Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Swartzes acquired horses, goats, and a donkey on their Washington County, Indiana hobby farm. In 2013, the county’s animal control officer, Lee, contacted Dr. Lovejoy, an Indiana State Board of Animal Health veterinarian, for help evaluating a thin horse he observed on the Swartzes’ property. Lee and Lovejoy visited the Swartzes’ farm to evaluate the animals four times. Lovejoy reported a significant decline in the animals’ welfare and expressed concerns about the conditions in which they were kept. Lee sought, in a standard, ex parte proceeding, a finding of probable cause to seize the animals. The Superior Court of Washington County determined that there was probable cause to believe animal neglect or abandonment was occurring and entered an order to seize the animals (IC 35-46-3-6). The animals were seized and the state filed animal cruelty charges against the Swartzes. The court eventually ordered permanent placement of the animals for adoption. The state deferred prosecuting the Swartzes with a pretrial diversion agreement. The Swartzes filed a federal suit, alleging a conspiracy to deprive them of their property. The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court’s rulings (in favor of the defendants) and remanded for dismissal due to a lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. The Swartzes’ claims are inextricably intertwined with state court judgments, requiring dismissal under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. View "Swartz v. Heartland Equine Rescue" 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 Down Syndrome in an unborn child; 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 district court ruled in favor of opponents, finding that under Supreme Court precedent, a woman is expressly and unambiguously entitled to a pre-viability right to choose whether to terminate or continue her pregnancy. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the entry of a preliminary injunction. The state’s interest in preventing discrimination does not become compelling until viability. Plaintiffs’ patients would be irreparably harmed as a matter of law by the loss of their constitutional right to seek an abortion before viability. View "Preterm-Cleveland v. Himes" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his Nevada conviction and death sentence for four counts of first degree murder. Given that petitioner's underlying ineffective assistance of counsel claims lack merit, the panel need not resolve whether the relevant Nevada law was adequate or if it is, whether petitioner can overcome his procedural default and obtain federal review of the merits of his ineffective assistance claims. Even if the panel held in petitioner's favor in either of those questions and reached the merits of the claims, the panel would affirm the district court's denial of relief. The panel also held that the Nevada Supreme Court's determination -- that petitioner's constitutional rights were not violated when the state's expert made reference during his testimony to test results that he had obtained from petitioner's expert -- was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of controlling Supreme Court case law. Furthermore, the panel rejected petitioner's claim regarding change of venue, the testimony of the mother of the victim, and improper statements by the prosecutor. Finally, the panel declined to expand the certificate of appealability. View "Floyd v. Filson" on Justia Law

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Tokyo Valentino filed suit against the County, challenging certain business licensing and adult entertainment ordinances, and seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. At issue in this appeal was the district court's second dismissal of Tokyo Valentino's claims. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Tokyo Valentino's claim for compensatory damages relating to the appeal of the ordinances, because Tokyo Valentino's second amended complaint does not contain factual allegations that establish it suffered a cognizable injury in fact for which compensatory damages might be warranted. However, the court reversed the dismissal of Tokyo Valentino's request for a declaratory judgment regarding whether its sale of sexual devices constitutes a lawful prior nonconforming use authorized under the repealed ordinances and whether the new ordinances' failure to include provisions grandfathering in prior lawful uses violates federal and state law. Finally, the court held that the district court abused its discretion by abstaining under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S. Ct. 746 (1971), from hearing Tokyo Valentino's claims stemming from the County's new ordinances. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Tokyo Gwinnett, LLC v. Gwinnett County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment convicting Defendant of first-degree murder, holding that Defendant's Sixth Amendment rights of confrontation or compulsory process were not violated when the district court refused to permit Defendant during trial to call a witness who intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination on all questions. In his retrial for murder, Defendant sought to call a witness so that the jury could him him "take the Fifth" and thus infer the witness's guilt. The district court refused to permit Defendant to call the witness because, pursuant to State v. Bedwell, 417 N.W.2d 66 (Iowa 1987), the jury is not entitled to draw inferences favorable to the defense from a witness's decision to exercise his constitutional privilege. The court of appeals reversed, distinguishing Bedwell on grounds that the witness had testified in Defendant's prior trial and the district court failed to ascertain the scope of his privilege question by question. