Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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After being involved in a car accident, Kenan Watkins filed a diminished value claim with his insurer, Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company ("Allstate"), which was denied. Watkins then filed an action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, alleging that the denial of his claim violated Mississippi law. However, the district court ruled in favor of Allstate, holding that Allstate's policy did not violate Mississippi law and that Watkins failed to state a plausible claim, which led to Watkins' appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.In the background of the case, Watkins had an insurance policy with Allstate for his 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. After the accident, Watkins' vehicle sustained substantial damages, and Watkins alleged that his car sustained an additional diminished value. Allstate denied Watkins' diminished value claim, relying upon a provision in its policy that excludes any decrease in the property's value resulting from the loss and/or repair or replacement. Watkins did not dispute this policy exclusion, but argued that Allstate's exclusion provision violates the Mississippi Uninsured Motorist Statute. Allstate moved to dismiss the case under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that Watkins did not plausibly allege that the other driver's vehicle was an "uninsured motor vehicle" under Mississippi law, and that even if it was, Allstate's provision excluding diminished value is valid under Mississippi law.Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Watkins failed to make a plausible claim for relief under Rule 12(b)(6) due to insufficient factual content in the complaint. The court also held that Allstate’s diminished value exclusion is valid under Mississippi law and does not violate public policy. The court reasoned that Watkins had not pointed to any legislative or judicial pronouncement requiring that diminished value be a part of all automobile insurance policies. Therefore, in this instance, the plain meaning of Allstate’s policy controlled, and Allstate’s diminished value exclusion was upheld as valid under Mississippi law. View "Watkins v. Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In this case, Trey Wooley filed a state court action against N&W Marine Towing (N&W) and others based on injuries he suffered while serving as a deckhand on the Mississippi River. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that Wooley had improperly joined N&W in the state court action in violation of a district court's stay order and the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, which effectively ceased all claims and proceedings against N&W outside of a federal limitation action that N&W had previously filed. Therefore, N&W was dismissed as a defendant in the state court action. The court further held that, after dismissing N&W, there were no live claims remaining in the state court action because Wooley had previously settled his claims against the other defendants. Consequently, the court severed Wooley's state court action from the limitation action and dismissed it without prejudice. The court retained jurisdiction over the limitation action but stayed it to allow Wooley to pursue any viable claims against N&W in state court. The court concluded that the district court properly denied Wooley's motion to remand, as it had diversity jurisdiction over the case once N&W was dismissed. View "Wooley v. N&W Marine Towing" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the death of Rhonda Newsome, a pretrial detainee, who died in Anderson County Jail due to complications from Addison’s disease. Her family filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Anderson County, Sheriff Greg Taylor, Dr. Adam Corley, Nurse Timothy Green, and several jailers, alleging that the defendants violated Newsome’s Fourteenth Amendment rights as a pretrial detainee by failing to treat her chronic illness, resulting in her preventable death. The district court granted summary judgment for all Defendants and dismissed Plaintiffs’ lawsuit with prejudice. Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that Plaintiffs have established genuine disputes of material fact regarding whether several defendants violated Newsome’s clearly established constitutional rights. Thus, the court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for several defendants, but affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for others. The district court’s denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file a third amended complaint was also vacated, and instructions were given to grant Plaintiffs leave to amend their pleadings to include additional supervisory and municipal liability claims. Finally, the district court’s denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions was affirmed. View "Ford v. Anderson County" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dismissed as moot the appeal by the Louisiana Governor and other state officials challenging a district court’s preliminary injunction. Originally, the district court had ordered the state officials to remove juvenile offenders from the Bridge City Center for Youth at West Feliciana (BCCY-WF) and barred them from housing juveniles at the facility in the future. The state officials appealed this decision. However, the preliminary injunction automatically expired under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) before the appeal could be resolved, rendering the appeal