Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

by
Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Section 204D.13(2) of the Minnesota Statutes, which requires that major party candidates be listed on the ballot in reverse order of the parties' electoral showing in the last general election. Plaintiffs contend that the law irrationally disadvantages their preferred political candidates and is therefore unconstitutional. The district court granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the law's enforcement and prescribed instead a lottery-based system of ordering candidates on Minnesota ballots. Political committees intervened and moved to stay the injunction. As a preliminary matter, the Eighth Circuit held that plaintiffs have Article III standing by alleging a cognizable and redressable injury fairly traceable to the statute. On the merits of the preliminary injunction, the court held that intervenors have shown that, absent a stay, they would be irreparably injured. As to intervenors' likelihood of success, the court held that, under the Anderson/Burdick standard, the burdens imposed by section 204D.13(2) do not unconstitutionally violate the rights asserted. The court considered the character and magnitude of the asserted injury, and observed that the statute does not in any way restrict voting or ballot access; the statute neither systematically advantages incumbents nor advantages the state’s most popular party; but, rather, the statute favors candidates from parties other than the one that received the most votes (on average) in the last general election. In this case, Minnesota's justifications are rationally related to placing political parties in reverse order of popularity and, by design, the statute cannot advantage the state's predominant party. Furthermore, incumbents cannot count on using the statute's operation to its advantage and the statute promotes political diversity. Therefore, the court granted the motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. View "Pavek v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Biegert texted his mother that he had taken pills in an apparent suicide attempt; she called the Green Bay police and requested a welfare check. She stated that Biegert was depressed, had a history of suicide attempts, was alone, and had no weapons nor vehicles. Officers were dispatched to Biegert’s apartment. As they approached, Biegert called police dispatch, expressing concern that there were strangers outside his door. While Biegert was on the call, the officers knocked and announced themselves. The officers did not know that Biegert had called dispatch and grew suspicious when they heard him walk away from the door, rummage for something, and return to open the door. Biegert opened the door, confirmed his identity and that he was depressed, and allowed both officers into the apartment. Biegert initially cooperated. He began resisting when the officers tried to pat him down. The officers used fists, Tasers, and batons. Biegert armed himself with a kitchen knife. When he began to stab an officer, they shot him. He died at the scene. In rejecting a suit alleging excessive force, the Seventh Circuit affirmed that the officers reasonably restrained Biegert and reasonably resorted to lethal force when Biegert threatened them with a knife. View "Estate of Biegert v. Molitor" on Justia Law

by
In this case involving the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the First Circuit vacated Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's death sentences and reversed his three convictions for carrying a firearm during crimes of violence, holding that the judge did not meet the standard set by Patriarca v. United States, 402 F.2d 314, 318 (1st Cir. 1968), and erred in denying Tsarnaev's post-trial motion for judgments of acquittal. A jury convicted Tsarnaev of all charges for which he was indicted arising from the Boston Marathon bombing. The district judge imposed a sentence of death on six of the death-eligible counts. On appeal, Tsarnaev argued, among other things, that the judge erred in the way he handled Tsarnaev's venue-change motions and the jury-selection process. The First Circuit held (1) the trial judge in this high-profile case did not fully comply with Patriarca by running a voir dire sufficient to identify prejudice, which provided a sufficient ground to vacate Tsarnaev's death sentences; and (2) because not each of the underlying offenses constituted a crime of violence, three of Defendant's convictions for carrying a firearm for crimes of violence are reversed. View "United States v. Tsarnaev" on Justia Law

