and denied Defendant's motion. Two days later, the court entered a minute order; however, no written order was attached. Exactly 412 days later, Defendant appealed the denial of his motion for summary judgment, claiming that the court's oral ruling was not appealable and that he is technically appealing the court's refusal to rile on his motion.The Fifth Circuit rejected Defendant's reasoning. A bench ruling can be effective without a written order and triggers appeal deadlines if it is final. Here, the court's order was final. While the district court's ruling did not comply with Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 58, an alternate interpretation would give Defendant infinite time to appeal. View "Ueckert v. Guerra" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the trial court dismissing the claims brought by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) and the claim brought by a group of plaintiffs referred to as the Gutierrez Plaintiffs that the recently enacted laws reapportioning Texas's legislative districts violate Tex. Const. art. III, 26, holding that the trial court erred in part.MALC and the Gutierrez Plaintiffs sued Defendants - various State officials - claiming that the laws at issue violated Article III, Sections 26 and 28. Defendants filed pleas to the jurisdiction, which the trial court largely denied. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded the case to the trial court, holding (1) MALC lacked associational standing to pursue its claims; (2) at least one of the Gutierrez Plaintiffs had standing to pursue each claim a proper defendant, but not the State; (3) the Gutierrez Plaintiffs' section 26 was not barred by sovereign immunity, but the section 28 claim was; and (4) the Gutierrez Plaintiffs should have the opportunity to replead their section 26 claim against a proper defendant. View "Abbott v. Mexican American Legislative Caucus" on Justia Law

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A family who owned and operated a medical practice ("Defendants") suffered $25,000 in damages when a pipe in an adjacent office started leaking. The family hired a lawyer ("Plaintiff") to help them compel the neighboring office owner to pay for the damages. When the neighboring office owner refused to pay, Plaintiff recommended they sue. Two of the three family members agreed, but Plaintiff listed all three parties as plaintiffs. Over the course of the litigation, Defendants paid Plaintiff nearly $68,000 in legal fees. Defendants asked Plaintiff to cease all nonessential work on the case while another family member, a barred attorney, attempted to resolve the matter. Plaintiff refused to allow Defendants' family member to help until she formally substituted in and then settled the case.Plaintiff sued Defendants for breach of contract. Defendants cross-claimed that Plaintiff breached his fiduciary duties, committed malpractice and failed to execute a written fee agreement. Plaintiff then filed his own cross-complaint naming Defendants and their family member-lawyer and Defendants filed this SLAPP action to strike portions of Plaintiff's cross-complaint.The trial court granted the family-member lawyer's motion but denied Defendants' motions. On appeal, the Second Appellate District reversed the trial court's denial of the Defendant's SLAPP motions and remanded for the court to determine whether Plaintiff has demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the causes of action against each individual Defendant. View "Bowen v. Lin" on Justia Law

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In 2008, the City of Gulfport undertook a project to replace the infrastructure associated with its water and sewer systems relating to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The repair project involved federal, state, and local agencies and ultimately cost approximately $85 million to complete. The original design of the Area 3B project, the sewer infrastructure that crossed the Cowan Road property located north of U.S. Highway 90 and east of Highway 605 were to be replaced, and the new infrastructure was to be installed within the City’s existing easements across the properties. The Cowan Road property at issue was located in the Area 3B geographic zone. Robert “Kris” Riemann, P.E., then-director of the City’s department of public works, was notified that John Felsher had inquired about relocating the sewer infrastructure in Area 3B. Based on an agreement with Felsher to relocate the utilities, the City had the Area 3B design drawings redrafted to move the utilities. The City's project manager was notified that the discovery of underground telephone lines and other utilities required that the sewer line being relocated had to cut the northwest corner of the property. Cowan Road filed a complaint in the Chancery Court of Harrison County, Mississippi, advancing a claim for inverse condemnation against the City. The chancery court transferred the case to the Special Court of Eminent Domain in Harrison County. Due to the jurisdictional limits of county court, the case ended up in Harrison County Circuit Court. The circuit court entered an order granting the motion for partial summary judgment filed by the City on the issue of the date of the taking. The parties eventually settled the reverse condemnation claim, and the City agreed to pay $100,000 to Cowan Road & Hwy 90, LLC, for the improper and unlawful taking of its property. The issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court centered on the circuit court's grant of attorneys' fees and expenses: Gulfport argued that Cowan Road should not have been allowed to recover attorneys’ fees under Section 43-37-9. Finding that the statute applied and fees were appropriate, the Supreme Court affirmed. However, the Court found the trial judge abused his discretion by disallowing requests for postjudgment interest. View "City of Gulfport v. Cowan Road & Hwy 90, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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A county chapter of the NAACP and four individual Plaintiffs brought suit against the district attorney (“DA”) for the Mississippi counties in which they live, claiming he regularly discriminates against black potential jurors by striking them from juries because of their race. The Plaintiffs asserted violations of their own constitutional rights to serve on juries. The district court determined that it should apply one of the Supreme Court’s abstention doctrines and dismissed the case.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed holding that Plaintiffs have not alleged a certainly impending threat or a substantial risk to their rights that would satisfy the requirements of Article III. The court explained that to prevail on a claim for prospective equitable relief, a plaintiff must demonstrate continuing harm or a “real and immediate threat of repeated injury in the future. Further, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the right of a citizen not to be excluded from a petit jury because of his or her race. A juror who alleges being struck from a jury because of race has alleged a cognizable injury for purposes of Article III standing.Here, Plaintiffs allege that their injury is the imminent threat that the DA will deny them an opportunity for jury service by excluding them because of their race. However, save one, none of the Plaintiffs have ever been struck from a jury by the DA. Further, members of the county chapter cannot demonstrate an imminent threat that they will be struck unconstitutionally from a petit jury by the DA. Thus, Plaintiffs have not established standing. View "Attala County, MS Branch v. Evans" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former FBI special agent, asked a federal district court to order the FBI to issue him a top-secret clearance and reinstate his employment. He also sought damages against FBI officials for revoking his clearance and suspending him, for preventing him from taking other employment while suspended, and for delaying the release of letters that Plaintiff says contain his protected speech. The district court dismissed those claims. It concluded that Plaintiff has no cause of action against the officers in their individual capacities. And it reasoned that its subject matter jurisdiction does not include the power to order the FBI to reinstate his security clearance.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff’s claims must be dismissed. His claims seeking to reverse his suspension and termination fall outside the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. And he has no cause of action to bring the remaining individual capacity claims. The court explained that the Supreme Court has twice rejected federal employees’ attempts to sidestep the Civil Service Reform Act (“CSRA’s”) remedial scheme. The court found that just as the CSRA precludes extra-statutory review of “adverse actions” defined by Section 7712, it precludes extra-statutory review of ancillary constitutional claims brought as a “vehicle by which [plaintiffs] seek to reverse” those adverse actions. View "Zummer v. Sallet" on Justia Law

