Meadows v. Odom ( 2006 )


Menu:
  •                                                       United States Court of Appeals
                                                                   Fifth Circuit
                                                                F I L E D
                     UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
                          FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT                  August 1, 2006
    
                                                            Charles R. Fulbruge III
                                                                    Clerk
                              No. 05-30450
    
    
    
         SANDY MEADOWS; ET AL.,
    
                                         Plaintiffs,
    
         SHAMILLE PETERS; BARBARA PEACOCK; KAYODE HOWELL,
    
                                         Plaintiffs - Appellants,
    
                                    v.
    
         BOB ODOM; ET AL.,
    
                                         Defendants,
    
         BOB ODOM; VAN COX; WALTER IMAHARA; RANDY HARRIS; HAROLD
         TANI; ROGER MAYES; STEPHEN HOOVER; MATTHEW KEPPINGER; PAUL
         COREIL; EMILY STICH; ROB BARRY, III; DONALD KELLY; THOMAS
         SPEDALE; RICHARD HEROMAN,
    
                                         Defendants - Appellees.
    
    
    
              Appeal from the United States District Court
                  for the Middle District of Louisiana
                               (03-CV-960)
    
    
    
    Before JONES, Chief Judge, BARKSDALE, and BENAVIDES, Circuit
    Judges.
    
    PER CURIAM:*
    
         Appellants Shamille Peters, Barbara Peacock, and Kayode Howell
    
    
    
         *    Pursuant to 5TH CIR. R. 47.5, this Court has determined
    that this opinion should not be published and is not precedent
    except under the limited circumstances set forth in 5TH CIR. R.
    47.5.4.
    filed this suit contending that the State of Louisiana has violated
    
    their constitutional rights by requiring retail florists to submit
    
    to a licensing examination. The exam is administered by Appellees,
    
    members of the Louisiana Horticulture Commission.                               We, however, do
    
    not reach       this    substantive         legal          question.           While    this   suit
    
    progressed through the federal judicial system, an intervening
    
    event, Hurricane Katrina, has changed the Appellants’ circumstances
    
    in    relation     to     their    claims.                  Because       of     those     changed
    
    circumstances, the case is no longer justiciable.                                     The case is
    
    moot.
    
    
    
                      I.     FACTUAL BACKGROUND          AND   PROCEDURAL HISTORY
    
           In Louisiana, state law requires at least one licensed retail
    
    florist at any florist business establishment.                                 See LA. REV. STAT.
    
    § 3:3808(B)(2).         To engage in the profession of retail floristry,
    
    an individual is required to obtain a license for that occupation
    
    or to become engaged with an employer, employee, or supervisor who
    
    has     the    required     license         or       permit.          See       LA.     REV.   STAT.
    
    §§    3:3804(C),(D),      3:3809.           To       obtain       that    required        license,
    
    florists must pass an examination consisting of both written and
    
    practical      portions.          See   LA.          REV.    STAT.    §    3:3807(A),(B)(2).
    
    Appellants are applicants who have failed this examination.
    
           Appellants challenge the power of Louisiana to regulate the
    
    florist       industry    through       a        suit       for    equitable           relief–both
    
    
                                                     2
    declaratory   and   injunctive.      They     argue   that    the   licensing
    
    examination violates the substantive due process, equal protection,
    
    and privileges or immunities clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment
    
    because it is not rationally related to any legitimate governmental
    
    purpose.   Appellees filed a motion to dismiss the equal protection
    
    and privileges or immunities claims.            Shortly thereafter, the
    
    parties filed cross motions for summary judgment on all of the
    
    claims.    The district court granted the motion to dismiss on the
    
    privileges or immunities claim, granted Appellees’ summary judgment
    
    on the remaining two claims, denied Appellants’ summary judgment
    
    motion, and dismissed the action.
    
    
    
                                II.   DISCUSSION
    
         At oral argument on this case, held on May 1, 2006, it came to
    
    the attention of this Court that, due to Hurricane Katrina and its
    
    aftereffects,   these   Louisianan       Appellants   may    no   longer   have
    
    justiciable claims.1    To assist this Court in making this mootness
    
    determination, we asked Appellants to submit a letter describing
    
    the current circumstance of each Appellant.           On May 11, Appellants
    
    
    
         1
          “Mootness goes to the heart of our jurisdiction under
    Article III of the Constitution. Therefore, we must consider
    mootness even if the parties do not raise it, because ‘resolution
    of this question is essential if federal courts are to function
    within their constitutional spheres of authority.’” Texas Office
    of Pub. Util. Counsel v. FCC, 
    183 F.3d 393
    , 413 n.16 (5th Cir.
    1999) (quoting North Carolina v. Rice, 
    404 U.S. 244
    , 245 (1971)).
    
