Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to death. The court held that the Georgia state habeas court's fact-finding was not entitled to deference in the pre-Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 regime. In this case, the state habeas court adopted verbatim the state's proposed order; offered no guidance to the Assistant Attorney General drafting the proposed order; did not review the order, other than signing it, dating it, and changing the concluding sentence, notwithstanding the glaring errors it contained; and did so ex parte without so much as affording petitioner a chance to challenge any of it or propose an alternative order. The court also held that the district court correctly determined that petitioner's trial lawyers' conduct fell beneath an objective standard of reasonableness when they failed to adequately investigate whether petitioner suffered from organic brain damage at the time of the killing. In light of the substantial evidence petitioner demonstrated showing that he suffered from organic brain damage, the court held that the district court did not err in finding that petitioner had been prejudiced by his lawyers' deficient performance. View "Jefferson v. GDCP Warden" on Justia Law

by
Defendants appealed the trial court's denial of a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, in a driveway dispute easement action brought by Starview Property. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that an anti-SLAPP motion may be brought within 60 days of service of an amended complaint if the amended complaint pleads new causes of action that could not have been the target of a prior anti-SLAPP motion, or adds new allegations that make previously pleaded causes of action subject to an anti-SLAPP motion. In this case, Starview's three newly pled causes of action in its amended complaint plainly could not have been the target of a prior motion, even if they arose from protected activity alleged in the original complaint. Therefore, the trial court erred by dismissing defendants' motion as untimely. View "Starview Property, LLC v. Lee" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the Commonwealth's appeal from the trial court's allowance of Defendant's motion filed under Mass. R. Crim. P. 25(a), holding that the trial judge erred in reserving decision on Defendant's Rule 25(a) motion and that the error violated Defendant's right to due process and permeated the remainder of the trial. Defendant was charged with murder in the first degree. At the close of the Commonwealth's case Defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty pursuant to Rule 25(a). The judge reserved decision and submitted the case to the jury. The jury found Defendant guilty of murder in the second degree. Defendant subsequently renewed his motion under Rule 25(a). The judge allowed the motion, nunc pro tunc, to the close of the Commonwealth's case. The Commonwealth petitioned for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. The Supreme Judicial Court denied relief, holding (1) in allowing the motion for a required finding nunc pro tunc after the jury returned their verdict the judge deprived the Commonwealth of its right to appeal from a postverdict acquittal; but (2) because the initial error in reserving decision on the motion implicated Defendant's constitutional rights and infected the remainder of the trial, the Commonwealth could not appeal. View "Commonwealth v. Yasin" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's judgment in defendant's favor in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that defendant violated the Fourth Amendment by arresting plaintiff inside the home of plaintiff's parents. Defendant, a sheriff's deputy, went to the home to question plaintiff about an earlier incident. When plaintiff declined to talk to defendant alone, an argument ensued, and plaintiff went back inside the home, where defendant then entered and arrested plaintiff. The court held that defendant violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable seizures when he arrested plaintiff inside of his home. The court also held that plaintiff's right to be free from a warrantless, in-home arrest was clearly established and that no exception to the warrant requirement even plausibly applies in this case. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Bailey v. Swindell" on Justia Law

by
For nearly 30 years, Chicago Studio operated the only film studio in Chicago. In 2010, Cinespace opened a new studio. Cinespace rapidly expanded its studio to include 26 more stages and 24 times more floor space than Chicago Studio’s facility. Chicago Studio subsequently failed to attract business and stopped making a profit. Chicago Studio sued the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois Film Office, and Steinberg (state actors responsible for promoting the Illinois film industry), alleging that the Defendants unlawfully steered state incentives and business to Cinespace in violation of the Sherman Act and equal protection and due process protections. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of those claims. The Sherman Act claim was properly dismissed because Chicago Studio failed to adequately plead an antitrust injury but merely alleged injuries to Chicago Studio, not to competition. The complaint does not plausibly allege that Defendants conspired to monopolize or attempted to monopolize the Chicago market for operating film studios. The district court properly granted summary judgment on the equal protection claim. Chicago Studio and Cinespace are not similarly situated, and there was a rational basis for Steinberg’s conduct. Cinespace consistently reached out to Steinberg for marketing support; Chicago Studio rarely did and it was rational for Steinberg to promote the studios based on production needs. View "Chicago Studio Rental, Inc. v. Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court overruling Defendant's motion to suppress evidence relating to a traffic stop, holding that the arresting officer had reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop. In affirming the trial court, the court of appeals determined that the discrepancy between the color in the vehicle's registration and the actual color of the vehicle was sufficient to raise the officer's suspicion to that vehicle was either stolen or that the license plate had been taken from another vehicle. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that when a police officer encounters a vehicle that is painted a different color from the color listed in the vehicle registration records and the officer believes that the vehicle or its license plates may be stolen, the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity and is authorized to perform an investigative traffic stop. View "State v. Hawkins" on Justia Law

