Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The case involves four plaintiffs who took docetaxel, a chemotherapy drug, as part of their treatment for early-stage breast cancer and subsequently suffered permanent chemotherapy-induced alopecia (PCIA). The plaintiffs allege that the manufacturers of the drug, Hospira, Inc., Hospira Worldwide, LLC, and Accord Healthcare, Inc., violated state law by failing to warn them that docetaxel could cause PCIA.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, where the defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiffs' state law failure-to-warn claims were preempted by federal law. The district court denied the motion, and the defendants appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was tasked with determining whether federal law preempts the plaintiffs' state law failure-to-warn claims against the defendant drug manufacturers. The court found that the district court had erred in its interpretation of what constitutes "newly acquired information" under the changes-being-effected (CBE) regulation, which allows manufacturers to file a supplemental application with the FDA and simultaneously implement a labeling change before obtaining FDA approval. The court held that the district court failed to enforce the requirement that newly acquired information must "reveal risks of a different type or greater severity or frequency than previously included in submissions to FDA."The court vacated the district court's judgment on the plaintiffs' failure-to-warn claims and remanded the case for further consideration of one outstanding issue: whether the Bertrand Abstract, a scientific study, constituted "newly acquired information" that revealed a greater risk of PCIA than previously known. If the Bertrand Abstract does not meet this standard, the court held that the defendants would not be liable to the plaintiffs on their state law failure-to-warn claims. View "Hickey v. Hospira" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a data privacy dispute involving Pebbles Martin and LCMC Health Holdings and Louisiana Children’s Medical Center (collectively, “LCMC”). Martin filed a class action suit alleging that LCMC violated Louisiana law by embedding tracking pixels onto its website that shared her private health information with third-party websites. The question before the court was not to determine the merits of Martin’s claims, but instead to determine which forum—state or federal—is proper to hear this dispute. LCMC argued that the suit should proceed in federal court because it acted under the direction of a federal officer when it allegedly violated Louisiana law. Martin, however, argued that the suit should remain in state court because LCMC fails to show a basis for federal jurisdiction.LCMC had removed the case to federal court, invoking the federal officer removal statute as the basis for jurisdiction. Martin moved to remand to state court, and the district court granted Martin’s motion, holding that LCMC did not act under the direction of a federal officer when it disclosed private health information to third-party websites. LCMC appealed the remand order.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that LCMC did not act under the direction of a federal officer when it embedded tracking pixels onto its website. The court noted that a hospital does not act under the direction of the federal government when it maintains an online patient portal that utilizes tracking pixels. Therefore, the federal officer removal statute does not provide jurisdiction for this case to be heard in federal court. The court affirmed the district court’s order remanding this case to state court. View "Martin v. LCMC Health Holdings" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between Sentry Insurance and James J. Morgan, who operates a business. Morgan's properties, insured by Sentry, suffered wind and hail damage from a storm. Sentry estimated the damages at $190,768.33 and paid Morgan $61,026.93 after deductions. However, Morgan estimated his loss at $540,426.05 and demanded Sentry pay an additional $349,657.22. When the parties couldn't agree on the loss amount, they turned to an appraisal process outlined in their insurance policy. Both parties appointed an appraiser, but the appraisers couldn't agree on an umpire. Consequently, Sentry filed a petition for the district court to appoint an umpire.The district court dismissed Sentry's petition, ruling that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the petition didn't meet the amount-in-controversy requirement for diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The court reasoned that it couldn't assess the value of the parties' contractual right to have an umpire examine the difference between two appraisers' estimates and determine the loss amount because the appraisers hadn't yet made their estimates.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court disagreed with the district court's narrow interpretation of the right to be protected. It held that in an action seeking the appointment of an umpire for appraisal, the right to be protected is the right to continue with the appraisal process, and the value of this right is the disputed amount set to be resolved through appraisal. The court found that Sentry's petition established an amount in controversy over $75,000, as Morgan had demanded an additional $349,657.22 under the policy. The case was remanded to the district court to consider Morgan's additional jurisdictional arguments. View "Sentry Insurance v. Morgan" on Justia Law