moot. The Court of Appeals also vacated the district court's underlying order because it was moot. The Court noted that the appeal did not meet the exception for mootness for issues that are capable of repetition but evade review, as the state officials could not show that similar future injunctions would evade review or that they would again be subject to the same action. View "Smith v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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In this consolidated appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled on a decade-long dispute between landowners Garry L. Lewis and G. Lewis-Louisiana, L.L.C. (together referred to as "Lewis") and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) over the federal jurisdiction of "wetlands" on their Louisiana property under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The case involved numerous Supreme Court cases, jurisdictional determinations, federal court cases, and appeals.Lewis's property was primarily used as a pine timber plantation. In 2013, Lewis requested a jurisdictional determination from the USACE to develop the property, which went unanswered until a formal request two years later. The USACE concluded in 2016 that portions of the property contained wetlands subject to CWA jurisdiction. Lewis appealed, leading to a reconsideration and a substantially unchanged jurisdictional determination in 2017. Lewis then filed suit in federal court, claiming that the Corps' action was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The district court found the administrative record insufficient to support the conclusion that wetlands on the property met the "adjacency" test or had a "significant nexus" to traditional navigable waters and remanded the case back to USACE for further review.On remand, USACE revised the data and applied a recently issued regulation. However, the revised determination nearly doubled the alleged wetlands on one of Lewis's property tracts. After another round of litigation and appeals, the case reached the Fifth Circuit, where Lewis argued that under no interpretation of the administrative facts could his property be regulated as "wetlands" subject to the CWA.The Fifth Circuit agreed with Lewis, drawing upon the Supreme Court's recent decision in Sackett v. EPA which held that the CWA only extends to wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies that are "waters of the United States" in their own right. The Fifth Circuit found that there was no such connection between any plausible wetlands on Lewis's property and a "relatively permanent body of water connected to traditional interstate navigable waters," and thus, there was no factual basis for federal Clean Water Act regulation of these tracts.The court also rejected the government's arguments that the appeal was moot due to the withdrawal of the 2020 jurisdictional determination, and that the case should be remanded to USACE for reevaluation. The court held that the agency's unilateral withdrawal of a final agency action did not render the case moot and that remand was not appropriate because there was no uncertainty about the outcome of the agency's proceedings on remand.Consequently, the Fifth Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Lewis that the tracts in question are not "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act as interpreted by Sackett v. EPA. View "Lewis v. USA" on Justia Law

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This case involves Delta Charter Group, Inc. (Delta), a public charter school operating within Concordia Parish in Louisiana. The case has its roots in a 1965 lawsuit against the Concordia Parish School Board for operating segregated schools in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court approved a desegregation plan, but the Board has yet to achieve unitary status, and Delta, which had intervened in the ongoing desegregation case, was required by a 2013 consent order to comply with the Board's desegregation decree. A second consent order in 2018 outlined a race-based enrollment process for Delta, giving the highest enrollment preference to black students.Four years later, Delta moved to discontinue the race-based enrollment process, arguing that it was unconstitutional. The district court declined to modify the order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5), which allows courts to modify or dissolve a consent decree if applying it prospectively is no longer equitable. Delta failed to show a significant change in factual conditions or in law that would justify modification. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court, stating that Delta had forfeited any argument that the district court had abused its discretion by failing to adequately brief the argument on appeal. The court did not offer any opinion on the underlying constitutional merits, as Delta had forfeited any available argument that the district court should have applied Rule 54(b) and that it had abused its discretion in denying relief under Rule 60(b)(5). View "Delta Charter v. Sch Bd Concordia Prsh" on Justia Law

