Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment for the County of San Bernardino and County investigator in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging Defendants violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights during his murder investigation and prosecution, resulting in his erroneous conviction for the murder of his wife.   Plaintiff alleged that County of San Bernardino investigator fabricated evidence against him by planting. Plaintiff further alleged claims for municipal liability pursuant to Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), against the County, arguing that the County’s customs and policies, and the absence of better customs and policies, resulted in the alleged constitutional violations.   The court held that because the district court erred by failing to find potential civil rights liability as to the investigator, its derivative ruling as to potential County liability under Monell should also be reversed. The court further held that the district court erred by not addressing whether Plaintiff could show that he suffered a constitutional injury by the County unrelated to the individual officers’ liability under Section 1983.   Plaintiff put forth at least two Monell claims that were not premised on a theory of liability: (1) that the County’s policy of prohibiting coroner investigators from entering a crime scene until cleared by homicide detectives resulted in the loss of exculpatory time-of-death evidence, and (2) that the lack of any training or policy on Brady by the Sheriff’s Department resulted in critical exculpatory evidence being withheld by the prosecution. The court, therefore, remanded to the district court to consider these claims. View "WILLIAM RICHARDS V. COUNTY OF SAN BERNARDINO" on Justia Law

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Lewis was charged with involuntary sexual servitude of a minor (720 ILCS 5/10-9(c)(2)), traveling to meet a minor (11- 26(a)), and grooming (i11-25(a)). He asserted the defense of entrapment. Convicted, he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. The appellate court reversed the conviction, holding that defense counsel’s cumulative errors rendered the proceeding unreliable under Strickland v. Washington.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the remand for a new trial. Defense counsel was ineffective in presenting his entrapment defense where he failed to object to the circuit court’s responses to two jury notes regarding the legal definition of “predisposed,” object to the prosecutor’s closing argument mischaracterizing the entrapment defense and the parties’ relevant burdens of proof, and present defendant’s lack of a criminal record to the jury. View "People v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act provides that “[e]xcept in a medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality, a person shall not intentionally or knowingly perform . . . or induce an abortion of an unborn human being if the probable gestational age of the unborn human being has been determined to be greater than fifteen (15) weeks.” The Fifth Circuit affirmed an injunction, prohibiting enforcement of the Act.The Supreme Court reversed, overruling its own precedent. The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; the authority to regulate abortion belongs to state representatives. Citing the “faulty historical analysis” in Roe v. Wade, the justices concluded that the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition; regulations and prohibitions of abortion are governed by the same “rational basis” standard of review as other health and safety measures. The justices analyzed “great common-law authorities,” concerning the historical understanding of ordered liberty. “Attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s ‘concept of existence’ … could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.”Noting “the critical moral question posed by abortion,” the justices compared their decision to Brown v. Board of Education in overruling Plessy v. Ferguson, which “was also egregiously wrong.” Roe conflated the right to shield information from disclosure and the right to make and implement important personal decisions without governmental interference and produced a scheme that "looked like legislation," including a “glaring deficiency” in failing to justify the distinction it drew between pre- and post-viability abortions. The subsequently-described “undue burden” test is unworkable in defining a line between permissible and unconstitutional restrictions. Traditional reliance interests are not implicated because getting an abortion is generally an “unplanned activity,” and “reproductive planning could take virtually immediate account of any sudden restoration of state authority to ban abortions.” The Court emphasized that nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act is supported by the Mississippi Legislature’s specific findings, which include the State’s asserted interest in “protecting the life of the unborn.” View "Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization" on Justia Law

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Los Angeles County Deputy Vega questioned Tekoh at the medical center where Tekoh worked regarding the reported sexual assault of a patient. Vega did not inform Tekoh of his Miranda rights. Tekoh eventually provided a written statement and was prosecuted for unlawful sexual penetration. His written statement was admitted against him at trial. After the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, Tekoh sued Vega under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Ninth Circuit held that the use of an un-Mirandized statement against a defendant in a criminal proceeding violated the Fifth Amendment and could support a section 1983 claim.The Supreme Court reversed. A violation of the Miranda rules does not provide a basis for a section 1983 claim. In Miranda, the Court concluded that additional procedural protections were necessary to prevent the violation of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Miranda did not hold that a violation of the rules it established necessarily constitute a Fifth Amendment violation. The Miranda rules have been described as “constitutionally based” with “constitutional underpinnings,” but a Miranda violation is not the same as a violation of the Fifth Amendment right.Miranda warnings are “prophylactic,” and can require balancing competing interests. A judicially crafted prophylactic rule should apply only where its benefits outweigh its costs. While the benefits of permitting the assertion of Miranda claims under section 1983 would be slight, the costs would be substantial. View "Vega v. Tekoh" on Justia Law

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On December 14, 2021, the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion in this case, upholding the district court's rejection of Plaintiff's challenge to an ATF rule determining that bump stocks are "machineguns" for purposes of the National Firearms Act (NFA) and the federal statutory bar on the possession or sale of new machine guns.However, after a majority of the eligible circuit judges voted in favor of hearing the case en banc, the court vacated its prior opinion so the entire court could hear the case. View "Cargill v. Garland" on Justia Law