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' decision and affirmed the district court, holding (1) under the circumstances, Bedwell provides a categorical rule against compelling the witness to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege in front of the jury; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining allegations of error. View "State v. Heard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court judge allowing Defendant's motion to suppress all evidence related to an illegal seizure on the ground that the stop of his motor vehicle was not reasonable, holding that the police officer's stop of Defendant's motor vehicle for failing to drive entirely within a marked traffic lane was reasonable and, therefore, constitutional. Defendant was charged with a marked lanes violation in accordance with Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 89, 4A and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The judge allowed Defendant's motion to suppress, ruling that Defendant had not violated section 4A, and therefore, the stop of his motor vehicle was not reasonable. The Supreme Court vacated the judge's order, holding that Defendant violated section 4A when he crossed the right-side fog line one time for two or three seconds, and therefore, the ensuing traffic stop was reasonable. View "Commonwealth v. Larose" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court held that, although petitioner exhausted his due process claims based on lost or destroyed evidence, the Georgia Supreme Court's denial of the claims on direct appeal was entitled to deference under section 2254(d). In this case, there was no evidence that officers knew or should have known that the lost or destroyed evidence was exculpatory and the record contained no allegation of official animus towards petitioner or of a conscious effort to suppress exculpatory evidence. The court also held that the district court did not err in denying petitioner's request for a stay. View "Davis v. Sellers" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin prisoner Brown cut himself severely while in restrictive housing. Brown sued the prison nurses, asserting that they had exhibited deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The Wisconsin Department of Justice and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin have a 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that covers 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuits by an incarcerated person, when those cases must undergo initial screening by the district court under 28 U.S.C. 1915A. In the MOU, the state DOJ gives “limited consent to the exercise of jurisdiction” by Magistrate Judges over several things, including, without qualification, the initial screening. Following its routine procedures and the MOU, the district court sent the case to Magistrate Duffin for initial screening. Brown consented (28 U.S.C. 636(c)) to the authority of the magistrate to resolve the entire case. Duffin found that Brown failed to state a claim, stating that “[t]his order and the judgment to follow are final” and appealable to the Seventh Circuit. Under Circuit precedent, a magistrate judge does not have the authority to enter a final judgment in a case when only one party has consented to the magistrate’s jurisdiction. Two defendants had not been served. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the state defendant may consent in advance to the magistrate’s jurisdiction to conduct the initial case screening and, if the plaintiff has also filed consent, the magistrate may enter final judgment dismissing the case with prejudice. View "Brown v. Doe" on Justia Law

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Javitz accepted an “at-will” position as Luzerne County's Director of Human Resources. Javitz participated in meetings with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which resulted in ASFSCME filing an unfair labor practices suit. Javitz claimed that a document filed in that lawsuit was a transcript of the meetings. She suspected that a county employee had recorded the meeting without Javitz’s consent—a crime under Pennsylvania law. Javitz's supervisor agreed that the meeting may have been recorded; they met with the District Attorney, who indicated that she would refer the matter to the Office of the Attorney General due to a conflict of interest. Javitz claims that the County Manager intervened and instructed the District Attorney to drop the matter. Javitz followed up about the investigation. Javitz alleges that county employees retaliated against her. Within weeks Javitz was fired. The County maintains that Javitz was fired because of her conduct toward unions, her failure to follow directions, and her handling of employment applications. The district court rejected her claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit affirmed that Javitz did not have a property interest in her employment; her termination did not violate her due process rights. The court reversed as to a First Amendment claim: Who Javitz spoke to, what she spoke about, and why she spoke fall outside the scope of her primary job duties. Javitz was a citizen speaking to a matter of public concern. View "Javitz v. County of Luzerne" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's aggregate sentence that left him eligible for parole after serving thirty-five years, holding that Defendant failed to show a constitutional violation or an abuse of discretion in the district court's sentencing decision. Defendant was convicted of one count of first-degree murder and twelve counts of aggravated assault and battery for crimes he committed at age sixteen. The district court sentenced Defendant to an aggregate prison term that left him eligible for parole after fifty-two years. The Supreme Court reversed the sentence and remanded for resentencing, holding that the sentence violated the Eighth Amendment because it was a de facto life without parole sentence. On remand, the district court imposed an aggregate sentence that left Defendant eligible for parole after serving thirty-five years. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's sentence did not violate the Eighth Amendment and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant. View "Sam v. State" on Justia Law