Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

by
A plaintiff can sue police in civil court for excessive force after he has been convicted in criminal court. In this case, plaintiff pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace after interacting with an officer at an airport parking lot. Plaintiff then filed a civil complaint for excessive force against the officer, the City of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles World Police Department. The Court of Appeal held that the past conviction did not establish that the officer used only reasonable force and thus the first criminal conviction is consistent with the second civil case. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court's judgment and awarded costs to plaintiff. View "Kon v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

by
Bartholomew County, Indiana officials believe that Cary committed suicide. His son, Logan, believes that Cary was murdered by his wife and her sons. Contending that the Sheriff and his deputies have lost or destroyed evidence that would help Cary’s estate pursue claims against the putative murderers, Logan filed a civil-rights suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, 1985, and 1986. Logan purported to represent his father’s estate, but except for a brief time he has not been its administrator. The estate would not pursue litigation, but assigned Logan “[w]hatever interest the Estate of Cary A. Owsley has in the federal lawsuit.” The district court dismissed Logan’s suit for lack of standing, stating that Logan has not suffered any personal injury. The Seventh Circuit vacated. Logan asserts injury and seeks damages. Decedents’ relatives may have damages claims against tortfeasors. Logan also has the benefit of the assignment from the estate. Federal law permits assignees to sue on assignors’ claims. The district judge’s belief that the claim is not worth anything concerns the merits rather than subject-matter jurisdiction. The first issue on remand should be to decide whether an access-to-courts claim, the only thing covered by the assignment, can be based on an assertion that the defendants concealed or destroyed evidence that could have been relevant in state court. View "Owsley v. Gorbett" on Justia Law

by
Banister was convicted by a Texas court of aggravated assault and sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. After exhausting his state remedies, he unsuccessfully sought federal habeas relief. Banister timely filed a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), which allows a litigant to file a motion to alter or amend a district court’s judgment within 28 days from the entry of judgment, with no possibility of an extension. That motion was denied. Banister filed a notice of appeal in accordance with the timeline for appealing a judgment after a Rule 59(e) denial. A timely Rule 59 motion suspends the finality of the original judgment for purposes of appeal. The Fifth Circuit construed Banister’s Rule 59(e) motion as a successive habeas petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. 2244(b), and dismissed his appeal as untimely. The Supreme Court reversed Because a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend a habeas court’s judgment is not a second or successive habeas petition, Banister’s appeal was timely. The phrase “second or successive application” does not simply refer to all habeas filings made successively in time, following an initial application. Rule 59(e) applies in habeas proceedings, deriving from courts’ common-law power to alter or amend their own judgments before any appeal. The purposes of AEDPA--reducing delay, conserving judicial resources, and promoting finality--are served by Rule 59(e), which offers a narrow window to seek relief; limits requests for reconsideration to matters properly raised in the challenged judgment; and consolidates proceedings into a single final judgment for appeal. View "Banister v. Davis" on Justia Law

by
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's order of a preliminary injunction entered in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and candidates for delegate seats who, if elected, would be pledged to Yang and fellow Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders. Yang, his delegates, and the Sanders delegates challenged the New York State Board of Elections' decision to remove all qualified candidates from the ballot, with the exception of former Vice President Joseph Biden, and cancel the Democratic presidential primary. The Board cancelled the Democratic presidential primary based on the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that doing so would further the State's interests in minimizing social contacts to reduce the spread of the virus and in focusing its limited resources on the management of other contested primary elections. At issue in this appeal was whether Yang, his delegates, and the Sanders delegates have demonstrated an entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief that reverses the effects of the Board's decision by requiring Yang and Sanders to be reinstated to the ballot, and the Democratic presidential primary to be conducted along with the other primary elections set for June 23, 2020. The court held that plaintiffs and the Sanders delegates have adequately established their entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief on the basis that the Board's decision unduly burdened their rights of free speech and association. The court held that plaintiffs and the Sanders delegates have made a strong showing of irreparable harm absent injunctive relief; demonstrated a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments; and demonstrated that the balance of the equities tips in their favor and that the public interest would be served adequately by the district court's preliminary injunction. The court held that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in granting the application for a preliminary injunction, which was carefully tailored to secure the constitutional rights at stake and to afford the Board sufficient time and guidance to carry out its obligations to the electorate and to the general public. View "Yang v. Kosinski" on Justia Law

