Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Plaintiff led police on a high-speed chase through a residential neighborhood. Once Plaintiff exited his vehicle, Defendant sheriff's deputy tased Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued the deputy, claiming he violated Defendant's Fourth Amendment Rights. The District Court denied the deputy's claim of qualified immunity, finding there were material factual disputes as to whether a reasonable officer would have viewed Plaintiff as an immediate threat; whether Plaintiff's apparent surrender was a ploy to evade arrest; and whether Plaintiff was tased once or twice.The Fifth Circuit reversed. After considering the threat posed by Plaintiff in fleeing law enforcement as well as the force used by the deputy, the court determined that the deputy did not violate Plaintiff's clearly established constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. Thus, Plaintiff was unable to overcome the bar of qualified immunity. View "Salazar v. Molina" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was severely burned when the landing gear on a tanker-trailer detached from its tractor and sank into a gravel surface, causing the tanker-trailer to tip over and spill scalding water on him. Plaintiff brought a premises liability claim against the owner of the property and product liability claims against the owner of the tanker-trailer and three related companies. The district court dismissed his product liability claims on the pleadings and his premises liability claim on summary judgment.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not apply the proper standard for evaluating the plausibility of George’s pleadings under Federal R. of Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6). Further, the court held that the district court erroneously concluded that Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code governed Plaintiff's premises liability claim. Thus the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "George v. SI Grp, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court’s summary judgment dismissal of the breach of contract claims that he has asserted, as a third-party beneficiary, against Defendant. The district court determined that the insurer’s duty to defend its insured, on which Plaintiff’s claims were based, was never triggered, relative to Plaintiff’s underlying personal injury suit, because the insured, N.F. Painting, Inc., never requested a defense or sought coverage.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed finding no error in the district court’s assessment under Texas law. The court explained that it is well-established, that under Texas law, despite having knowledge and opportunity, an insurer is not required to simply interject itself into a proceeding on its insured’s behalf.   Here, as stated, N.F. Painting did not seek defense or coverage from Defendant when it was served with Plaintiff’s original state court petition. The undisputed facts show that N.F. Painting chose, with the assistance of counsel, to handle Plaintiff’s personal injury claims in its own way, without involving Defendantin its defense, as it was entitled to do. And Plaintiff has put forth no evidence suggesting that Defendant was not entitled to rely on that decision. Having made that decision, it is N.F. Painting, and thus Plaintiff, as third-party beneficiary, not Defendant who must bear responsibility for any resulting adverse consequences. In other words, the law will not permit a third-party beneficiary to simply disregard an insured’s litigation decisions, i.e., essentially re-write history, merely because he has no other means of satisfying his judgment against the insured. View "Moreno v. Sentinel Ins" on Justia Law

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A wrongful-death suit ended in default when a trucking company went bankrupt. That left two plaintiffs who both claimed to be the decedent’s common-law wife. The district court awarded damages to just one of them because Texas does not allow bigamy. The other putative wife maintains that the district court had to award damages to both plaintiffs.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision holding that a defaulting defendant is deemed to admit a plaintiff’s factual allegations, but the district court still may inquire whether those allegations demonstrate legal liability. In the putative wife’s amended complaint, she failed to make specific allegations regarding any of the elements of common-law marriage.The court reasoned that the statements she made were too “bare and conclusory” to be considered a well-pleaded factual allegation. After reviewing the putative wife’s complaint, the district court concluded that she and the decedent had agreed to be married, had cohabited, and had held themselves out as married. The court did not reject any of her factual allegations—it merely rejected the legal conclusion that she was married to the decedent. That rejection was proper in light of the other woman’s factual allegations.Moreover, where a plaintiff, but for the defendant’s default, would never have been able to show legal entitlement to a judgment, denial of that judgment is not itself a miscarriage of justice. There is nothing inequitable about allowing a district court to consider the facts alleged by all plaintiffs and award default judgment to only those whose claims are not precluded. View "Escalante v. Lidge" on Justia Law

