Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

by
In a prior criminal action, the state court agreed with the plaintiff in this case that Defendant Chapman, a Medical Board investigator, used illegally-obtained files to fabricate evidence and to indict plaintiff on trumped-up charges of running a pill mill. Here, plaintiff filed a civil suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Chapman and another government agent for violating his constitutional rights by using instanter subpoenas to illegally search his clinic, resulting in the illegal seizure of property and patient records. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment and held that Chapman was not entitled to absolute immunity as an investigator and, because Chapman fulfilled the fact-finding role generally filled by law enforcement, she is only entitled to the level of immunity available to law enforcement -- qualified immunity. The court also held that malicious prosecution and abuse of process are not viable theories of constitutional injury. The court agreed with defendants that malicious prosecution and abuse of process are torts, not constitutional violations. However, the court remanded for the district court to decide whether plaintiff has waived his Fourth Amendment claims and whether he should be allowed to amend his complaint a third time to add a due process claim. View "Morgan v. Chapman" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, a recent high school graduate and a transgender young man, filed suit against the school board through his next friend and mother, alleging violations of his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment granting plaintiff relief on both claims and held that the school district's policy barring plaintiff from the boys' restroom does not square with the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and Title IX's prohibition of sex discrimination. Applying heightened scrutiny, the court held that the record does not demonstrate that the school board has met its "demanding" constitutional burden by showing a substantial relationship between excluding transgender students from communal restrooms and student privacy. In this case, the policy is administered arbitrarily; the school board's privacy concerns about plaintiff's use of the boys' bathroom are merely hypothesized, with no support in the factual record; and the bathroom policy subjects plaintiff to unfavorable treatment simply because he defies gender stereotypes as a transgender person. Therefore, because the record reveals no substantial relationship between privacy in the school district restrooms and excluding plaintiff from the boys' restroom, the bathroom policy violates the Equal Protection Clause. Applying the Supreme Court's recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U.S. ___, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), the court held that excluding plaintiff from the boys' bathroom amounts to sex discrimination in violation of Title IX. The court explained that Title IX protects students from discrimination based on their transgender status; the school district treated plaintiff differently because of his transgender status and this different treatment caused him harm; and nothing in Title IX's regulations or any administrative guidance on Title IX excuses the discriminatory policy. Furthermore, plaintiff's discrimination claim does not contradict Title IX's implementing regulation. View "Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County" on Justia Law

by
The Randolph-Sheppard Act, 20 U.S.C. 107, requires government agencies to set aside certain contracts for sight-challenged vendors. States license the vendors and match them with available contracts. In 2010, Michigan denied Armstrong’s bid for a contract to stock vending machines at highway rest stops. A state ALJ ruled in Armstrong’s favor and recommended that she get priority for the next available facility/location. The state awarded Armstrong an available vending route later that year. Armstrong nonetheless requested federal arbitration, seeking nearly $250,000 in damages to account for delays in getting the license. The arbitrators ruled that Armstrong was wrongfully denied the location she sought and ordered Michigan to immediately assign Armstrong the Grayling vending route but declined to award damages, reasoning that her request was “too speculative.” The district court upheld the arbitration award and rejected Armstrong’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, concluding that the Randolph-Sheppard Act created the sole statutory right to relief under federal law. Michigan subsequently granted her the Grayling license. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The unfavorable arbitration decision was not arbitrary or capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. Armstrong may not sue under 42 U.S.C. 1983 to vindicate her rights under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. View "Armstrong v. Michigan Bureau of Services for Blind Persons" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254(d) based on a Confrontation Clause violation. Petitioner was convicted by a jury of armed robbery and aggravated battery. The court first held that the state intentionally waived its defense of procedural default. The court also held that the state district court's decision that no Confrontation Clause violation occurred through the handling of a detective's testimony constitutes an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent, and the state waived harmlessness. In this case, the detective testified that a nontestifying witness implicated petitioner and the prosecution likewise referenced that testimony in its closing argument. Therefore, such testimony violates the Confrontation Clause. The court remanded for the district court to grant habeas relief. View "Atkins v. Hooper" on Justia Law

