Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

by
The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors filed suit against Vizaline to enjoin its business and disgorge its profits. Vizaline then filed suit against the Board, alleging that as applied to its practice, Mississippi's surveyor-licensing requirements violate the First Amendment. The district court dismissed Vizaline's suit. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court's ruling -- that Mississippi's licensing requirements for surveyors do not trigger any First Amendment scrutiny -- was inconsistent with the Supreme Court's recent decision in Nat'l Inst. of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra [NIFLA], 138 S. Ct. 2361, 2375 (2018). NIFLA disavowed the notion that occupational-licensing regulations are exempt from First Amendment scrutiny. Therefore, the district court erred by categorically exempting occupational-licensing requirements from First Amendment scrutiny. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Vizaline, LLC v. Tracy" on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Appellant's federal law claims under the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, and on the state-law claims for discrimination, retaliation based on a complaint of age discrimination, and failure to investigate and vacated the summary judgment on the state law claims for retaliation based on a report of gender discrimination, breach of contract, intentional interference with contractual relations, and defamation, holding that the court erred in granting summary judgment as to these claims. This lawsuit arose from events that led to Appellant's retirement from his position as Fire Chief for the Fire Department of the Town of Marshfield, Massachusetts. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Town on all of Appellant's federal and state law claims. The First Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) summary judgment was properly granted as to some of Appellant's claims; but (2) as to the remaining state law claims, there was no analogue to the common law claims in the federal law claims that were addressed, and rather than attempt to resolve the state law issues that were in dispute as to these claims, their dismissal was directed without prejudice. View "Robinson v. Town of Marshfield" on Justia Law

by
Clarence Roy, a Christian street preacher, was issued a summons outside a nightclub in Monroe, Louisiana, after a woman accused him of following her and making inflammatory remarks. The summons, which was issued by Sergeant James Booth of the Monroe Police Department, cleared the way for formal charges under the city of Monroe’s “disturbing the peace” ordinance. Roy was tried and ultimately acquitted by a municipal court judge. Shortly thereafter, he filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, in which he argued Booth and the city deprived him of numerous constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Two district court judges denied relief, first in part and then in whole, respectively. Finding no reversible error, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Roy v. City of Monroe" on Justia Law

by
Jackson served in the Marine Corps, 1977-1991. Almost 30 years after his honorable discharge, Jackson filed a pro se complaint alleging that toward the end of his military career, his supervising officers discriminated against him because he is a black male, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court inferred additional claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A), and the Military Pay Act, 37 U.S.C. 204 but ultimately dismissed all of Jackson’s claims. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The court noted the unanimous rulings of other sister circuits, concluding that Title VII does not apply to uniformed members of the armed forces. Jackson’s APA claim was untimely and, although the limitations period is no longer considered jurisdictional, the facts alleged were insufficient to apply equitable tolling. Jackson was able to manage his affairs and comprehend his rights; he alleged that at the time of the alleged discrimination, he knew that he “had been subjected to wrongdoing and strongly desired justice.” The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to review the dismissal of Jackson’s Military Pay Act claim; the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction of such claims. View "Jackson v. Modly" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying in part Marvin Cannon's initial postconviction motion filed pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 and denied Cannon's petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that Cannon was not entitled to relief on his claims. Cannon was convicted of first-degree murder and other crimes and sentenced to death. Cannon later filed his initial motion for postconviction relief, asserting that he was entitled to resentencing under Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016), that counsel was ineffective, and that the Department of Corrections' website reflected he was still serving a fifteen-year sentence for attempted robbery even though that conviction was vacated on direct appeal. The trial court agreed with Cannon's Hurst claim and vacated his death sentence but denied the remaining claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Cannon was not denied constitutionally effective assistance of counsel and that the postconviction court properly denied Cannon's second claim. In his habeas petition, Cannon alleged ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that appellate counsel was not ineffective for failing to raise a procedurally barred claim. View "Cannon v. State" on Justia Law

