Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the enforcement of portions of Mo. Rev. Stat. 115.302, which provides for voting by mail-in ballot due to the ongoing global pandemic. Plaintiffs alleged that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by treating mail-in ballots differently than absentee ballots, requiring the former to be returned by mail only while allowing the latter to be returned by mail or in-person, either from the voter himself or a relative within the second degree of consanguinity. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiffs and the Secretary entered a temporary administrative stay of the preliminary injunction.The Eighth Circuit granted the Secretary's motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. The court held that the Secretary has shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits, under the Anderson-Burdick standard, that the requirement that mail-in ballots be returned by USPS mail is a minimal burden and a reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction. The Secretary has also shown that the State will suffer irreparable harm if the court does not grant the stay, and that the remaining factors of injury to other parties and the public's interest weigh in favor of granting the motion to stay. View "Organization for Black Struggle v. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

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The City of Houston contends that it is being sued for a so-called "zombie" law. The City's Charter allows only registered voters to circulate petitions for initiatives and referenda, even though the Supreme Court held a similar law unconstitutional twenty years ago. Plaintiffs, Trent and Trey Pool, sought a preliminary injunction allowing them to collect signatures for their anti-pay-to-play petition as well as a declaratory judgment that the Charter's voter-registration and residency provisions are unconstitutional, permanent injunctive relief against enforcement of those provisions, and nominal damages. Plaintiffs also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which would allow them to circulate the petition through the deadline of July 9, 2019. The district court granted a TRO, allowing plaintiffs to circulate the petition for the next week, but concluded that plaintiffs had not demonstrated an injury sufficient to support standing with regard to future petitions. The district court later dismissed plaintiffs' remaining claims. Although the City now concedes that the qualified-voter requirement is unconstitutional, at issue is whether plaintiffs may obtain a permanent injunction preventing its enforcement.The Fifth Circuit held that, although there would not usually be a reasonable fear of continued enforcement of a zombie law, the history of Houston's qualified-voter requirement gives Trent Pool standing to seek an injunction that would guard against continued chilling of his speech. The court also held that the City has not met its heavy burden of showing that plaintiffs' challenges are moot. Therefore, because there is a reasonable concern that the City might enforce its unconstitutional Charter provision, the court reversed the judgment dismissing this case and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pool v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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SMART manages a public-transportation system for the counties in and around Detroit. For a fee, parties may display advertisements on the inside and outside of SMART’s buses and bus shelters. SMART guidelines prohibit “political” ads; ads that engage in “scorn or ridicule”; advertising promoting the sale of alcohol or tobacco; advertising that is false, misleading, or deceptive; advertising that is clearly defamatory or likely to hold up to scorn or ridicule any person or group of persons; advertising that is obscene or pornographic or advocates imminent lawlessness or unlawful violent action.AFDI sought to run an ad that said: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? RefugefromIslam.com.” SMART rejected this ad as “political” and as holding up a group of people to “scorn or ridicule.”Initially, the Sixth Circuit held that the advertising space on SMART’s buses is a nonpublic forum and that SMART likely could show that its restrictions were reasonable and viewpoint neutral. In light of subsequent Supreme Court decisions, the Sixth Circuit reversed. SMART’s ban on “political” ads is unreasonable because SMART offers no “sensible basis for distinguishing what may come in from what must stay out.”. SMART’s ban on ads that engage in “scorn or ridicule” is not viewpoint-neutral. For any group, “an applicant may [display] a positive or benign [ad] but not a derogatory one.” View "American Freedom Defense Initiative v. Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the County in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging claims of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff, an employee of the County who suffers from multiple sclerosis, filed suit alleging that she faced unlawful discrimination based on her disability when the County laterally transferred her to another department, and that the transfer came in retaliation for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).The court held that a transfer is not an adverse action when it is voluntarily requested and agreed upon. In this case, plaintiff requested a lateral transfer, and the County agreed to place her in a position with the same pay and similar responsibilities. Therefore, plaintiff failed to show an adverse action and the district court correctly determined that she failed to make out a prima facie case of discrimination and retaliation. View "Laird v. Fairfax County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the United States and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers for injuries suffered during an incident at the International Port of Entry Gateway Bridge in Brownsville, Texas. