Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

by
In 1998, Long, age 16, got into Purkey’s truck. Purkey, 46, threatened her with a knife and drove her across the state line to his home, where he raped her and ultimately killed her. Purkey dismembered Long’s body and burned the pieces. He dumped the remains into a septic lagoon. Later in 1998, he killed 80-year-old Bales. He was caught. While awaiting trial, Purkey contacted Detective Howard about Long and insisted that an FBI agent come along because he thought that if he were convicted on federal charges, he could serve a life sentence in a federal facility. Purkey confessed to killing Long, took them to the crime scene, and gave handwritten confessions. Howard and Tarpley denied that any deal was on the table. After Purkey pleaded guilty to the Bales murder, he was indicted for Long's kidnapping, rape, and murder. Purkey had repeatedly confessed to kidnapping Long; his defense was that he thought she was a prostitute who willingly accompanied him and that he had fabricated the kidnapping claim to be prosecuted in federal court. Defense counsel did not object to the use of his confessions to refute that story. A jury voted for a death sentence. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief, rejecting claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel and several alleged violations of his due process rights--government misconduct during the trial, insufficient evidence to find kidnapping beyond a reasonable doubt, and error in the jury’s failure to address the question of mitigating evidence. View "Purkey v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Proponents of a criminal-justice reform initiative that they seek to place on the ballot for the 2020 Michigan general election sued state officials, who continued to strictly enforce the signature requirement for initiatives even after Governor Whitmer issued an order requiring most Michigan residents to remain in their homes as part of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Finding that the combination of the stay-at-home order and the signature requirement violates the First Amendment by creating a severe restriction on their access to the ballot, the district court enjoined the strict enforcement of the signature requirement. The court rejected a proposed compromise that included a several-weeks extension of the filing deadline. The Sixth Circuit declined to issue an emergency stay pending appeal. With respect to the burden imposed on the Plaintiffs’ access to the ballot, the restrictions at issue are identical to those previously found to be severe. The Defendants failed to show a likelihood that the district court abused its discretion by rejecting the proposed remedy of extending the petition deadline by, at most, 35 days. The court took “no position on the merits.” View "SawariMedia, LLC v. Whitmer" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's adverse grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against the county, the sheriff, and two deputy sheriffs. The court held that Deputy Ford was entitled to qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment false arrest claim where he had probable cause to make the warrantless arrest of plaintiff. In this case, prior to arresting plaintiff, Deputy Ford was told by his dispatcher that plaintiff had tried to stab the victim; the victim gave both oral and written statements about the incident; and other evidence corroborated the victim's statements. The court also held that the sheriff and the second deputy are entitled to qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment false arrest claim; the officers are entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim for failure to investigate; plaintiff's section 1983 civil conspiracy claim failed as a matter of law because plaintiff failed to establish that he was deprived of a constitutional right or privilege; and in the absence of a constitutional violation, plaintiff's Monell claim also failed. View "Kingsley v. Lawrence County" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's sua sponte dismissal of plaintiff's in forma pauperis complaint as failing to state a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff is currently serving a prison sentence and has a diagnosis of diverticulitis, a chronic colon condition that causes diarrhea and constipation. The court held that plaintiff has stated a Title II claim by sufficiently alleging that he is a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA and that he was denied the benefit of the prison's privilege system by reason of his disability. The court also held that plaintiff has stated a claim under Title VI and that defendants retaliated against him for his filing of ADA grievances by taking the adverse action of rescinding his medical classification without providing a medical reevaluation or rationale. Finally, because plaintiff's complaint sufficiently states a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court necessarily reversed the district court's assignment of a strike under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. View "Rinehart v. Weitzell" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentences for second degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony, holding that there was no abuse in the trial proceedings. Specifically, the Court held (1) any error in the admission of statements Defendant made during two interviews was harmless, and the district court did not err when it overruled Defendant's motion to suppress a letter to his sister; (2) the district court did not err when it overruled Defendant's motion to suppress evidence from the search of his cell phone; (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it prohibited Defendant from presenting evidence regarding the victim’s mental health and use of alcohol and prescription drugs; (4) the district court did not err when it denied Defendant the right to cross-examine a witness on issues the court determined to lack probative value; and (5) the district court did not err when it allowed evidence that results of certain DNA tests were uninterpretable. View "State v. Said" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity to defendant on plaintiff's claim of deliberate indifference under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Plaintiff alleged that defendant was deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs resulting from an alleged psychological crisis when defendant failed to take any measures to address plaintiff's risk of suicide. The court held that plaintiff failed to establish a triable material issue of fact showing either that defendant's actions, which led to a three-hour delay in medical treatment, manifested deliberate indifference or that defendant's conduct was objectively unreasonable under clearly established law. In this case, the record does not support an inference that while in defendant's custody plaintiff faced a substantial risk of suicide. Furthermore, defendant's conduct did not amount to inaction in response to plaintiff's outcry for psychological assistance. View "Baldwin v. Dorsey" on Justia Law

by
After plaintiff was denied tenure as an assistant professor of Legal Studies at the University of Mississippi, he filed suit against several university officials in their individual capacities, alleging that they violated his substantive due process rights when they evaluated his eligibility for tenure in an arbitrary and capricious manner. A jury subsequently awarded plaintiff over $200,000 in damages for lost wages and past and future pain and suffering. The Fifth Circuit reversed and rendered judgment in favor of defendants, holding that the district court erred when it denied defendants' motions for qualified immunity and concluded that plaintiff had a clearly established property interest. In this case, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the language in his contract that allegedly guaranteed him a "fair process of tenure review" gave rise to a clearly-established property right. View "Wigginton v. Jones" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals and the circuit court's judgment convicting Defendant of assault in the second degree, holding that the prosecutor's misconduct in this case violated Defendant's due process right to a fair trial. Defendant was convicted of assault in the second degree in connection with an incident involving Defendant's wife (CW). The only witnesses to the incident at the time the injury were Defendant and CW. During trial, the prosecutor made at least eight improper statements during closing argument, and the misconduct affected the central issue to Defendant's self-defense claim of whether he acted with the intent to protect himself. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding that the strength of the evidence in support of self-defense, the protracted nature of the prosecutorial misconduct, and the court's ineffective curative instructions led to the conclusion that the misconduct was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Conroy" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment entered in favor of Rand in an action brought by plaintiff, a former employee, alleging that Rand unlawfully fired her for taking leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The court affirmed and agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that Rand's justification for the termination was false and merely a pretext for retaliation. In this case, Rand presented a lawful explanation for firing plaintiff: performance problems. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding a former employee's testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. View "Fry v. Rand Construction Corp." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against the members of the Florida Board of Hearing Aid Specialists and the Secretary of the Florida Department of Health, each in their official capacities, alleging that three Florida statutes administered by defendants are preempted by federal law and/or violate plaintiff's due process rights. The district court dismissed plaintiff's claims. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissals for failure to state a claim pertaining to the Licensing Statute and Mail Order Ban. Because any infirmity in the Pre-Sale Testing Statute is not inextricably linked to the Licensing Statute, and because state licensing schemes are not preempted by 21 U.S.C. 360k(a)'s express preemption provision, the court held that plaintiff failed to state a claim that the Licensing Statute is preempted by federal law. Because the Mail Order Ban does not embed the Pre-Sale Testing Statute within it, and because the Mail Order Ban does not relate to the safety or effectiveness of the device, the court held that plaintiff failed to state a claim that the Mail Order Ban is preempted by federal law. The court reversed the district court's dismissal for lack of standing and held that plaintiff has standing to challenge the Pre-Sale Testing Statute. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Taylor v. Polhill" on Justia Law