Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Air Force ordered over 500,000 service members to get COVID-19 vaccinations. About 10,000 members requested religious exemptions; about 135 of these requests were granted, only to those planning to leave the service. It has granted thousands of exemptions for medical or administrative reasons. The Plaintiffs allege that the vaccine mandate substantially burdens their religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The district court granted a preliminary injunction that barred the Air Force from disciplining the Plaintiffs for failing to take a vaccine, then certified a class of thousands of similar service members and extended this injunction to the class.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In opposing class-action certification, the Air Force argued that RFRA adopts an individual-by-individual approach: it must show that it has a compelling interest in requiring a “specific” individual to get vaccinated based on that person’s specific duties. In challenging the injunction, however, the Air Force failed to identify the specific duties or working conditions of any Plaintiff, citing the “general interests” underlying the mandate. The court reasoned that it could uphold the injunction based on RFRA alone but also noted common questions for the class: Does the Air Force have a uniform policy of relying on its generalized interests in the vaccine mandate to deny religious exemptions regardless of individual circumstances? Does it have a discriminatory policy of broadly denying religious exemptions but broadly granting secular ones? View "Doster v. Kendall" on Justia Law

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During a traffic stop, a detective and a police officer worked in tandem to search Colbert’s vehicle and frisk him, uncovering on his person a brick-shaped package later confirmed to contain a controlled substance. Colbert moved to suppress this evidence, arguing that the frisk violated his constitutional rights. The district court denied the motion. Colbert entered a conditional guilty plea to possession with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of a mixture containing a detectable amount of fentanyl, 21 U.S.C. 841(a).The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The officers had reasonable suspicion to frisk him based on two officers observing the smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle, Colbert’s erratic driving, evasive and nervous behavior, a bulge in his pocket, and unwillingness to follow directions. Colbert had read and signed a form, giving the officer permission to search his vehicle. View "United States v. Colbert" on Justia Law

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Appellant appealed the district court’s dismissal of her amended complaint filed against her former employer, the United States Department of the Army. Appellant alleged that she experienced a hostile work environment due to race-based harassment from a co-worker and retaliation by her supervisors through both discrete acts and a retaliatory hostile work environment.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s discrete-act retaliation claim but vacated its dismissal of her race-based hostile work environment and retaliatory hostile work environment claim. The court explained that Appellant has stated a prima facie case. The court wrote that an “employee’s decision to report discriminatory behavior cannot immunize that employee from those petty slights or minor annoyances that often take place at work and that all employees experience,” but the consistent (even if not constant) conduct Appellant alleged plausibly qualifies as materially adverse. The court further wrote that it agreed that Appellant failed to allege a non-speculative link between her Title VII claim and her non-selection. View "Marie Laurent-Workman v. Christine Wormuth" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Cannon pled guilty to assault with intent to commit rape and dissuading a witness. Cannon was sentenced to a term of seven years. In 2016, the district attorney filed a petition to commit Cannon under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA) (Welf. & Inst. Code, 6600). Cannon’s SVPA trial was continued several times. Updated evaluations were prepared in 2018, revealing a split in opinion among the experts as to whether Cannon qualified as an SVP. At a pretrial conference unattended by Cannon, his counsel waived his right to a jury trial. Cannon’s bench trial began in 2020. There was testimony that Cannon suffered a traumatic injury to the prefrontal lobes of his brain and subsequently became obsessed with sex and began consuming large amounts of pornography. He was aggressive toward teenage girls. Family members became overwhelmed with Cannon’s sexual disinhibition.The court of appeal remanded the resulting commitment order for a determination of whether Cannon’s constitutional right to equal protection was violated by the court’s failure to advise him of his right to a jury trial and to obtain his personal waiver of that right. The court otherwise affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to expert witness testimony that included case-specific hearsay. View "People v. Cannon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in August 2021 to halt the September 2021 recall election involving California Governor Gavin Newsom, and later amended his complaint to also assert nominal damages. Plaintiff intended to vote “no” on the first question and wanted to vote for Governor Newsom as a successor candidate on the second question. He argued that, absent injunctive relief invalidating Article II, Section 15(c), California’s recall process would violate his Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights in two respects: by denying him an equally weighted vote, as required under the “one-person, one-vote” principle; and by denying him the right to vote for his candidate of choice on question two.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal for failure to state a claim of an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. The panel first held that this case was not moot even though the election was completed and a majority of voters had defeated the effort to remove Governor Newsom from office. Plaintiff adequately alleged a completed injury—namely, his inability to vote for Governor Newsom on question two during the recall election— that was fairly traceable to the California election procedures; and an award of nominal damages would redress that injury.   Further, the panel held that under controlling precedent, Section 15(c)’s prohibition does not constitute a severe restriction on the right to vote. California has an important interest in ensuring that the power to recall guaranteed to its voters is effective and does not invite an endless cycle of recall attempts. View "A. CLARK V. SHIRLEY WEBER" on Justia Law

