Recent Federal Fifth Circuit Cases of Interest to Cities

Note: Included cases are from March 11, 2023 through April 10, 2023.

Tejas Motel, L.L.C. v. City of Mesquite, 63 F.4th 323 (5th Cir. Mar. 22, 2023). Tejas Motel, LLC (Tejas) purchased the Tejas Motel property in 2006. Since then, the City of Mesquite’s regulation of hotels has changed, and ultimately the motel was classified as a nonconforming use under the city’s zoning regulations. In 2018, after receiving complaints about poor conditions and criminal activity, the city revised the process for “amortizing” nonconforming establishments and targeted five motels, including Tejas. Facing pressure from the city, Tejas agreed to cease operations or conform to zoning regulations by May 1, 2019, but later sued in state court, claiming it had suffered a taking in violation of the state and federal constitutions. The suit was dismissed by the court, and a state appellate court affirmed the dismissal holding that Tejas failed to raise its state law claims in a timely manner and failed to state a viable federal constitutional claim. Tejas then sued in federal court, but the district court dismissed the case based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and res judicata. Tejas appealed, and while the appeal was ongoing, there was more activity in state court, but Mesquite argued that it had no impact on the federal appeal.

The key issue on appeal was whether the state court judgment prevents Tejas from bringing a federal takings claim against the city. According to Texas law, a claim would be barred by res judicata if the city could establish that there is a prior final judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction, among parties in privity with them, and the second action is based on the same claims as the first action. The parties focused on the first element, with Tejas arguing that the state court lacked jurisdiction over the federal claim. Ultimately, the appellate court determined that the state court was competent to adjudicate the dispute, and all elements of res judicata were present. Consequently, the judgment of dismissal was affirmed.

Elections: Shemwell v. City of McKinney., 63 F.4th 480, 485 (5th Cir. Mar. 28, 2023). In May 2017, La’Shadion Shemwell was elected to the McKinney City Council, but his term was cut short when voters recalled him in November 2020. Shemwell sought a declaration that McKinney’s voting procedures were unlawful. However, the court found the case moot as Shemwell lost a legally cognizable interest when the election ended. The court also determined that the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” exception to mootness did not apply, as Shemwell never included a claim for damages and abandoned claims for injunctive relief. The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

Sign Regulations: Reagan Nat’l Advert. of Austin, Inc. v. City of Austin, 64 F.4th 287 (5th Cir. Mar. 30, 2023). Two outdoor advertising companies, Reagan National Advertising of Austin and Lamar Advantage Outdoor Company, filed applications to digitize their existing off-premises billboards in the City of Austin. Austin denied their applications based on its Sign Code, which prohibited the upgrade of off-premises signs. The companies sued, arguing that the distinction between on-premises and off-premises signs in the Sign Code violated the First Amendment. The district court upheld the Sign Code, but the appeals court reversed the decision, ruling that the distinction was content-based and unable to survive strict scrutiny. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the appeals court’s decision, holding that Austin’s Sign Code was facially content-neutral and subject to intermediate scrutiny, absent an impermissible purpose. The case was remanded for further consideration. Applying the Supreme Court’s new guidance, the appeals court concluded that the Sign Code survives intermediate scrutiny and affirmed the district court’s decision.

Excessive Force: Williams v. City of Greenwood, No. 22-60192, 2023 WL 2733467 (5th Cir. Mar. 31, 2023). The case stems from an incident in 2019 when Gianni Williams was arrested by Greenwood Police Department officers for turning without signaling. Williams sued the City of Greenwood, the Chief of Police, and the arresting officers for violating his constitutional rights through the use of excessive force and false imprisonment and for various state law violations. The district court granted summary judgment for the city defendants on Williams’ federal claims and dismissed the state law claims without prejudice. Williams appealed. The appellate court found that the evidence did not show his constitutional rights were violated, and thus, his federal claims failed. Additionally, the court rejected Williams’s excessive force claim, as his resistance to arrest made the officers’ actions reasonable, and his false arrest claim was barred as it arose from the same facts as his conviction. Finally, his Fifth Amendment claim failed, because it can only be asserted against federal officers. Ultimately, the court affirmed the district court’s decision, upholding summary judgment for the city and dismissal of Williams’s claims.