Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Minnesota law dictates that election officials only count ballots received by election day. The Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans Education Fund filed suit against the Secretary, alleging that Minnesota's statutory deadline was unconstitutional. The Secretary and the Alliance entered into a consent decree that essentially made the statutorily-mandated absentee ballot receipt deadline inoperative. After the Minnesota state court confirmed the decree, the Secretary directed election officials to count absentee ballots received up to a week after election day, notwithstanding Minnesota law.Plaintiffs, both Minnesota registered voters and also certified nominees of the Republican Party to be presidential electors, filed suit alleging that the consent decree and the state court's order confirming it violate the United States Constitution. The district court denied plaintiffs' requested injunction, concluding that they lack standing to bring their claims.The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction and remanded to the district court to enter an injunction requiring the Secretary and those under his direction to identify, segregate, and otherwise maintain and preserve all absentee ballots received after the deadlines set forth in Minn. Stat. 203B.08, subd. 3.After determining that plaintiffs have Article III and prudential standing to bring their claims, the court considered plaintiffs' constitutional challenge to evaluate the propriety of preliminary injunctive relief rather than remanding for the district court to decide the merits in the first instance. The court held that the Secretary's instructions to count mail-in ballots received up to seven days after Election Day stand in direct contradiction to Minnesota election law governing presidential elections, and plaintiffs have strongly shown likely success on the merits since the Secretary's actions are likely to be declared invalid under the Electors Clause of Article II of the United States Constitution. The court stated that only the Minnesota Legislature, and not the Secretary, has plenary authority to establish the manner of conducting the presidential election in Minnesota. The court also held that the Secretary's plan to count mail-in ballots received after the deadline established by the Minnesota Legislature will inflict irreparable harm to plaintiffs. Furthermore, the balance of the equities and the public interest weigh in favor of the issuance of an injunction. Finally, the court held that the injunction does not violate the Purcell principle. View "Carson v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Troutman, a daily user of heroin and methamphetamine, committed suicide in pretrial detention after LMDC jail officials placed him in solitary confinement despite a recent suicide attempt while in LMDC custody. A medical screening had indicated signs of depression; he had attempted suicide three to four times in the past and was “currently thinking about suicide.” Troutman had experienced a traumatic brain injury the prior year which left him in a coma for nine days, He told medical staff “I’m not good at all, I’m dying!”In an action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, the Sixth Circuit reversed summary judgment in favor of Cox, the LMDC classification officer, but affirmed summary judgment in favor of LMDC director Bolton and Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government.Troutman objectively “exhibited suicidal tendencies” and other risk factors. A reasonable jury could find that Cox was subjectively aware of the substantial risk if Troutman was placed in solitary confinement. Cox’s argument that he reasonably relied on the medical judgment that Charles no longer presented a suicide risk does not make summary judgment appropriate. Claims that Bolton inadequately performed his duties are insufficient for section 1983 supervisory liability. It is plausible that the municipality was negligent in enforcing its policies, but deliberate indifference remains distinct from mere negligence. View "Troutman v. Louisville Metropolitan Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Gatewood was convicted of two counts of kidnapping and one count of robbery affecting interstate commerce. The court determined that Gatewood’s four prior Arkansas robbery convictions qualified as serious violent felonies and imposed a life sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3559(c), the federal three-strikes statute.In 2016, Gatewood moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that his robbery convictions had been deemed serious violent felonies only under the residual clause. The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) residual clause had been found unconstitutionally vague in the Supreme Court’s 2015 “Johnson” decision. Gatewood filed his motion within a year of Johnson. The government argued that Johnson could not render the motion timely because it applied only to ACCA. The government also argued procedural default. The Supreme Court decided “Davis” in 2019, finding the 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(B) residual clause, which is nearly identical to the three-strikes residual clause, unconstitutionally vague.The district court denied Gatewood’s motion. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. While the government concedes that Gatewood’s motion was timely in light of Davis, Gatewood procedurally defaulted the vagueness claim by failing to raise it on direct review. Gatewood cannot establish cause by showing that his claim cut against circuit precedent at the time of his appeal. From Gatewood’s sentencing to the 2002 conclusion of his appeal, the tools to construct his present vagueness claim existed; no Supreme Court precedent foreclosed it. View "Gatewood v. United States" on Justia Law

