Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Former Texas state judge Suzanne Wooten filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against state and local law enforcement officials, alleging that they violated the Constitution by investigating and prosecuting her in retaliation for unseating an incumbent judge and making rulings they disagreed with. At issue in this appeal was whether defendants are entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity for their alleged acts. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court was without jurisdiction to accept Wooten's second amended complaint; that her first amended complaint remains operative; and that this appeal is not moot. The court also held that it has jurisdiction to hear defendants' appeal regarding prosecutorial immunity and Defendant White and Abbott's official immunity claims. However, the court held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear any defendant's appeal on qualified immunity and Defendants Roach and Milner's claims to official immunity. On the merits, the court held that Defendants Roach, White, and Abbott are each entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity. However, the court held that Defendant Milner is not shielded by absolute prosecutorial immunity because he was performing investigative functions that do not qualify for absolute immunity. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Wooten v. Roach" on Justia Law

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Williams was convicted in Illinois state court in two separate cases for raping two women and received sentences totaling 66 years’ imprisonment. Williams contends that his defense attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel by not only advising him to reject a 41-year plea offer but also failing to inform him of his maximum sentencing exposure if he proceeded to trial in both cases and lost. An Illinois court rejected these claims, concluding that Williams failed to provide any information pertinent to one of the two cases that gave rise to the 41-year plea offer. Without knowing anything about that case, the Illinois court reasoned, there was no way to assess defense counsel’s performance and no way to conclude that Williams received ineffective assistance. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his federal habeas petition, finding the Illinois court’s conclusion reasonable. The Illinois Appellate Court sensibly concluded that it had too little information to judge the advice Williams received in connection with the 41-year plea offer. Without even a superficial familiarity with one of the cases, a court could not know with confidence that Williams would have accepted a combined 41- year plea. View "Williams v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Wilborn was convicted of first-degree murder for the 2004 murder of a rival gang member in Chicago and was sentenced to 30 years, plus 25 years for personally discharging a firearm. After exhausting state remedies, he sought federal habeas relief. He claimed that trial counsel’s promises during opening arguments amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel. Trial counsel indicated multiple times that Wilborn’s co-defendant, Jenkins, would testify to shooting the victim. During the trial, however, Jenkins changed his proposed testimony and defense counsel determined Jenkins would no longer be credible. Wilborn agreed with this recommendation on the record. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the petition. Wilborn’s representation did not contain serious errors amounting to a deprivation of a fair trial; unforeseen situations may arise during trial. Counsel’s failure to present Jenkins to the jury or present testimonial evidence does not rise to the level of prejudice under Strickland. Promising the jury it will hear testimony that Wilborn did not participate in the crime does not necessarily create prejudice. View "Wilborn v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two unaffiliated candidates and one voter seeking to cast votes for write-in candidates, filed suit alleging that North Carolina's qualification requirements for candidates not affiliated with a political party and for candidates whose names are not printed on the ballot violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the requirement that an unaffiliated candidate be a "qualified voter" and that a write-in candidate submit a certain number of signatures before votes cast for that write-in candidate will be counted. Furthermore, although two plaintiffs have standing to challenge North Carolina's signature requirements and filing deadline for unaffiliated candidates, the court agreed with the district court that these election laws impose only a modest burden that is justified by the state's interest in regulating elections. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims, relying in part on different reasons than those expressed by the district court. View "Buscemi v. Bell" on Justia Law

