Top 10 Posts From the 5th Cir. in 2014

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on December 24, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Executing a crazy person? Preposterously one-sided arbitration agreements? A forklift is a motor vehicle? Yes, yes, and yes, said the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals over the course of the year.

The Fifth contains many, um, colorful cases. Ten of those were the most popular of the year, and here they are:

1. Will Texas Execute Schizophrenic Who Defended Himself in a Cowboy Suit? -- Despite wanting to call the Pope and Jesus Christ as witnesses in his capital murder trial, Scott Panetti was found competent enough to represent himself. He was also found guilty and sentenced to death. Hours before he was scheduled to be executed, and after this post was written, the U.S. Supreme Court finally intervened and stopped it -- for now.

2. Dollar General Owner Can Be Sued in Tribal Court -- When do tribal courts have jurisdiction over torts committed by non-members on a reservation? Apparently often. The Fifth Circuit determined that an employment relationship between a tribe member and a non-member was enough to let the tribal court hear the case.

3. Texas Arbitration Agreements Can Be One-Sided and Legal -- An employer can unilaterally terminate an arbitration agreement, but the employee can't. Legal? It is in Texas, where the Fifth Circuit found that merely the agreement to arbitrate is itself sufficient consideration to make the agreement enforceable.

4. 5th Circuit Makes Typo in Denying BP Settlement Rehearing -- It looked like the Fifth Circuit granted the plaintiffs' motion to dismiss BP's request for an en banc rehearing -- but that turned out to be just a typo.

5. Law Firm Partnership Agreement Dooms Partner's Tax Deductions -- The golden rule of partnerships is always look at the partnership agreement. Peter McLauchlan didn't, and eventually discovered that otherwise-reimbursable expenses, like advertising and office supplies, weren't reimbursable under his partnership agreement and thus couldn't be deducted on his taxes as a business expense. Whoops.

6. 5th Circuit Clerk Lyle Cayce Writes Us About Court's Website -- When FindLaw blogger William Peacock wrote a mixed review of the Fifth Circuit's new website, he never dreamed someone would write back. And he especially didn't think it would be the court's clerk. Lyle Cayce wrote to explain that a mobile-friendly site was in the works and made the link to opinions on the front page more prominent, in response to Willie's criticism. Hey, the Internet does work!

7. A Double Bench-Slapping and Appellate Advocacy Basics -- Judges sometimes treat lawyering arguing before them shabbily. The lawyers' recourse? Basically nothing. So if the judge interrupts you, that because he or she is a judge. Lawyers don't get to interrupt. Unfair? You bet. But that's the way it goes.

8. Starting 2014 With the Fifth Circuit: 3 Cases to Watch -- The Fifth Circuit started the year with some contentious cases. A case about Texas abortion clinics (the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, reinstated the district court's injunction pending oral arguments at the Fifth Circuit); eagle feathers (nothing yet); and same-sex marriage (oral arguments coming in January).

9. BP Suffers Loss in Gulf Settlement Appeal: Time to Pay Up? -- BP's never-ending quest to escape the Deepwater Horizon settlement obligations it willingly agreed to just keeps arriving at the same result: Pay up!

10. A Forklift is A Motor Vehicle: Insurance Wisdom From the 5th Cir -- If it's self-propelled and can transport persons or things on a highway, that's good enough for Louisiana to consider it a motor vehicle for insurance purposes. No word yet on Zambonis and riding lawnmowers.

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