Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff, a former special agent with the Virginia State Police, filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against the Commonwealth, seeking relief that includes compensatory damages, reinstatement, and back pay. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the ADA claim, because the Commonwealth has not waived its sovereign immunity from that claim. However, the court reversed the district court's decision that claim preclusion barred the Title VII claims, because the initial forum did not have the power to award the full measure of relief sought in this litigation. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Passaro v. Commonwealth of Virginia" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's race discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981. In this case, plaintiff was terminated from her position as deputy clerk with the City of Houston, Mississippi as part of a group of layoffs designed to offset the City's budget shortfall. The court held that plaintiff failed to present a genuine issue of material fact that her race was a motivating factor in her termination or that there was a causal connection between her EEOC complaint and that termination. View "Harville v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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An inmate representing himself sued the prison superintendent and chaplain for violating his religious rights by providing an inadequate halal diet, banning scented prayer oils, and not allowing him to have additional religious texts in his cell beyond the prison’s limit. He claimed these actions violated the Equal Protection Clause of both the Alaska Constitution and the federal Constitution, and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The inmate also sought reimbursement for scented oils that the prison had destroyed. The superior court granted the prison officials’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed all of the inmate’s claims. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed summary judgment on the inmate’s RLUIPA claim regarding the halal diet because the inmate did not receive adequate guidance on how to file affidavits in opposition to the summary judgment motion. The Court also reversed summary judgment on the RLUIPA claim regarding scented oils because the prison officials failed to satisfy their burden of proving that banning such oils was the least restrictive means to address their substantial interest in maintaining prison security and health. The Court affirmed dismissal of the inmate’s claims regarding the religious book limit because the issue was not yet ripe. And the Court vacated the award of attorney’s fees and costs. View "Leahy v. Conant" on Justia Law

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In 1999, Vowell pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, agreeing that his prior criminal history qualified for a sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) 18 U.S.C. 924(e). Vowell waived his right to collateral relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, except for claims asserting ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, or “that an applicable change in the case law renders the defendant’s conduct ... not a violation of federal law.” Vowell had Tennessee convictions for second-degree burglary, armed robbery, and aggravated burglary, and a 1983 conviction for Georgia burglary. The district court determined that Vowell qualified as an ACCA career offender and sentenced him to 180 months of imprisonment. Vowell did not appeal. In 2016, Vowell filed a section 2255 motion to set aside his sentence, asserting that his 1983 Georgia conviction did not constitute a predicate offense because it was broader than generic burglary and “portions of Georgia’s burglary statute could only have qualified as a violent felony under the ACCA’s now-void residual clause,” citing the Supreme Court’s Johnson and Mathis decisions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Vowell’s petition, first holding that Vowell’s appellate waiver did not prohibit him from raising his claims. The court determined that Georgia’s burglary statute was divisible and that because Vowell was convicted of burglarizing a “dwelling house,” Vowell was correctly designated as a career offender. View "Vowell v. United States" on Justia Law

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Boxill worked at Franklin County Municipal Court. Boxill alleges that the defendants, judges and an administrator, formulated a concealed policy that female employees asserting complaints about abusive and discriminatory treatment by judges would be discouraged and intimidated. She claimed that in 2011 O’Grady began making sexist and racist comments and that Brandt was “hostile and intimidating." Boxill reported this to administrators and judges in 2011-2013; “[n]o administrator or Judge acted ... each discouraged [her] from action.” They began removing her responsibilities. A week after others reported O’Grady’s behavior Boxill was demoted. She claims that O’Grady then recruited other judges to monitor her and her staff. The Defendants began bypassing her and going directly to the Caucasian male subordinate. She resigned and later filed suit, alleging that each Defendant retaliated against her in violation of the First Amendment, 42 U.S.C. 1983, 1981 and contributed to a hostile work environment. The district court dismissed her claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Boxill offered no plausible, non-conclusory facts to show that O’Grady was aware of her complaints and cannot demonstrate that O’Grady’s adverse actions were motivated by her protected speech. Reversing as to the hostile work environment claim, the court stated Boxill’s complaint plausibly alleged that O’Grady made sexist and racist comments to her and others for years, she reported that behavior, and the harassment was sufficiently severe and/or pervasive that others found it necessary to memorialize their concerns in writing. View "Boxill v. O'Grady" on Justia Law