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After Costco terminated plaintiff, who has been deaf since birth, she filed suit in Florida state court for violations of the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 (FCRA). After Costco removed the case to federal court, the case went to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Costco on one count of wrongful termination, but against the company on plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim. The district court subsequently granted summary judgment to Costco for judgment as a matter of law on the failure-to-accommodate claim. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that there was insufficient evidence to support plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim. In this case, plaintiff failed to point to a specific instance in which she needed an accommodation and was denied one. The court stated that it cannot hold that an employer fails to reasonably accommodate a deaf employee when it provide her with on-demand access to live sign-language interpreters at two, convenient locations within her place of work; when it goes further to provide on-site person interpreters for larger, group meetings; when it arranges a thorough training session on deaf culture, pursuant to the plaintiff's request; and when the plaintiff's general manager—the supervisor who was the sole subject of her sole complaint—resolves to improve his relationship with the plaintiff by attending multiple, one-on-one training sessions. View "D'Onofrio v. Costco Wholesale Corp." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the school district in an action brought by a student, alleging Title IX and constitutional claims stemming from her abuse by two school employees who were later criminally prosecuted. Under the Supreme Court's decision in Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District, a school district is not liable under Title IX for teacher-on-student harassment unless the district, among other things, had "actual notice" of the misconduct and was "deliberately indifferent" to it. The court held that the school peace officer is not an "appropriate person" for purposes of Title IX. The court also held that the school district did not have knowledge of prior acts of sexual harassment that provided actual knowledge of a risk of substantial harm under Title IX. Finally, the court held that the school district does not have municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. 1983. View "Doe v. Edgewood Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied a petition for panel rehearing and petition for rehearing en banc, withdrew its prior opinion, and substituted the following opinion. 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 court 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. The court also held that the district court correctly found a genuine dispute concerning whether Officers Gafford and Heidelburg were deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of a detainee in their custody. However, the court held that the district court erroneously granted summary judgment to Officer Scott where 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, the court held that a reasonable jury could find the Officers' conduct contravened clearly established law. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded in part. View "Dyer v. City of Mesquite" on Justia Law

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Anthony Kapinski shot and killed two men for which he was arrested and prosecuted for murder. But at trial, the jury found him not guilty on the basis of self-defense. Trial evidence included video surveillance footage of the incident. Kapinski brought civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Detective Terra Juarez and the City of Albuquerque, alleging constitutional violations stemming from Detective Juarez’s failure to mention the video surveillance footage in her warrant affidavit for Kapinski’s arrest. He argued that if the court issuing the arrest warrant had been made aware of the video footage, it would not have found probable cause supporting the warrant. Detective Juarez moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, and the district court granted her motion. The court held Kapinski failed to show a constitutional violation because the video footage would not have negated probable cause for his arrest, and, even if Detective Juarez’s omission ran afoul of the Fourth Amendment, she was nonetheless entitled to summary judgment because the law on this issue was not clearly established. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed Kapinski failed to show a clearly established constitutional violation and therefore affirmed summary judgment. View "Kapinski v. City of Albuquerque" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under Title VII against Midwest after it allegedly withdrew his job offer after learning that he was gay. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal based on Williamson v. A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 876 F.2d 69, 70 (8th Cir. 1989), and remanded for further proceedings in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Bostock v. Clayton Cty., 590 U.S. ___, Nos. 17-1618, 17-1623, 18-107, slip op. at 4 (June 15, 2020), which held that it "defies" Title VII for "an employer to discriminate against employees for being homosexual or transgender," because to do so, it "must intentionally discriminate against individual men and women in part because of sex." View "Horton v. Midwest Geriatric Management" on Justia Law

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The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibits almost all robocalls to cell phones, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). A 2015 amendment created an exception that allows robocalls made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States, 129 Stat. 588. The Fourth Circuit concluded that the government-debt exception was a content-based speech restriction that could not withstand strict scrutiny and was severable from the robocall restriction. The Supreme Court affirmed. Under the Free Speech Clause, the government generally has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content. Content-based laws are subject to strict scrutiny. The government-debt exception is content-based because it favors speech made for the purpose of collecting government debt over political and other speech. The exception does not draw distinctions based on speakers, and even if it did, that would not automatically render the distinction content-neutral. The exception focuses on whether the caller is speaking about a particular topic and not simply on whether the caller is engaged in a particular economic activity. While the First Amendment does not prevent restrictions directed at commerce or conduct from imposing incidental burdens on speech, this law does not simply have an effect on speech, but is directed at certain content and is aimed at particular speakers. The government has not sufficiently justified the differentiation between government-debt collection speech and other important categories of robocall speech, such as political speech, issue advocacy, and the like. View "Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc." on Justia Law