Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Tavis Crane’s estate and the passengers of Crane’s car sued Arlington Police Officer (Officer) and the City of Arlington for the use of excessive force during a traffic stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court dismissed the passengers’ claims, finding that they could not bring claims as bystanders, and granted summary judgment to the Officer and the City after determining that the Officer was entitled to qualified immunity.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the passengers’ claims and vacate the grant of summary judgment as to Crane’s claims and dismiss the appeals of those claims for want of jurisdiction. The court explained that there is no express requirement for a physical injury in an excessive force claim,80 but even if the passengers stated a plausible claim for psychological injuries, the officer is entitled to qualified immunity. “Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it.” Here, there was no unreasonable use of force against the passengers, so no constitutional injury occurred. View "Crane v. City of Arlington" on Justia Law

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This appeal arises from a legislative invocation given by an invited, guest speaker before the opening of a Jacksonville City Council meeting. A City Council member  Anna Brosche, and a then-mayoral candidate, invited Plaintiff to give the invocation at the March 12, 2019, City Council meeting. When Plaintiff transitioned to levying criticisms against the City’s executive and legislative branches, the president of the City Council at the time, A.B., interrupted Plaintiff and later cut off his microphone.  Plaintiff brought suit against both the City and A.B. in his personal capacity. In his first two counts, actionable under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, Plaintiff alleged that both the City and Mr. Bowman violated his First Amendment rights under the Free Exercise Clause (Count I) and the Free Speech Clause (Count II) of the United States Constitution. The district court granted the Defendants’ motion to dismiss in part and denied it in part.   The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in deeming Plaintiff’s invocation to be private speech in a nonpublic forum, the court affirmed the district court’s orders on the alternative ground that the invocation constitutes government speech, not subject to attack on free speech or free exercise grounds. The court explained that he did not bring a claim under the Establishment Clause. And since his invocation constitutes government speech, his speech is not susceptible to an attack on free speech or free-exercise grounds. View "Reginald L. Gundy v. City of Jacksonville, Florida, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, including the American Civil Liberties Union, sought an injunction compelling the Texas Attorney General to release the names of certain individuals who were suspected of being non-citizens but were registered to vote. The case arose when the Texas Attorney General began matching Department of Public Safety data against voter registration rolls on a weekly basis and intended to notify county election officials of voters identified as potential non-citizens. Through their claim under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, Plaintiffs obtained an injunction from the district court requiring the State of Texas to provide the names and voter identification numbers of persons suspected of being noncitizens though registered to vote.The Fifth Circuit reversed, finding that Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring a case under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, finding that they did not suffer injury in fact because "an injury in law is not an injury in fact." View "Campaign Legal Center v. Scott" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a Texas Justice of the Peace, opened his courtroom with a prayer every morning. The plaintiffs, a group of litigants appearing before the judge, sought an injunction preventing Defendant from doing so. The district court granted Plaintiff's request for an injunction, which the Fifth Circuit stayed pending resolution on the merits.In resolving the merits, the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and entered judgment for Defendant. The court concluded that as long as Defendant 1.) has a policy of denominational nondiscrimination and that (2) anyone may choose not to participate and suffer no consequences, Defendant's practice is non-coercive. Defendant allowed anyone to participate in the prayer and would select attendees to lead the prayer without regard to their beliefs. View "Freedom From Religion v. Mack" on Justia Law

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In 2016, law enforcement agents, with a search warrant, broke open the doors and windows of Rodriguez’s home, threw a flash-bang grenade into the living room where his one-year-old daughter was sleeping, and searched for illegal drugs. Rodriguez was arrested and convicted in state court. Rodriguez sued 14 defendants under “Bivens” and 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming they provided false information to the judge who issued the warrant and executed the search in an unreasonable manner. Two defendants were identified by codes that Rodriguez received in his criminal proceeding. The judge dismissed 13 defendants as not properly identified and granted the remaining defendant summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. A plaintiff who uses “placeholders” ordinarily must substitute identified defendants before the statute of limitations expires. A plaintiff may be able to replace or add defendants after the limitations period by using the relation-back doctrine of Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(C), which applies because “the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out … in the original pleading.” Rule 4(m) requires service of the complaint and summons within 90 days after the complaint’s filing unless the plaintiff shows good cause for the delay. Not until the district court screened the complaint under 28 U.S.C. 1915A was service possible; by then the 90 days, and the statute of limitations, had expired. Delays required by section 1915A constitute “good cause” under Rule 4(m) for belated service, which increases the time for Rule 15(c) relation back. View "Rodriguez v. McCloughen" on Justia Law

