Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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After the district court concluded that the Governor and Director violated FFRF's First Amendment rights by requiring FFRF to take down a Bill of Rights nativity exhibit at the Capitol, the Governor and Director appealed. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court had jurisdiction to entertain this suit where FFRF sought prospective relief, and there was, and still is, a live controversy between the parties. However, the court held that the district court did not have jurisdiction to enter a retrospective declaratory judgment. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for the district court to consider FFRF's request for injunctive relief and enter appropriate prospective relief for FFRF. The court also reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment on FFRF's unbridled discretion claims, clarified the appropriate application of the unbridled discretion doctrine in the context of a limited public forum, and remanded for the district court to apply that standard in the first instance. View "Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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Gish pleaded guilty to first-degree reckless homicide for the 2012 stabbing death of Litwicki, the mother of his children. He appealed, claiming that his attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to investigate an involuntary intoxication defense. Police found Gish delirious on the night of the killing. He claimed that rare side effects from taking prescription Xanax affected his ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected the claim. Gish initiated federal habeas proceedings. The district court held an evidentiary hearing but denied relief, finding that defense was so unlikely to succeed that Gish still would have pleaded guilty. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While trial counsel admitted that he never assessed a Xanax-based involuntary intoxication defense, that defense had no reasonable prospect of success. Gish told a nurse that he sold his pills and no longer had any and told a detective that he last took Xanax “[a] couple days” earlier. The police found no trace of Xanax in Gish’s home. Even if Gish had taken Xanax the day of the homicide, it was unlikely that he was the rare patient who would have experienced such extreme effects; his expert on that point lacked credibility. Gish confessed to how he went about killing and abusing Litwicki and had a motive--he suspected Litwicki was cheating on him and would take his kids away View "Gish v. Hepp" on Justia Law

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Folk was convicted of distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base, two counts of using a firearm to further a drug trafficking offense, and of felon in possession of a firearm. The PSR deemed Folk a career offender under U.S.S.G. 4B1.1 because he had prior felony convictions for “crimes of violence” and recommended enhancing Folk’s Guidelines range from 384-465 months to between 420 months and life imprisonment. The district court discussed Folk’s previous convictions: two robberies in 2001, simple assault in 2003, and terroristic threats in 2003, and adopted the PSR’s recommended range but sentenced Folk to 264 months’ imprisonment. His conviction was affirmed; Folk did not challenge his sentence or his career-offender designation. A subsequent 28 U.S.C 2255 motion argued that Folk's career-offender designation was invalid because the Supreme Court’s 2015 “Johnson” decision rendered section 4B1.2(a) void. The district court denied the motion. The Third Circuit affirmed. A challenge to an incorrect career-offender designation under the Guidelines is not an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure and is not cognizable under section 2255. An incorrect designation that results in a sentence within the statutory maximum is not a fundamental defect inherently resulting in a complete miscarriage of justice. The court denied Folk’s motion to expand the certificate of appealability because he does not satisfy the standard for a second 2255 motion. View "United States v. Folk" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, disability discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, and breach of fiduciary duty. The court held that plaintiff's discrimination claim failed because Mid Dakota offered a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its actions: his inability to get along with others; plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claims failed because he failed to show he was retaliated against for reporting racial slurs and racially charged comments; plaintiff's False Claims Act retaliation claim failed because there was no evidence, direct or otherwise, that his decision to report the allegedly fraudulent billing practices of a colleague caused—much less solely caused—Mid Dakota to force him out; and plaintiff's claim under the North Dakota Business Corporation Act failed because he was an at-will employee. View "Bharadwaj v. Mid Dakota Clinic" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that plaintiff failed to allege a claim that a state prosecutor retaliated against him for seeking unpaid overtime compensation. The court held that plaintiff waived his First Amendment retaliation claim by failing to brief the issue; because plaintiff is not an employee under section 215(a)(3) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the district court did not err in dismissing his claim; because plaintiff failed to point to any alteration or extinguishment of a right or legal status on appeal, he failed to state a due process claim; and because plaintiff failed to allege a conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. 1985(2), his sections 1985(3) and 1986 claims also failed. Finally, the court held that there was no error in dismissing plaintiff's state law claims and in denying him leave to file a third amended complaint. View "Liscomb v. Boyce" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, low-income African-American women whose children attend public schools in Mississippi, filed suit against state officials, alleging that the current version of the Mississippi Constitution violates the "school rights and privileges" condition of the Mississippi Readmission Act. The district court held that the suit was barred by the Eleventh Amendment and dismissed. Although the Fifth Circuit agreed that a portion of the relief plaintiffs seek is prohibited by the Eleventh Amendment, the court held that the suit also partially sought relief that satisfied the Ex parte Young exception to sovereign immunity. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, and vacated and remanded in part. View "Williams v. Reeves" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Worldplay on plaintiff's claim of retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The court held that the district court erroneously applied the court's decision in Gowski v. Peake, 682 F.3d 1299, 1312 (11th Cir. 2012), and required plaintiff to show that the alleged retaliation was sufficiently pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment. However, the proper standard in a retaliation case is the one set out by the Supreme Court in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 57 (2006), where the retaliation is material if it well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. In this case, the court held that a jury must decide plaintiff's retaliation claim and thus remanded for a jury trial. View "Monaghan v. Worldpay US, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in its entirety the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder and of conspiracy to commit murder and sentencing Defendant to death, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the admission of Defendant's surreptitiously recorded jailhouse statement did not violate Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel, his Fifth Amendment right to counsel and privilege against self-incrimination, his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable detention, his rights under the Sixth Amendment's confrontation clause, or attendant protections under Evidence Code sections 352 and 1101; (2) one instance of prosecutorial misconduct committed at the guilt phase was not prejudicial; and (3) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining claims of guilt phase and penalty phase error. View "People v. Fayed" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the sheriff and sheriff's deputies, alleging that they violated his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and his right to due process. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants, holding that the deputies were entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable officer could believe that the location of the keys to a seized vehicle was reasonably related to the suspected crime because it could provide evidence that plaintiff himself placed the car on the property rather than someone else; the seizure of antique handguns, guns in unopened boxes, and holsters were covered under the second warrant authorizing the seizure of any and all handguns in plaintiff's home; the second warrant was sufficiently particular; the sheriff was entitled to summary judgment on claims against him in his individual capacity and in his official capacity; and plaintiff had an adequate state court remedy to obtain the return of the seized items. View "Thiel v. Korte" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's death sentences that were imposed after a second penalty phase, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion. Defendant was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for each murder. The trial court granted a new penalty phase during postconviction proceedings on the grounds that counsel rendered ineffective assistance. After a second penalty phase, a death sentence was again imposed for each murder. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury that it must determine beyond a reasonable doubt whether the aggravators were sufficient to impose death and outweighed the mitigators; (2) none of the prosecutor's allegedly improper comments during closing argument rose to the level of fundamental error; (3) competent, substantial evidence supported the finding of the especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel aggravator; (4) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting two statutory mitigating circumstances presented with respect to both errors; and (5) the sentences of death were proportionate. View "Bright v. State" on Justia Law