Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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In 1979-1980, Lesko went on a multi-day “Kill for Thrill” spree with his friend, Travaglia, ending the lives of four individuals in Western Pennsylvania. For the killing of a 21-year-old police officer, Lesko was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Lesko proceeded through many levels of the Pennsylvania state courts and two rounds of federal habeas proceedings. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of his latest petition under 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition, which challenged both his 1981 guilt-phase trial and his 1995 resentencing. The court rejected claims that the prosecution violated Lesko’s Brady rights by suppressing an agreement between a prosecution witness who was found in possession of Lesko’s gun (Montgomery) and the prosecution; a January 1980 police report; and information from the juvenile file of another prosecution witness, Rutherford. Lesko’s counsel did not perform ineffectively by violating his right to testify; Lesko was not prejudiced by any ineffectiveness in failing to properly investigate and present mitigating evidence at resentencing. View "Lesko v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In January 2019, Ali brought this civil rights action against Chicago and several police officers, alleging that the officers followed a city policy “of refusing to release on bond an arrestee taken into custody on an arrest warrant issued by an Illinois state court outside of Cook County.” Days before the deadline for completing fact discovery, Ali moved to certify a class. The district court granted the city’s motion to strike, noting that Ali had not added class allegations to his complaint. Ali sought leave to amend his complaint to include class allegations, arguing that he did not have evidentiary support for the existence of the city policy until a November 2019 deposition. The city replied that it had acknowledged the policy months earlier. The district court denied Ali's motion. Weeks later, Ali settled his case.On January 25, the district court dismissed the case without prejudice. Also on January 25, Miller moved to intervene under Rule 24, asserting that he was a member of Ali’s proposed class. With his motion to intervene pending, Miller filed a notice of appeal from the January 25 order. On March 24, with that appeal pending, the district court denied Miller’s motion to intervene as untimely. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. There was no operative class action complaint. Miller’s motion to intervene was untimely; he is not a party to the lawsuit and cannot pursue other challenges. View "Miller v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Ford, a Haitian national, became involved in Haitian national politics by joining PPD in 2012; he believed the ruling political party, PHTK, was corrupt and involved in human rights abuses. Ford received anonymous threatening telephone calls; in 2014, armed men encircled Ford’s home, shot into it, and burned it down. Ford reported the attack to Haitian authorities and fled Haiti. The United States began removal proceedings.Ford hired an attorney, who submitted a Form I-589 application for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture. Ford and the attorney subsequently had little contact. Ford stated the attorney “never prepared me for my final hearing.” The attorney provided scant documentary evidence to support Ford’s application and did not submit any documents about the PPD. The IJ denied relief, finding that Ford was credible but had “submitted no objective evidence” to help meet his burden in proving that he was harassed or persecuted on account of his political opinion or that Ford’s fear of persecution upon his return to Haiti was reasonable. Ford retained new counsel. The BIA affirmed and denied a motion to reopen Ford’s case based on ineffective assistance.The Third Circuit vacated. Ford presents a meritorious ineffective-assistance claim; his lawyer failed to present important and easily available evidence going to the heart of Ford’s claims. View "Saint Ford v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, several organizations and an individual, sued the City of Pensacola (“City”) and the Secretary of State of Florida (“Secretary”) in state court because the Pensacola City Council voted to remove a Confederate cenotaph from one of the City’s parks. The complaint included both federal and state constitutional claims, a claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, and state statutory and common-law claims.   Plaintiffs appealed 1) the denial of leave to file a proposed amended complaint; 2) the District Court’s grant of the City’s and the Secretary’s motions to dismiss; 3) the District Court’s denial of the motion for reconsideration of remand back to state court.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ complaints against Defendants in state court with instructions for the District Court to remand this case back to state court. The court held that Plaintiffs do not have standing because their allegations do not amount to an injury under Article III. The court reasoned that standing requires Plaintiffs to allege enough facts to establish injury-in-fact, causation, and redressability. Here, most of Plaintiffs’ allegations of harm go only to the general disagreement with taking down the cenotaph and a general notion that such action by the government would violate their constitutional rights, both of which fall short of the concreteness standard under Gardner v. Mutz, 962 F.3d 1329 (11th Cir. 2020) and Diamond v. Charles, 476 U.S. 54 (1986) respectively. View "Ladies Memorial Association, Inc., et al. v. City of Pensacola, Florida, et al." on Justia Law

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The Southern District of Indiana imposed a filing bar against Martin for submitting false information in an application to proceed in forma pauperis. Martin subsequently filed suit in the Northern District of Indiana under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that an Indiana State Prison guard sexually assaulted him. The defendants argued that Martin had forged the signature, date, and checkmark on a grievance form to avoid summary judgment for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Martin unsuccessfully moved to remove the allegedly falsified documents from the record and asked the court to appoint handwriting and computer experts; he alleged the defendants had tampered with the forms.The district court found that Martin had knowingly submitted an altered form and, under FRCP 56(h), barred him for two years “from filing any document in any civil case in this court until he pays all fines and filing fees due in any federal court.” The bar does not apply to appeals or to habeas corpus petitions. The court dismissed all of Martin’s pending civil cases. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The evidence of Martin’s fraud was plain, and the court did not abuse its discretion in deciding that it did not need an expert to understand the evidence. The court reasonably concluded that a hearing would not aid its decision. “Martin’s conduct in this case and others cannot be tolerated.” View "Martin v. Redden" on Justia Law