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the CBP officers based on qualified immunity. In this case, the court found that plaintiff was neither arrested nor unreasonably seized, and the officers did not use excessive force. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims against the United States for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based on the customs-duty exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). View "Angulo v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion.Plaintiff filed suit against defendant under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of various constitutional rights and under Louisiana tort law. In this case, after defendant approached, questioned, and reached to grab plaintiff outside of his home, plaintiff fled, fell off a fence, and dislocated his shoulder.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the unreasonable search claim and remanded for the district court to consider qualified immunity before proceeding to the merits of the case. The court held that plaintiff's complaint plausibly alleges a trespassory search of his home where the officer's search of the curtilage of plaintiff's home was unreasonable insofar as it infringed on plaintiff's reasonable expectation of privacy and exigent circumstances were lacking. However, the court held that the complaint lacks allegations that would allow the court to draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor and to conclude that he plausibly alleged a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of the unreasonable seizure claim.The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's remaining section 1983 claims, holding that plaintiff failed to state a false arrest/false imprisonment claim because he failed to plausibly allege that his ultimate arrest was false; plaintiff failed to state a claim for malicious prosecution because, as the district court correctly observed, there is no freestanding right under the Constitution to be free from malicious prosecution; and plaintiff failed to state a claim for a violation of procedural and substantive due process because resort to a generalized remedy under the Due Process Clause is inappropriate where a more specific constitutional provision provides the rights at issue. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotion distress under Louisiana law, the district court's grant of summary judgment, and the three evidentiary rulings appealed by plaintiff. View "Arnold v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit denied the motion for an administrative stay and stay pending appeal of the district court's injunction in a dispute relating to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020. This action concerns the validity of Minn. Stat. 204B.13, subd. 2(c), which addresses the administration of an election when the candidate of a major political party dies after the seventy-ninth day before a general election. The section states that the governor "shall issue a writ calling for a special election to be conducted on the second Tuesday in February of the year following the year the vacancy in nomination occurred"—in this case, February 9, 2021.The district court ruled that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted, ordered that section 204B.13 must not be enforced as to the election on November 3 for Representative from the Second District, and enjoined the Minnesota Secretary of State from refusing to give legal effect to the ballots cast for Representative on November 3.The court held that appellant is not likely to succeed on the merits of his contention that section 204B.13, as applied to the current situation, may coexist with the federal election laws. The court stated that even if the death of a Republican or Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate could qualify as an exigent circumstance that would allow the State to cancel an election and trigger a vacancy in office, it is unlikely that the rationale would extend to the death of a third-party candidate from a party with the modest electoral strength exhibited to date by the Legal Marijuana Now Party in Minnesota. Furthermore, that a short period of uncertainty affected campaign fundraising and tactical decisions by the candidates also does not justify a stay of the injunction without a likelihood of success on the merits. View "Craig v. Simon" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of U.S. Bank's motion for summary judgment in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the Bank fired her because of her age and in retaliation for reporting discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.The court held that the Bank articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to terminate plaintiff with adequate support in the record: performance issues. The court also held that plaintiff failed to show that the Bank's explanation for her firing is mere pretext for intentional discrimination. In this case, none of the employees that she compares herself to are similarly situated in all relevant respects, and the evidence does not present a change in basis for firing her. Furthermore, plaintiff offered no evidence to support causation for her retaliation claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Finally, the Bank's decision not to hire plaintiff in another position was not based on a discriminatory and retaliatory motive, and plaintiff failed to establish pretext. View "McKey v. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of ten counts of criminal conduct, including attempted capital murder, holding that a single error occurred in the proceedings below, and the error was harmless.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) there was no support for Defendant's claims that the district court impermissibly participated in plea negotiations and imposed consecutive sentences as "the product of judicial vindictiveness"; (2) the prosecutor made an incorrect statement during closing arguments, but the State met its burden to demonstrate that the error did not affect the trial's outcome beyond a reasonable doubt; and (3) the district court did not err in its response to a jury question. View "State v. Bowser" on Justia Law