Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The Fifth Circuit granted a writ of mandamus directing vacatur of the district court's issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) against executive order GA-09 as applied to abortion procedures. In order to preserve critical medical resources during the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor of Texas issued GA-09, which postpones non-essential surgeries and procedures until 11:59 p.m. on April 21, 2020.The court held that the drastic and extraordinary remedy of mandamus was warranted in this case because the district court ignored the framework governing emergency public health measures, like GA-09, in Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905); the district court wrongly declared GA-09 an "outright ban" on previability abortions and exempted all abortion procedures from its scope, rather than apply the Jacobson framework to decide whether GA-09 lacks a "real or substantial relation" to the public health crisis or whether it is "beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion" of the right to abortion; the district court failed to apply the undue-burden analysis in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 857 (1992), and thus failed to balance GA-09's temporary burdens on abortion against its benefits in thwarting a public health crisis; and the district court usurped the state's authority to craft emergency health measures, substituting instead its own view of the efficacy of applying GA-09 to abortion. Therefore, the court found that the requirements for a writ of mandamus are satisfied in light of the extraordinary nature of these errors, the escalating spread of COVID-19, and the state's critical interest in protecting the public health. View "In re: Gregg Abbott" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Shell in an action brought by plaintiff under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In this case, the day after Shell formally disciplined plaintiff for violating its attendance policy, she missed her scheduled shift because she got arrested for drunk driving and wrecked her truck.The court held that employees cannot immunize themselves from legitimate termination by taking FMLA leave. In regard to plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim, the court held that Shell produced evidence that plaintiff would have been lawfully terminated had she not taken leave, and thus she had no right to return to work. The court held that plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case under the ADA because she did not present admissible evidence establishing that she was disabled or that Shell regarded her as disabled. Even if plaintiff had made a prima facie case, her argument failed for the same reasons her FMLA retaliation claim failed. View "Amedee v. Shell Chemical, L.P." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's final order of garnishment under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. Defendant pleaded guilty and was convicted of wire fraud, mail fraud, and falsifying a tax return, all in connection with the ongoing theft of funds from her employers. Defendant was then ordered to pay restitution of more than $2 million. In order to enforce the judgment, five investment retirement accounts (IRAs), held under defendant and her husband's names, were garnished. After defendant agreed to release the funds, the government reapplied to garnish two accounts in the husband's name and the district court granted the writ.The court first rejected defendant's claim under federal law that any non-defendant spouse's IRA an be part of a defendant spouse's property or rights to property under 18 U.S.C. 3613. The court has previously held that notwithstanding its anti-alienation provision, 29 U.S.C. 1056(d)(1), Employee Retirement Income Security Act retirement accounts are subject to MVRA restitution awards. Furthermore, under United States v. Loftis, 607 F.3d 173 (5th Cir. 2010), the court held that defendant's one-half interest in her husband's solely managed IRA is part of all property and rights to property of the spouse fined under section 3613.Under Texas law, the court held that the husband's IRAs are solely managed community property, and that a wife has only a one-half interest in her husband's solely managed community property. Finally, the court held that the Consumer Credit Protection Act was inapplicable in this case. Therefore, the court held that half the funds—around $1 million—may be garnished now. View "United States v. Berry" on Justia Law

