Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of jurisdiction, an interlocutory appeal of the district court's order denying qualified immunity to defendant in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that defendant used excessive force when he shot Wayne Anderson. The panel explained that it lacked jurisdiction to review defendant's arguments because his interlocutory appeal challenges only the district court's conclusion that there is sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute as to the factual question that will determine whether defendant's use of force was reasonable. In this case, rather than "advanc[ing] an argument as to why the law is not clearly established that takes the facts in the light most favorable to [the Estate]," which the panel would have jurisdiction to consider, defendant contests "whether there is enough evidence in the record for a jury to conclude that certain facts [favorable to the Estate] are true," which the panel did not have jurisdiction to resolve. View "Estate of Wayne Steven Anderson v. Marsh" on Justia Law

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When LaSpina began working for the Scranton Public Library, all Library employees were exclusively represented in collective bargaining by Local 668. No employee had to join the Union; an employee could join and pay full membership dues or decline to join and pay a lesser nonmember “fair-share fee.” LaSpina joined the Union. In 2018, the Supreme Court held, in "Janus," that compelling nonmembers to pay fair-share fees violates their First Amendment associational rights. LaSpina resigned from the Union and sued, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief, including a refund of the portion of the dues she paid the Union equal to the nonmembers’ fair-share fees, and a refund of membership dues deducted from her paycheck after she resigned.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. LaSpina had no standing to seek a refund of any portion of the dues she made prior to Janus because she cannot tie the payment of those dues to the Union’s unconstitutional deduction of fair-share fees from nonmembers. If LaSpina is due a refund of monies that were deducted from her wages after she resigned, the claim is not a federal one. LaSpina’s claim that the Union may not collect any dues from an employee until that employee knowingly and freely waives their constitutional right to resign from membership and withhold payments is moot as LaSpina no longer is a Union member. View "LaSpina v. SEIU Pennsylvania State Council" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion by denying plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that plaintiffs will likely succeed in showing that, as applied, the Dual Enrollment Program's "publicly funded" requirement violated their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. In this case, A.H., her parents, and the Diocese filed suit against the Agency of Education after A.H.'s application for public funding to the program was denied solely because of her school's religious status.The court concluded that, in these circumstances, the State's reliance on the "publicly funded" requirement as a condition for program eligibility imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion, because it forced Rice Memorial High School, a ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, to chose whether to participate in an otherwise available benefit program or remain a religious institution. At the same time, the requirement puts A.H.'s family to a choice between sending their child to a religious school or receiving benefits. In light of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 137 S. Ct. 2012, 2021 (2017), the court explained that the denial of a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity can be justified only by a state interest of the highest order. In this case, the Agency has not identified any compelling interest that could survive strict scrutiny. The court also concluded that the remaining preliminary injunction factors favor a preliminary injunction. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and granted the motion for a preliminary injunction. View "A.H. v. French" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order granting Simplified's special motion to strike the defamation cause of action in the cross-complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation under the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. The court held that the second amended complaint (SAC) did not render the anti-SLAPP motion moot. The court also held that the email at issue was clearly an act in furtherance of Simplified's constitutional right of petition and is protected activity for purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute; the litigation privilege defeats cross-complainants' defamation cause of action; and there is no duty to meet and confer before filing an anti-SLAPP motion. View "Trinity Risk Management, LLC v. Simplified Labor Staffing Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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Heyer, a Deaf individual who communicates in ASL, is civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person. In prison and while civilly committed, Heyer’s access to the Deaf community has dwindled. Detainees in Heyer’s Unit can communicate with the outside by writing letters, in-person visits, the prison email system, and a TTY machine for making calls under the supervision of a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) staff member to preapproved numbers. BOP also installed a videophone in Heyer's unit and contracted with a provider of SecureVRS services for calls to preapproved numbers, with monitoring. SecureVRS calls do not allow Heyer to call Deaf friends. All of the available means of communication are problematic because Heyer’s English skills are “novice low. ”An expert concluded that his reading and writing skills mimic those of a seven-year-old.The district court held that the BOP’s refusal to allow Heyer to make point-to-point calls with other Deaf individuals did not violate his First Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit reversed. Heyer’s constitutional rights are not defined merely by his civil detainee status or his past conduct. They are also defined by his status as a Deaf individual cut off from his community in a manner more complete than even foreign language prisoners. The district court erred by crediting BOP testimony about the risks of point-to-point calls without considering testimony about safety features that have managed those risks for other forms of communication it makes available. View "Heyer v. United States Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment against Plaintiff, acting as the personal representative of the estate of Ambrosia Fagre (Amber), on claims related to Amber's death, holding that the district court did not err when it granted Trooper Jeffrey Parks's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim.Plaintiff's complaint alleged use of excessive force against Amber in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments under section 1983 and use of excessive force against Amber in violation of Me. Const. art. I, 5 under the Maine Civil Rights Act, failure to protect Amber in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and negligence and wrongful death under Maine state law. The district court granted Trooper Parks's motion for summary judgment. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) summary judgment on Plaintiff's section 1983 claim was warranted, and Trooper Parks was also entitled to qualified immunity; and (2) the district court did not err by granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's state law claims because Trooper Parks was entitled to immunity under the Maine Tort Claims Act, Me. Stat. Tit. 14, 8111(1). View "Fagre v. Parks" on Justia Law