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Walmart filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the TABC, challenging Texas statutes that govern the issuance of permits allowing for the retail sale of liquor in Texas (package store permits). TPSA later intervened as a matter of right in defense of the statutes. The Fifth Circuit held that Tex. Alco. Bev. Code 22.16 is a facially neutral statute that bans all public corporations from obtaining P permits irrespective of domicile. The court held that, although the district court correctly cited the Arlington framework, it committed clear error in finding that section 22.16 was enacted with a purpose to discriminate against interstate commerce. Therefore, the court remanded Walmart's dormant Commerce Clause challenge for reconsideration of whether the ban was enacted with a discriminatory purpose. Furthermore, a remand was necessary to allow the district court to find facts for proper application of the Pike test. The court affirmed the district court's judgment rejecting Walmart's Equal Protection challenge to the public corporation ban, holding that there was a rational basis for Texas' decision to ban all public corporations from obtaining package store permits and its legitimate purpose of reducing the availability and consumption of liquor throughout Texas. Finally, Walmart's challenges to section 22.04 and 22.05 are withdrawn. View "Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the City, the police department, and others, alleging claims of disability and/or racial or gender discrimination. In regard to the disability discrimination claim, the Eleventh Circuit held that plaintiff's evidence was insufficient to meet her prima facie burden of demonstrating that she was actually disabled, but was sufficient on whether she was regarded as disabled; the district court erred in holding that plaintiff failed to produce sufficient evidence that she was a qualified individual; plaintiff met her prima facie burden of demonstrating that the city discriminated against her because of her perceived disability; and plaintiff produced sufficient evidence that she was not a direct threat. In regard to the race and gender discrimination claims, the court held that the evidence of arbitrary personnel decisions surrounding plaintiff's termination, the pretextual justifications offered for the same, the differing treatment of her white male colleagues, and other evidence amounted to sufficient circumstantial evidence to create a triable issue of material fact on whether the police department's actions were discriminatory on the basis of race and/or gender. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's municipal liability claim under 42 U.S.C. 1981 for the police chief's discriminatory actions as the final decisionmaker. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Lewis v. City of Union City" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied petitioner's motion for a certificate of appealability, holding that reasonable jurists would not debate that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying petitioner's Rule 60(b) motion. In this case, petitioner failed to brief any waived claims sufficient to allow the district court to determine whether extraordinary circumstances were present, and petitioner failed to provide the court any authority that 18 U.S.C. 3599 has ever provided relief under Rule 60(b). However, in light of In re Cathey, 857 F.3d 221 (5th Cir. 2017), the court held that Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), created a new rule of constitutional law made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court. The court granted petitioner's motion for authorization of a successive application for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)(2)(A) and stayed his execution. The court held that petitioner made a prima facie showing of intellectual disability. Finally, the court held that the district court was in a better position to determine the timeliness of petitioner's motion for a successive application. View "Johnson v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a pretrial detainee, filed suit against the County and county officials for allegedly violating his constitutional rights by being deliberately indifferent to his health, safety, and medical needs. Plaintiff also filed suit against a prison nurse for retaliation and the County for negligence under Texas law. In regard to the deliberate indifference claims, the court held that there was insufficient information about a deputy sheriff's driving and no evidence to allow a finding that the deputy's actual knowledge that the manner in which he was driving created a substantial risk of harm; plaintiff failed to show deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs; plaintiff's conclusory allegations were not sufficient to state a claim that the treating physicians denied him adequate pain medication and access to physical therapy; plaintiff failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact disputing that the nurse was hesitant to administer his medicine because of security concerns and jail policy; and claims against the official capacity defendants were properly dismissed. In regard to the retaliation claims, the court held that plaintiff failed to allege any harm from the nurse's purported retaliatory acts and there was no evidence that the nurse's reporting of medical personnel who entered plaintiff's cell had any consequences on plaintiff. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of some of the claims and grant of summary judgment for defendants on all others. View "Baughman v. Hickman" on Justia Law

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Where a university takes an adverse employment action against an employee, in response to allegations of sexual misconduct, following a clearly irregular investigative or adjudicative process, amid criticism for reacting inadequately to allegations of sexual misconduct by members of one sex, these circumstances support a prima facie case of sex discrimination. When contesting an inference of bias based on procedural irregularity, an employer cannot justify its abandonment of promised procedural protections by recharacterizing specific accusations in more generic terms. Where a student files a complaint against a university employee, the student is motivated, at least in part, by invidious discrimination, the student intends that the employee suffer an adverse employment action as a result, and the university negligently or recklessly punishes the employee as a proximate result of that complaint, the university may be liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Second Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint against Hofstra under Title VII and the New York State Human Rights Law, alleging that Hofstra discriminated against him because of his sex when it fired him in response to allegedly malicious allegations of sexual harassment. The court held that the district court's decision conflicted with circuit precedent in Doe v. Columbia University, 831 F.3d 46 (2d Cir. 2016), and relied on improper factual findings. In this case, the complaint alleged circumstances that provide at least a minimal support for an inference of discriminatory intent. On remand, the court noted that the district court should consider Hofstra's potential liability under a cat's paw theory. View "Menaker v. Hofstra University" on Justia Law