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Ex-wife filed suit against her ex-husband, a Chapter 7 debtor, in bankruptcy court over a debt of $32,500 plus interest. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision reversing the bankruptcy court's ruling in favor of the ex-husband. The court held that the ex-husband's payment to the ex-wife's former attorney did not terminate his obligation to the ex-wife because the attorney was no longer authorized to transact on the ex-wife's behalf. In this case, the attorney did not have actual or apparent authority to collect on the ex-wife's behalf. View "Russell v. Russell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging violations of their due process rights after a social worker and other officials seized all seven of their children and put them in foster homes. The Fifth Circuit held that the complaint did not allege a violation of clearly established substantive due process rights because there was an ongoing investigation into domestic violence and the removal lasted only 24 hours. However, the court held that the removal violated clearly established procedural due process rights because there was neither a court order nor exigent circumstances to support the social worker's taking the children from their mother. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Romero v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana, and seven individuals seeking to adopt Indian children filed suit against the United States, several federal agencies and officials, and five intervening Tribes, raising facial constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and statutory and constitutional challenges to the 2016 administrative rule (the Final Rule) that was promulgated by the Department of the Interior to clarify provisions of ICWA.The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to bring all claims; the ICWA and the Final Rule are constitutional because they are based on a political classification that is rationally related to the fulfillment of Congress's unique obligation toward Indians; ICWA preempts conflicting state laws and does not violate the Tenth Amendment anticommandeering doctrine; and ICWA and the Final Rule do not violate the nondelegation doctrine. The court also held that the Final Rule implementing the ICWA is valid because the ICWA is constitutional, the BIA did not exceed its authority when it issued the Final Rule, and the agency's interpretation of ICWA section 1915 is reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. View "Brackeen v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a mother and her three minor children, filed suit against two employees of the state's child protective services agency, claiming a constitutional violation based on defendants' taking of the three children from their mother's custody under a temporary removal order. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because there was no constitutional violation. In this case, there was an adequate basis for the issuance of the temporary conservatorship order and therefore there was no Fourth Amendment violation based on the Protective Services employee's affidavit. Furthermore, there was no vicarious liability that applied to the Protective Services supervisor and the claim was properly dismissed. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Marks v. Hudson" on Justia Law

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Appellants asserted claims for child support arrearages against debtor. Although debtor filed for bankruptcy, appellants claimed that they never received notice of debtor's bankruptcy case. Therefore, appellants argued that they were denied the opportunity to timely file proofs of claim.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's finding that the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, from which appellants had sought child support enforcement services, had received timely notice and ultimately afforded their claims distribution status under 11 U.S.C. 726(a)(2). In this case, the Department was properly the creditor for the purposes of debtor's child support obligations and the Department's proofs of claim were untimely. View "Pate v. Tow" on Justia Law

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A certified class of minor children in the Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) of DFPS filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking injunctive relief and alleging that Texas' maintenance of its foster care system exposes them to a serious risk of abuse, neglect, and harm to their physical and psychological well-being. The district court granted plaintiffs a permanent injunction requiring sweeping changes to the state's foster care system.The Fifth Circuit held that facts in the record adequately supported the finding that a policy or practice of maintaining overburdened caseworkers directly causes all PMC children to be exposed to a serious risk of physical and psychological harm; the district court correctly found that the State was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm to the Licensed Foster Care (LFC) subclass as a result of its insufficient monitoring and oversight, and that these deficiencies were a direct cause of the constitutional harm; the district court erred in concluding that inadequate placement array causes constitutionally cognizable harm to the LFC subclass and that the State was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm; and to the extent that the lack of awake-night supervision may have sustained a constitutional claim under the circumstances, the remaining policies and their effects did not cause foster group homes (FGH) children an amplified risk of harm sufficient to overcome the threshold hurdle.The court also held that Rule 23-specific arguments were waived. While the district court entered an expansive injunction mandating dozens of specific remedial measures and it was entitled to grant plaintiffs injunctive relief, the court held that the injunction was significantly overbroad. Accordingly, the court vacated the injunction and remanded with instructions to remove the remedial provisions related to placement array and FGHs, and to strike provisions that were not necessary to achieve constitutional compliance. View "M.D. v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Southwest in an action filed by plaintiff under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), alleging claims of interference and retaliation. The court held that the district court correctly determined that plaintiff failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she provided the required notice to her employer to sustain her FMLA claims. Even if plaintiff had made a prima facie showing for her FMLA interference claim, she was still required, and failed, to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Southwest's proffered nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her employment was merely pretextual. View "DeVoss v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law