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In this case, Austin Thompson Hughes, a former police officer and Uber driver, reported a drunk driver swerving across a highway in Houston. After the drunk driver crashed, Hughes, still on the phone with 911, performed a citizen's arrest in accordance with Texas law. However, when police officers arrived at the scene, they released the drunk driver and arrested Hughes, charging him with a felony for impersonating a peace officer. Hughes spent thousands of dollars defending against these charges before they were dropped by the City of Houston. Hughes then filed a § 1983 suit against the two officers who arrested him.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where the officers moved to dismiss Hughes's complaint, asserting qualified immunity. The district court denied the officers' motions, leading to an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, denying the officers' qualified immunity. The court found that Hughes had sufficiently pleaded that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting and prosecuting him without probable cause because they included material misstatements and omissions in their warrant affidavit and materials. The court also found that a corrected warrant affidavit could not have established probable cause to arrest and prosecute Hughes. The court concluded that no reasonable officer could have suspected Hughes committed a felony, given the inconsistencies in the drunk driver's statement, the driver's obvious intoxication, and the evidence supporting Hughes's account. View "Hughes v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Levi Rudder, a non-lawyer, was sanctioned by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas for engaging in unauthorized practice of law. Rudder had contacted a detainee facing federal firearm charges and attempted to involve himself in the case, despite being told not to by the defense counsel. He held an unprivileged, monitored video meeting with the detainee, offered legal advice, and encouraged the detainee to sign a form appointing him as additional counsel. The district court found Rudder guilty of unauthorized practice of law and imposed a monetary sanction of $500. He was also barred from filing documents in the Northern District of Texas without the court's permission.Rudder appealed the decision, arguing that the district court lacked the authority to impose these sanctions. He contended that the Constitution does not afford federal courts inherent powers to sanction individuals for engaging in unauthorized practice of law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit disagreed with Rudder's argument. The court cited previous cases that established federal courts' inherent power to police the conduct of litigants and attorneys who appear before them. The court also noted that a party cannot be represented by a non-lawyer and that a minimum level of competence is required to protect the client, their adversaries, and the court from poorly drafted, inarticulate, or vexatious claims. Therefore, the court concluded that a federal court's power to regulate and discipline attorneys extends to conduct by non-lawyers amounting to practicing law without a license. The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the sanctions on Rudder and affirmed the lower court's decision. View "In re: Rudder" on Justia Law

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The case involves a challenge by the Sierra Club to the pre-construction permits issued by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) to Commonwealth LNG, LLC for its planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility. The Sierra Club argued that the facility’s emissions would exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and that LDEQ failed to require Commonwealth to use the best available control technology (BACT) to limit those emissions.Before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, LDEQ argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, asserting that the claim arose under state law, not federal law. However, the court found that it had jurisdiction to review the petition because when LDEQ issued the permit, it was acting pursuant to federal law, not merely state law.On the merits, the court found that LDEQ did not act arbitrarily in its use of significant impact levels (SILs) to calculate which pollutants will have an insignificant effect on the NAAQS. The court also found that LDEQ did not act arbitrarily in its use of AP-42 emission factors to determine potential emissions from an LNG facility that has not yet been built. Furthermore, the court held that LDEQ did not violate its public trustee duty under Louisiana law, which requires LDEQ to evaluate and avoid adverse environmental impacts to the maximum extent possible.The court denied Sierra Club’s petition for review and affirmed LDEQ’s permitting decision. View "Sierra Club v. Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute arising from the financial fallout of Winter Storm Uri, which severely impacted Texas's electrical grid in 2021. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), responsible for managing the grid, took measures including manipulating energy prices to incentivize production. This resulted in Entrust Energy, Inc., receiving an electricity bill from ERCOT of nearly $300 million, leading to Entrust's insolvency and subsequent bankruptcy filing. ERCOT filed a claim seeking payment of the invoice, which was challenged by Anna Phillips, the trustee of the Entrust Liquidating Trust. The trustee argued that ERCOT's price manipulation violated Texas law, that ERCOT was grossly negligent in its handling of the grid during the storm, and that ERCOT's transitioning of Entrust’s customers to another utility was an uncompensated taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment.The bankruptcy court declined to abstain from the case and denied ERCOT’s motion to dismiss all claims except for the takings claim. ERCOT appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, arguing that the bankruptcy court should