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A person arrested in Chicago can take some property into jail but must surrender other property, including cell phones. The detainee has 30 days to reclaim the property in person (if released) or by a designated friend or relative. Property remaining in the city’s hands after 30 days is sold or thrown away. In 2021, the Seventh Circuit (Conyers), rejected several constitutional challenges to that policy. Kelley-Lomax remained in custody for more than 30 days and did not have anyone retrieve his property. The city disposed of a cell phone and a wallet, including a debit card and library card, that the police had seized.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit. The disposition of the seized property is governed by the Due Process Clause. Chicago provides detainees with notice and an opportunity to reclaim their property. Rejecting a substantive due process argument, the court reasoned that property is a fundamental right but property can be abandoned. Chicago draws the abandonment line at 30 days. Physical items seized from arrested persons make claims on limited space, and for many detainees, the costs of arranging a sale to free up space would exceed the value of the items in inventory. View "Kelley-Lomax v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff a female employee of Wakulla County (“the County”), worked for the County’s building department. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in federal district court for, among other claims, the County’s violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the present case, Plaintiff filed a five-count complaint against the defense attorneys for the County. The defense attorneys and their law firms filed several motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court dismissed the complaint, explaining that Plaintiff’s alleged facts did not demonstrate that the defense attorneys for the County had engaged in a conspiracy that met the elements of 42 U.S.C. Section 1985(2).   Plaintiff’s complaint suggested that the defense attorneys filed the complaint for the “sole benefit of their client rather than for their own personal benefit.” Alternatively, Plaintiff points to the fact that the County defense attorneys had been aware of Plaintiff’s recordings for many months and only reported her recordings to law enforcement when they learned that Plaintiff “insist[ed] on her right to testify in federal court about the recordings and present them as evidence” in the sexual harassment case.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that per Farese, it is Plaintiff’s burden to allege facts that establish that the County defense attorneys were acting outside the scope of their representation when they told law enforcement about Plaintiff’s recordings. Here, Plaintiff but in no way suggests that the defense attorneys were acting outside the scope of their representation, thus her Section 1985(2) claims were properly dismissed. View "Tracey M. Chance v. Ariel Cook, et al" on Justia Law

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NJBA, a non-profit trade association representing 88 New Jersey banks, sought to make independent expenditures and contributions to political parties and campaigns for state and local offices. NJBA has not made these payments because of N.J. Stats. 19:34-45, which provides that, “[n]o corporation carrying on the business of a bank . . . shall pay or contribute money or thing of value in order to aid or promote the nomination or election of any person, or in order to aid or promote the interests, success or defeat of any political party.” NJBA brought a facial challenge on its own behalf and on behalf of third-party banks.The district court held that section 19:34-45’s prohibition on independent expenditures violates the First Amendment but that the ban on political contributions by certain corporations does not violate the First Amendment and passes intermediate scrutiny. The Third Circuit reversed, declining to address the First Amendment issues. The statute does not apply to trade associations of banks. NJBA is not “carrying on the business of a bank.” With respect to the facial challenge, NJBA does not satisfy the narrow exception to the general rule against third-party standing. View "New Jersey Bankers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court rejecting Plaintiff's appeal of the Montana Human Rights Commission's rejection of his claims grounded in political discrimination, holding that while the district court erred in ruling that Appellant had to pursue his 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim under the exclusive remedy of the Montana Human Rights Act (MHRA), claim preclusion now barred him from relitigating that claim.Plaintiff, the undersheriff of Missoula County, was reassigned to the position of senior deputy when his opponent in an election race won the office of Missoula County Sheriff. Plaintiff brought a human rights complaint alleging, inter alia, retaliation, discrimination, and constructive discharge based on his demotion. The Commission denied the complaint. Thereafter, Plaintiff brought this complaint alleging wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotion distress, unlawful political discrimination, and unlawful retaliation. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that the MHRA was Plaintiff's exclusive remedy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court improperly dismissed Plaintiff's section 1983 claim; and (2) because the underlying facts in Plaintiff's amended complaint were the same as his human rights complaint, the claims were precluded by the final judgment of the administrative proceedings. View "Clark v. McDermott" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of sexual abuse of children, holding that the trial court erred by denying Defendant's motion to suppress, and the error was not harmless.On appeal, Defendant challenged the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence discovered by his parole officer when the officer conducted a warrantless search of Defendant's phone. Defendant argued that the search was unreasonable because it exceeded the scope of his consent and because his parole officer lacked a valid exception to the warrant requirement. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed Defendant's conviction, holding that the probation officer's warrantless search of Defendant's digital photo gallery was not a valid probation search under the Montana Constitution, and the contraband discovered as a consequence of the unlawful search should have been suppressed under the exclusionary rule. View "State v. Mefford" on Justia Law