Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for review of the Commission's decision concluding that petitioner failed to prove a prima facie case of discrimination under Section 105(c) of the Mine Safety and Health Act. Petitioner, a dredge operator, claimed that his former employer, CalPortland, discriminated against him for engaging in protected activities related to safety issues.The panel concluded that Section 105(c)'s unambiguous text requires a miner asserting a discrimination claim under Section 105(c) to prove but-for causation. Therefore, the panel rejected the Pasula-Robinette framework and concluded that the Commission applied this wrong causation standard. The panel explained that the Supreme Court has instructed multiple times that the word "because" in a statutory cause of action requires a but-for causation analysis unless the text or context indicates otherwise. Section 105(c) contains no such indication. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Thomas v. CalPortland Co." on Justia Law

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In a 1999 incident, Hale told Lewis to kill Rogers. Lewis handed his revolver to Mays, who shot Rogers multiple times, fatally. Lewis, Hale, and Mays collected drugs and money and fled. Lewis, represented by Attorney Raff, refused to consider plea offers. Lewis was convicted. At sentencing. the court found no mitigating circumstances—none being asserted by the defense—and sentenced Lewis to the maximum aggregate sentence of 130 years' imprisonment. Lewis’s appeal was unsuccessful.In post‐conviction proceedings, the state conceded that Raff “basically did not do any advocacy" at sentencing but argued that he could not have made a difference. Other witnesses at the post‐conviction hearing spoke about a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, associated substance abuse, physical abuse by Lewis's mother’s boyfriends, mental disorders in other family members, and attempted suicide. The state appellate court concluded that Lewis was not prejudiced by the deficient performance of counsel.The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of habeas relief. The decision of the last responsible state court was contrary to Supreme Court precedent, in holding that “Strickland,” not “Cronic,” furnished the applicable rule, While the Indiana Court of Appeals was not unreasonable in finding that Lewis had not been prejudiced by his attorney’s substandard performance, prejudice need not be shown. Raff gave up on Lewis and left him entirely without the assistance of counsel at the sentencing stage of a felony murder case. View "Lewis v. Zatecky" on Justia Law

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In 1995, firefighters responded to a fire at a house where Brown, age 17, lived with family members. Three firefighters died when a staircase collapsed. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) opened an arson investigation and offered a $15,000 reward. Wright’s testimony undermined Brown’s alibi. Abdullah testified that Brown later confessed that he had started the fire. The prosecution’s witnesses denied receiving payment or having been promised payment in exchange for their testimony. The state court jury convicted Brown, who was sentenced to three consecutive terms of life imprisonment.Brown filed unsuccessful post-sentence motions concerning payment to witnesses. In 2001, Brown unsuccessfully sought federal habeas relief. Years later, Brown filed a petition under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), alleging newly-discovered evidence based on an expert opinion about the cause of the fire. In response to an FOIA request, ATF provided canceled checks showing it had made payments of $5,000 and $10,000 in 1998 relating to the fire. Abdullah acknowledged receiving $5,000 from ATF after Brown’s trial; Wright acknowledged receiving $10,000. The PCRA court found that Brown’s claims about the prosecution’s nondisclosure of the witnesses’ rewards satisfied exceptions to the PCRA’s time-bar and granted Brown a new trial.Meanwhile, a federal grand jury indicted Brown for the destruction of property by fire resulting in death, 18 U.S.C. 844(i). The state court dismissed the state charges. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss the federal indictment. Retrying a defendant because the conviction was reversed for trial error is not second jeopardy. The court declined to consider an exception to the dual sovereignty doctrine, under which a state crime is not “the same offense” as a federal crime, even if for the same conduct. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Ohio H.B. 214, signed into law in 2017, prohibits any person from purposefully performing or inducing or attempting to perform or induce an abortion if the person has knowledge that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion, in whole or in part, because of a test result indicating or a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome in an unborn child or “any other reason to believe” that an unborn child has Down Syndrome, Ohio Rev. Code 2919.10(B). Violations constitute fourth-degree felonies. The law requires the state medical board to revoke the license of a physician who violates it and makes that physician liable for damages. The performing physician must attest in writing that he is not aware that fetal Down Syndrome is a reason for the woman’s decision to terminate.The Sixth Circuit initially affirmed the entry of a preliminary injunction but, on rehearing, en banc, reversed, reasoning that the restrictions imposed, or burdens created, by H.B. 214 do not create a substantial obstacle to a woman’s ability to choose or obtain an abortion. The restrictions are reasonably related to, and further, Ohio’s legitimate interests. The right to an abortion, even before viability, is not absolute. The “right” actually implicated or affected here is not the woman’s right merely to obtain an abortion; the court focused on the doctor’s “knowing” participation in the Down-syndrome stigmatic decision-making. View "Preterm-Cleveland v. McCloud" on Justia Law

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After Joseph Hutcheson died as a result of police officers restraining him at the Dallas County Jail, Hutcheson's wife and mother filed suit against the county and four individual officers, bringing an excessive force claim against the officers and failure-to-train and wrongful-death claims against the county. Hutcheson died from a combination of the narcotics in his system and the stress from his struggle with and restraint by the officers. The district court dismissed or granted summary judgment on all claims.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the excessive force claim, concluding that plaintiffs failed to raise a dispute of material fact regarding whether the officers used unreasonable force to restrain a resisting suspect. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for limited discovery on the issue of qualified immunity. The court further concluded that the district court properly dismissed the failure-to-train claim where plaintiffs failed to allege that the county provided no training, so they cannot show that the county was deliberately indifferent. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to file a second amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in its entirety. View "Hutcheson v. Dallas County" on Justia Law