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A fire consumed Jones’s house in 2013. York, a county sheriff’s investigator, initially blamed an electrical malfunction. When he learned that Jones’s friend, Onopa, claimed to have a recording of Jones admitting to arson, he reopened the investigation. York interviewed several witnesses, analyzed Jones’s telephone records, and secured Onopa’s recording, then referred the matter to the district attorney, After her conviction, Jones obtained new counsel and argued that her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress Onopa’s recording as created for the purpose of extortion. Before the court ruled on the matter, the district attorney dropped all charges against Jones. Jones then sued York and Adams County under 42 U.S.C. 1983. She contended that York violated her due process rights by withholding exculpatory evidence, fabricating inculpatory evidence, testifying falsely at trial, and prosecuting her without probable cause.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment to the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No reasonable jury could find for Jones on any of her claims. Jones’s cell phone records were presented and discussed by both sides at trial. The jury heard testimony from York, Jones, and Onopa. Questioning by both sides exposed the discrepancies in each witness’s version of events. Jones failed to show a genuine dispute of fact as to whether York fabricated evidence. View "Jones v. York" on Justia Law

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During his 2018 Senate reelection campaign, Cruz loaned his campaign committee $260,000. Section 304 of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act restricts the use of post-election campaign contributions, 52 U.S.C. 30116(j). Federal Election Commission regulations establish that a campaign may repay up to $250,000 in candidate loans using contributions made at any time and may use pre-election contributions to repay any portion exceeding $250,000 only within 20 days of the election; after that deadline, any portion above $250,000 is treated as a campaign contribution, precluding repayment. The Committee began repaying Cruz’s loans after the 20-day post-election window, leaving $10,000 unpaid. Cruz and the Committee challenged Section 304.The Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment for the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs had standing. An injury resulting from the application or threatened application of an unlawful enactment remains fairly traceable to such application, even if the injury was "willingly incurred." The present inability of the Committee to repay and Cruz to recover the final $10,000 is traceable to Section 304.The loan-repayment limitation abridges First Amendment rights by burdening candidates who wish to make expenditures on behalf of their own candidacy through personal loans. It increases the risk that such loans will not be repaid in full, which deters candidates from making loans. Debt is a ubiquitous tool for financing electoral campaigns, especially for new candidates and challengers. Section 304 raises a barrier to entry. The only permissible ground for restricting political speech is the prevention of “quid pro quo” corruption or its appearance. The government failed to identify a single case of quid pro quo corruption in this context, even though most states do not impose any similar limitations. View "Federal Election Commission v. Cruz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the habeas court granting Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus after determining that Petitioner had suffered prejudice as a result of the ineffective assistance of his trial counsel, holding that there was no error.In granting habeas relief, the habeas court determined that Petitioner's trial counsel failed to provide Petitioner with professional advise and assistance during pretrial plea negotiations and that Petitioner would have accepted the trial court's pretrial plea offer but for the ineffective assistance of Petitioner's trial counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the habeas court did not err in concluding that Petitioner had fulfilled his burden of establishing prejudice. View "Barlow v. Commissioner of Correction" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Angela Gates appealed a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment to defendant, her former employer, on plaintiff’s claims for disability discrimination under the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) and retaliation under both the Vermont Parental Family Leave Act (PFLA) and Vermont’s workers’ compensation law. Defendant hired plaintiff as a “molder” in 1996. In May 2015, plaintiff reported to defendant that she injured her left knee outside of work. She subsequently took approximately twelve weeks of leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the PFLA, which ran concurrently. Plaintiff returned to work full-time as a "molder" in August 2015 after exhausting her FMLA/PFLA leave. She returned to molder work, but it caused pain in her knee. Plaintiff was reassigned to work as a "finisher," which again aggravated her knee. After a third period of recovery and return to work, plaintiff testified that when she returned, she was told there was no work she could do that was a light-duty task. "Ultimately, plaintiff had the burden to present some admissible material by which a reasonable jury could infer that defendant’s stated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her - that she was indefinitely incapable of performing the essential functions of her job - was a lie. She failed to do so." The trial court correctly granted summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff’s retaliation claims. View "Gates v. Mack Molding Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Officers of the Prentiss Police Department arrested Plaintiff for aggravated assault after he and others told the officers that Plaintiff had shot the victim. Plaintiff sued the officers and the City of Prentiss under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for arresting him without probable cause. He argued that the officers lacked probable cause because he told them that he shot the victim in self-defense. The district court granted summary judgment on all claims and awarded fees to the defendants.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued, first, that the Officer and Chief arrested him without probable cause and that they are not entitled to qualified immunity. Second, the Chief intentionally or recklessly omitted material statements in the warrant affidavit, resulting in a warrant lacking probable cause. Third, the City of Prentiss is liable under Monell. Fourth, he established a material fact issue on his state-law malicious-prosecution claim. Finally, Defendants are not entitled to attorneys’ fees.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment order and award of fees to Defendants. The court reasoned it is not enough to invoke the general principle that the Fourth Amendment prohibits a warrantless arrest without probable cause. Therefore, the Officer and Chief would be entitled to qualified immunity even if they lacked probable cause for the initial warrantless arrest. Further, the court concluded that Plaintiff cannot show want of probable cause therefore, his malicious-prosecution claim cannot succeed. Finally, Plainitff has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in granting attorneys’ fees. View "Loftin v. City of Prentiss, MS" on Justia Law