February 28th, 2023
USA v. Hagen
Dockets: 21-11273, 21-11279
Opinion Date: February 27, 2023
Judge: Stephen Andrew Higginson
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, White Collar Crime
The Hagens (Leah and Michael) were convicted by a jury of conspiring to defraud the United States and to pay and receive health care kickbacks. Each was sentenced to 151 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, plus restitution. Both Hagens appealed, arguing that the district court erred in excluding evidence, refusing to instruct the jury on an affirmative defense, and imposing a sentencing enhancement and restitution.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the Hagens' convictions and sentences. The court found that the excluded evidence, which consisted of witness testimony, was irrelevant and cumulative. Thus, the district court did not err in excluding it. Even if the exclusion of the evidence wasn't warranted, the court determined that any error below was harmless.
The court also held that the Hagans failed to put sufficient evidence forward justifying their requested jury charge on the safe-harbor affirmative defense. Finally, the court rejected the Hagens' claim that the lower court erred in applying a sentencing enhancement for the couple's "sophisticated money laundering scheme." The court explained that evidence suggested the Hagens manipulated their wire transfer payments to conceal the kickback scheme, which justified the enhancement.
February 23rd, 2023
US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Opinions
Kling v. Hebert
Opinion Date: February 17, 2023
Judge: James L. Dennis
Areas of Law: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Labor & Employment Law
After prevailing in state court on claims that he was fired in retaliation for exercising his state constitutional right to freedom of expression, Plaintiff filed a federal suit alleging the same set of facts but asserting for the first time a First Amendment claim. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit, finding that Defendants’ factual attack showed that the only remedy not barred by sovereign immunity was impossible to grant and that Kling’s claim was prescribed. On appeal, Plaintiff contends that a factual attack on a district court’s subject matter jurisdiction is improper at the pleadings stage and that his state lawsuit interrupted prescription on his newly asserted federal claim because both rely on the same set of operative facts.
The Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err in dismissing Plaintiff’s official capacity claims as barred by sovereign immunity and accordingly affirmed that ruling in the district court’s decision. However, because there are no clear controlling precedents from the Louisiana Supreme Court as to whether prescription on Plaintiff’s federal claim was interrupted by his state action, the court certified to that court to answer the following:
In Louisiana, under what circumstances, if any, does the commencement of a suit in a court of competent jurisdiction and venue interrupt prescription as to causes of action, understood as legal claims rather than the facts giving rise to them, not asserted in that suit?
February 15th, 2023
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
James LeBlanc, Secretary,
Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Middle District of Louisiana
USDC No. 3:21-CV-72
"qualified immunity protects government officials
from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person
would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)
(quotation omitted). “A public official is entitled to qualified immunity
unless the plaintiff demonstrates that (1) the defendant violated the
plaintiff’s constitutional rights and (2) the defendant’s actions were
objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law at the time of the
violation.” Porter, 659 F.3d at 445. “Both steps in the qualified immunity
analysis are questions of law.” Wyatt v. Fletcher, 718 F.3d 496, 503 (5th Cir.
2013). We are free to decide which prong of the qualified immunity analysis
to address first. See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 242 (“[T]he judges of the district
courts and the courts of appeals are in the best position to determine the
order of decisionmaking that will best facilitate the fair and efficient
disposition of each [qualified immunity] case.”).
We proceed to consider whether Secretary LeBlanc’s “actions were
objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law at the time of the
violation.” Porter, 659 F.3d at 445. “The second prong of the qualified
immunity test is better understood as two separate inquiries: whether the
allegedly violated constitutional rights were clearly established at the time of
the incident; and, if so, whether the conduct of the defendants was
objectively unreasonable in the light of that then clearly established law.”
Hare, 135 F.3d at 326 (emphasis omitted).