by
After almost 20 years as a Reynoldsburg detective, Tye was charged with a federal drug trafficking offense. While awaiting a preliminary hearing, Tye committed suicide in his cell at the Delaware County Jail. In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for deliberate indifference to Tye’s serious medical need, with state-law claims for wrongful death and survival, the district court denied summary judgment to officers Foley and Wallace, finding that neither was entitled to federal qualified immunity or immunity under Ohio law. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The facts and inferences as found by the district court do not, as a matter of law, show that either officer was aware that Tye posed a “strong likelihood” of attempting suicide. During the intake process, Tye denied any thoughts of suicide, feelings of hopelessness, or history of psychiatric issues. Foley reported no visible signs of distress, noting only that Tye was a “peace officer.” Tye was later seen by a nurse, who ministered her own physical and mental health assessments, and again denied any thoughts of suicide, feelings of hopelessness, or history of psychiatric issues. Tye later met with a mental health clinician, who reported only “[n]ormal [f]inding[s]” with respect to demeanor, mood, thought process, behavior, affect, and cognition. View "Downard v. Martin" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court held that a defendant presenting an appellate claim of fundamental error due to cumulative prosecutorial misconduct does not need to assert fundamental error for every allegation in order to preserve for review the argument that misconduct occurred. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and other crimes. On appeal, Defendant argued that the prosecutor committed several instances of misconduct. For all but three of the alleged incidents of misconduct, the court of appeals concluded that Defendant waived argument that error occurred because he failed to set forth an argument of fundamental error for each allegation. The court then determined that Defendant failed to successfully argue misconduct for any of his allegations. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' decision, holding (1) when a defendant raises a claim on appeal that multiple incidents of prosecutorial misconduct, for which the defendant failed to object, cumulatively deprived him of a fair trial, the defendant need not argue that each instance of alleged misconduct individually deprived him of a fair trial; and (2) Defendant indisputably argued that cumulative error entitled him to a new trial due to pervasive prosecutorial misconduct. View "State v. Vargas" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's Minnesota Human Rights Act and common-law negligence claims against a university and a hospital for race- and sex-based discrimination, holding that the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff's employment discrimination claim under the Act and Plaintiff's common-law negligence claims. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from discrimination she allegedly experienced during a practicum program as a graduate student. The district court dismissed Plaintiff's claims under the Act as time barred and dismissed her common-law negligence claims for failure to establish that Defendants owed her a common-law duty separate from the obligations owed under the Act. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiff's employment discrimination claim under the act against Allina Health System was timely, and the district court erred in determining that Plaintiff's lack of compensation from the practicum barred her claim; (2) Plaintiff's remaining statutory discrimination claims against Defendants were time barred; and (3) Plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to maintain her common-law negligence claims. View "Abel v. Abbott Northwestern Hospital" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that an ordinance adopted by the City of Minneapolis that prohibits certain property owners, property managers, and others from refusing to rent property to prospective tenants in order to avoid the burden of complying with the requirements of Section 8 of the United States Housing Act survives due process and equal protection rational basis scrutiny, holding that the ordinance is constitutional. Plaintiffs, property owners who owned and rented residential properties in the City, alleged, among other things, that the ordinance violated the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Minnesota Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, concluding that the ordinance violated equal protection and due process protections. The court of appeals reversed on both claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Minneapolis ordinance did not violate the Minnesota Constitution's guarantee of substantive due process or equal protection guarantee. View "Fletcher Properties, Inc. v. City of Minneapolis" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief arguing that the rule announced in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and later clarified in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. __ (2016), should be extended to adult offenders whose crimes reflect the transient immaturity of youth, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant's postconviction petition. Defendant was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison without the possibility of release. Defendant was eighteen years and seven days old on the date of the offense. On appeal from the denial of his postconviction motion, Defendant renewed his Miller/Montgomery argument and further asked the Supreme Court to interpret Minn. Const. art. I, 5 to provide greater protection than the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because the Miller/Montgomery rule is clearly limited to juvenile offenders under the age of eighteen at the time of the offense, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant's petition for postconviction relief; and (2) Defendant forfeited appellate review of his claim under the Minnesota Constitution. View "Nelson v. State" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the District of Columbia, seeking compensation for the Executive Director of the Lottery Board's violation of plaintiff's Fifth Amendment rights. In this case, the Executive Director took a series of adverse personnel actions designed to push plaintiff out of his job without due process. The DC Circuit held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for the District and in denying summary judgment for plaintiff on the question of Monell liability. The court held, as a matter of law, that the Executive Director acted as a final policymaker on behalf of the District when he took the series of personnel actions that led to plaintiff's constructive termination without due process. Therefore, the court held that the District is liable for the Executive Director's wrongdoing. The court remanded for the district court to enter summary judgment against the District on the liability issue and to determine the appropriate amount of damages. View "Thompson v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

by
After plaintiff was assaulted by another inmate with a wooden board at a correctional facility, he suffered head injuries that require life-long medical treatment and has developed a seizure disorder. Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against seven correctional facility officials, alleging that each violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by failing to protect him from a substantial risk of serious harm. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss based on failure to state a claim, holding that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege an Eighth Amendment violation. In this case, the amended complaint failed to allege that defendant had previously been threatened by the assailant or by another inmate; that the assailant was known to be a violent, volatile inmate; that plaintiff and the assailant had previously argued or fought, been cellmates at any time, or even knew each other; or that either plaintiff or the assailant have recently been in protective custody or in a restrictive status such as administrative segregation. The court explained that plaintiff was the unfortunate victim of a surprise attack and thus his failure-to-protect claim failed. View "Vandevender v. Sass" on Justia Law