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Herndon pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Florida to bank fraud with an agreed loss amount of over $3 million. Before sentencing, Herndon was diagnosed with cancer and underwent extensive medical treatment. In 2013, she was sentenced below the guidelines range of 78–97 months to 60 months' imprisonment, supervised release, and $3,008,437 in restitution. Because Herndon needed additional medical treatment, the district court agreed to allow her to voluntarily surrender one year later; Herndon was released to home confinement and obtained several extensions. Ultimately, a warrant was issued and Herndon was taken into custody in April 2015.Herndon learned that the Bureau of Prisons calculated her sentence from the date she had entered custody (April 2015), rather than the March 2013 date she had been sentenced, and calculated her anticipated release date as August 2019. Herndon filed an unsuccessful 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion in the Southern District of Florida asking the court to amend the judgment to reflect its oral pronouncement, which she asserted had awarded her credit for the time she would spend on home confinement. Herndon then filed a section 2241 motion in the Northern District of Texas. While her section petition was pending, Herndon was released in July 2019. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition as moot. Herndon had already received the sole relief sought in her petition: release from confinement. View "Herndon v. Upton" on Justia Law

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Sandoval died of a methamphetamine overdose at the San Diego Central Jail after medical staff left him unmonitored for eight hours, despite signs that he was under the influence of drugs, and then failed to promptly summon paramedics when they discovered him unresponsive and having a seizure. A suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 was rejected on summary judgment.The Ninth Circuit reversed. The district court abused its discretion by summarily sustaining the defendants’ “frivolous” evidentiary objections. An objective standard applies to constitutional claims of inadequate medical care brought by pretrial detainees; the district court erroneously applied the subjective deliberate indifference standard. A jury could conclude that Sandoval would not have died but for the defendants’ unreasonable response to his obvious signs of medical distress and that a reasonable nurse who was told that Sandoval was shaking, tired, and disoriented, and who was specifically directed by a deputy to evaluate Sandoval more thoroughly, would have understood that Sandoval faced a substantial risk of serious harm. Failure to check on Sandoval and to promptly call paramedics were objectively unreasonable. The available law was clearly established at the time. The nurses were not entitled to qualified immunity. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, there was a triable issue of fact as to the county’s liability. View "Sandoval v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Williams was convicted of robbing a bank while carrying a firearm. The Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA) sentencing enhancement, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1), applies to defendants who committed three previous “violent” felonies. Williams had convictions for first-degree robbery, armed robbery, and federal kidnapping, 18 U.S.C. 1201(a)(1). The federal kidnapping PSR recounted that Williams “accosted” a man in Kentucky, threatened him with a revolver, and demanded a ride to Tennessee. In Knoxville, the victim leaped from the car and signaled a police officer. The federal statute provides that a person commits a federal kidnapping when he “unlawfully seizes, confines, inveigles, decoys, kidnaps, abducts, or carries away" a victim. The court never addressed why his previous felonies counted as violent but sentenced Williams to 327 months’ imprisonment, with a consecutive 60 months for carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.Williams obtained leave to file his third 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion and disputed the classification of his kidnapping conviction as a “violent felony” under ACCA's “residual clause,” which the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in 2015. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, finding it unclear whether the sentencing judge applied ACCA’s residual clause or the elements clause. Williams did not establish that the sentencing court committed a retroactive constitutional error. It is not enough that the court might have committed a statutory error by applying the elements clause in a case that did not warrant it; that error would not be retroactive on collateral review. Requiring Williams to provide “clear precedent showing that the court could only have used one clause” is not arbitrary. View "Williams v. United States" on Justia Law

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A facility caring for an unaccompanied child fails to provide a constitutionally adequate level of mental health care if it substantially departs from accepted professional standards. Appellants, a class of unaccompanied immigrant children detained at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC), filed a class action alleging that the Commission fails to provide a constitutionally adequate level of mental health care due to its punitive practices and failure to implement trauma-informed care. The district court found that the Commission provides adequate care by offering access to counseling and medication.The Fourth Circuit held that neither the Flores Settlement nor SVJC's cooperative agreement prevent appellants from addressing their alleged injuries through the relief they seek from SVJC. On the merits, the court applied the Youngberg standard for professional judgment and reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Commission. The court explained that the district court incorrectly applied a standard of deliberate indifference when it should have determined whether the Commission substantially departed from accepted standards of professional judgment. Therefore, in light of the Youngberg standard, the district court must consider evidence relevant to the professional standards of care necessary to treat appellants' serious mental health needs. The court left it to the district court to determine in the first instance to what extent, if any, the trauma-informed approach should be incorporated into the professional judgment standard in this particular case. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center Commission" on Justia Law