Case: 21-30625 Document: 00516645415 Page: 6 Date Filed: 02/14/2023
It is clearly established that inmates have the right to timely release
from prison consistent with the terms of their sentences. See Crittindon, 37
F.4th at 188; Porter, 659 F.3d at 445. Taylor’s claim against Secretary
LeBlanc nevertheless fails because he has forfeited any argument that the
Secretary’s conduct was objectively unreasonable.
The objectively unreasonable standard is not “that an official action is
protected by qualified immunity unless the very action in question has
previously been held unlawful; but it is . . . that in the light of pre-existing law
the unlawfulness must be apparent.” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002)
(citation omitted). The critical consideration is fair warning. See id. at 739–
41. “The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is
clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable official that his
conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.” Saucier v. Katz, 533
U.S. 194, 202 (2001), overruled in part on other grounds by Pearson, 555 U.S. at
Taylor does not present any meritorious argument that Secretary
LeBlanc acted in an objectively unreasonable manner in this case.
To begin with, he argues that whether Secretary LeBlanc acted
objectively unreasonably is a fact question not amenable to appellate review
at this stage in the proceedings. But we have long held precisely the opposite.
Whether “a given course of conduct would be objectively unreasonable in
light of clearly established law” is a “purely legal question” and plainly
within our jurisdiction on interlocutory review. Kinney v. Weaver, 367 F.3d
337, 347 (5th Cir. 2004). See also Wyatt, 718 F.3d at 503 (noting both steps
of the qualified immunity analysis “are questions of law”).
To the extent that Taylor argues the merits, it’s inadequately briefed.
Taylor’s entire presentation on the issue of objective unreasonableness
amounts to just this single conclusory statement: “It is inherently
Case: 21-30625 Document: 00516645415 Page: 7 Date Filed: 02/14/2023
unreasonable for the secretary . . . to fail to enact policies and procedures to
ensure the prompt release of inmates who have served their sentences in
accordance to law.” A single, unsupported sentence isn’t enough to
adequately brief the issue. See Melgar v. T.B. Butler Publ’g Co., Inc., 931 F.3d
375, 382 n.6 (5th Cir. 2019) (noting that when an “issue [is] inadequately
briefed, it is forfeited”). To be sure, we have said that forfeiture principles
may apply “more leniently when the party who fails to brief an issue is the
appellee” rather than the appellant. Hernandez v. Garcia Pena, 820 F.3d 782,
786 n.3 (5th Cir. 2016). But Taylor bears the burden on the issue of objective
unreasonableness. See, e.g., Angulo v. Brown, 978 F.3d 942, 949 (5th Cir.
2020) (“The plaintiff has the burden to negate a properly raised defense of
qualified immunity.”). And he has not meaningfully briefed that issue. See,
e.g., Hornbeck Offshore Servs., L.L.C. v. Salazar, 713 F.3d 787, 796 (5th Cir.
2013) (applying forfeiture to the appellee because an issue “has not been
February 04th, 2023
USA v. Rahimi
Opinion Date: February 2, 2023
Judge: Cory T. Wilson
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
Defendant brought a facial challenge to Section 922(g)(8). The district court and a prior panel upheld the statute, applying the Fifth Circuit’s pre-Bruen precedent. Defendant filed a petition for rehearing en banc; while the petition was pending, the Supreme Court decided Bruen. The prior panel withdrew its opinion and requested a supplemental briefing on the impact of that case on this one.
The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and vacated Defendant’s conviction. The court held that Bruen requires the court to re-evaluate its Second Amendment jurisprudence and that under Bruen, Section 922(g)(8) fails to pass constitutional muster. The court explained that the Government failed to demonstrate that Section 922(g)(8)’s restriction of the Second Amendment right fits within the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. The Government’s proffered analogues falter under one or both of the metrics the Supreme Court articulated in Bruen as the baseline for measuring “relevantly similar” analogues: “how and why the regulations burden a law-abiding citizen’s right to armed self-defense.” As a result, Section 922(g)(8) falls outside the class of firearm regulations countenanced by the Second Amendment.
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