Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The case involves Suzy Martin, the owner and president of Smart Elevators Co., a certified minority- and woman-owned elevator service and repair company. The company, which historically did most of its business with the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago, saw its customer base change after a whistleblower complaint alleged that Martin and her company engaged in a bribery and kickback scheme with a University of Illinois Chicago employee. This led to an investigation by the Office of the Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor (OEIG), which concluded that Martin, Smart Elevators, and the University employee had engaged in a kickback scheme that violated Illinois ethics law and University policy and recommended that the University sever ties with Martin and her company.As a result of the report, the State and City ceased doing business with Martin and Smart Elevators, causing the company to lose millions in preexisting and potential contracts. Martin sued several State and City entities and officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, bringing “stigma-plus” procedural due process claims under the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed her amended complaint with prejudice.Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that Martin's occupation was operating an elevator service and repair business, not just providing those services specifically to the State or City. The court also found that despite the loss of State and City contracts, Martin had not been denied her liberty to pursue her occupation as she remained the owner and operator of Smart Elevators, which continued to operate and even managed to secure a contract with the Department of Justice in 2021. As such, the court found no violation of Martin's occupational liberty rights. View "Martin v. Haling" on Justia Law

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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the defendant, Charles O’Neill, appealed the judgment of the district court. O’Neill was charged with sexually exploiting a minor and receiving or distributing child pornography. He pleaded guilty to both charges but reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from his home and a barn he owned. The evidence included large numbers of photographs of nude and partially nude minor boys on O’Neill’s phone and iPad, and a computer, camcorder, camera, digital storage devices, miscellaneous clothing, and a vibrator found in the barn.The district court found that although the affidavits from the police officers used to obtain search warrants contained false statements and lacked probable cause, the officers had not knowingly or recklessly misled the issuing magistrate, and their reliance on the warrants was objectively reasonable under the good-faith exception in United States v. Leon.On appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, agreeing that none of the exceptions to the good-faith exception applied. The court found that the officers' errors in the affidavits were negligent rather than reckless, the affidavits weren't "bare bones" as they contained more than conclusory claims and were far from devoid of factual support, and the warrants weren't facially deficient. The court noted that the officers' reliance on the search warrants was objectively reasonable, and therefore the fruits of their searches shouldn't be suppressed. The court also noted that even if it shared the dissenting judge's view on the officers' state of mind, it would likely conclude that the district court's denial of the suppression motion was proper because the remaining content of the affidavit would likely establish probable cause. View "United States v. O'Neill" on Justia Law

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In this case, DeShawn Anderson-Santos, a juvenile detainee at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center, claimed he suffered a head injury after being pushed by corrections officer Derek Leshan. Anderson-Santos filed a lawsuit against Leshan under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Eighth Amendment, alleging the use of excessive force. Leshan sought summary judgment arguing qualified immunity. The district court denied Leshan’s motion, finding that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Leshan had used excessive force, thus violating the Eighth Amendment. The court also found that Leshan was not entitled to qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage. Leshan appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.The Sixth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court noted that while denials of summary judgment are not typically appealable on an interlocutory basis, an exception exists for denials of claims of qualified immunity if the appeal turns on a legal issue. However, the court found that Leshan's appeal ultimately turned on questions of fact rather than an issue of law, divesting the court of jurisdiction. The court explained that a defendant seeking to challenge a denial of qualified immunity based on a genuine dispute of material fact may invoke the court's jurisdiction by conceding the plaintiff's version of the facts. However, the court determined that Leshan did not truly concede Anderson-Santos' version of the facts, thus the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal. View "Anderson-Santos v. Kent County" on Justia Law