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Four female employees, including plaintiff, filed suit alleging hostile work environment claims. The jury awarded plaintiff a total of $400,000 on her claims against defendants under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The County then filed motions for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, for a new trial, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) and 59(b). The district court then sua sponte denied the motions based on the restrictions established by Rule 6(b)(2) on extending time for filing such motions. The Second Circuit vacated the denial order and remanded. On remand, the district court found that plaintiff "constructively waived" her objection to the timeliness of the County's motions and entered orders reducing plaintiff's Title VII award to $75,000 and overturning the jury verdict in her favor on her section 1983 claim for want of evidence of an unlawful municipal custom or practice under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Both plaintiff and the County appealed.The Second Circuit held that plaintiff forfeited her right to object to the untimeliness of the County's post-trial motions by failing to raise the issue contemporaneously with the district court's grant of the extension. The court further rejected the County's position that plaintiff's acceptance of remittitur on her Title VII claims forecloses her appeal of the judgment insofar as it relates to her section 1983 claim. On the merits, the court affirmed the judgment in plaintiff's favor on her Title VII claim and rejected the County's cross-appeal seeking judgment in its favor on that claim as a matter of law. In regard to the section 1983 claim, the court concluded that the district court erred in entering judgment as a matter of law for the County, because the jury had a reasonable basis for its finding of sufficient municipal involvement to support its award to plaintiff. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Legg v. Ulster County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his instructor at Charter Oak State College, alleging that the instructor violated his First Amendment rights by removing an online blog post that he made in response to a class assignment. Plaintiff also alleged that the instructor and others violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment in connection with disciplining him for the blog post.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court held that the district court did not err by analyzing plaintiff's First Amendment claim under the Hazelwood standard because plaintiff's speech bears the hallmark of school sponsorship. The court also held that, under the Hazelwood standard, the district court did not err in determining that the instructor's deletion of plaintiff's post was reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns. Furthermore, plaintiff failed plausibly to allege that the instructor's actions constituted viewpoint discrimination. Rather, the instructor's deletion of plaintiff's post reflected a content-based restriction that the Supreme Court has instructed the court to tolerate in the school setting. In this context of an online message board for completing course assignments, the court concluded that plaintiff was not subjected to viewpoint discrimination when his post criticizing rather than performing the assignment was deleted. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process claim and held that plaintiff was afforded a full opportunity to be heard and received sufficient process, and any discernible substantive due process claim fails alongside his more particularized First Amendment censorship claim. View "Collins v. Putt" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of Speech First's First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to several policies that intend to regulate speech at the University of Texas at Austin. Speech First sought a preliminary injunction against enforcement of these policies, but the district court dismissed the case based on lack of standing.The court held that Speech First has standing to seek a preliminary injunction. After determining that the case was not moot, the court held that the chilling of allegedly vague regulations, coupled with a range of potential penalties for violating the regulations, was, as other courts have held, sufficient "injury" to ensure that Speech First has a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy. In this case, Speech First's three student-members at the University have an intention to engage in a certain course of conduct, namely political speech; it is likely that the University's policies arguably proscribe speech of the sort that Speech First's members intend to make; and the existence of the University's policies, which the University plans to maintain as far as a federal court will allow it, suffices to establish that the threat of future enforcement, against those in a class whose speech is arguably restricted, is likely substantial. The court also held that the causation and redressability prongs are easily satisfied here. The court remanded for assessment of the preliminary injunction. View "Speech First, Inc. v. Fenves" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his arresting officers and others, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Fourth Amendment, after the officers seized him without probable cause.The Eighth Circuit held that the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, would support a finding that the arresting officers violated plaintiff's clearly established right to be free from an unreasonable seizure without probable cause under the circumstances. In this case, about seven minutes after a black juvenile male with a gun fled from police in Kansas City, officers arrested plaintiff a mile away from the scene. Plaintiff and the suspect shared only generic characteristics in common: black, juvenile, and male. However, plaintiff had several characteristics distinct from the suspect: he was taller than the suspect; had distinguishable hair from the suspect; and wore shorts, shoes, and socks that differed from those donned by the suspect. Furthermore, these distinctions are depicted on a police video recording that the arresting officers reviewed. Plaintiff was in custody for three weeks before a detective reviewed the video and concluded that plaintiff was not the offender. Therefore, the district court erred in granting qualified immunity to the arresting officers where no reasonable officer could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest plaintiff based on the plainly exculpatory evidence available to them. The district court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the remaining defendants and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bell v. Neukirch" on Justia Law

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On July 24, 2020, the district court denied Payton’s motion for compassionate release or a reduction of his sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A). A notice of appeal, dated August 9, was filed in the district court on August 10. A defendant’s notice of appeal in a criminal case must be filed in the district court no later than 14 days after the challenged judgment or order is entered. Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1)(A). A section 3582(c) motion is a continuation of the criminal proceedings, so the 14-day deadline applies. Rule 4(b)(1)(A)'s deadline is not jurisdictional but is a claims-processing rule; the government can waive an objection to an untimely notice. If the government raises the issue of timeliness, the court must enforce the time limits.In response to the government’s motion to dismiss, Payton asserted that the prison has been “on an institution-wide lockdown and getting copies in this environment is problematic” and argued excusable neglect. Rule 4(b)(4) authorizes the district court to extend the time for filing an appeal for up to 30 days if the court finds “good cause” or “excusable neglect.” The Sixth Circuit remanded for the limited purpose of allowing the district court to determine whether Payton has shown excusable neglect or good cause. View "United States v. Payton" on Justia Law

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After Tennial’s mortgage company foreclosed on her home, she filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. Her petition triggered an automatic stay of any further action against her home, allowing her to continue living there, 11 U.S.C. 362. The next year, REI bought Tennial’s home from the mortgage company and, on REI’s motion, the bankruptcy court terminated the stay on September 12, 2019. Tennial’s attorney received electronic notice of the order the same day, and the court mailed a copy to Tennial by first class mail on September 14.Under Rule 8002(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, Tennial had 14 days—through September 26—to appeal the order. Tennial filed her notice of appeal on October 9. At the bottom of her notice, she wrote, “I did not receive a copy of the order until September 26, 2019, via U.S. Postal Service.” The court dismissed, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to review the order because Tennial waited too long to file the appeal and failed to move for an extension under Bankruptcy Rule 8002(d).The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While the deadline does not create a limitation on subject matter jurisdiction, Tennial missed the deadline and the deadline is mandatory. View "Tennial v. REI Nation, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed the charges against Defendant, holding that Defendant was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial and was presumptively prejudiced by the delay.The State filed an information charging Defendant with burglary and theft of more than $800. Nearly five years after his arrest Defendant had still not been brought to trial. Defendant filed a pro se motion to dismiss the charges, arguing that the five-year delay violated his right to a speedy trial. The district court denied the motion. Defendant pleaded guilty, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his speedy trial motion. The Supreme Court dismissed the charges against Defendant, holding that Defendant was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial. View "State v. Chambers" on Justia Law