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Parents and Minors filed suit against the County and two social workers, alleging claims based on medical examinations of Minors during their time in protective custody. Parents seek to hold the social workers liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for unconstitutional judicial deception in seeking a state juvenile court order to authorize unconstitutional medical examinations of the Minors without notice to or consent of the Parents, and the County liable for the unconstitutional medical examinations.The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, concluding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not bar subject matter jurisdiction. The panel reversed the district court's dismissal of the claims against the social workers, concluding that Parents sufficiently pleaded section 1983 liability against them. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that Parents objected to medical examinations of the Minors; Parents did not learn of the medical examinations until after the Minors were released from protective custody; the social workers knowingly and falsely represented to the juvenile court that they had made reasonable efforts to notify Parents about the medical examinations; and Parents' statements alleged a violation of constitutional prohibition on judicial deception and met the heightened pleading standard of Rule 9(b). However, the panel affirmed the dismissal with prejudice on the claims against the County where none of the allegations regarding the County's alleged unconstitutional policy, practice, custom, or failure to train its employees provided factual support for Monell liability. The panel explained that Parents failed to provide anything more than the 2015 Policy itself and the facts of a single incidence of an unconstitutional medical examination and judicial deception. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Benavidez v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of the murders of four young men during the robbery of a car wash and his sentence of death, holding that there was no merit to any of Defendant's claims.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not err by denying a motion to suppress two witnesses' identifications of Defendant; (2) Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was not violated by the trial court's admission of certain testimony; (3) the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of unpremeditated second-degree murder, and there was no other instructional error; (4) Defendant's claims of trial error in the admission of allegedly prejudicial hearsay were without merit; (5) the trial court's denial of Defendant's new trial motion was not erroneous; (6) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to investigate certain allegations raised by Defendant; and (7) Defendant's objections to the constitutionality of California's death penalty scheme were unavailing. View "People v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's order granting in part and denying in part her motions to dismiss and reconsider dismissal of plaintiff's claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1999), seeking money damages for, inter alia, an alleged violation of his Fifth Amendment right to have meaningful access to the courts. Plaintiff alleged that Pennsylvania state officials violated his rights by using excessive force during an arrest.The court concluded that plaintiff does not state a plausible claim under the Fifth Amendment and that the district court thus erred in failing to grant qualified immunity to defendant on that claim. In this case, plaintiff had no obligation to comply with the transport order from the state court, and plaintiff's complaint does not plausibly allege that the decision to permit plaintiff to appear at the pre-trial conference only telephonically rather than in person was arbitrary, or in any way prejudicial to his case. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's order to the extent they denied the motion to dismiss plaintiff's Fifth Amendment Bivens claim and remanded with instructions for the district court to dismiss the claim. View "Dixon v. von Blanckensee" on Justia Law

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At 3:55 a.m. people were loitering outside a lounge when Lopez sideswiped an SUV parked in front of the lounge. Bystanders swarmed Lopez’s car, punching him through an open window. A passenger exited Lopez’s car and fired a warning shot. Lopez exited the car, grabbed the gun, and walked toward the bystanders. Raines, a Cook County correctional officer, out celebrating, arrived at 3:56:11. Lopez walked back toward his car, stopping to fire two shots at an upward angle. Raines approached Lopez with his own gun drawn. Lopez reached to open his car door. Raines started shooting at 3:56:27. Lopez, injured, dropped his gun and staggered away. Raines continued to fire. Raines pursued Lopez, who was leaning against a wall. Lopez’s passenger, Orta, picked up the dropped gun and fired at Raines at 3:56:32 a.m. For about three minutes, Orta and Raines engaged in a standoff. Raines simultaneously restrained Lopez, wounded but conscious, and used him as a human shield. At 4:00:10 a.m., Orta fled. Police and paramedics arrived. Lopez faced criminal charges.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants in his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit. Raines was entitled to qualified immunity because his use of deadly force did not violate clearly established law although the video footage of the events conveys the impression that Raines might have been able to avoid any use of lethal force. View "Lopez v. Sheriff of Cook County" on Justia Law

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After a jury returned a verdict in plaintiff's favor on his claim of First Amendment retaliation, he was awarded only one dollar in nominal damages because the Eleventh Circuit has interpreted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. 1997e(e), as barring punitive damages for a prisoner's civil action where no physical injury is shown.The en banc court now recognizes that section 1997e(e) permits claims for punitive damages without a showing of physical injury. The en banc court explained that it did not conduct a textual interpretation of the statutory text and did not consider any non-physical injuries that were also not mental or emotional in nature. The en banc court misapprehended the text of the statute and the nature of the physical injury requirement when it comes to punitive damages. Therefore, in this case, plaintiff should be given an opportunity to obtain punitive damages too. In all other respects, the en banc court reinstated the panel opinion. View "Hoever v. Marks" on Justia Law