    
                                         3
    submitted that letter, giving a description of each individual
    
    Appellant’s current status.         Appellant Peters has relocated to
    
    Mississippi and enrolled in a two-year medical program at a local
    
    community college. She “has not made any specific plans” to return
    
    to Louisiana.    Appellant Peacock lives in Shreveport, Louisiana,
    
    but she has retired and has “no specific plans to seek full-time
    
    employment as a florist or to open a wedding chapel” (as she
    
    previously had planned).       Counsel has been unable to contact
    
    Appellant   Howell   since   the   storm   and   does   not   have   contact
    
    information for her.
    
         Appellants, in their letter, did not argue against mootness.
    
    They only requested that, if this Court found the case moot, the
    
    district court’s decision be vacated and remanded with instructions
    
    to dismiss the case as moot.       In response, Appellees, in their May
    
    16 letter, argue that this Court should decide the case to avoid
    
    “waste.”    Appellees further contend, without citation, that the
    
    parties have a continuing interest in the matter.              Taking into
    
    consideration the updated facts and arguments of the parties, we
    
    turn to the issue of justiciability.
    
         A.     The Mootness Doctrine
    
         The United States Constitution, Article III, section 2, clause
    
    1, requires the existence of a case or controversy to support our
    
    jurisdiction.    Amar v. Whitley, 
    100 F.3d 22
    , 23 (5th Cir. 1996).
    
    The case or controversy doctrine underpins both standing and
    
    
    
                                         4
    mootness.   Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), 
    528 U.S. 167
    , 180 (2000).    Mootness is “the doctrine of standing set in
    
    a time frame:     The requisite personal interest that must exist at
    
    the commencement of litigation (standing) must continue throughout
    
    its   existence   (mootness).”    United   States   Parole   Comm’n   v.
    
    Geraghty, 
    445 U.S. 388
    , 397 (1980). The mootness doctrine “ensures
    
    that the litigant’s interest in the outcome continues to exist
    
    throughout the life of the lawsuit . . . including the pendency of
    
    the appeal.”    McCorvey v. Hill, 
    385 F.3d 846
    , 848 (5th Cir. 2004).
    
          Here, there is no live case or controversy and mootness
    
    applies.    We consider Appellants’ claim for injunctive relief
    
    first.   Appellants could not obtain relief through an injunction.
    
    No Appellant has shown that she continues to seek employment as a
    
    florist in Louisiana at this time.      Therefore, no Appellant has
    
    shown that she will be attempting to gain licensure from the state
    
    to be in the florist business.     Therefore, no Appellant has shown
    
    that she will be prevented from gaining that chosen employment
    
    because of the state’s licensing scheme. In other words, enjoining
    
    Louisiana from administering the exam will not afford relief for
    
    these Appellants.      See Honig v. Students of Cal. Sch. for the
    
    Blind, 
    471 U.S. 148
    , 149 (1985) (“No order of this Court could
    
    affect the parties’ rights with respect to the injunction we are
    
    called upon to review.”).        Accordingly, Appellants’ claim for
    
    injunctive relief is moot.
    
    
                                       5
          Second, we consider Appellants’ declaratory relief claim.
    
    Meltzer v. Bd. of Pub. Instruction, 
    548 F.2d 559
    , 568 (5th Cir.
    
    1977) (“[Because] appellants have asked for both declaratory and
    
    injunctive     relief     .    .   .   ,   we    have    the     ‘duty   to   decide   the
    
    appropriateness         and    the     merits     of     the     declaratory     request
    
    irrespective of its conclusion as to the propriety of the issuance
    
    of the injunction.’”) (quoting Zwickler v. Koota, 
    389 U.S. 241
    , 254
    
    (1967)).      To determine whether the declaratory relief claim is
    
    moot, we examine whether Appellants’ claim falls within a mootness
    
    exception. The only possibly applicable exception for this case is
    
    the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” exception. S. Pac.
    
    Terminal v. Interstate Commerce Comm’n, 
    219 U.S. 498
    , 515 (1911).
    
    Under this exception, “[a]lthough a case may be technically moot,
    
    a   federal     court    may       nevertheless         retain     jurisdiction    if   a
    
    continuing controversy exists or if the challenged problem is
    
    likely to recur or is otherwise capable of repetition.”                            Vieux
    
    Carre Prop. Owners v. Brown, 
    948 F.2d 1436
    , 1447 (5th Cir. 1991).
    
          B.      The “Capable of Repetition, yet Evading Review” Exception
    
          Generally, the capable of repetition doctrine applies only in
    
    “exceptional” situations where two circumstances simultaneously are
    
    present: “(1) the challenged action [is] in its duration too short
    
    to be fully litigated prior to cessation or expiration, and (2)
    
    there [is] a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party
    
    [will] be subject to the same action again.”                     Spencer v. Kemna, 523
    
    
                                                 
    6 U.S. 1
    , 17 (1998) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
    
    As to the second element, Appellants have not shown a “reasonable
    
    expectation” or a “demonstrated probability” that they will reenter
    
    the florist business or retake the exam.         See Oliver v. Scott, 
    276 F.3d 736
    , 741 (5th Cir. 2002).       Appellants are retired, no longer
    
    residing in the state, or of unknown whereabouts.             They have no
    
    current plans to apply for a florist license in Louisiana once
    
    again.     Thus, as to these particular Appellants, the allegedly
    
    wrongful behavior by the state reasonably could not be expected to
    
    recur.   Yet, even if they demonstrated this reasonable expectation
    
    of repeated state action, Appellants also fail to meet the other
    
    requirement of the test.
    