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This case concerned an appeal by Matthew Ware, a former correctional officer, against the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. Ware was convicted by a jury of two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and was sentenced to concurrent terms of 46 months of imprisonment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed this sentence.Ware was a correctional officer at the Kay County Detention Center in Oklahoma. The charges against him arose from two incidents where he was found to have abused his power and caused harm to inmates. In one incident, Ware ordered the transfer of two inmates to a different level of the detention center, despite knowing that this would likely result in a fight, which it did. In another incident, Ware ordered a detainee to be handcuffed in a painful position for an extended period of time.Ware appealed his sentence, arguing that the court did not give adequate weight to his personal history and lack of criminal record. However, the Court of Appeals found that the district court had thoroughly weighed each of the sentencing factors and detailed its reasoning. The Court of Appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Ware to 46 months of imprisonment, and affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Ware" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Ivan Cantu, who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2001, sought to authorize the district court to consider a successive petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2244. He claimed a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and suppression of evidence by the state in violation of Brady v. Maryland. The Fifth Circuit denied his motion for authorization, holding that Cantu had failed to meet the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2)(B).The court found that Cantu failed to exercise due diligence to discover the evidence he was now relying on and that he failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have found him guilty. The court also noted that Cantu's last-minute filing was an attempt at manipulation and did not serve the public interest or the interest of the victims in the timely enforcement of the sentence. Consequently, the court denied Cantu's motion for a stay of execution. View "In Re: Ivan Cantu" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the plaintiff, Kristin Cosby, claimed that the South Carolina Probation, Parole & Pardon Services (SCPPP) had discriminated against her based on her gender and retaliated against her for filing discrimination complaints in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cosby had previously worked for SCPPP, left, and then reapplied in 2012. When she was not rehired, Cosby filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which found in her favor. SCPPP rehired her, but Cosby alleged that she was subsequently subjected to gender discrimination and retaliation, including being denied a promotion, being investigated for inappropriate relationships with subordinates, and ultimately forced to resign.The court affirmed the district court's granting of summary judgment to SCPPP. The court held that Cosby had failed to establish her gender discrimination claim under both the disparate treatment and hostile work environment theories. For the disparate treatment claim, Cosby failed to identify a valid comparator — a similarly situated individual of a different gender who was treated more favorably. In her hostile work environment claim, Cosby's internal complaint did not constitute protected activity under Title VII because it did not oppose an unlawful employment practice. The court also found no causal connection between Cosby's 2012 EEOC charge and any adverse employment action taken by SCPPP in 2018, defeating her retaliation claim. View "Cosby v. South Carolina Probation, Parole & Pardon Services" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiffs, Susan Johnson and Jocelyne Welch, brought an action against the City of Biddeford, Chief of Police Roger P. Beapure, and Officer Edward Dexter of the Biddeford Police Department, alleging a violation of substantive due process rights under the state-created danger test. Johnson and Welch's action stems from a violent incident involving their landlord, James Pak. Pak became agitated about the number of cars parked in the driveway of the property he rented to Johnson and her son, Thompson. During a confrontation, Pak made gun-shaped hand gestures and said "bang." Thompson called the police and Officer Dexter responded.Officer Dexter spoke with both parties separately. During his conversation with Pak, Pak expressed his anger and frustration, making various threatening remarks. Despite these threats, Officer Dexter did not arrest, detain, or initiate a mental health intervention for Pak. After speaking with Pak, Officer Dexter returned to Johnson and Thompson's apartment, informing them that Pak was "obviously extremely upset" but did not relay the specific threats made by Pak. A few minutes after Officer Dexter left, Pak entered Johnson and Thompson's apartment and shot Johnson, Thompson, and Welch.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that Officer Dexter was entitled to qualified immunity against the plaintiffs' claim of violation of substantive due process rights under the enhancement-of-danger prong of the state-created danger test. The court found that a reasonable officer in Dexter's position would not have understood, based on the facts of the case, that he was violating any such rights by his actions and inactions. View "Johnson v. City of Biddeford" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, an African-American male, brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, Genzyme Therapeutic Products, LP, and one of its executives. The plaintiff alleged racial discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the plaintiff failed to provide sufficient proof that the employer's stated rationale for certain adverse employment actions was pretextual. The court also found that the plaintiff did not provide enough evidence to demonstrate a causal connection between the alleged protected conduct (filing a complaint against another employee for racial discrimination) and the adverse action (a poor performance review).On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the plaintiff failed to establish that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the employer's proffered reason for the negative performance review was a pretext for discrimination. The court noted that the plaintiff's argument relied heavily on speculation and conjecture rather than definite and competent evidence. The court also highlighted that even if the plaintiff's direct manager thought he was deserving of a higher rating, this did not shed light on the executive's view, nor did it allow a reasonable juror to find that the executive's stated rationale was pretextual. The court concluded that a single racially tinged comment made by the executive was not sufficient to prove discriminatory intent. View "Boykin v. Genzyme Therapeutic Products, LP" on Justia Law

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The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dealt with two consolidated cases involving two New Jersey parents, who claimed they were retaliated against for protesting school policies related to mandatory masking during the COVID-19 pandemic. One parent, George Falcone, was issued a summons for defiant trespass after refusing to wear a mask at a school board meeting, while another parent, Gwyneth Murray-Nolan, was arrested under similar circumstances. Falcone claimed retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights, while Murray-Nolan argued the same and also claimed she was deprived of substantive due process. The district court dismissed both cases. On appeal, the court found that Falcone had standing to sue, reversing and remanding the lower court's decision. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of Murray-Nolan's case, concluding that refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic was not protected conduct under the First Amendment. View "Murray-Nolan v. Rubin" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, plaintiff Shawn McBreairty claimed that a local school-board policy violated his First Amendment rights by restricting what he could say at the board's public meetings. McBreairty sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the policy. The defendants were the School Board of Regional School Unit 22 in Maine and Heath Miller, the Board's chair. The policy in question prohibited public complaints or allegations against any school system employee or student during board meetings. It also allowed the Chair to terminate any presentation that violated these guidelines or the privacy rights of others.McBreairty had been stopped from criticizing school employees during two separate board meetings. Each time, after he mentioned a teacher's name and criticized their practices, the Chair warned him to stop, the video feed was cut, and the police were contacted to remove him from the premises. He was not arrested or charged with any crime on either occasion.The District Court denied McBreairty's request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. He then appealed this decision. While this appeal was pending, the School Board amended the policy in question.The Court of Appeals vacated the decision of the District Court, not on the merits of McBreairty's First Amendment claims, but on the grounds that he lacked standing to seek the injunctive relief at issue. The Court reasoned that McBreairty did not sufficiently demonstrate an intention to engage in the allegedly restricted speech at future board meetings, which is necessary to establish a concrete, live dispute rather than a hypothetical one. The Court thus concluded that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case under Article III of the Constitution. The case was remanded to the District Court for further proceedings. View "McBreairty v. Miller" on Justia Law