Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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In 1997, Frederic Sannmann pleaded guilty to felony robbery which rendered him ineligible to own firearms. In 2003, he successfully moved to set aside his conviction for most purposes: by statute, this relief did not restore Sannmann's right to own firearms. In 2011, Sannmann successfully moved, with the prosecutor's concurrence, to set aside the earlier set-aside order, to withdraw his 1997 felony guilty plea, and to instead plead guilty to misdemeanor theft nunc pro tunc to the date of his original plea. Sannmann immediately notified the California Department of Justice (DOJ) of these changes and the DOJ eventually updated its records accordingly. However, six years later, when Sannmann tried to buy a shotgun from a gun store, the DOJ blocked the purchase based on Sannmann's original 1997 felony conviction. Sannmann filed a petition for writ of mandamus seeking an order directing the DOJ to release any holds on his ability to purchase firearms based on the 1997 felony conviction. The trial court believed it lacked the authority to determine the validity of the 2011 set-aside order entered by another superior court judge. Thus, finding Sannmann's record in the criminal case disclosed only a misdemeanor conviction (by virtue of the 2011 set-aside order), the court entered judgment for Sannmann and ordered the DOJ to release its hold on Sannmann's purchase. On appeal, the DOJ contended the trial court erred by awarding mandamus relief based on the 2011 set-aside order because the 2011 order was an unauthorized act in excess of the superior court's jurisdiction. The DOJ did not otherwise seek to invalidate the 2011 set-aside order. On the narrow issue before it, the Court of Appeal agreed the trial court erred by granting mandamus relief based on the 2011 set-aside order and reversed the judgment. View "Sannmann v. Dept. of Justice" on Justia Law

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In the early morning hours of February 7, 2013, Vicksburg Police Officers Russell Dorsey and Diawardrick Grover were dispatched to Herbert Williams’s residence as a result of a 911. Williams called 911 because he discharged his firearm at his neighbor’s dog. After Officer Dorsey arrived at Williams’s house, Williams explained his reasons for discharging his firearm. Williams stated that he shot at the ground near the dog in an attempt to prevent an attack by the dog. Officer Grover arrived a few minutes after Officer Dorsey, and he interviewed Jacqueline Knight Holt, the owner of the dog. Officer Grover observed the dog, and he described the dog as "small and scared." After Officers Dorsey and Grover conducted an investigation, Officer Dorsey arrested Williams for unnecessarily discharging a firearm in the city in violation of Vicksburg’s city ordinance. In July 2014, Williams filed a complaint against the City under the MTCA in the Circuit Court of Warren County. Williams alleged that “said Police Officers grossly and negligently arrested Plaintiff for no good cause, causing Plaintiff damages physically and psychologically.” Williams sued the City of Vicksburg (City) for injuries he allegedly sustained after his arrest. The Circuit Court, sitting without a jury under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA), entered a judgment in favor of Williams. However, because the City was entitled to immunity, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed. View "City of Vicksburg v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court's dismissal, on qualified immunity grounds, of their deliberate-indifference claims against paramedics and police officers employed by the City of Mesquite. Plaintiffs' claims arose out of the death of their 18 year old son from self-inflicted head trauma while in police custody. He died after violently bashing his head over 40 times against the interior of a patrol car while being transported to jail. The Fifth Circuit held that the complaint failed to allege facts that plausibly show the paramedics' deliberate indifference. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that the paramedics failed to provide additional care. However, the court held that precedent has consistently recognized that deliberate indifference cannot be inferred merely from a negligent or even a grossly negligent response to a substantial risk of serious harm. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of these claims. The court held that there are genuine disputes of material fact as to whether Officer Scott, like Gafford and Heidelburg, acted with deliberate indifference to the son's serious medical needs. Furthermore, a reasonable jury could conclude that the Officers were either aware, or should have been aware, because it was so obvious, of an unjustifiably high risk to the son's health; they did nothing to seek medical attention; and they even misstated the severity of the son's condition to those who could have sought help. Accordingly, the court reversed the summary judgment dismissal of the deliberate indifference claims against the officers and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dyer v. Houston" on Justia Law

