On April 14, 2023, President Joe Biden nominated Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Judge Ramirez currently serves as a United States Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of Texas. If confirmed, Judge Ramirez will be the first Latina to serve on the Fifth Circuit and the only active Latino judge on that court.
A daughter of immigrants, Judge Irma Carrillo Ramírez was born in Brownfield, Texas, in 1964. Judge Ramirez earned her B.A. from West Texas A&M University in 1986 and her J.D. from the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in 1991.
After law school, Judge Ramírez worked as an associate at Locke Purnell Rain Harrell, PC (now known as Locke Lord LLP), a large commercial law firm, in Dallas from 1991 to 1995. She assisted partners at the firm primarily in defense of clients in commercial litigation, including employment discrimination, contract disputes, energy sector cases, and insurance claims. For example, in Manison v. Service Merchandise Co., No. 3:02-cv-909-R (N.D. Tex.), Judge Ramírez was part of the legal team defending the Service Merchandise Company in an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a plaintiff who was fired for allegedly harassing female employees.
In 1995, Judge Ramírez joined the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas as an Assistant United States Attorney. There, she defended the United States and its agencies, officers, and employees against claims brought by private parties and federal employees, branching out from employment discrimination to claims involving civil rights, personal injury, and Social Security. In 1999, she transferred to the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force in the Criminal Division, prosecuting international drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracy cases. For example, in United States v. Adds, et al., No. 3:01-CR-93-P (N.D. Tex.), then-AUSA Ramírez led the prosecution of ten codefendants for the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamines.
In 2002, Judge Ramírez was appointed a federal magistrate judge for the Dallas Division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. As a magistrate judge, Judge Ramírez handles civil cases transferred to her by the presiding federal district judge with the consent of the parties for all pretrial proceedings and trial. Her role includes making reports and recommendations to the district court for dispositive motions. Judge Ramírez also conducts preliminary proceedings as well as issuing search warrants, seizure warrants, and complaints in criminal cases. She also presides over both trial and sentencing for federal misdemeanor and petty offense cases. During her tenure as a magistrate judge, she has presided over 13 trials and over 440 consent cases that have gone to verdict or judgment. Approximately 95 percent of these matters were civil; just 5 percent were criminal misdemeanor cases. Since her appointment, Judge Ramírez has been assigned approximately 2,454 civil cases for full case management.
On March 15, 2016, President Obama nominated Judge Ramírez to replace Judge Terry Means on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. While Judge Ramírez received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 7, 2016, the Committee never voted her nomination out, and Judge Ramírez was never confirmed to the district court.
The following cases are representative of Judge Ramírez’s two decades on the bench:
In MedARC LLC v. Scott & White Health, a bankruptcy trustee for a group of medical providers sued 25 insurance companies for failing to pay for patients’ medical services. The plaintiff originally sued the defendant in state court for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and other related claims. The defendant filed a motion to move the case to federal court, which was granted. Judge Ramirez recommended that the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment and other related claims be dismissed from the suit, but that the case should proceed on the breach of contract claim. The district judge adopted Judge Ramirez’ recommendation. The parties settled the remaining claims prior to trial.
In Pogo Resources LLC v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., an oil and gas company sued an insurer after that company denied the plaintiff coverage for the clean-up of an oil spill and failed to cover damages resulting from the pollution. The plaintiff sued for breach of contract and deceptive trade practices, among other contract claims. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the entire case. Judge Ramírez dismissed certain claims but allowed the breach of contract claim to go forward. The parties settled the case prior to trial.