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Appellant, proceeding pro se and under the pseudonym, “Publius Publicola,” appeals from the district court’s judgment (1) denying his motion to proceed under a pseudonym and (2) dismissing his claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against various state and municipal officials and agencies for actions they took in response to his efforts to seal records pertaining to criminal cases from his youth.   After the Court ordered him to refile his briefs under his real name, with leave to request filing under seal should circumstances justify the filing of a redacted version on the public docket, Appellant submitted a letter indicating his refusal to comply with the Court’s order.   On appeal, the Second Circuit was tasked with deciding (1) whether a litigant may comply with Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32(d) – which requires that “every brief, motion, or other paper filed with the Court of Appeals must be signed by the party filing the paper” – by signing his submissions under a pseudonym; and (2) whether a pro se appellant’s failure to comply with that requirement warrants dismissal of his appeal.   The Second Circuit dismissed the appeal. The court concluded that, because papers signed under a pseudonym cannot adequately “ensure that a readily identifiable attorney or party takes responsibility for every paper,” they do not satisfy Rule 32(d). The court further concluded that under Rule 3(a)(2) and our precedents emphasizing the obligation of pro se litigants to comply with Court orders, dismissal is warranted here. View "Publicola v. Lomenzo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff a veteran currently imprisoned by the state of Florida, sued prison and state officials under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, alleging that they violated his rights under Section 5301 by taking his VA benefits from his inmate account to satisfy liens and holds stemming from medical, legal, and copying expenses he had incurred in prison. Plaintiff also sought to enjoin a Florida administrative rule requiring that inmates have their VA benefits sent directly to their inmate accounts for prison officials to honor the funds’ protected status, which Plaintiff contended violates Section 5301, thereby running afoul of the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. After dismissing some of Defendants, the district court granted qualified immunity to those remaining. It also found that Plaintiff lacked standing to challenge Florida’s administrative rule.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that Plaintiff lacks standing because he has failed to show a “real” and “immediate” threat of future injury from complying with the Florida Direct Deposit Rule, pointing only to injuries in the distant past. Although it appears that Plaintiff initially suffered concrete harm when he transitioned to keeping two addresses on file with the VA (i.e., receiving VA checks several months late in the spring of 2013), that harm occurred only in the immediate aftermath of the address change—over nine years ago. Thus the court held that because Plaintiff has not shown a “real or immediate threat” of future injury from keeping two addresses to comply with Florida’s administrative rule, he lacks standing to challenge it. View "John David Wilson, Jr. v. Secretary, Department of Corrections, et al" on Justia Law

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Indiana requires abortion providers to dispose of fetal remains by either burial or cremation. Women may choose to take custody of the remains and dispose of them as they please. The Supreme Court sustained this regimen against Equal Protection challenges in 2019.This suit was filed by two women who had abortions and object to the cremation or burial of the fetal remains, which they contend implies the personhood of a pre-viability fetus, and two physicians do not want to tell patients about their statutory options. The Seventh Circuit reversed a “needlessly broad injunction” that treats the statute as invalid on its face and “effectively countermands the Supreme Court’s decision for the entire population of Indiana." The state does not require any woman who has obtained an abortion to violate any belief, religious or secular. The cremate-or-bury directive applies only to hospitals and clinics. Indiana’s statute need not imply anything about the appropriate characterization of a fetus. Nor does Indiana require any woman to speak or engage in expressive conduct. A state may require medical professionals to provide information that facilitates patients’ choices directly linked to procedures that have been or may be performed. View "Doe v. Rokita, Attorney General of Indiana" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior convicting Defendant, following a jury trial, of first degree murder and sentencing him to death, holding that Defendant failed to demonstrate that alleged errors occurring at the guilt phase of trial cumulated in his not having received a "fair trial on the issue of his mental state at the time of the shooting."Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court committed error under state law by ordering that Defendant submit to an examination by the prosecution expert and allowing the jury to learn of Defendant's refusal to be examined, but these errors were not prejudicial; (2) the prosecutor's comments regarding the ethics of forensic psychiatry did not infect the trial with unfairness that rose to the level of prejudicial error; (3) the trial court erred in admitting a law enforcement officer's statement under People v. Sanchez, 63 Cal.4th 665 (2016), but the error did not contribute to the jury's verdict; (4) the guilt phase errors were not cumulatively prejudicial; (5) the trial court did not err in excusing a prospective juror for cause because of her views on the death penalty; and (6) no other prejudicial error occurred during the penalty phase of the trial. View "People v. Camacho" on Justia Law

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Clark, a JTVCC inmate, was treated for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder at the prison for at least 10 years, a fact of which the prison officials were aware. Despite having few disciplinary “points” on his record and no security classification meriting solitary confinement, Clark remained in the unit for seven months, alone in his cell except for three one-hour intervals per week. Clark was not allowed to work or participate in educational or religious services. He was permitted only four phone calls and four visitors per month. Inmates must “earn their way out” of solitary confinement; while in isolation, Clark would “yell and bang on the door." Prison officials considered these outbursts to be disciplinary incidents. When Clark questioned his confinement, he was put in the “naked room,” an isolation cell where he had only an open smock. Clark's mental illness caused behavior that was punished by conditions that furthered his deterioration. Clark experienced “increased hallucinations, paranoia, self-mutilation, sleeplessness, and nightmares.”Officials failed to abide by a policy requirement to consider his mental illness. Clark alleges they knew of the American Correctional Association study on the effects of solitary confinement on seriously mentally ill inmates. The study singled out JTVCC’s Warden, stating that he is not “open to change in regards to restrictive housing" regarding the mentally ill. The Third Circuit reversed the qualified immunity dismissal of Clark’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit. His allegations trigger established Eighth Amendment protection. View "Clark v. Coupe" on Justia Law