by
Walker, a Stateville Correctional Center inmate, has an incurable motor neuron disease, primary lateral sclerosis (PLS). PLS causes weakness in his voluntary muscles. Walker alleges that Stateville’s healthcare providers (Wexford and Dr. Obaisi) were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs after he underwent spinal surgery in 2011. Walker claims they failed to ensure he received proper follow-up care and allowed undue delays in his treatment by outside experts, which delayed his diagnosis and caused him to suffer from the undiagnosed PLS in the interim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Dr. Obaisi made a reasonable medical judgment to delay referring Walker until he had more information and could make a more informed referral request. Obaisi responded to Walker’s changing symptoms and was receptive to the specialists’ recommendations. That Walker’s pain and other symptoms did not subside is not evidence of Obaisi’s deliberate indifference, considering that Walker voluntarily stopped taking pain medication. Obaisi did what he could within the limits of his role to move Walker’s treatment forward. Wexford refers many inmates, and the specialists have a finite number of appointments available. Absent evidence that Wexford was on notice that these wait times were likely to cause constitutional violations, but failed to act in response, Wexford cannot be liable. View "Walker v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the motion court to the extent it overruled Appellant's motion for postcondition relief on his driving while revoked conviction and affirmed the judgment in all other respects, holding that appellate counsel's failure to raise a sufficiency of evidence claim constituted deficient performance that prejudiced Appellant. Appellant was convicted of driving while intoxicated and driving while revoked. In his Mo. R. Civ. P. 29.15 motion for postconviction relief Appellant argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call his physician to testify that certain prescription medications he took made him appear intoxicated by alcohol the night he was arrested and that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue there was insufficient evidence to enhance his driving while revoked misdemeanor to a felony. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed in part, holding (1) Appellant's postconviction relief claim relating to his driving while intoxicated conviction was properly denied because there was no reasonable probability the trial court's finding would have been different had the physician testified at Appellant's trial; and (2) appellate counsel's failure to raise the sufficiency of the evidence claim constituted deficient performance by which Appellant was prejudiced. View "Hounihan v. State" on Justia Law

by
On remand from the Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit remanded the case to the district court with instructions to issue a writ of habeas corpus vacating petitioner's sentence and entitling him to a new sentencing hearing. Applying Brecht v. Abrahamson, the court reviewed the trial judge's error under Ake v. Oklahoma, holding that the constitutional error in this case was structural. The court held that the Ake error infected the entire sentencing hearing from beginning to end, because petitioner was prevented from offering any meaningful evidence of mitigation based on his mental health, or from impeaching the State's evidence of his mental health. The court held that this Ake error defies analysis by harmless-error review and thus prejudice to petitioner was presumed. View "McWilliams v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
An Airbnb guest at Wonsey’s Chicago home reported to police that his belongings disappeared after he lost consciousness from a seizure. The gate to Wonsey’s house was locked; no one responded to the doorbell. Sergeant Valentin called the theft victim, who gave Valentin the entry code. Valentin then went to the door and rang the doorbell. Two men opened the door and, as shown in Wonsey’s security video footage, allowed Valentin inside. The officers saw residents scattered throughout the first floor who appeared to have been sleeping in the living areas. Wonsey refused to allow officers to see where the theft victim was staying and told them to leave. The officers complied. Wonsey walked them outside. Valentin described the encounter as “friendly.” The officers did not arrest Wonsey nor conduct a search. Days later, prompted by a police request, the buildings department sent out inspectors accompanied by police officers. A man sitting on Wonsey’s porch opened the gate. Wonsey willingly allowed the inspectors inside. The police waited outside. The inspectors recorded 32 code violations and concluded the house should be immediately evacuated. The inspectors asked the police to assist with “emergency evacuations.” Officers entered the house and stayed in the common areas. Wonsey refused to leave. Wonsey sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in the defendants’ favor, stating that Wonsey did not allege any Fourth Amendment violations; her arguments were “unsupported, careless, and irrelevant.” View "Wonsey v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law