         The   underlying   event   or   condition    is   not   of   such   short
    
    duration that Appellants would be unable to obtain relief from
    
    state action through litigation.         We follow the Supreme Court’s
    
    ruling in Super Tire Engineering Co. v. McCorkle, which examined
    
    the capable of repetition, yet evading review doctrine as it
    
    applies to declaratory actions.          41
    6 U.S. 1
    15 (1974).        In that
    
    case, the Supreme Court held that, where the exception applies, the
    
    circumstances that gave rise to the injury no longer exist at some
    
    point during litigation.    See id. at 125–26.         In other words, the
    
    causal factor necessarily disappears.       For example, in Super Tire,
    
    the Supreme Court was reviewing the mootness of an employer’s
    
    attack on a New Jersey statute that allowed striking workers to
    
    
                                         7
    obtain welfare benefits.       Id. at 116.          Before the case was
    
    resolved, the strike ended.    Id.     Comparing the facts in Super Tire
    
    to such cases as Roe v. Wade, 
    410 U.S. 113
    , 166 (1973), and to
    
    cases   involving   state   election     laws,   the   Court   stated    that
    
    “[e]conomic strikes are of comparatively short duration.”               Super
    
    Tire, 416 U.S. at 126.        The Court concluded that a strike’s
    
    termination “like pregnancy at nine months and elections spaced at
    
    year-long or biennial intervals, should not preclude challenge to
    
    state policies that have had their impact and that continue in
    
    force, unabated and unreviewed.        The judiciary must not close the
    
    door to the resolution of the important          questions these concrete
    
    disputes present.”    Id. at 126–27.
    
         In cases involving strikes, pregnancies, or elections, the
    
    causal event or condition will terminate and preclude a challenge,
    
    unless it is cured by the exception.       Here, there is no underlying
    
    event or condition that will cease before there can be judicial
    
    intervention.   The only thing that has changed in the instant case
    
    is the desire of Appellants to seek employment as a florist in
    
    Louisiana.   That desire may have been dampened or changed because
    
    of the uncontrollable aftereffects of a natural disaster, but each
    
    Appellant has made her choice to no longer pursue a florist
    
    license.     Louisiana’s    licensing     requirement    would   apply     to
    
    Appellants in the same manner now as it did when they initiated the
    
    challenge if they had not abandoned their pursuit of a career in
    
    
                                         8
    retail floristry.      This is a highly different situation than that
    
    presented in Super Tire.       Therefore, the exception articulated in
    
    Super Tire does not apply to the facts presented in the instant
    
    case.     In sum, Appellants fail to meet the mootness exception
    
    applicable to cases capable of repetition, yet evading review.
    
         C.     Judicial Economy
    
         Appellees, however, argue that the case should not be deemed
    
    moot because “[t]o abandon the case at an advanced stage may prove
    
    more wasteful than frugal.”         Friends of the Earth, 528 U.S. at
    
    191–92. The Supreme Court, however, also limited that sentiment in
    
    light of the constitutional limits of federal courts:                    “This
    
    argument    from   sunk   costs   does   not   license    courts   to   retain
    
    jurisdiction over cases in which one or both of the parties plainly
    
    lack a continuing interest . . . .”            Id. at 192.     As discussed
    
    above,    Appellants   do   not   have   a   continuing   interest      in   the
    
    litigation.    Therefore, sunk judicial costs are not a relevant
    
    concern.
    
    
    
                                 III.   CONCLUSION
    
         We deeply sympathize with Appellants for the disruption of
    
    their lives caused by Hurricane Katrina.         However, sympathy cannot
    
    remedy the fatal infirmity of their case.           Because this case is
    
    moot, we vacate the district court’s ruling and direct the district
    
    court to dismiss the action. See United States v. Munsingwear, 340
    
    
    
                                         
    9 U.S. 36
    , 39 (1950) (“The established practice of the Court in
    
    dealing with a civil case from a court in the federal system which
    
    has become moot while on its way here or pending our decision on
    
    the merits is to reverse or vacate the judgment below and remand
    
    with a direction to dismiss.”); see also Harris v. City of Houston,
    
    
    151 F.3d 186
       (5th   Cir.   1998)    (vacating   the   district   court’s
    
    judgment on the basis of mootness and remanding the case with
    
    instructions to dismiss as moot).
    
    
    
    
                                           10