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Defendants dismissed Plaintiff from two graduate nursing studies programs. She sued, claiming that her dismissal violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act, and the Due Process Clause. The district court refused to dismiss some of her claims. The Defendants appealed part of that order, contending that they have sovereign immunity from Plaintiff’s ADA claims and that she failed to state Fourteenth Amendment claims.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed Defendants' appeal in part finding that the court lacks appellate jurisdiction over the Fourteenth Amendment claims. The court affirmed the order in part and reversed the order in part, concluding that Plaintiff stated some Title II claims but not all of the claims that the district court refused to dismiss. Defendants were not entitled to sovereign immunity at this stage of the litigation because Plaintiff’s allegations did not permit the court to assume that Defendants did not violate her due-process rights. The court explained that it has appellate jurisdiction over only the denial of sovereign immunity from Plaintiff’s ADA claims. The court wrote it must assume that Plaintiff’s allegations are true and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. The state may or may not be correct that its rebuttal evidence vitiates any inference that Defendants discriminated against Plaintiff because of her disability. But the pleading stage was not the right time to raise those contentions. Although the court has done so in the past, Plaintiff’s allegations do not permit the court to assume that the Due Process Clause was not violated. View "Pickett v. Texas Tech Univ" on Justia Law

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Denying Petitioner’s motion to recall a mandate, the Ninth Circuit wrote (1) motions that assert a judgment is void because of a jurisdictional defect generally must show that the court lacked even an arguable basis for jurisdiction, (2) Petitioner has not met that standard in arguing that the statutory “in-custody” requirement was satisfied, and (3) the additional details provided in the motion and accompanying exhibits do not demonstrate the Ninth Circuit’s holding on mootness lacked an arguable basis. View "STEPHEN MAY V. DAVID SHINN" on Justia Law

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In March of 2020, West Virginia’s Governor began to adopt public-safety measures in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Six months later, a group of Plaintiffs sued, challenging those measures as unconstitutional. The district court dismissed their case, holding that the amended complaint failed to state a valid constitutional claim.   On appeal, the Plaintiffs argued for the voluntary cessation exception. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case. The court held that the case is moot because the Governor has long since terminated each of the challenged executive orders, and there is no reasonable chance they will be reimposed.  The court reasoned a defendant claiming mootness based on the voluntary cessation of a challenged practice must show that it is “absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur. Here, the Governor has not imposed any new COVID-19 restrictions, let alone restrictions similar in scope or subject matter to those Plaintiffs' challenge. Nor have Plaintiffs pointed to any conduct by the Governor suggesting that measures like gathering limits, capacity restrictions, or school closures will be reimposed in the future. View "Eden, LLC v. Jim Justice" on Justia Law

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By grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States, the district court held that the Government’s provision of substitute facilities to Arlington County, Virginia (“the County”) constituted just compensation for the taking of three parcels of property. The County appealed, contesting the district court’s application of the summary judgment standard and raising several substantive arguments in support.The Fourth Circuit, finding error in the district court’s grant of summary judgment, vacated the district court’s ruling and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The court concluded that the district court circumvented the summary judgment standard when it engaged in fact-finding despite the presence of genuinely disputed material facts. The court was persuaded that the genuine disputes identified as to the nature of one of the parcels were material. It is this contested distinction of that parcel that the district court overlooked when drawing inferences in favor of the Government, effectively determining as a decision on the merits that the parcel was not a separate parcel for condemnation purposes from the rest of the take. While the district court would not have committed procedural error by making that decision under Rule 71.1, it did err as such when resolving the case in a Rule 56 proceeding. View "US v. 8.929 Acres of Land in Arlington County, Virginia" on Justia Law