Fifth Circuit Handdowns – January 28, 29, 30

Apologies for the lump posting; I’ve had a busy week (and so has the Court):

Ryals v. American Airlines – 10-11035 (unpublished): affirmance of summary judgment in employment discrimination case. Plaintiff, a black Ethiopian female airline mechanic, alleged that she was given the worst assignments, disfavored in overtime assignment, called names and physically assaulted on account of her race, gender or national origin. The Fifth Circuit ruled on all the issues by ruling, again and again, that the plaintiff failed to present a triable dispute of material fact to the trial court. 

Boyett v. Redland Insurance Co. – 12-31273 (published): Reversal of diversity motor vehicle accident case based on Louisiana law.

United States v. Hagman – 12-51093 (published): Reversal of criminal sentence based on erroneous application of the Sentencing Guidelines. Hagman was convicted of being a felon-in-possession, and of possessing and bartering a stolen firearm. The factual predicate is that Hagman admitted to the following facts: stealing one gun, moving it in commerce, and being a felon. The district court applied a sentencing enhancement based on the fact that at least twelve other guns were stolen from the gun shop where Hagman worked, and he was suspected of that robbery, and told the shop owner that he could recover the stolen guns. The Fifth Circuit reversed, noting that Hagman’s plea was limited to one gun, and that there was no evidence to support either actual possession or constructive possession of any more. Once again, the Fifth Circuit uses the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to evaluate sentencing enhancements, which I continue to question under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, and its progeny, in particular Alleyne v. United States, 11-9935 (U.S. 2013).

Nkurunziza v. Holder – 12-60719 (unpublished): Denial of application for asylum based on several different types of claims, including the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The Court concluded that the “scant evidence does not compel ruling against the IJ and BIA decisions.” As to the CAT claims, the Court procedurally dismissed most of the claims of a pro se litigant. 

Bank of New York Mellon v. GC Merchandise Mart, LLC et al. – 13-10461 (published): Affirmation of district court decision disallowing contractual prepayment in a bankruptcy proceeding, where underlying dispute was diversity action under Colorado law.

In re: Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Products Litigation – 10-30568, 12-31017 (published): Affirmation of default judgment over a Chinese manufacturer of drywall products in a diversity products liability case. Defendant asserted a lack of personal jurisdiction, and an abuse of discretion in failing to set aside the default. This one’s complicated, y’all. Not sure I understand it, so if you can’t keep up, blame my idiocy.

  • The district court received this putative national class-action through assignment from the Panel on Multi-District Litigation (MDL). 
  • The Defendant defaulted, and judgment was entered against them. They then appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which remanded for the purpose of determining if the default judgment should be vacated.
  • After a year and a half of discovery on personal jurisdiction alone, the district court concluded that it should apply the substantive state law of the state where the case had initially been filed (Virginia) and the procedural federal law of its circuit (the Fifth). It also determined that the proper test for the minimum contacts part of the personal jurisdiction test was the defendant’s personal contacts with Virginia, which no one contested.
  • The district court then applied Fifth Circuit precedent, which adopted Justice Brennan’s “stream of commerce” test from Asahi Metal Industry Co., Ltd. v. Superior Court of California, 480 U.S. 102 (1987).
  • As to insufficient service (also alleged by the defendant), the district court concluded that the amended complaints did not make sufficient changes to trigger a new duty of service in order to acquire personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

Now, let’s talk about what the Fifth Circuit had to say: 

  • The defendant wanted the Court to apply Fourth Circuit standards to the minimum-contacts test, which they asserted would have precluded personal jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit concluded that on the facts as presented to them, that both circuits’ tests would have led to the same result. This is the bulk of the opinion.
  • As to the default, the Fifth Circuit noted that the defendant was already in default when the pleadings which they claim were insufficiently served were filed, which meant no service was necessary under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5(a)(2). 
  • The remaining arguments against default were rather summarily disposed of.

James v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co. – 11-60458 (published): Summary judgment in bad faith insurance case based on Mississippi law in diversity affirmed in part and reversed in part. Eighteen months after the underlying automobile accident, plaintiff filed suit against State Farm, and six months later alleged bad faith failure to pay. After two motions to compel were granted against State Farm, State Farm paid the amount in question – thirty months after the accident – and moved for summary judgment, which was granted. The Fifth Circuit, in making an Erie-guess (where a federal court sitting in diversity makes a best-guess as to how state courts would resolve an unresolved question of state law), concluded that “delay-of-payment claim[s] . . . [are] highly fact-sensitive.” Questions of fact arose as to whether thirteen months of the thirty-month delay were attributable to State Farm engaging in legitimate investigation activities or foot-dragging, which precluded summary judgment on any damages beyond the amount tendered.

Williams v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. – 11-60818 (published): Another insurance dispute. This conflict of laws dispute was based on whether the district court should have applied the worker’s compensation law of Mississippi or Alabama to determine whether the plaintiff could recover for bad-faith failure to pay a worker’s compensation claim for a Mississippi resident injured in Mississippi while working for an Alabama employer carrying Alabama worker’s compensation insurance. Using Mississippi choice-of-law principles, the Fifth Circuit concluded that there was a conflict of laws; the issue was substantive; that the claim arose from tort under Mississippi law; and that therefore the relevant test was from Section 145 of the Second Restatement of Laws on Conflict of Laws. Using that test, the Court concluded that the state with the “most significant relationship” to the tort was Mississippi, and therefore the application of Alabama law to dismiss the case was improper.

Adesoye v. Batts – 13-10543 (unpublished): Denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241, which provides for relief if the usual avenue, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2255, is inadequate.

Bell v. Thornburg – 13-30155 (published): rehearing granted and new opinion issued in this employment discrimination suit under Louisiana law. The Court determined that removal to federal court was proper, because the defendant, a standing Chapter 13 trustee, was a federal officer under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1442(a)(1). Under the relevant Louisiana law, summary judgment for the plaintiff was proper.

United States v. Martinez-Gonzalez – 13-50543 (unpublished):Dismissal of criminal appeal under Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, and United States v. Flores, 632 F.3d 229 (5th Cir. 2011), which allow withdrawal of appellate counsel if they demonstrate that no meritorious issue for appeal exists.

Dube v. Holder – 13-60207 (unpublished): Denial of asylum application as untimely; affirmation of IJ’s adverse credibility finding based on the standards in the REAL ID Act.



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