Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Fazzino's equal protection right and has taken his property without compensation, and that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Stratta's First Amendment right to free speech. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity, ripeness, Burford abstention, and qualified immunity.  The Fifth Circuit held that the district court erroneously concluded that BVGCD is an arm of the State of Texas and therefore immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment. In this case, five of the six Clark factors weigh against finding BVGCD is an arm of the state of Texas where, most importantly, funds from the Texas treasury will not be used to satisfy a judgment against the entity. Furthermore, the Directors are likewise not entitled to assert such immunity. The court also held that Fazzino's takings claim is ripe for adjudication because Fazzino fully pursued the administrative remedies available to him before filing this action, and the district court abused its discretion in deciding to abstain under Burford. Finally, the court held that neither BVGCD nor its Board was required to respond on the merits, and thus the substance of these allegations must be tested in discovery and further proceedings. The court reversed the district court's Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal as to all defendants and remanded. However, the court affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Stratta's First Amendment claims. View "Stratta v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Doe, a student at USciences, a private Philadelphia college, had completed nearly all the coursework required to earn a degree in biomedical science when two female students accused him of violating USciences’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. After investigating, USciences concluded that Doe violated the Policy and expelled him. Doe filed suit, alleging that USciences was improperly motivated by sex when it investigated and enforced the Policy against him. Doe also asserted that USciences breached its contract with him by failing to provide him the fairness promised to students under the Policy. The district court dismissed Doe’s complaint. The Third Circuit reversed. Doe’s complaint contains plausible allegations that USciences, in its implementation and enforcement of the Policy, succumbed to pressure from the U.S. Department of Education and has “instituted solutions to sexual violence against women that abrogate the civil rights of men and treat men differently than women.” Doe claimed the school investigated him but chose not to investigate three female students who allegedly violated the Policy with respect to alcohol consumption and sex. The court analyzed the Policy’s promise of “fairness,” an undefined term, by examining federal guarantees and state case law. View "Doe v. University of the Sciences" on Justia Law

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A man parked his car in San Francisco's Sutter-Stockton Garage, leaving his dog in the car. When he returned, he saw his dog had been brutally killed. A security guard viewed video clips from the incident and recognized Best, who was charged with second-degree burglary of a vehicle; killing, maiming, or abusing an animal; and vandalism of the vehicle, plus four misdemeanors. The trial court declared a doubt about Best’s competency; Best apparently refused to face the judge in order to avoid having her image recorded. Experts evaluated Best; the court found Best mentally competent to stand trial. The matter was continued for a Faretta hearing. A different judge confirmed that Best had read and initialed each portion of an “Advisement and Waiver of Right to Counsel” and inquired into Best’s education and awareness of the charges. The court engaged in extensive questioning. Some of Best’s responses betrayed a lack of understanding of legal concepts and procedures. When the court asked Best about possible defenses, her discussion verged on incoherence. Best gave clear, accurate answers to simpler questions. The court denied her motion. Best was convicted. The court of appeal reversed; the trial court erred in denying Best the right to represent herself on the grounds she had not knowingly and voluntarily made that choice. The court rejected arguments that the Faretta motion was untimely and that Best was disruptive and disobedient and noted that the transcript does not show Best was advised of the maximum punishment she faced. View "People v. Best" on Justia Law

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Section 1513 of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act prevents the plaintiffs from making political contributions because they hold interests in businesses that have gaming licenses. They sued, claiming First Amendment and Equal Protection violations. The district court concluded that Section 1513 furthers a substantially important state interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption but ruled that the restriction is unconstitutional because the Commonwealth did not draw it closely enough. The court permanently enjoined the enforcement of Section 1513. The Third Circuit affirmed. Limitations on campaign expenditures are subject to strict scrutiny. The government must prove that the regulations promote a “compelling interest” and are the “least restrictive means to further the articulated interest.” Even applying an intermediate threshold, examining whether the statute is “closely drawn,” the Commonwealth does not meet its burden. The overwhelming majority of states with commercial, non-tribal casino gambling like Pennsylvania do not have any political contribution restrictions that apply specifically to gaming industry-related parties. The Commonwealth’s implicit appeal to “common sense” as a surrogate for evidence in support of its far-reaching regulatory scheme is noteworthy in light of the approach taken by most other similarly situated states. View "Deon v. Barasch" on Justia Law

