Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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After plaintiff's murder conviction was vacated when another person confessed to the murder, plaintiff filed suit against the City of Baltimore, the Baltimore Police Department, and others, alleging violations of his federal and state civil rights which led to his wrongful imprisonment for the murder. After a ten-day trial, the jury returned a $15 million verdict in favor of plaintiff. Defendant Goldstein, one of the officers at the scene of the murder, appealed.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of motions for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial under Rules 50 and 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, because there was evidence from which a reasonable jury could have found police misconduct. The court found no error in the district court's jury instructions, taken as a whole, because they complied with the law and the district court's earlier rulings. Finally, although the district court improperly admitted hearsay evidence, the error, in the context of the record as a whole, was harmless. Accordingly, the court affirmed the jury's verdict and the district court's denial of Rule 50 and 59 motions. However, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim against the Baltimore Police Department under Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) where the district court did not explain why the allegations of the complaint that were sufficient earlier no longer were. Rather, the district court's dismissal seems to be based on the verdict issued against Defendant Goldstein. If the City does in fact indemnify Goldstein and the judgment is satisfied, the Monell claim would be moot. View "Burgess v. Goldstein" on Justia Law

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Irvin Shell, as administrator of the estate of Annie Ruth Peterson, deceased ("the estate"), appealed separate summary judgments entered in favor of Montgomery-municipal jail employees Terri Butcher and Shayla Payne, respectively, on the basis of State-agent immunity. Annie Peterson was arrested for driving under the influence "of any substance" and transported to the municipal jail. Peterson was not actually under the influence of an intoxicating substance at the time of her arrest; rather, she was suffering from a hemorrhagic stroke. She remained in jail overnight; when jail officers went to retrieve Peterson from her cell, she was weak, “drowsy” and appeared ill. This information was relayed to a jail nurse; the nurse in turn contacted a doctor, who instructed jail staff to transport Peterson to the emergency room. After the bonding process was complete, Peterson was released to a family member who transported Peterson to a local hospital where she was diagnosed with having suffered a stroke; she died three days later on April 16, 2013. The estate sued Butcher and Payne in their individual capacities, alleging that they had been negligent and wanton in failing to obtain medical care for Peterson in a timely manner. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the estate did not demonstrate the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Butcher and Payne based on State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the trial court’s judgments were affirmed. View "Shell v. Butcher" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion filed under Kan. Stat. Ann. 60-1507 seeking a new trial based on allegations of ineffective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims.Defendant was convicted of two counts of aggravated criminal sodomy. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. Thereafter, Defendant brought this motion seeking a new trial based on allegations of ineffective assistance of both his trial counsel and appellate counsel. The district court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court's findings of fact were supported by substantial competent evidence; (2) the findings of fact supported the district court's legal conclusion; and (3) Defendant received effective assistance of counsel during both his trial and during appellate proceedings. View "Khalil-Alsalaami v. State" on Justia Law