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To slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin’s Governor ordered Wisconsinites to stay at home until April 24. An unprecedented number of voters requested absentee ballots for the state’s spring election, resulting in a severe backlog of ballots not promptly mailed to voters. Plaintiffs, including the Democratic party, sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission and, on April 2, obtained a preliminary injunction that extended the deadline for voters to request absentee ballots and extended the deadline for election officials to receive completed absentee ballots. On the day before the April 7 election, the Supreme Court stayed the preliminary injunction to the extent it required Wisconsin to count absentee ballots postmarked after April 7. The Court declined to address “the wisdom of” proceeding with the scheduled election, opting to answer “a narrow, technical question.” While the deadline for the municipal clerks to receive absentee ballots is extended to April 13, those ballots must be mailed and postmarked by election day. The plaintiffs had not asked that the court allow ballots postmarked after election day to be counted; the court unilaterally ordered that such ballots be counted if received by April 13. That extension would fundamentally alter the nature of the election and would afford relief that the plaintiffs did not seek. In its order enjoining the public release of any election results for six days after election day, the district court essentially enjoined nonparties. The Court noted no evidence that voters who requested absentee ballots at the last minute would be in a substantially different position from late-requesting voters in other Wisconsin elections with respect to receiving ballots; the deadline for receiving ballots was extended to ensure that their votes count. The Court declined to express an opinion on whether other election procedure modifications are appropriate in light of COVID–19. View "Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the district court denying Appellant's ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim raised in his first petition for post conviction relief and the claims raised in his second petition for postconviction relief, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Appellant's claims. After a jury trial, Appellant was found guilty of first-degree felony murder, attempted first-degree felony murder, and second-degree assault. The Supreme Court affirmed. In his first petition for postconviction relief, Appellant raised some of the same issues addressed in his direct appeal but also claimed that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The district court ordered an evidentiary hearing only on the ineffective assistance of counsel claim and, after a hearing, denied the claim. Appellant then filed a second petition for postconviction relief, which the district court summarily denied. The Supreme Court affirmed both of the district court's orders, holding (1) Appellant did not satisfy the first prong of Strickland on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim; and (2) all of Appellant's claims in his second petition were time barred. View "Griffin v. State" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted a writ of mandamus directing vacatur of the district court's issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) against executive order GA-09 as applied to abortion procedures. In order to preserve critical medical resources during the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor of Texas issued GA-09, which postpones non-essential surgeries and procedures until 11:59 p.m. on April 21, 2020. The court held that the drastic and extraordinary remedy of mandamus was warranted in this case because the district court ignored the framework governing emergency public health measures, like GA-09, in Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905); the district court wrongly declared GA-09 an "outright ban" on previability abortions and exempted all abortion procedures from its scope, rather than apply the Jacobson framework to decide whether GA-09 lacks a "real or substantial relation" to the public health crisis or whether it is "beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion" of the right to abortion; the district court failed to apply the undue-burden analysis in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 857 (1992), and thus failed to balance GA-09's temporary burdens on abortion against its benefits in thwarting a public health crisis; and the district court usurped the state's authority to craft emergency health measures, substituting instead its own view of the efficacy of applying GA-09 to abortion. Therefore, the court found that the requirements for a writ of mandamus are satisfied in light of the extraordinary nature of these errors, the escalating spread of COVID-19, and the state's critical interest in protecting the public health. View "In re: Gregg Abbott" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Ducksworth and Pollock filed suit alleging claims of race discrimination, and Pollock also alleged a sexual harassment claim. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Scotts and Pacific, holding that the staffing agencies were not involved in Tri-Modal's decisionmaking about whom to promote. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Tri-Modal's executive vice president, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in overruling Pollock's hearsay objection to a declaration. The court also held that the trial court correctly concluded that Government Code section 12960, former subdivision (d) bars Pollock's claims because she did not file her administrative complaint within one year of March 2017, the time that those claims accrued. View "Ducksworth v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1). Plaintiff alleged that the Board of the HCC violated his First Amendment right to free speech when the Board publicly censured him. The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiff's allegations established standing and a state law claim for relief under section 1983 for a First Amendment violation. In this case, plaintiff alleged that the censure was issued to punish him for exercising his free speech rights and caused him mental anguish. Under the court's precedent, plaintiff's allegation of retaliatory censure is enough to establish an injury in fact. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded the section 1983 claim for damages for further proceedings. However, plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief were moot because he is no longer a Board trustee. Therefore, the court granted HCC's motion for partial dismissal of plaintiff's appeal, instructing the district court to dismiss plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief after remand. View "Wilson v. Houston Community College System" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit dismissed this interlocutory appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction and remanded the matter to the district court, holding that Appellant's challenge to the district court's denial of summary judgment was not a final, appealable order. Plaintiff, an inmate at Souza Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC), brought this lawsuit alleging that Appellant, an SBCC prison official, and other SBCC officials failed to protect him from a substantial risk of serious harm in violation of his constitutional rights. Appellant and the remaining defendants filed for summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity. The district court granted summary judgment to all SBCC officials except Appellant. Appellant filed a timely interlocutory appeal, alleging that the district court erred because the undisputed material facts showed Appellant was not deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of harm to Plaintiff. The First Circuit dismissed the appeal, holding that Appellant's challenge rested on factual, rather than legal, grounds, and therefore, this Court lacked appellate jurisdiction. View "Norton v. Rodrigues" on Justia Law

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An Illinois municipality may join the Municipal League, an unincorporated, nonprofit, nonpolitical association, and may pay annual membership dues and fees; member municipalities may act through the League to provide and disseminate information and research services and do other acts for improving local government, 65 ILCS 5/1-8-1. Lincolnshire is one of more than a thousand dues-paying League members and uses tax revenue to pay the dues from the Village’s General Fund. From 2013-2018, Lincolnshire paid at least $5,051 in voluntary dues and fees to the League. Individual residents and the Unions sued, claiming First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause violations. They claimed that Lincolnshire compelled them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern because the League sent emails promoting a particular political agenda, including the adoption of “right to work” zones. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Lincolnshire itself has the right to speak for itself and a right to associate; it voluntarily joined the League as it is authorized to do. Local governments must be allowed to discuss, either directly or through a surrogate, ideas related to municipal government, regardless of where those ideas originated. View "O'Brien v. Village of Lincolnshire" on Justia Law