Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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T.O. and his parents appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims arising under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974. Plaintiffs' claims arose from a primary school disciplinary incident experienced by T.O.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the substantive due process claim, concluding that the facts simply do not suggest that T.O. was the subject of a random, malicious, and unprovoked attack, which would justify deviation from Fee v. Herndon, 900 F.2d 804. In this case, an aide removed T.O. from his classroom for disrupting class, and the teacher used force only after T.O. pushed and hit her. Even if the teacher's intervention were ill-advised and her reaction inappropriate, the court cannot say that it did not occur in a disciplinary context. Furthermore, the court has consistently held that Texas law provides adequate, alternative remedies in the form of both criminal and civil liability for school employees whose use of excessive disciplinary force results in injury to students in T.O.'s situation.The court also concluded that plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims fail because this court has not conclusively determined whether the momentary use of force by a teacher against a student constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure. In regard to the ADA and section 504 claims, the court concluded that the amended complaint failed to allege facts permitting the inference that either the teacher's actions or the school district's actions were based on T.O.'s disability. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying leave to amend. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's rulings. View "T.O. v. Fort Bend Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant Clark and Cox's motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity for claims of failure to treat and the wrongful death of Hirschell Wayne Fletcher, Jr., who died from previously sustained head trauma while in custody.The court agreed with plaintiffs that between when paramedics Clark and Cox arrived and allegedly failed to treat Fletcher, but before he was formally transported, a reasonable person in Fletcher's position—surrounded and confronted by five officers—may not have thought he was free to leave, and was therefore detained. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that Clark, Cox, and the surrounding officers harassed and laughed at Fletcher until he was transported to the detention facility, all without any medical treatment. As alleged, the court concluded that such conduct supports that the paramedics may have been both subjectively aware of, and disregarded, Fletcher's serious risk of injury. Furthermore, it is undisputed that, at the time Clark and Cox allegedly failed to treat Fletcher, the law was clearly established that pretrial detainees have a Fourteenth Amendment right to medical care. View "Kelson v. Clark" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff's state criminal charge for animal cruelty was dismissed, plaintiff and his wife filed suit against the City and the Police Department under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims for wrongful arrest and excessive force, as well as various state law claims. The jury returned a verdict for defendants on all counts. The district court denied plaintiff's motion for a mistrial during the trial and later denied a post-trial motion for a new trial.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for mistrial based on its response to a potential juror's de minimis conduct. In this case, the district court properly dispatched its voir dire duties by probing whether the excused potential juror had made any additional statements which could have prejudiced plaintiff and by considering and rejecting the argument that brief departing comments in this instance required the empanelment of a new venire. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying a continuance and properly exercised its discretion by limiting plaintiff's testimony to issues relevant to the substantive issues in the case being tried. The court further concluded that the district court did not err by allowing defendants to argue that the entire requested $975,000 damages award would come from Officer Horan personally. In any event, to the extent that these statements created confusion because of the temporal proximity between the accurate statements of the law and the references to the full amount requested, the district court allowed plaintiff's counsel on rebuttal to explain the issue. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's challenges to the district court's handling of the jury instructions. View "Farnik v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute entered after Defendant pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, holding that Defendant's argument that his plea was invalid was without merit.On appeal, Defendant argued that his plea was invalid because he entered it without knowing that he was waiving his right to appeal the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress the drugs, gun, and statements he had made following his arrest. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that, even if there was error, it was not clear or obvious. View "United States v. Casiano-Santana" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former inmate at Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail, filed suit against defendant, a doctor for the jail, alleging an Eighth Amendment violation under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and violations of state law, based on the doctor's purported failure to properly treat his diabetes.As a preliminary matter, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court's order sufficiently addressed all permutations of plaintiff's deliberate indifference claims and is therefore final. On the merits, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the doctor. The court concluded that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the doctor's alternative treatment plan was "so grossly incompetent" as to permit a finding of deliberate indifference. Likewise, plaintiff's gross negligence claim of medical malpractice failed for substantially the same reasons. In this case, the doctor was not grossly negligent where he placed plaintiff on a diabetic diet, ordered daily and then twice daily blood sugar tests, and reviewed plaintiff's blood sugar levels on a weekly basis. View "Hixson v. Moran" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Petitioner's claim for habeas relief on the grounds that Petitioner's allegations should have been raised at trial or in a timely petition under Ark. R. Crim. P. 37.1, holding that Petitioner failed to raise a claim for issuance of the writ.Petitioner was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to a term of life imprisonment without parole. The Supreme Court affirmed. Petitioner later filed his habeas corpus petition, arguing that his conviction was void because he was tried by an eleven-member jury. The circuit court dismissed the action. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner's claim constituted a due process claim that was not cognizable in a habeas proceeding and should have been raised on direct appeal or in a petition for postconviction relief. View "Phillips v. Culpepper" on Justia Law