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St. Vincent Hospital adopted a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Employees had until November 12, 2021 to get vaccinated unless they received a medical or religious exemption. In reviewing exemption requests, St. Vincent considered the employee’s position and amount of contact with others, the current health and safety risk posed by COVID, and the cost and effectiveness of other safety protocols. Dr. Halczenko treated gravely ill children, including those suffering from or at risk of organ failure.St. Vincent denied Halczenko’s request for religious accommodation on the ground that “providing an exemption to a Pediatric Intensivist working with acutely ill pediatric patients poses more than a de minim[i]s burden to the hospital because the vaccine provides an additional level of protection in mitigating the risk associated with COVID.” Halczenko and four other St. Vincent employees filed an EEOC complaint. The others—a nurse practitioner and three nurses, including two in the pediatric ICU—were granted religious accommodations. St. Vincent terminated Halczenko’s employment. Halczenko attributes his lack of success in finding new work to his non-compete agreement with St. Vincent, his preference not to move his family, and the limited demand for an unvaccinated physician in his specialty. In a purported class action, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of preliminary relief, concluding that Halczenko had shown neither irreparable harm nor an inadequate remedy at law. View "Halczenko v. Ascension Health, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2018, Cuenca pleaded guilty to false imprisonment of his girlfriend and to a related charge of resisting arrest resulting in serious bodily injury to an officer. The court imposed a split sentence: three years of formal probation plus county jail time that amounted to a single day, net of credit for time served. Two years later, while on probation, Cuenca was charged with assault and criminal threats arising out of a physical altercation with a male friend, A jury found Cuenca guilty of a lesser offense of assault. The court revoked probation and sentenced Cuenca to county jail for an aggregate term running a total of five years and two months for the three felony convictions in both cases. Cuenca pursued consolidated appeals.The court of appeal affirmed the convictions and sentence, rejecting an argument that Napa County’s failure to grant county jail inmates the same opportunities that state prison inmates have to earn rehabilitation program credits violated his constitutional right to equal protection. Napa County need not put forward evidence of the actual reasons justifying its policy choice; the challenged classification is presumed to be rational. View "In re Cuenca" on Justia Law

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Alcoa Officers arrested an obviously inebriated Colson following a report that, while driving her SUV, she chased her 10-year-old son in a field and then crashed in a ditch, and transported her to a hospital. Colson then withdrew her consent. to a blood draw. Colson defied repeated orders to get back into the cruiser. During the struggle, an officer's knee touched Colson’s knee, followed by an audible “pop.” Colson started screaming “my fucking knee” but continued to resist. Once Colson was in the cruiser, officers called a supervisor, then took Colson to the jail where a nurse would perform the blood draw. Colson never asked for medical care. At the jail, Colson exited the vehicle and walked inside, with no indication that she was injured. As she was frisked, Colson fell to the ground and said “my fucking knee.” Jail nurse Russell asked Colson to perform various motions with the injured leg and compared Colson’s knees, commented “I don’t see no swelling,” and then left. A week later, Colson was diagnosed with a torn ACL, a strained LCL, and a small avulsion fracture of the fibular head. Colson pleaded guilty to resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and DUI.Colson sued; only a claim for failure to provide medical care for her knee injury survived. The Sixth Circuit held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity on that claim. View "Colson v. City of Alcoa" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the trial judge denying Defendants' motion for a new trial based on improper comments by the prosecutor, holding that the district court's denial of the new trial motions was plain error.Defendants Edward Canty, III and Melquan Jordan were prosecuted on charges that they had conspired to distribute and possess with intent to distribute both heroin and cocaine base. During their criminal trial, the prosecutor made four types of improper comments during the opening and closing statements and at rebuttal, to which Defendants did not object. After they were convicted Defendants moved for a new trial based on the improper comments by the prosecutor. The trial judge denied the motions under plain error review. The First Circuit vacated the decision below, holding that the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of the proceedings were seriously affected, requiring remand for a new trial. View "United States v. Canty" on Justia Law

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Several public-sector employees filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 seeking to recover any agency fees taken from their paychecks by the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association and Santa Clara County. Specifically, Plaintiffs sought a refund for fees paid before the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty., & Mun. Emps., Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018) (prohibiting public-sector unions from collecting compulsory agency fees).In the district court, Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment, claiming they were entitled to a good-faith defense because their actions were expressly authorized by then-applicable United States Supreme Court law and state law. Plaintiffs appealed.On appeal, Plaintiffs acknowledge that Danielson v. Inslee, 945 F.3d 1096 (9th Cir. 2019) precludes their claim against the Union. The Ninth Circuit held that the rule announced in Danielson also applies to municipalities because "precedent recognizes that municipalities are generally liable in the same way as private corporations in sec. 1983 actions." Thus, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' claim against both the Union and the County. View "SEAN ALLEN V. SANTA CLARA CNTY CORR. POA" on Justia Law