Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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In its 2019 “Rehaif” decision, the Supreme Court clarified that for 18 U.S.C. 922(g) firearms-possession offenses, the prosecution must prove both that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and that he knew he was a felon when he possessed the firearm. Before Rehaif, the petitioners were convicted under section 922(g)(1). The Eleventh Circuit rejected Greer's request for a new trial based on the court’s failure to instruct the jury that Greer had to know he was a felon to be found guilty. The Fourth Circuit agreed that Gary's guilty plea must be vacated because the court failed to advise him that, if he went to trial, a jury would have to find that he knew he was a felon.The Supreme Court affirmed Greer's conviction and reversed as to Gary. A Rehaif error is not a basis for plain-error relief unless the defendant makes a sufficient argument that he would have presented evidence at trial that he did not know he was a felon. A defendant who has “an opportunity to object” to an alleged error and fails to do so forfeits the claim of error. If a defendant later raises the forfeited claim, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b)’s plain-error standard applies. Rehaif errors occurred during the underlying proceedings and the errors were plain but Greer must show that, if the court had correctly instructed the jury, there is a “reasonable probability” that he would have been acquitted; Gary must show that, if the court had correctly advised him, there is a “reasonable probability” that he would not have pled guilty. They have not carried that burden. Both had multiple prior felony convictions. The Court rejected arguments that Rehaif errors are “structural” and require automatic vacatur. View "Greer v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that social workers, and their approving supervisors, in the Department of Children and Families who attest to facts in sworn affidavits as part of care and protection proceedings commenced by the Department in the juvenile court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 119, 24 are entitled to absolute immunity in these circumstances.Plaintiff brought an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 against a social worker with the Department, alleging that the social worker intentionally misrepresented facts in a sworn affidavit filed in support of a care and protection petition in the juvenile court. Plaintiff further alleged that the social worker's area supervisor (together, with the social worker, Defendants) was liable because she had approved the social worker's actions. Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that they were entitled to absolute immunity. A superior court judge allowed the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Defendants were entitled to absolute immunity under the circumstances of this case. View "C.M. v. Commissioner of Department of Children & Families" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiff's claims against Activate Healthcare, LLC under W. Va. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), holding that the circuit court did not err in concluding that Plaintiff's factual allegations against Activate were insufficient to establish a claim of aiding and abetting under the West Virginia Human Rights Act.Plaintiff was working at Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, LLC when she requested a change in her duties to accommodate her medical condition. Plaintiff was directed to Activate, Constellium's on-site medical provider, for a physical activity report, but Activate issued more than one report. Constellium terminated Plaintiff based on one of the reports and later returned to work. After Plaintiff unsuccessfully filed a grievance seeking lost wages during her break in employment she sued Constellium, Activate, and other defendants, alleging retaliation and discrimination. The circuit court dismissed Plaintiff's aiding and abetting claim against Activate for failure to state a claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that nothing in the complaint could be construed to establish the elements of an aiding and abetting claim. View "Boone vs. Activate Healthcare, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellants filed suit against Dorchester County, seeking compensation pursuant to the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment for the death of their bees. Appellants contend that the bees died after the County sprayed pesticide in an effort to kill mosquitos, and the bees' death amounted to a taking of appellants' private property.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the County's motion for summary judgment, holding that there was no taking because the loss of appellants' bees was only an incidental consequence of the County's action. The court noted that the death of appellants' bees is undoubtedly a tragedy, but the court cannot conclude that it was the foreseeable or probable result of the County's action when it is a clear outlier in terms of collateral damage arising out of the County's mosquito abatement effort. Therefore, because the death of the bees was neither intended nor foreseeable, the Takings Clause does not require compensation. View "Yawn v. Dorchester County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of speeding ninety-four miles per hour in a sixty-five mile-per-hour zone, holding that Defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his constitutional right to a jury trial.In affirming Defendant's conviction, a divided panel of the Court of Appeals concluded that, even though the trial court failed to follow the statutory procedure for waiver of Defendant's right to a jury trial, Defendant was not prejudiced. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) although the trial court's colloquy was untimely, the facts demonstrated that Defendant understood he was waiving his right to a trial by jury and the consequences of that decision; and (2) Defendant did not meet his burden of demonstrating that there was no reasonable possibility that had the error not been committed a different result would have been reached in a bench trial or a jury trial. View "State v. Hamer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court granting Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage claim, holding that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and N.C. Const. art. I, 12 explicitly protect petitioning activity, including Defendants' speech in this case.Plaintiff brought this complaint alleging that, by virtue of intentional and malicious misrepresentations made to a town, Defendants tortiously interfered with Plaintiff's prospective economic advantage by inducing a third party not to perform the purchase of certain property. Plaintiff's suit was based on Defendants' presentation at certain rezoning hearings. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, asserting that they were immune from liability because their statements to the town were constitutionally protected petitioning activity. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court court reversed, holding that Defendants' petitioning was protected by the First Amendment and Article I, Section 12. View "Cheryl Lloyd Humphrey Land Investment Co., LLC v. Resco Products, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals ordering a new trial in this case on the grounds that the prosecutor's commentary on Defendant's decision to plead not guilty was so unfair it violated Defendant's due process rights, holding that the prosecutor's comments did not so prejudice Defendant so as to warrant a new trial.Defendant was found guilty of several offenses after a jury trial. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court committed reversible error in failing to intervene ex mero motu when the prosecutor made improper remarks about Defendant's decision to plead not guilty during closing arguments. The court of appeals agreed and ordered a new trial. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant failed to show that he was prejudiced as a result of the prosecutor's improper closing arguments. View "State v. Goins" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a petition for habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted by a jury in state court of first degree manslaughter. The court concluded that the admission of the autopsy report at petitioner's trial through a surrogate witness was an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent. See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 40 (2004); Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009); and Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 564 U.S. 647 (2011). Furthermore, the unreasonably erroneous admission of the autopsy report was not harmless where the report was the strongest evidence in the State's case and was not cumulative of other inculpatory evidence connecting petitioner to the victim's death. View "Garlick v. Lee" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the portions of the emergency order issued by Janel Heinrich, in her capacity as a local health officer of Public Health of Madison and Dane County, restricting or prohibiting in-person instruction in all schools in Dane County for grades 3-12, holding that those portions were unlawful and unenforceable and are hereby vacated.The disputed order was issued in an effort to decrease the spread of COVID-19. Petitioners - students - brought three cases challenging Heinrich's authority to issue the emergency order, contending that the order exceeded her statutory authority under Minn. Stat. 252.03, violated Petitioners' fundamental right to the free exercise of religioun under Wis. Const. art. I, 18, and violated parents' fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children under Wis. Const. art. I, 1. The Supreme Court consolidated the cases and held (1) local health officers do not have the statutory power to close schools under section 252.03; and (2) the order infringed Petitioners' fundamental right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed in the Wisconsin Constitution. View "St. Ambrose Academy, Inc. v. Parisi" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Commission in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the Commission discriminated against her in violation of Title VII. Plaintiff argues that her suspension, probation, and termination were discrimination based on race and national origin. The Commission stated that plaintiff's termination was due to failure to comply with requests to provide company passwords to agency programs and documents. The court concluded that plaintiff did not show evidence of pretext or that she could satisfy the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework before the district court or in her opening brief, and thus she cannot prove a circumstantial case of discrimination. View "Towery v. Mississippi County Arkansas Economic Opportunity Commission, Inc." on Justia Law