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Philadelphia contracts with private agencies, which certify prospective foster families under state criteria. Based on its religious beliefs, Catholic Social Services (CSS) will not certify unmarried couples or same-sex married couples. Other Philadelphia agencies will certify same-sex couples. No same-sex couple sought certification from CSS. Philadelphia informed CSS that unless it agreed to certify same-sex couples it would no longer refer children to the agency, citing a non-discrimination provision in the agency’s contract and its Fair Practices Ordinance. CSS filed suit. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of preliminary relief.The Supreme Court reversed. The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples violates the Free Exercise Clause by requiring CSS either to curtail its mission or to certify same-sex couples in violation of its religious beliefs. Philadelphia's policies are neither neutral nor generally applicable so they are subject to strict scrutiny. The contract's non-discrimination requirement is not generally applicable; it permits exceptions at the “sole discretion” of the Commissioner. The Ordinance forbids interfering with the public accommodations opportunities of an individual based on sexual orientation, defining a public accommodation to include a provider “whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations are extended, offered, sold, or otherwise made available to the public.” Certification as a foster parent is not readily accessible to the public; the process involves a customized assessment that bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel or riding a bus.A government policy can survive strict scrutiny only if it advances compelling interests and is narrowly tailored to achieve those interests. Philadelphia has no compelling interest in denying CSS an exception to allow it to continue serving Philadelphia's children consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone. View "Fulton v. Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court allowing Defendant's motion to suppress all of the statements he made after having invoked his right to counsel, holding that the trial judge did not err in granting the motion to suppress.Defendant was arrested on charges of murder in the first degree and possession of a firearm without a license. Although Defendant first agreed to waive his Miranda rights and speak with police in an interrogation room, twenty minutes after the interview began Defendant requested to speak with an attorney. Forty-five minutes later, Defendant again waived his Miranda rights and agreed with speak with the police. Defendant was subsequently interviewed for about one hour. Thereafter, Defendant moved to suppress all of the statements he made after having invoked his right to counsel. The superior court judge allowed the motion to suppress, concluding that it had not been established beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant reinitiated the interview and knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his right to counsel. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the trial judge did not err. View "Commonwealth v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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Cook County inmate Bowers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after other inmates attacked him in 2012, alleging the defendants failed to protect him, instituted an observation policy that caused the attack, and later discriminated against him because of a resulting disability. Bowers remains in a wheelchair. The jail is short on ADA‐ compliant cells, however, and, save for one month, Bowers has lived in cells without accessible showers or toilets. The district court dismissed most of Bowers’s claims before trial. A jury returned a verdict in the Sheriff’s favor on the remaining claims,The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Bowers, before filing suit, did not exhaust his failure‐ to‐protect claims as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). Bowers prison grievances did not assert the same claims as his complaint; his “Monell” claim was untimely. A reasonable jury could find that Bowers is not a qualified individual with a disability--someone who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his major life activities,” has “a record of such an impairment,” or is “being regarded as having such an impairment,” 42 U.S.C. 12102(1). The jury had sufficient evidence to find that Bowers lied about needing a wheelchair. View "Bowers v. Dart" on Justia Law

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North Carolina abortion providers filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the State's criminalization of previability abortions. The State contends that the Providers do not have standing to bring suit because they do not face a credible threat of prosecution for violation of the challenged statutes, N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-44 and 14-45, and the exceptions thereto, section 14-45.1(a)–(b).The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Providers have established a credible threat of prosecution and therefore have standing to bring this suit. In this case, amidst a wave of similar state action across the country, North Carolina has enacted legislation to restrict the availability of abortions and impose heightened requirements on abortion providers and women seeking abortions. The court explained that, given these facts, the court cannot reasonably assume that the abortion ban that North Carolina keeps on its books is "largely symbolic." Where North Carolina's continued interest in regulating abortion remains vividly apparent, the court cannot dismiss the threat of prosecution as "not remotely possible." Furthermore, informal statements by two of the defendants that they do not presently intend to enforce the challenged statutes do not alter the court's analysis. View "Bryant v. Woodall" on Justia Law