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After her ex-husband died in a containerboard mill explosion, Plaintiff brought a wrongful death and survival action against Defendant Packaging Corporation of America (“PCA”) and PCA employee, a supervisor alleged to have had specific responsibility for the safe operation of the tank at issue (collectively, the “Defendants”). Defendants removed the case to federal court on grounds of improper joinder and diversity jurisdiction. After denying a motion to remand, the district court granted successive motions for summary judgment that disposed of the plaintiff’s claims. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s rulings on the motion to remand and the motions for summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling granting summary judgment and held that the district court correctly dismissed Plaintiff’s claims because the workplace accident falls within Louisiana’s workers’ compensation scheme.The primary issue is whether Plaintiff had a plausible claim against the supervisor such that he could be properly joined to defeat diversity jurisdiction. The court held that Plaintiff failed to show that the supervisor bears personal blame for the victim’s death. Thus, the district court was correct to pierce the pleadings to ferret out glaring legal deficiencies in Plaintiffs claims against the only defendant precluding diversity jurisdiction, and the district court’s consequent finding of improper joinder and denial of Plaintiff’s motion to remand was likewise correct. Further, the court held that this workplace fatality falls within the ambit of Louisiana’s workers’ compensation scheme. View "Rolls v. Packaging Corp of America" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a negligence suit under Louisiana law against many parties, including Defendant, an entity that participated in a construction project at the Republic National Distribution Company (“Republic”) warehouse in New Orleans, Louisiana. Defendant’s specific role was to build a concrete mezzanine platform. Months after Defendant completed its work, Plaintiff was working on the platform when an unguarded ceiling fan struck him in the head. The district court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The district court found that while Defendant had a general duty to provide a safe working environment and to refrain from creating hazardous conditions, it did not owe several “heightened duties” that Plaintiffs argued applied. The district court also held that Defendant did not breach its general duty because it repeatedly warned and admonished Republic about the fan, which was turned off from the date of a prior incident until the date of Plaintiff’s injury.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment in Defendant’s favor, holding that Plaintiffs failed to show there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether Defendant breached his duty to refrain from creating a hazardous condition. The court reasoned that Plaintiffs did not point to any authority which support their theory as to the breadth of Defendant’s general duty. Instead, the jurisprudence limits Defendant’s duty, particularly in circumstances where the contractor lacks control or responsibility for the worksite at the time of the injury. View "Donahue v. Makar Installations" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a petition for damages in the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish. Plaintiff totaled his car in an accident and alleged that GoAuto, his car insurance carrier, paid less in policy benefits than his policy and Louisiana law required. GoAuto filed its notice of removal, Plaintiff received permission from the Louisiana court to amend his complaint again and, as accepted on appeal, filed the amended complaint. This amendment changed the definition of the class from class “residents of Louisiana” to class “citizens of Louisiana.” After removal, the parties filed several competing motions disputing which complaint controlled and the sufficiency of GoAuto’s notice of removal.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order remanding the case to state court, finding that Defendant is a citizen of Louisiana and thus the suit lacks the minimal diversity necessary to vest a federal court with jurisdiction. The court declined Defendant’s request to disregard the Louisiana state court’s pre-removal procedural rulings applying Louisiana law and substituted its own Erie guesses at how a Louisiana court ought to rule on a motion to amend a pleading.   Further, in regards to Defendant’s argument that it is plausible that some class members are not citizens of Louisiana, the court held that none of these individuals, assuming they had relocated to Colorado, Texas, or Florida before the filing of the complaint, qualify as citizens of Louisiana. Finally, the court held that Defendant points to nothing in the text of the statute that would bar Plaintiff’s class definition. View "Turner v. GoAuto Insurance" on Justia Law

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A fifteen-year-old boy was shot and killed by Defendant, a then-officer responding to a 911 call about possible underage drinking. The boy’s family and friends sued Defendant and the City of Balch Springs alleging excessive force. Later, Defendant was separately convicted of murder. The district court denied Defendant’s summary judgment motion claiming qualified immunity.On appeal, Defendant argued that the facts at the moment of the threat are undisputed and urged the court to exercise jurisdiction over the case on the issue of materiality. The court found that the resolution of this factual dispute is material because it affects both whether Defendant’s use of force was reasonable and whether the force he used violated clearly established law. The court found that if a jury accepts Plaintiffs’ version of the facts as true, particularly as to what occurred in the moments before Defendant shot at the car, the jury could conclude that the officers violated Plaintiffs’ clearly established right to be free from excessive force. Thus, because the factual dispute is material, the court ruled that it lacks jurisdiction to consider the propriety of the summary judgment denial. The court dismissed Defendant’s interlocutory appeal and remanded for further proceedings. View "Edwards v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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Defendant is an elected constable in Harris County, Texas. Plaintiff is his counterpart in adjoining Waller County. After a 911 caller reported that Plaintiff had aimed a gun at him on a local tollway in Harris County, Defendant’s deputies stopped and questioned Plaintiff, then released him minutes later.Plaintiff sued Defendant, who asserted qualified and statutory immunities. Defendant argued that the stop was lawful, Defendant wasn’t present at the time, and state law shields him from the tort claims. But the district court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss.At issue is whether Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity on the federal claims and if Texas law immunizes Defendant from Plaintiff’s tort claims. The court found that because reasonable suspicion supported the investigatory stop, Plaintiff did not adequately plead an unreasonable seizure. Further, Plaintiff failed to plead a colorable constitutional violation. Thus, absent constitutional violation, Defendant can’t be liable for supervising one, ratifying one, or failing to train his deputies to avoid one.Next, as for the state claims, Plaintiff sued Defendant for defamation and IIED. The court found that the critical issue is whether Defendant’s actions are linked to his job responsibilities. Here, the connection exists, therefore Defendant is entitled to dismissal and his immunities bar all claims against him. View "Smith v. Heap" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs' son was killed when he attempted to drive through a low water crossing in Camp Bullis, a military training base outside San Antonio, Texas. As Plaintiff's son navigated the crossing, water swept across the road, ultimately resulting in his death.Plaintiffs filed suit against the United States, claiming the government failed to inspect the low water crossing, failed to warn approaching motorists about the dangers of flooding, and failed to install guard rails that may have prevented water from accumulating on the road. The district court granted summary judgment to the United States, finding the discretionary exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") applied.The Fifth Circuit reversed. Under the FTCA, the federal government waives sovereign immunity for actions based on the negligence of federal employees who are acting within the scope of their employment. However, immunity is not waived if the federal employee is carrying out a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency. To be discretionary, an action must involve some element of judgment or choice.Here, the relevant regulation states that "[a]ll Range/Control Area/Impact Area gates will either be locked or guarded by the unit using the area." A natural reading of the regulation imposed an obligation on the officers who were on-site to lock the gate. Thus, the discretionary exception to the FTCA did not apply. View "Barron v. USA" on Justia Law