Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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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

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In 2010, Scaife, an African-American woman, began working as a specialist classifying VA jobs. Scaife received “Outstanding” or “Excellent” ratings on her annual performance reviews. After a few years, Earp, a white male, became Scaife’s immediate supervisor. Scaife claims he mistreated women employees. In 2016, Earp told Scaife and another black female that he wanted them to classify positions higher if told to do so. When Scaife inquired whether doing so would violate regulations, Earp became “aggressive.” Scaife inquired about the process for addressing a hostile work environment and sent text messages to Earp’s supervisor. After an incident during which another white male referred to Scaife as a "N-----," Scaife filed EEO charges. Scaife received a formal counseling email. Scaife later accepted an offer for the same classifier position at a California VA center, which allowed her to work remotely.Scaife sued under Title VII, claiming a race and gender-based hostile work environment, retaliation, and constructive discharge. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the VA. Given the totality of circumstances, Scaife failed to show that the one-time use of the N-word outside of her presence established a hostile work environment based on race. Scaife failed to show harassment based on gender, that the alleged conduct was severe or pervasive, or that she endured a hostile work environment based on both race and gender. Absent evidence that she suffered an adverse action, Scaife cannot establish retaliation. View "Scaife v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the County of York and various County officials in this case alleging violation of Plaintiff's civil right, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and defamation per se, holding that there was no error.Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) no reasonable jury could find facts that would lead to a determination that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest Plaintiff, and Plaintiff likewise developed no argument that his false imprisonment claims could survive a finding that probable cause existed to arrest him; (2) Plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue as to his federal and state malicious prosecution claims; (3) none of Plaintiff's constitutional claims against the officers could survive summary judgment; and (4) the district court properly rejected Plaintiff's defamation claims. View "Charron v. County of York" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for drug-trafficking and firearms charges, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress or in finding Defendant eligible for a mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924 (e).Reports of a parking-lot confrontation following a road-rage incident led law enforcement to stop Defendant in his vehicle the next day. The ensuing searches of Defendant's car and motor home led to the discovery of evidence supporting drug-trafficking and firearms charges. Defendant pleaded guilty. The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence, holding (1) there was no error in the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress; and (2) Defendant's sentence under the ACCA was lawfully imposed. View "United States v. Mulkern" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant on two charges of aggravated furnishing of cocaine, which were merged for sentencing, holding that the trial court erred when it denied Defendant's motion to suppress, and the error was not harmless.At issue was the denial of Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained when police officers stopped him after receiving an anonymous tip and searched his belongings outside a bus station. The trial court concluded that the officers had an objectively reasonable, articulable suspicion that Defendant had been engaged in criminal activity when they stopped they stopped him. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below, holding that the evidence regarding the anonymous tip and the police's efforts to confirm its reliable failed to establish an objectively reasonable, articulable suspicion sufficient to justify the stop. View "State v. Barclift" on Justia Law