by
The Estate of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. filed suit against officers of the White Plains Police Department and the City of White Plains under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims for unlawful entry and excessive force resulting in Chamberlain's death. Chamberlain, a 68 year old African American Marine veteran with mental illness, had accidentally activated his emergency medical-alert system. When the officers arrived at Chamberlain's apartment, he denied the officers entry, fearing that he would be shot by the armed officers. After an hour-long struggle to gain entry into the apartment, the officers removed the hinges to the apartment's door, crossed the threshold into the apartment, and, when lesser measures apparently failed to subdue Chamberlain, they fatally shot him. The Second Circuit principally held that the complaint and related materials properly considered by the district court upon the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim do state a plausible claim for unlawful entry and that it was also error to determine on such a motion to dismiss that officers were entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, the court vacated that portion of the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The court also vacated and remanded for further consideration portions of the judgment determining, on summary judgment, that an officer was not liable for use of excessive force and that certain officers did not have supervisory liability. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Chamberlain v. City of White Plains" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Fazzino's equal protection right and has taken his property without compensation, and that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Stratta's First Amendment right to free speech. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity, ripeness, Burford abstention, and qualified immunity.  The Fifth Circuit held that the district court erroneously concluded that BVGCD is an arm of the State of Texas and therefore immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment. In this case, five of the six Clark factors weigh against finding BVGCD is an arm of the state of Texas where, most importantly, funds from the Texas treasury will not be used to satisfy a judgment against the entity. Furthermore, the Directors are likewise not entitled to assert such immunity. The court also held that Fazzino's takings claim is ripe for adjudication because Fazzino fully pursued the administrative remedies available to him before filing this action, and the district court abused its discretion in deciding to abstain under Burford. Finally, the court held that neither BVGCD nor its Board was required to respond on the merits, and thus the substance of these allegations must be tested in discovery and further proceedings. The court reversed the district court's Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal as to all defendants and remanded. However, the court affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Stratta's First Amendment claims. View "Stratta v. Harris" on Justia Law

by
Doe, a student at USciences, a private Philadelphia college, had completed nearly all the coursework required to earn a degree in biomedical science when two female students accused him of violating USciences’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. After investigating, USciences concluded that Doe violated the Policy and expelled him. Doe filed suit, alleging that USciences was improperly motivated by sex when it investigated and enforced the Policy against him. Doe also asserted that USciences breached its contract with him by failing to provide him the fairness promised to students under the Policy. The district court dismissed Doe’s complaint. The Third Circuit reversed. Doe’s complaint contains plausible allegations that USciences, in its implementation and enforcement of the Policy, succumbed to pressure from the U.S. Department of Education and has “instituted solutions to sexual violence against women that abrogate the civil rights of men and treat men differently than women.” Doe claimed the school investigated him but chose not to investigate three female students who allegedly violated the Policy with respect to alcohol consumption and sex. The court analyzed the Policy’s promise of “fairness,” an undefined term, by examining federal guarantees and state case law. View "Doe v. University of the Sciences" on Justia Law

by
A man parked his car in San Francisco's Sutter-Stockton Garage, leaving his dog in the car. When he returned, he saw his dog had been brutally killed. A security guard viewed video clips from the incident and recognized Best, who was charged with second-degree burglary of a vehicle; killing, maiming, or abusing an animal; and vandalism of the vehicle, plus four misdemeanors. The trial court declared a doubt about Best’s competency; Best apparently refused to face the judge in order to avoid having her image recorded. Experts evaluated Best; the court found Best mentally competent to stand trial. The matter was continued for a Faretta hearing. A different judge confirmed that Best had read and initialed each portion of an “Advisement and Waiver of Right to Counsel” and inquired into Best’s education and awareness of the charges. The court engaged in extensive questioning. Some of Best’s responses betrayed a lack of understanding of legal concepts and procedures. When the court asked Best about possible defenses, her discussion verged on incoherence. Best gave clear, accurate answers to simpler questions. The court denied her motion. Best was convicted. The court of appeal reversed; the trial court erred in denying Best the right to represent herself on the grounds she had not knowingly and voluntarily made that choice. The court rejected arguments that the Faretta motion was untimely and that Best was disruptive and disobedient and noted that the transcript does not show Best was advised of the maximum punishment she faced. View "People v. Best" on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for production of child pornography, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress a video on his cellphone under the private search doctrine. When Defendant's wife was looking through pictures on Defendant's cellphone she discovered a video of the couple's daughter masturbating Defendant. The wife brought the cellphone to law enforcement authorities and directed their attention to the video. Defendant was subsequently indicted on a charge of production of child pornography. Defendant moved to suppress the video and his ensuing confession, arguing that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by accessing the video without a warrant and prior to obtaining his consent. The district court denied the motion to suppress. Defendant was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a 360-month term of immurement. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) under the circumstances, the officers initially could not be said to have conducted a "search" of Defendant's cellphone, and two reexaminations of the video fell within the protections of the private search doctrine; and (2) there was no procedural error at Defendant's sentencing, and the sentence was substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Rivera-Morales" on Justia Law

by
Section 1513 of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act prevents the plaintiffs from making political contributions because they hold interests in businesses that have gaming licenses. They sued, claiming First Amendment and Equal Protection violations. The district court concluded that Section 1513 furthers a substantially important state interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption but ruled that the restriction is unconstitutional because the Commonwealth did not draw it closely enough. The court permanently enjoined the enforcement of Section 1513. The Third Circuit affirmed. Limitations on campaign expenditures are subject to strict scrutiny. The government must prove that the regulations promote a “compelling interest” and are the “least restrictive means to further the articulated interest.” Even applying an intermediate threshold, examining whether the statute is “closely drawn,” the Commonwealth does not meet its burden. The overwhelming majority of states with commercial, non-tribal casino gambling like Pennsylvania do not have any political contribution restrictions that apply specifically to gaming industry-related parties. The Commonwealth’s implicit appeal to “common sense” as a surrogate for evidence in support of its far-reaching regulatory scheme is noteworthy in light of the approach taken by most other similarly situated states. View "Deon v. Barasch" on Justia Law