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Four years after his release from prison, and after completing three years of supervised release, plaintiff was told he would have to serve another 27 months in jail based on an erroneous release from prison because he had a consecutive misdemeanor to serve. Plaintiff filed a writ of habeas corpus and the district court ruled that he must serve the remainder of his sentence. Plaintiff appealed, but the district court failed to act on the appeal until December 2013, at which point it dismissed the petition as moot because plaintiff had been released from jail upon completion of his sentence.Plaintiff then filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that his spontaneous incarceration deprived him of due process under the Fifth Amendment. The district court dismissed the case based on claim preclusion in light of plaintiff's prior unsuccessful habeas corpus action. The DC Circuit reversed and, on remand, the district court granted summary judgment for the District.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment that plaintiff failed to establish a pattern of constitutional violations or to demonstrate deliberate indifference. The court explained that plaintiff's evidence fails to show either that the District had a relevant custom of unconstitutional actions or that the District acted with deliberate indifference. However, the court vacated the entry of summary judgment for the District on the claim of unconstitutional policy because the nature and contours of the alleged policy present a number of disputed issues of material fact. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Hurd v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of operating while intoxicated (OWI), holding that Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 588 U.S. __, __, 139 S. Ct. 2525 (2019) (plurality opinion), applies to cases of suspected driving while under the influence of controlled substances, in addition to alcohol-related cases.Defendant caused an accident while driving recklessly. Defendant, who was injured, was taken to the hospital strongly smelling of marijuana. A police officer dispatched to the hospital performed a blood test of Defendant, who was sedated, after a medical professional certified that Defendant was unable to consent or refuse blood testing. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the testing, but the motion was overruled. Defendant appealed, arguing that the warrantless blood draw violated Iowa Code 321J.7, the Fourth Amendment to the federal Constitution, and Iowa Const. art. I, 8. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the State complied with section 321J.7; (2) because the parties did not have an opportunity to make a record under the Mitchell standard, the case must be remanded; and (3) article I, section 8 does not provide greater protection from warrantless blood draws than the Mitchell standard. View "State v. McGee" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Grzegorczyk hired two men to kill his ex-wife and others whom he deemed responsible for his divorce and the loss of custody of his son. The men he hired were undercover law enforcement officers. During a final meeting, Grzegorczyk gave the undercover officers $3,000 in cash, and showed them pictures, $45,000 in cash that he intended to pay upon completion of the murders, a semi-automatic handgun, and ammunition. Grzegorczyk was arrested.In 2014, Grzegorczyk pled guilty to murder-for-hire, 18 U.S.C. 1958(a) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)., Grzegorczyk waived the right to “all appellate issues that might have been available if he had exercised his right to trial”; he could only appeal the validity of his guilty plea and the sentence imposed. The district court imposed a within-Guidelines sentence of 151 months, with consecutive 60 months for the firearm offense, which was affirmed on appeal. The Supreme Court then invalidated the definition of a “violent felony” under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) (Johnson decision), later extending the holding to section 924(c)'s residual clause definition of “crime of violence.”Grzegorczyk sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255 from his 924(c) conviction. The district court denied relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Grzegorczyk has long unconditionally waived his right to contest the validity of his plea agreement and the legal sufficiency of the 924(c) charge. View "Grzegorczyk v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against T-Mobile and Broadspire, alleging transgender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from his treatment while working as a retail employee at a T-Mobile store.The Fifth Circuit held that, under Bostock v. Clayton County, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), a plaintiff who alleges transgender discrimination is entitled to the same benefits—but also subject to the same burdens—as any other plaintiff who claims sex discrimination under Title VII. In this case, the court concluded that plaintiff does not allege facts sufficient to support an inference of transgender discrimination—that is, that T-Mobile would have behaved differently toward an employee with a different gender identity. The court explained that, where an employer discharged a sales employee who happens to be transgender—but who took six months of leave, and then sought further leave for the indefinite future, that is an ordinary business practice rather than discrimination. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiff's remaining issues on appeal are likewise meritless. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Olivarez v. T-Mobile USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two prisoners on Idaho's death row, filed suit seek information concerning Idaho's execution procedures. Plaintiffs claim that the deprivation of execution-related information itself constitutes a violation of their constitutional and statutory rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court determined that plaintiffs' claims were unripe because they have ongoing post-conviction litigation, the outcome of which remains uncertain.The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims. As to ripeness, Idaho acknowledges that both plaintiffs are close to exhausting their post-conviction appeals and intends to proceed with their executions; plaintiffs claim the state's refusal to provide certain information violates their rights now; and the state has issued a revised execution protocol, from which the court can readily determine now whether plaintiffs' alleged rights, if they exist, have been violated. In these circumstances, the panel concluded that plaintiffs' claims are ripe. Given the unusual timeline of events in this case, the panel must also consider mootness. Because Idaho has now issued a revised Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that explains the procedures and drugs the state will use, these claims are moot. Applying the ripeness and mootness principles to each of plaintiffs' specific claims, the panel concluded that Claim One, Claim Two, part of Claim Four, part of Claim Five, and Claim Seven are ripe. The panel found the rest moot. Furthermore, the panel lacked jurisdiction over plaintiffs' state law claims. View "Pizzuto v. Tewalt" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Guenther was convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The Armed Career Criminal Act increases the penalty for that offense to a 15-year minimum and a maximum of life in prison if the defendant has three prior convictions for a “violent felony.” Guenther’s PSR identified two convictions for first-degree burglary (1990 and 1992), second-degree burglary (1986), and kidnapping (1990), all under Minnesota law. The judge applied ACCA and sentenced him to 327 months. His Eighth Circuit direct appeal failed as did his petition for collateral review under 28 U.S.C. 2255. In 2017, incarcerated in Wisconsin, Guenther sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241, arguing that his Minnesota burglary convictions are not “violent felonies”The Seventh Circuit granted habeas relief. A section 2255 motion in the sentencing court is normally the exclusive method to collaterally attack a federal sentence, but the “saving clause,” 2255(e) provides a limited exception, allowing a prisoner to seek section 2241 relief in the district of confinement if “the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” The Seventh Circuit applies the exception when the prisoner relies on an intervening statutory decision announcing a new, retroactive rule that could not have been invoked in his first section 2255 motion and the error is serious enough to amount to a miscarriage of justice. Guenther’s Minnesota burglary convictions are not ACCA predicates under Seventh Circuit law. View "Guenther v. Marske" on Justia Law

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Triplett pleaded guilty to three charges of human trafficking, pimping and pandering, and possession of a firearm by a felon, in exchange for the dismissal of 17 charges (including attempted first-degree homicide and kidnapping), which were to be “read-in” at sentencing (essentially allowing the judge to consider them as relevant conduct), Triplett’s total sentencing exposure was reduced from 354 years to a maximum of 47.5 years. The judge confirmed with defense counsel that the dismissed charges would be read-in. Defense counsel noted that Triplett did not admit the truth of the charges. In signing his plea agreement, Triplett acknowledged that “although the judge may consider read-in charges when imposing sentence, the maximum penalty will not be increased.” The judge ordered Triplett to serve 11 years in prison followed by nine years of supervision.Triplett unsuccessfully moved to withdraw his plea. Without conducting a hearing, the court determined that even if Triplett was given incorrect advice about the read-charges, Triplett was not prejudiced. The plea questionnaire and waiver of rights warned Triplett that the court could consider those charges. The court also represented that it had not considered the read-in charges at sentencing. Wisconsin's Court of Appeals and Supreme Court upheld the decision. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. The Wisconsin court’s rejection of Triplett's ineffectiveness claim rests on an adequate, independent state ground--Triplett’s failure to allege objective facts in support of his claim of prejudice. View "Triplett v. McDermott" on Justia Law