Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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In this case, the defendant, June Wolverine, was charged with six misdemeanor traffic violations, including a third offense of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI). Wolverine was unable to attend her trial due to being in federal custody. The State of Montana moved to continue the trial, but did not provide information on when Wolverine would be released from federal custody. Wolverine subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the charges due to a lack of a speedy trial, as required by Montana law. The Justice Court denied Wolverine's motion, and she pleaded guilty to the DUI charge while reserving her right to appeal the speedy trial issue. The District Court affirmed the Justice Court's denial of the motion to dismiss, ruling that Wolverine's federal incarceration had a clear causal impact on the trial delay.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the decision of the District Court. The Supreme Court held that the State had failed to demonstrate good cause for the delay in Wolverine's trial. The State knew Wolverine was in federal custody and had ample time to ask for Wolverine’s temporary release for trial or to notify the Justice Court about the looming deadline for a speedy trial. Yet, the State did nothing as the deadline passed. The Supreme Court concluded that the State did not fulfill its obligation to try the defendant in a timely manner, thus violating Wolverine's right to a speedy trial. The court reversed the District Court's decision and ruled in favor of Wolverine. View "State v. Wolverine" on Justia Law

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This case involves a federal habeas corpus petition by Darnell Dixon, who was convicted of home invasion and murder by an Illinois state court and sentenced to life imprisonment. Dixon's habeas petition primarily focused on claims of actual innocence and prosecutorial misconduct. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his habeas petition by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.The case involved a series of events including a drug-related robbery and subsequent murders. Dixon and Eugene Langston were implicated in the murders, with Langston identified in a police lineup by a witness, Horace Chandler. However, Chandler later recanted this identification. The state's case against Dixon relied heavily on a confession that Dixon later claimed was false. Dixon's confession and Chandler's identification of Langston were central to the state's theory of accomplice liability, arguing that Dixon was accountable for Langston's acts.In his habeas petition, Dixon argued that he was denied due process when the trial court excluded evidence that charges against his alleged accomplice, Langston, were dismissed. He also asserted that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the exclusion of that evidence. Furthermore, Dixon claimed that the state committed prosecutorial misconduct by presenting conflicting positions regarding Langston's involvement in the murders at trial and during post-conviction proceedings.However, the Seventh Circuit found that Dixon's claim of actual innocence, based on the state's post-conviction contention that Langston's involvement was irrelevant and evidence of abusive and perjurious conduct by the case's police detective, did not meet the high standard required to conclusively prove his innocence. The Seventh Circuit also rejected Dixon's arguments of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel, finding no clear error in the district court's factual findings on these issues. View "Darnell Dixon v. Tarry Williams" on Justia Law

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In this case from the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado, petitioner Claire E. Miller and respondent Jesse A. Amos were involved in a dispute related to eviction proceedings. Miller was a tenant who lived in a home owned and occupied by Amos. Their arrangement was an oral tenancy agreement where Miller agreed to provide pet care and light housekeeping services instead of paying rent. After six months, Amos served Miller with a notice to quit, alleging breach of their oral agreement. Miller refused to move out, and Amos filed a forcible entry and detainer (FED) complaint seeking eviction. Miller contended that her eviction was due to her refusal to engage in sexual acts with Amos, which she stated was a form of sex discrimination and retaliation under the Colorado Fair Housing Act (CFHA).The county court ruled in favor of Amos, stating that a landlord can serve a notice to quit for “no reason or any reason,” dismissing the CFHA violation claim as an affirmative defense for eviction. The district court affirmed this decision.On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado reversed the lower court's ruling. The court held that a tenant can assert a landlord’s alleged violation of the CFHA as an affirmative defense to an FED eviction. The court noted that the purpose of the CFHA is to prevent discriminatory practices, and therefore, a tenant must be able to use it as a shield against a discriminatory eviction. The court also emphasized that a tenant's right to due process must be preserved even in eviction proceedings, which are intended to be expedited. This decision allows tenants in Colorado to assert discrimination or retaliation under the CFHA as a defense in eviction cases. View "Miller v. Amos" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, Joseph Hoskins was stopped by a Utah state trooper, Jared Withers, because his Illinois license plate was partially obscured. The situation escalated when Trooper Withers conducted a dog sniff of the car, which led him to search the car and find a large amount of cash. Mr. Hoskins was arrested, and his DNA was collected. Mr. Hoskins sued Trooper Withers and Jess Anderson, Commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety, alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments and state law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that Trooper Withers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop because Utah law requires license plates to be legible, and this applies to out-of-state plates. The court also found that the dog sniff did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop, as Mr. Hoskins was searching for his proof of insurance at the time. The court ruled that the trooper's protective measures, including pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins, handcuffing him, and conducting a patdown, did not elevate the stop into an arrest due to Mr. Hoskins's confrontational behavior.The court further held that the dog's reaction to the car created arguable probable cause to search the car and that the discovery of a large amount of cash provided arguable probable cause to arrest Mr. Hoskins. The court found that Trooper Withers did not violate any clearly established constitutional rights by pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins in retaliation for protected speech or as excessive force. Lastly, the court found no violation of Mr. Hoskins's due process rights related to the handling of his DNA sample, as neither the Due Process Clause nor state law created a protected interest in a procedure to ensure the destruction of his DNA sample. View "Hoskins v. Withers" on Justia Law

