Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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In 2020, California and Santa Clara County issued public health orders intended to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, including orders restricting indoor gatherings and requiring face coverings, social distancing, and submission of a social distancing protocol by businesses, including churches. Calvary Chapel failed to comply with those orders. On November 2, 2020, the trial court issued a temporary restraining order, followed by a November 24 modified TRO, and a preliminary injunction that enjoined Calvary from holding indoor gatherings that did not comply with the restrictions on indoor gatherings and requirements that participants wear face coverings and social distance. Calvary was also enjoined from operating without submitting a social distancing protocol. Calvary violated the orders, failing to comply with any of the public health orders.The government sought an order of contempt, which the trial court issued on December 17, 2020, ordering Calvary and its pastors to pay monetary sanctions (Code of Civil Procedure sections 177.51 and 1218(a)). The court of appeal annulled the contempt orders and reversed the sanctions. The temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are facially unconstitutional under the recent guidance of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion in the context of public health orders that impact religious practice. View "People v. Calvary Chapel San Jose" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the court of special appeals reversing Defendant's conviction of one count of second-degree assault, holding that it was harmless error to fail to propound a voir dire question regarding Defendant's right to remain silent and not testify where Defendant actually testified.During trial, Defendant requested a voir dire question on her right not to testify, but the trial court declined to ask the question. During trial, Defendant testified in her defense. In reversing, the court of special appeals determined that the trial court erred under Kazadi v. State, 467 Md. 1 (2020), and that the error was not harmless. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) the Kazadi error in this case was subject to the harmless error doctrine; and (2) the Kazadi error was harmless. View "State v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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After the public health department for the City of Madison and Dane County, Wisconsin issued a COVID-19 mask mandate, an owner of Helbachs Café posted a sign: “Mask Free Zone. Please remove mask before entering” and then took it down about 30 minutes later. Over the next few days, Madison’s public health officials cited Helbachs several times for violating its COVID-19 orders and set a hearing to revoke Helbachs’ food and drink license for cumulative violations. The dispute caught the public’s attention and the landlord decided not to renew Helbachs’ lease.Helbachs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The local citations were later dismissed, and the revocation hearing was not pursued. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Helbachs has standing to bring this First Amendment retaliation claim because the record shows that Helbachs suffered injury-in-fact beyond the revoked citations and the threatened, but aborted, hearing. However, Helbachs’ First Amendment claim fails under “Monell” because the defendants’ actions were not part of a larger pattern or practice of retaliation. View "Helbachs Cafe LLC v. City of Madison, Wisconsin" on Justia Law

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In 2020, Kansas City began restricting participation in its Minority Business Enterprises and Women’s Business Enterprises Program to those entities whose owners satisfied a personal net worth limitation. Mark One Electric Co., a woman-owned business whose owner’s personal net worth exceeds the limit, appeals the dismissal of its lawsuit challenging the Kansas City Program as unconstitutional because of the personal net worth limitation.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that to survive strict scrutiny, the government must first articulate a legislative goal that is properly considered a compelling government interest, such as stopping the perpetuation of racial discrimination and remediating the effects of past discrimination in government contracting. Here, Mark One does not dispute that the City has a compelling interest in remedying the effects of race and gender discrimination on City contract opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses. And Mark One has conceded the 2016 Disparity Study provides a strong basis in evidence for the MBE/WBE Program to further that interest.The City’s program must be narrowly tailored, which requires that “the means chosen to accomplish the government’s asserted purpose are specifically and narrowly framed to accomplish that purpose. Mark One claims that its exclusion from the Program despite its status as a woman-owned business shows that the Program is unlawful Indeed, Mark One has declared that it has suffered past discrimination, as the Program requires for certification. But the City does not have a constitutional obligation to make its Program as broad as may be legally permissible, so long as it directs its resources in a rational manner not motivated by a discriminatory purpose. View "Mark One Electric Company v. City of Kansas City, Missouri" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Defendant, a police officer in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for use of excessive force, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Defendant moved for summary judgment, raising the defense of qualified immunity. The district court denied Defendant’s motion, and Defendant appealed. The Eighth Circuit reversed the denial of qualified immunity and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case.At this stage, the court viewed the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Here, Plaintiff did attempt to flee, but Defendant had grabbed him by the time he reached the closed door. The officers knew Plaintiff was unarmed, and the offense they were there to arrest him for was nonviolent. The reasonableness of the use of force is a fact-intensive inquiry. The court held that it affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the disputed facts are material to the question of whether Defendant used excessive force and that, viewing those facts in Plaintiff’s favor, Defendant’s use of force was excessive. However, the court found, that even if his use of force was excessive, Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity unless the excessiveness of the force was clearly established on the date of the incident, August 13, 2017. Thus, the court found that Defendant was entitled to qualified immunity because the court could not identify a case or body of case law that clearly established as of August 13, 2017, that Defendant’s use of force was excessive, even viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. View "Randy McDaniel v. Markeith Neal" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff regularly reports on local crime, missing persons, community events, traffic, and local government. Plaintiff published a story about a man who committed suicide and identified the man by name and revealed that he was an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol. Two arrest warrants were issued for Plaintiff for violating Texas Penal Code Section 39.06(c). According to Plaintiff, local officials have never brought a prosecution under Section 39.06(c) in the nearly three-decade history of that provision.Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her claims against the officials under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. She also appeals the dismissal of her municipal liability claims against the City of Laredo, but not her claims against Webb County. The Fifth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff’s First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments claims, as well as her civil conspiracy claims. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment dismissing Plaintiff’s municipal liability claims against the City of Laredo. The court explained that it has no difficulty observing that journalists commonly ask for nonpublic information from public officials, and that Plaintiff was therefore entitled to make that same reasonable inference. Yet Defendants chose to arrest Plaintiff for violating Section 39.06(c). The court accordingly concluded that Plaintiff has sufficiently pled the existence of similarly situated journalists who were not arrested for violating Section 39.06(c). View "Villarreal v. City of Laredo" on Justia Law

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A physician group fired Post, a nurse-anesthesist, months after she suffered an accident. The group’s subsequent bankruptcy impeded Post’s efforts to hold it liable for employment discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She instead sued the hospital at which she worked. Although the hospital did not employ her, Post argued that two statutes allow her to enforce the ADA’s employment protections against non-employers.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the hospital. The ADA “interference” provision makes it “unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any individual in the exercise or enjoyment of” an ADA-protected right. 42 U.S.C. 12203(b) does not allow plaintiffs with disabilities to sue entities that are not their employers. A nearby subsection clarifies that the provision incorporates remedies that permit suits only against employers. The civil-conspiracy provision in the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. 1985(3) authorizes a damages suit when two or more parties “conspire” to “depriv[e]” “any person or class of persons” of “the equal protection of the laws” or the “equal privileges and immunities under the laws” but does permit a plaintiff to assert a conspiracy claim against an entity that is not the plaintiff’s employer for the deprivation of an ADAprotected employment right. View "Post v. Trinity Health-Michigan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court ruling in favor of Plaintiffs on cross-motions for summary judgment and enjoining the Montana Secretary of State from placing House Bill (HB) 325 on Montana's 2022 general election ballot, holding that the referendum proposal violates the Montana Constitution.In approved, HB 325 will establish seven Supreme Court districts in Montana and requires that Supreme Court justices be elected district by district, rather than statewide. Plaintiffs brought this challenge to the constitutionality of the measure. The district court granted summary judgment for Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in determining that the question of the constitutionality of the referendum proposed by HB 325 is ripe for judicial resolution; and (2) the district court did not err in enjoining the Secretary from placing HB 325 on the ballot in the 2022 general election. View "McDonald v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court ruling in favor of Plaintiffs on cross-motions for summary judgment and enjoining the Montana Secretary of State from placing House Bill (HB) 325 on Montana's 2022 general election ballot, holding that the referendum proposal violates the Montana Constitution.If approved, HB 325 will establish seven Supreme Court districts in Montana and requires that Supreme Court justices be elected district by district, rather than statewide. Plaintiffs brought this challenge to the constitutionality of the measure. The district court granted summary judgment for Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in determining that the question of the constitutionality of the referendum proposed by HB 325 is ripe for judicial resolution; and (2) the district court did not err in enjoining the Secretary from placing HB 325 on the ballot in the 2022 general election. View "McDonald v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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Dunn was convicted in Indiana state court for the Torres murder. The case against Dunn was based largely on the testimony of two pathologists. In a state court post-conviction proceeding, Dunn argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to consult with any forensic pathologist. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the post-conviction court’s denial of relief.The Seventh Circuit affirmed a conditional writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254 based on ineffective assistance of trial counsel. At a state court post-conviction hearing, a board-certified forensic pathologist, Dr. Sozio, testified that the autopsy was substandard, missed a great deal, and that Torres’s injuries were more consistent with a fall than with being bludgeoned by a blunt object. If the defense had presented Sozio's testimony, the jury would have been presented with conflicting expert testimony regarding whether the fall alone caused the injuries. The state conceded that blood evidence effectively ruled out the use of a bat; no other weapon was found. Two eyewitnesses testified consistently that Torres was not beaten after his fall. Sozio's testimony was critical in this case to create reasonable doubt because it countered the state's scientific evidence and gave the jury reason to doubt that Torres was beaten. Dunn demonstrated prejudice under Strickland. View "Dunn v. Neal" on Justia Law