In Hickson v. City of Carrollton et al., a SWAT police officer shot and killed a suspect after the suspect allegedly turned toward officers and moved his hand towards a gun in his waistband. A witness contradicted this claim, testifying that the suspect turned around to see who was yelling at him without moving his hands toward his waist or reaching for anything and was shot immediately. The decedent’s family and his estate sued the officer and the city for violating his rights under the Fourth Amendment as well as for state wrongful death claims. The district court judge adopted Judge Ramírez’s recommendations in the case, including dismissing claims against the city for failing to properly train the officer because the plaintiffs did not identify a particular official custom or policy, as required to establish municipal liability. Additionally, the district court denied the defendants’ motion for attorney’s fees and denied the police officer’s request to be removed from the case on the basis of qualified immunity, given that there were genuine issues of material fact pertinent to that defense. The parties ultimately settled the case.
In Jean v. City of Dallas, Texas, an off-duty police officer entered an apartment she allegedly mistook as her own and shot and killed the actual resident, Mr. Botham Jean. Jean’s parents and his estate sued the officer and the city for violating his rights under the Fourth Amendment. Judge Ramírez recommended granting the city’s motion to dismiss claims that it failed to train, supervise, or discipline the officer, as plaintiffs had failed to identify an official custom or policy—a requirement of municipal liability. The district judge allowed the plaintiffs’ motion to alter and amend their complaint to include that the city failed to train, supervise or discipline the officer to move forward. The civil case against the city and the officer remains pending. This case garnered national media attention.
In Broadcast Music Inc., et al. v. Texas Border Management Inc., et al., the owners of certain copyrighted musical works and a non-profit performing rights organization sued a nightclub for publicly performing copyrighted works without a license agreement. The plaintiffs claimed that they informed the defendants on numerous occasions from 1998 to 2010 that they needed permission for any public performances of copyrighted music and offered to enter into a license agreement, but that the defendants ignored them. After a one-day bench trial, Judge Ramírez entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded $180,000 in damages and $125,213 in attorneys’ fees.
In Kimbrell v. Thaler et al., an inmate in state prison filed a civil rights action against the prison, alleging that the defendants failed to provide him with adequate medical care and subjected him to other forms of cruel and unusual punishment. The plaintiff claimed that he was denied medication prescribed to him for treatment of a serious cardiovascular disease, timely access to competent medical personnel and adequate clothing during the winter months, among other claims. His allegations of denial of medical care by prison medical providers were initially dismissed and he successfully appealed the dismissal. On remand, the case was transferred to Judge Ramírez. After a three-day trial, the jury found for the defendants and the inmate’s case was dismissed.
In OMG, LP v. Heritage Auctions Inc, a high-end firearms auctioneer and a large auction house entered into a partnership agreement to auction off certain firearms and related merchandise. The fire-arms auctioneer and the large auction house began arbitration proceedings after failing to resolve a disagreement about how much the fire-arms auctioneer was owed in commissions under their agreements. The arbitrator invalidated the contracts on the ground that there was never a proper “meeting of the minds” between the parties as to the pertinent terms of the contracts. Judge Ramírez overturned a final arbitration award, holding that the court was the proper decision-maker as to contract formation issues, not an arbitrator. The Fifth Circuit reversed Judge Ramírez’ ruling finding and held that the arbitration award should be confirmed.
Professional Activities and Accolades
Judge Ramírez is an active member of the Texas judicial community. She presides over the re-entry court in her district, which provides intensive support to people under supervised release after completing a term of federal imprisonment. Judge Ramirez also serves on a special committee of the Fifth Circuit that drafts the minimum standard guidelines for re-entry courts in the circuit. From 2010 to 2020, Judge Ramirez served as the court’s Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinator, which included meeting with court employees who have sought counseling or made employment complaints. Additionally, Judge Ramírez taught Trial Advocacy at her alma mater, Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, from 2006 to 2011 and 2014 to 2015.
Judge Ramirez has received multiple awards for her judicial service, including being chosen as the Judge of the Year in 2022 by the State Bar of Texas’ Hispanic Issues Section. She also received the Dallas Women Lawyers Association Louise B. Raggio Award in 2021 and the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law Distinguished Alumni Award for Judicial Service in 2019.