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In the case of People v. Ramirez, Fernando Ramirez, the defendant, was convicted of causing a three-car collision while intoxicated, resulting in one death and four serious injuries. During the trial, which took place amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, safety protocols such as social distancing and mask-wearing were implemented. The defendant objected to these measures, claiming they impeded his ability to fully observe the facial expressions of prospective jurors, thereby infringing on his rights to be present at all material stages of his trial and to meaningfully contribute to his defense. The New York Court of Appeals disagreed, stating that neither a defendant's right to be present during jury selection nor due process requires that a defendant have a simultaneous, unobstructed view of the entirety of every prospective juror's face during jury selection. The Court affirmed that the safety protocols did not violate the defendant's right to be present and observe the jury selection process, and there was no violation of due process.The defendant also requested a mistrial after observing the deceased victim's surviving spouse crying in the courtroom. He argued that this could induce undue sympathy from the jury. However, the trial court denied the motion, as the crying was not conspicuous and there was no indication the jury was aware of it. The court further offered a curative instruction to prevent sympathy, which the defense counsel declined. The New York Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision, affirming that there were no grounds for a mistrial. View "People v Ramirez" on Justia Law

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The case was brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The plaintiff, Jarius Brown, alleged that officers from the DeSoto Parish Sheriff's Office attacked him without provocation, leaving him to languish in a jail cell with a broken nose and eye socket. Almost two years later, Brown sued Javarrea Pouncy and two unidentified officers in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged use of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as under Louisiana state law for battery. However, the district court dismissed Brown's Section 1983 claim as untimely under Louisiana's one-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Brown appealed this decision, arguing that the one-year period should not apply to police brutality claims brought under Section 1983 as it discriminates against such claims and practically frustrates litigants' ability to bring them.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, holding that precedent required them to do so. The Court reasoned that while Brown's arguments that a one-year limitations period is too restrictive to accommodate the federal interests at stake in a civil rights action, the Supreme Court has yet to clarify how lower courts should evaluate practical frustration without undermining the solution it has already provided for the absence of a federal limitations period for Section 1983 claims. This was based on the principle that the length of the limitations period and related questions of tolling and application are governed by state law. The Court also noted that states have the freedom to modify their statutes to avoid being outliers in this regard. View "Brown v. Pouncy" on Justia Law

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In this case, Alexandra Gamble (Mother) and Sean Rourke (Father) are divorced and have three children. They had a final parenting plan approved by the 10th Circuit Court-Portsmouth Family Division, which considered Father's residence in Costa Rica and Mother's in New Hampshire. However, Father later decided to reside in New Hampshire. As a result, Father filed a petition to modify the parenting plan, arguing that due to the change in residences, it would be in the children’s best interests to modify the parenting schedule.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the decision of the lower court to modify the parenting plan, citing that the lower court exercised its discretion sustainably. The Court held that the trial court correctly interpreted the parenting plan when it ruled that modification was appropriate under RSA 461-A:11, I(g). This statute allows for modification of a parenting plan if changes in the distances between the parents' residences affect the children's best interest.Mother's argument that her due process rights were violated because the trial court considered grounds not raised by Father was rejected. The Supreme Court held that the trial court did not base its decision on these factors. Instead, it found that Father met his burden to modify the parenting plan under RSA 461-A:11, I(g), which was the ground Father had indeed raised.The Supreme Court also rejected Mother's argument that the trial court violated her procedural due process rights by making changes to the parenting plan that were not sought in Father's petition. The Court concluded that the trial court had statutory authority to make these modifications once it found that a statutory predicate circumstance is satisfied, as per RSA 461-A:11, I. View "In re Rourke & Rourke" on Justia Law

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Inmate Germaine Smart alleged that prison officials Ronald England, Gary Malone, and Larry Baker violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for reporting an alleged sexual assault by England. Smart claimed that England sexually assaulted him during a pat-down search, but after an internal investigation, Smart's allegations were found to be unfounded and England charged Smart with lying. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the officials did not violate Smart's First Amendment rights. The court stated that a prisoner's violation of a prison regulation is not protected by the First Amendment, and in this case, the prison tribunal's finding that Smart lied, which was based on due process and some evidence, was conclusive. Therefore, the officials were entitled to qualified immunity. View "Smart v. England" on Justia Law

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In July 2018, Brian Lawler, a pretrial detainee, committed suicide at a county jail in Hardeman County, Tennessee. Lawler's father, Jerry Lawler, brought a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the officers had been deliberately indifferent to the risk that Brian would commit suicide. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the laws in place at the time of the suicide did not clearly establish that the officers’ actions violated the Constitution. The court noted that in 2018, to hold officers liable for failing to prevent a pretrial detainee’s suicide, it was necessary to prove that the officers subjectively believed there was a strong likelihood the inmate would commit suicide. The evidence showed that the officers did not subjectively believe that Lawler was likely to take his life. Therefore, the court reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to the officers. View "Lawler v. Hardeman County" on Justia Law

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In this case, Plaintiff Jennifer Akridge, a former employee of Alfa Mutual Insurance Company, appealed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Alfa on her claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Akridge had multiple sclerosis and severe migraines, and she alleged that the company wrongfully terminated her to avoid paying for her healthcare costs. Alfa argued that it eliminated her position because her duties were automated and no longer needed, and the company wanted to cut business expenses.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment ruling. The court found that Akridge failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA. Even if she had, her evidence failed to show that Alfa’s reason for firing her (that her position was no longer needed and it wished to cut business expenses) was pretext for disability discrimination. The court also rejected Akridge's argument that she merely needs to show that her disability was a motivating factor, rather than a but-for cause, of her termination. The court clarified that, unlike Title VII, the ADA does not incorporate the motivating-factor causation standard, and an ADA plaintiff must show that a cause was outcome determinative. Therefore, it upheld the district court’s decision that Akridge did not produce sufficient evidence to suggest that her termination was a result of discrimination based on her disability.The court also affirmed the district court's award of $1,918 in discovery sanctions against Akridge. The lower court found that Akridge's motion to compel a certain deposition was not substantially justified, and the appeals court found no error or abuse of discretion in that ruling. View "Akridge v. Alfa Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law