have abstained under the Burford doctrine, which allows federal courts to abstain from complex state law issues to avoid disrupting state policies.The Fifth Circuit found that the bankruptcy court erred in refusing to abstain under the Burford doctrine. The court reversed the bankruptcy court's denial of ERCOT’s motion to abstain and its denial of ERCOT’s motion to dismiss the trustee’s complaint. The court also vacated the bankruptcy court’s order dismissing the takings claim with prejudice. The court remanded the case with instructions to dismiss certain counts and stay others pending the resolution of related state proceedings. View "Electric Reliability Council of Texas v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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The case involves a challenge to the provisions of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022, which expanded background checks for firearm purchases by individuals aged 18 to 20. The plaintiffs, Ethan McRorey, Kaylee Flores, Gun Owners of America, Inc., and Gun Owners Foundation, argued that the government failed to show a historical analogue for the Act's expanded background checks for this age group. They filed a lawsuit requesting a preliminary injunction after their attempts to purchase shotguns were delayed due to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) protocols.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas denied the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. The court reasoned that while adults aged 18 to 20 are protected by the Second Amendment, laws barring the mentally ill and felons from possessing firearms are constitutional, and restrictions to further those ends are presumptively lawful. Therefore, the plaintiffs lacked a substantial likelihood of success on the merits and were not entitled to preliminary relief.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court held that background checks preceding firearm sales are presumptively constitutional, and the plaintiffs failed to rebut that presumption. The court also found that the plaintiffs had not shown that the challenged regulations had been put towards abusive ends or had otherwise rebutted the presumption of lawfulness. The court concluded that a period of 10 days for background checks does not qualify as being put towards abusive ends or as a de facto prohibition on possession. View "McRorey v. Garland" on Justia Law

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A class of stock purchasers alleged that Anadarko Petroleum Corporation fraudulently misrepresented the potential value of its Shenandoah oil field project in the Gulf of Mexico, violating federal securities law. The plaintiffs claimed that a decline in Anadarko’s stock price resulted from the company's disclosure that the Shenandoah project was dry and that Anadarko was taking a significant write-off for the project. The plaintiffs invoked the Basic presumption, a legal principle that allows courts to presume an investor's reliance on any public material misrepresentations if certain requirements are met.The District Court for the Southern District of Texas certified the class, relying on new evidence presented by the plaintiffs in their reply brief. Anadarko argued that it was not given a fair opportunity to respond to this new evidence and appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with Anadarko, stating that the district court should have allowed a sur-reply when the plaintiffs presented new evidence in their reply brief. The court held that when a party raises new arguments or evidence for the first time in a reply, the district court must either give the other party an opportunity to respond or decline to rely on the new arguments and evidence. The court also agreed that the district court failed to perform a full Daubert analysis, a standard for admitting expert scientific testimony. The court vacated the class certification order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Georgia Firefighters' Pension Fund v. Anadarko Petroleum Corp." on Justia Law

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Nicholas Queen, a former federal prisoner, filed a lawsuit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging that prison officials physically assaulted him in January 2019. The incident occurred when four correctional officers woke Queen up in his cell due to a supposed medical emergency. The parties dispute the events that followed, with the government claiming that Queen assaulted the officers, while Queen alleges that the officers physically attacked him without provocation. Following the incident, Queen complained of various physical pains, which he associated with the assault. However, prison medical officials dismissed his complaints, suggesting over-the-counter pain medication would suffice. After his release from prison, Queen was diagnosed with chronic back and right hip pain, which a medical doctor confirmed was severe enough to prevent him from working.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. The United States moved for the case to be dismissed at the summary judgment stage, arguing that Queen's injuries were de minimis and therefore insufficient to support an FTCA assault claim against a prison officer. The magistrate judge agreed with this argument and recommended dismissal. The district judge adopted this recommendation and dismissed Queen's case.Upon appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the court found that the district court had erred in its decision. The appellate court noted that the de minimis injury test applied to constitutional claims does not apply to an injury alleged under Louisiana tort law, which does not impose a de minimis injury bar to tort claims. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Queen v. United States" on Justia Law