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Caquelin's land was subject to a railroad easement. The Surface Transportation Board granted the railroad permission to abandon the line unless the process (16 U.S.C. 1247(d)) for considering the use of the easement for a public recreational trail was invoked. That process was invoked. The Board issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use or Abandonment (NITU), preventing effectuation of the abandonment approval and blocking the ending of the easement for 180 days, during which the railroad could try to reach an agreement with two entities that expressed interest in the easement for trail use. The NITU expired without such an agreement. The railroad completed its abandonment three months later. Caquelin sued, alleging that a taking occurred when the government, by issuing the NITU, prevented the termination of the easement during the 180-day period. Following a remand, the Claims Court again held that a taking had occurred. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting the contention that the multi-factor approach adopted for government-created flooding in the Supreme Court’s 2012 “Arkansas Game” decision displaced the categorical-taking analysis adopted in Federal Circuit precedents for a NITU that blocks termination of an easement. The categorical taking analysis is applicable even when that NITU expires without a trail-use agreement. A NITU does not effect a taking if, even without a NITU, the railroad would not have abandoned its line during the period of the NITU. Here, the evidence permits a finding that abandonment would have occurred during the NITU period if the NITU had not issued. View "Caquelin v. United States" on Justia Law

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After Map Kong was fatally shot by police in Burnsville, Minnesota, plaintiff filed suit against the city and the officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law. The district court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity and official immunity. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court erred in denying the officers qualified immunity. The court held that, even if the facts showed that the officers had violated Kong's Fourth Amendment right, the law at the time of the shooting did not clearly establish the right. In this case, Kong ran toward bystanders with a knife against the officers' repeated orders to drop the weapon; there was at least one pedestrian visible on the body-camera footage; and a steady flow of vehicles through the parking lot meant that citizens might quickly approach or step out of their vehicles. Therefore, the court held that a reasonable officer would have believed the law permitted shooting Kong under these circumstances. The court also held that, even if the officers acted negligently, they did not intentionally disregard the police department's policy on crisis intervention for persons. Therefore, the officers are entitled to official immunity and the district court erred in denying summary judgment on the state-law negligence claim. Furthermore, the city is entitled to vicarious official immunity. View "Sok Kong v. City of Burnsville" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the Attorney General of the United States in his official capacity as head of the Department of Justice (DOJ), alleging that the DOJ had denied her a promotion to a Division Director position because of her gender, in violation of 42 U.S.C. 2000e-16, and her age, in violation of 29 U.S.C. 633a. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the DOJ. The DC Circuit held that a reasonable jury could find that the DOJ's proffered nondiscriminatory reason for denying plaintiff the promotion that she sought was pretextual and that discrimination was the real reason. In this case, a reasonable jury could find in plaintiff's favor based on her superior qualifications, the accumulated evidence of gender discrimination, and pretext. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Stoe v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Appellant contends that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the direct appeal of his murder conviction in D.C. Superior Court. Appellant alleged that his appellate counsel labored under two conflicts of interest and failed to argue that the government withheld exculpatory evidence. The court rejected appellant's claims that a conflict arose from counsel's prior representation of another individual present at the time of the murder where counsel had forgotten his prior representation of the individual and thus lacked an actual conflict. Consequently, appellant's second claim of conflict also failed. The court further held that counsel was not ineffective by declining to pursue a losing Brady claim. Moreover, appellant's final argument that counsel was ineffective on appeal in failing to argue that he had been ineffective at trial simply repackaged the losing Brady argument. Therefore, appellant was not denied effective assistance of appellate counsel. View "Johnson v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court reversing the decision of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) that a child-care provider must pay back benefits the provider received during agency review of her cancelled provider agreement, holding that DHS erred in refusing to consider the provider's unjust enrichment defense to the recoupment proceeding. At issue was whether the provider was given constitutionally sufficient notice of DHS's intent to recoup payments. DHS sent the provider a notice cancelling the provider agreement and noted that any benefits the provider got while her appeal was being decided "may have to be paid back if the Department's action is correct." DHS affirmed its decision to cancel the provider's agreement but did not find, until years later, that the provider had to pay back the $16,000. The district court reversed DHS's decision on recoupment and denied attorney fees under Iowa Code 625.29(1)(b). The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) DHS's notice met procedural due process requirements, but the DHS should have been allowed an opportunity to raise unjust enrichment as an offset to DHS's effort to recoup overpayments; and (2) where DHS's role was primarily adjudicative, DHS was not liable for attorney fees. View "Endress v. Iowa Department of Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Appellant's motion for postconviction relief without an evidentiary hearing, holding that the trial court erred in determining that one of Appellant's claims was procedurally barred but that, nonetheless, Appellant was not entitled to relief. Appellant was convicted of first degree murder, attempted first degree, murder, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, and possession of a weapon by a prohibited person. The Supreme Court affirmed on direct appeal. In his postconviction motion, Appellant asserted claims of trial court error, prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. The district court dismissed the motion without holding an evidentiary hearing, concluding that all of Appellant's claims were procedurally barred because they were known or knowable at the time of his direct appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court erred in determining that Appellant's ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claims were procedurally barred, but Appellant failed to show that appellate counsel was ineffective; and (2) the district court did not err in dismissing the remaining claims without an evidentiary hearing. View "State v. Parnell" on Justia Law