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A group of plaintiffs, who are voters in Travis County, Texas, filed a lawsuit against county officials alleging violations in the conduct of the November 2020 general election. Specifically, they claimed that the defendants used an uncertified electronic voting system for the election, thereby violating several state and federal laws. They sought injunctive and declaratory relief to prohibit electronic voting in Travis County, require paper ballots, and unseal various records related to the 2020 general election. The defendants removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing. The district court agreed and dismissed the case without prejudice. The decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.In its decision, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which requires a plaintiff to establish that they have suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is likely caused by the defendant and would likely be redressed by judicial relief. The plaintiffs alleged two injuries: their votes were invalidated and not counted, and their personal information was unlawfully disclosed. The court found that neither injury was sufficient for Article III standing.However, the Fifth Circuit disagreed with the district court's dismissal of the case. Instead, it ruled that the proper course of action, when a federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction due to a lack of standing, is to remand the case to state court rather than dismissing it. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's order and remanded the case with instructions to send it back to state court. View "Lutostanski v. Brown" on Justia Law

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In this case brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the plaintiffs were appealing the wording of a district court's declaratory judgment which held certain voter-registration provisions in the Houston City Charter unconstitutional. The plaintiffs were up against the City of Houston and two officials, Anna Russell and Pat J. Daniel, who were acting in their official capacities as City Secretaries.The court, however, found that there was no case or controversy as both parties had agreed from the start that the voter registration provisions were unconstitutional, and the city confirmed that it could not and would not enforce these provisions. The court cited precedent confirming that where there is no adversity between the parties on a constitutional question, there is no Article III case or controversy.Therefore, the court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the suit without prejudice, stating that such faux disputes do not belong in federal court. This dismissal allows for the possibility of the case being refiled in a competent jurisdiction in the future if necessary. View "Pool v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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In a collision between two vessels on the Mississippi River, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Louisiana law, not general maritime law, governs the burden of proof for the pilot's error.On January 3, 2019, the M/V STRANDJA, piloted by Captain Robert Johnson, drifted from its anchorage into the middle of the river, colliding with the M/V KIEFFER E. BAILEY, owned by Marquette Transportation Company Gulf-Inland LLC. The collision caused damage to both vessels. Marquette brought claims against STRANDJA's owner, Balkan Navigation Ltd, and manager, Navigation Maritime Bulgare JSC (collectively referred to as "Balkan"), alleging their negligence caused the collision.A jury found that Marquette was not negligent and that Balkan and Captain Johnson were each 50% at fault. The jury awarded Marquette $114,000 in damages and awarded Balkan $0 in damages. Both Balkan and Captain Johnson appealed the judgment.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment that Marquette was not negligent, and therefore not liable for the accident. However, the court found that the district court erred in instructing the jury to apply general maritime law, which only requires a finding of ordinary negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, to the claim against Captain Johnson. Instead, the court held that Louisiana law, which requires clear and convincing evidence of gross negligence or willful misconduct, should have been applied.As a result, the court vacated the judgment against Balkan and Captain Johnson and remanded the case for a new trial, applying the correct standard of proof under Louisiana law. The court also ordered Marquette to amend its complaint within 14 days to allege admiralty jurisdiction as the jurisdictional basis for its claim against Balkan. View "Marquette Transportation Company Gulf-Inland, L.L.C. v. Navigation Maritime Bulgare" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed this action as unleased mineral owners whose interests are situated within forced drilling units formed by the Louisiana Office of Conservation and operated by Chesapeake. Plaintiffs have not made separate arrangements to dispose of their shares of production, so the unit operator can sell the shares but must pay the owners a pro rata share of the proceeds within one hundred eighty days of the sale. Chesapeake timely removed this action to the district court, based on diversity jurisdiction. The district court certified its ruling for interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1292(b).   The Fifth Circuit explained that this case concerns the interplay between Louisiana’s relatively new conservation laws and its deeply rooted negotiorum gestio doctrine. The court wrote that because it cannot make a reliable Erie guess as to the applicability of Louisiana’s negotiorum gestio doctrine. Accordingly, the court certified the following determinative question of law to the Louisiana Supreme Court: 1) Does La. Civ. Code art. 2292 applies to unit operators selling production in accordance with La. R.S. 30:10(A)(3)? View "Johnson v. Chesapeake Louisiana, L.P." on Justia Law