5th Circuit Blog

Daily Round-Up (Aug. 7, 2014)

By Razvan Ungureanu on August 07, 2014

Published Opinions:

1) Thompson v. Mercer, No. 13-10773 - Section 1983/Constitutional Law/Excessive Force - Thompson is an excessive-force Section 1983 action involving a two-hour high speed car chase that ended when a sheriff, who "laid in wait with a semi-automatic 'AR-15' assault rifle on . . . a rural road," fired 12 shots at the moving vehicle and killed the driver.  The parents of the driver sued the sheriff and the county, alleging that the sheriff used excessive force in seizing the driver.  Most of the car chase, including its conclusion, was filmed.  Holding that the sheriff was entitled to qualified immunity, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed.  Applying Scott v. Harris --- the seminal Supreme Court case analyzing excessive force claims in the context of videotaped, high-speed car chases --- the Fifth Circuit held that the extreme danger to human life posed by the driver's reckless vehicular flight justified the use of deadly force.  The Fifth Circuit chose to resolve the appeal by focusing on the first prong of the qualified immunity analysis (the absence of a constitutional violation) rather than on the second and more commonly used prong (whether the sheriff violated a clearly established constitutional right).

2) Nobach v. Woodland Vill. Nursing Ctr., No. 13-60378 - Title VII/Religious Discrimination - The Fifth Circuit reverses a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff on her religious discrimination claim.  The plaintiff refused to read the Rosary to a nursing center resident and told the nurse who was with her at the time that reading the Rosary was against her religion.  After the resident complained, the plaintiff's supervisor terminated her.  After the supervisor told the plaintiff that she was fired for refusing to read the Rosary, the plaintiff told the supervisor that reading the Rosary was against her religion.  The supervisor replied she did not care, and that refusing to read the Rosary was an act of insubordination.  The jury found that the defendant violated Title VII by discharging the plaintiff because of her religious beliefs.  Reversing, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court should have entered judgment as a matter of law for the defendant because there was no evidence that the defendant knew of the plaintiff's religious beliefs before the plaintiff was fired.  The fact that the plaintiff's supervisor said she did not care about the plaintiff's religious beliefs when the plaintiff was discharged was of no consequence --- the supervisor made this statement after she told the plaintiff she was fired and there was no evidence that the supervisor knew about the plaintiff's religious beliefs before she decided to fire her.

3) Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Baptist, No. 13-60726 - Insurance Law - Under Mississippi law, an insurer may rescind a homeowners insurance policy and recover claim payments when the former owners of the home renewed the policy after losing title in a foreclosure sale and the renewals misrepresented that they still owned the property.



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