SCOTUS Cases from the Fifth Circuit

circuit_map_in_agency_palette-full-sizeLast term the Supreme Court decided nine cases that arose in the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit was reversed five times and affirmed twice, and the two remaining cases (on Obama’s immigration plan and on tribal-court jurisdiction) ended in a 4-4 tie. So far, for OT2016, there are only four cases that arose in the Fifth Circuit. Here’s a quick overview of those cases:

Moore v. Texas — Moore was sentenced to death for a crime committed in 1980. But in 2014 a court found that, according to current standards, Moore is mentally retarded and therefore cannot be executed. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA), however, held that the lower court erred by relying on current standards and instead should have relied on the 1992 standard that the CCA adopted in 2004. The Supreme Court must decide whether it violates the Eighth Amendment (and Hall and Atkins) to prohibit the use of current medical standards for determining intellectual disability, and to instead require the use of outdated standards when determining whether an individual may be executed.

State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. United States ex rel. Rigsby — A private person, acting as “relator,” may bring suit on behalf of the United States for violations of the False Claims Act. Under the FCA, the relator’s suit must remain under seal for 60 days, and the defendant must have knowingly violated the Act. There are circuit splits over (1) the standard for determining whether to dismiss a relator’s suit based on a violation of the 60-day-seal requirement and (2) the meaning of the FCA’s scienter requirement. This case presents an opportunity for the Court to resolve both of these issues.

Ivy v. Morath — The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit state agencies from denying individuals access to agency programs based on the individuals’ disabilities. Here, individuals were denied access to a mandatory driver-education program managed by a state agency, because the individuals are hearing-impaired. But the Fifth Circuit held that the state agency could not be liable for violating the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act because the program is administered by private vendors, and it was the private vendors who denied access. The Court must decide whether the state agency’s relationship with the private vendors it uses to administer a mandatory program creates a dual obligation to accommodate the petitioners’ disabilities.

Buck v. Davis — At sentencing, Buck’s own attorney presented testimony from a “defense expert” that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. Future dangerousness is a prerequisite for a death sentence in Texas, and Buck was subsequently sentenced to death. Four years later, Texas acknowledged that race-as-dangerousness testimony is unconstitutional. But the Fifth Circuit denied Buck a certificate of appealability (COA) under Rule 60(b)(6), holding Buck had failed to show that his case is exceptional, and that his claim for ineffective assistance of counsel is “unremarkable.” This case presents an opportunity for the Court to clarify the standard for granting a COA under Rule 60.