by
Defendants appealed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of four state laws that regulate abortion: the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, the Sex Discrimination by Abortion Prohibition Act, an amendment concerning the disposition of fetal remains, and an amendment concerning the maintenance of forensic samples from abortions performed on a child. On June 29, 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in June Medical Services L. L. C. v. Russo, 140 S. Ct. 2103 (2020), holding unconstitutional a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court's preliminary injunction and remanded for reconsideration in light of Chief Justice Roberts's separate opinion in June Medical, which is controlling, as well as the Supreme Court's decision in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Ind. & Ky., Inc., 139 S. Ct. 1780 (2019) (per curiam). View "Hopkins v. Jegley" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff lived in Stowe, Vermont with her husband C.D. and their teenage daughter. Plaintiff and her husband co-founded a business, Transegy, LLC, that provided leadership development and executive coaching. Plaintiff worked from a home office and used her personal cell phone number as the contact number for the business. C.D. previously worked at a company called Inntopia. Defendant lived in Stowe, Vermont as a writer, political strategist and media consultant who had a “reputation as an aggressive operator in his professional pursuits.” He was in a romantic relationship with L.S., who also lived in Stowe and had a teenage son who attended high school in the same class as plaintiff’s daughter. Sometime in 2017, C.D. had a sexual encounter with L.S., who had been exploring potential employment opporunities with Inntopia. Shortly after the incident, L.S. reported to defendant that C.D. sexually assaulted her. L.S. filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against C.D. and Inntopia, which settled in May 2017. As part of the settlement, L.S. signed a nondisclosure agreement. Plaintiff was unaware of L.S.’s allegations and her husband’s infidelity until the lawsuit settled. Shortly before the settlement, plaintiff began receiving numerous calls from a number with no caller ID. Evidence at trial showed that between April 2017 and March 2018, defendant called her cell phone twenty-six times from a masked number. Defendant also called C.D.’s cell phone repeatedly during this period. In total, he called or texted plaintiff’s and C.D.’s cell phones a total of 151 times. Many of the phone calls took place in the evening, including calls after ten or eleven p.m. Ultimately, plaintiff filed a complaint for Order Against Stalking against defendant. Defendant appealed a final stalking order requiring him to stay 300 feet away from plaintiff. He argued that his conduct of: (1) calling plaintiff’s cell phone repeatedly from a number with no caller ID; (2) sending three shipments of books addressed to her husband to the house she and her husband shared, including primarily books about rape; and (3) watching her in a coffee shop for an unspecified period of time, could not be considered stalking under the civil stalking statute, 12 V.S.A. 5131. Construing the terms of section 5131 narrowly because it mirrored the criminal stalking statute, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that defendant’s conduct in this case did not rise to the level of stalking, and therefore reversed. View "Hinkson v. Stevens" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus based on lack of jurisdiction as an unauthorized second or successive petition. In this case, the state trial court granted in part petitioner's motion to correct sentence, pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.800(a), and issued an amended sentence nunc pro tunc, which removed a 10-year mandatory minimum term on one of his counts of conviction. The court held that the district court properly determined that petitioner's latest section 2254 petition was an unauthorized second or successive petition over which it lacked jurisdiction. The court explained that, because the amended sentence was entered nunc pro tunc under Florida law, it related back to the date of the original judgment and it was not a "new judgment" for purposes of section 2244(b). View "Osbourne v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
GSS filed suit for malicious prosecution and unfair business competition against defendant and his attorney, alleging that the attorney filed a prior lawsuit against GSS on behalf of his client, knowing that he lacked probable cause to bring the action. GSS also alleged that the attorney maliciously refused to dismiss the prior action and engaged in unfair business practices. The attorney filed an anti-SLAPP motion, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of the anti-SLAPP motion and the attorney's motion for reconsideration. The court held that, although the malicious prosecution and unfair business competition causes of action are based on conduct that is protected activity, GSS has met its burden of showing a probability of prevailing on the merits of these causes of action. Finally, the court held that the attorney's arguments regarding the motion for reconsideration are waived. View "Golden State Seafood, Inc. v. Schloss" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court denying a civil stalking injunction sought by Kristi Ragsdale against George Fishler, holding that the district court erred. Ragsdale ran Eva Carlton Academy (ECA), a residential treatment program for young women, out of her home in a suburb. Fishler, Ragsdale's neighbor, expressed his objection to ECA's presence in the neighborhood by flipping off and swearing at Ragsdale and others entering or exiting ECA and by placing provocative signs in his yard. The district court denied Ragsdale's request for an injunction. The Supreme Court reversed on each issue raised by Ragsdale and vacated the district court's ruling on Fishler's fee request, holding that the district court erred by (1) concluding that Fishler's conduct was directed only at ECA; (2) failing to determine whether Fishler's conduct would cause a reasonable person in Ragsdale's circumstances to suffer fear or emotional distress; and (3) denying Ragsdale's injunction on the ground that the First Amendment protects Fishler's conduct. Because the Court's reversal of these issues may affect the basis for the district court's denial of Fishler's attorney-fees request, the Court vacated that decision and remanded for a new determination. View "Ragsdale v. Fishler" on Justia Law

by
Pierri began working for Medline in 2011. In 2015, Pierri’s grandfather fell ill. Pierri's supervisor, Tyler, allowed Pierri to work 10‐hour shifts four days a week in order to take his grandfather on weekly hospital trips. Six months later, Tyler told Pierri to return to five‐day, eight-hour shifts. Tyler offered to let Pierri work Tuesday through Saturday, but Pierri wanted to attend school on Saturdays. Pierri began using one day per week of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. Tyler harassed him and refused to assign him research and development work, on which Pierri’s bonus depended. Pierri complained to Medline’s HR department; the harassment continued. Citing stress, Pierri started full‐time FMLA leave in March 2016. In September, Medline then approved him for disability leave. In March 2017, Medline contacted Pierri’s attorney to find out whether he planned on returning. Pierri did not respond. Medline terminated his employment. Pierri had filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and then filed suit, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12112(b)(4), for his association with his ailing grandfather, and retaliation 42 U.S.C. 12203. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Medline. Pierri failed to present material facts in dispute that would show that Medline discriminated against him for his association with his grandfather or that he suffered an adverse employment action. Pierri’s failure to respond about returning to work caused his termination, not retaliation for his complaints. View "Pierri v. Medline Industries, Inc." on Justia Law