by
In 2013, a Wyoming court declared Andrew Johnson actually innocent of crimes for which he was then incarcerated. In 2017, after his release, Johnson brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the City of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the Estate of Detective George Stanford (“the Estate”), and Officer Alan Spencer, alleging they were responsible for violations of his constitutional rights that contributed to his conviction. While incarcerated, however, Johnson had unsuccessfully brought similar suits against Cheyenne and Detective Stanford in 1991 (“1991 Action”) and against Officer Spencer in 1992 (“1992 Action”). The central question before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was what effect the judgments against Johnson in his 1991 and 1992 Actions had on his 2017 Action. Answering this question required the Court to resolve two primary issues: (1) in addition to filing the 2017 Action, Johnson moved the district court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) for relief from the judgments in the 1991 and 1992 Actions, which Johnson contended the district court erred in denying; and (2) Cheyenne, the Estate and Officer Spencer each successfully moved to dismiss the 2017 Action because its claims were precluded by judgments in the 1991 and 1992 Actions, and Johnson likewise contended the court’s decision was made in error. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred by denying Rule 60(b)(6) relief, and so those orders were vacated for reconsideration under the correct legal rubric. Because of the Court’s remand of Johnson’s Rule 60(b)(6) motions did not actually grant such relief (Rule 60(b)(6) relief is discretionary), the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s dismissal of the 2017 Action. Specifically, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of claims against Cheyenne and the Estate because the judgment in the 1991 action was entitled to claim--reclusive effect. The Court reversed, however, dismissal of the claims against Officer Spencer because the judgment in 1992 was not on the merits, and thus, was not entitled to claim--reclusive effect. View "Johnson v. Spencer" on Justia Law

by
Robinson was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Under Michigan’s complex sentencing scheme, the judge sentenced Robinson as a fourth habitual offender to “concurrent terms of 47-1/2 to 120 years’ imprisonment for the assault and felon-in-possession convictions, to be served consecutive to two years’ imprisonment for the felony-firearm conviction.” The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed; the Michigan Supreme Court denied review. Robinson then filed a federal habeas corpus petition, which was denied. On appeal, Robinson argued that Supreme Court and state decisions postdating his sentencing have established that his sentence was imposed in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit vacated. Robinson’s sentencing claim undoubtedly has merit; the Supreme Court’s Alleyne decision clearly established the unconstitutionality of Michigan’s sentencing regime. However, Robinson did not “fairly present” his sentencing claim to the Michigan Supreme Court and failed to exhaust that claim in state court. On remand, the district court should decide whether to dismiss Robinson’s sentencing claim without prejudice for failure to exhaust or to stay the petition and hold it in abeyance while Robinson returns to state court to exhaust that claim. Stay and abeyance is appropriate only “when the district court determines there was good cause for the petitioner’s failure to exhaust his claims first in state court” and when the claims are not “plainly meritless.” View "Robinson v. Horton" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court granted Petitioner habeas corpus relief, holding that Petitioner was denied his constitutional right to the assistance of competent counsel at the guilt phase of his criminal trial, and trial counsel's deficient performance undermined the reliability of the jury's guilty verdict. Petitioner was convicted of the first degree murder of a police officer and sentenced to death. While his appeal was pending, Petitioner filed his first petition for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that the judgment should be vacated because he had received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. During the habeas proceedings, the Supreme Court found that Petitioner's trial counsel had defrauded Petitioner in order to induce Petitioner to retain him instead of the public defender. Counsel went on to commit serious errors during the penalty phase undermining the reliability of the death verdict. The Supreme Court granted the petition and ordered a new penalty phase trial. Petitioner later filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his convictions. The Supreme Court granted the writ and vacated Defendant's conviction for first degree murder, holding that Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel at the guilt phase of his trial. View "In re Gay" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court modified the decision of the court of appeals affirming Appellant's judgment of conviction and the denial of her motion for postconviction relief and affirmed as modified, holding that Appellant appropriately raised her challenge to the circuit court's use of previously unknown information during sentencing and that there was no due process violation in this case. On appeal, Appellant claimed, among other things, that the circuit court denied her due process at sentencing by failing to provide her with notice that it would consider previously unknown information first raised by the court at sentencing. The State responded that Appellant forfeited her direct challenge to the previously unknown information considered at sentencing because she failed to object at the sentencing hearing. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding (1) where previously unknown information is raised by the circuit court at a sentencing hearing a defendant does not forfeit a direct challenge to the use of the information by failing to object at the hearing; and (2) Appellant's due process rights were not violated by the circuit court's use of the previously unknown information. View "State v. Counihan" on Justia Law

by
As a result of a 2009 stroke, Perry, serving a long sentence for murder, suffers from aphasia, which impairs his ability to speak, write, and understand words. Perry pursued direct and collateral review in Indiana’s courts. On collateral attack, an appointed lawyer abandoned the case. Five months after dismissing the state proceeding in order to obtain assistance, he refiled it. The state judge dismissed the renewed application, ruling that the original dismissal was with prejudice. Perry then filed a federal petition under 28 U.S.C. 2254, which was summarily dismissed as untimely. Time during which a properly-filed state collateral attack is pending is excluded from the one year available to file in federal court, 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(2), but the federal judge determined that Perry’s second state proceeding was not properly filed because a second or successive collateral attack in Indiana requires judicial permission that Perry did not seek. The court declined to apply equitable tolling: Perry displayed all of the diligence needed for tolling but did not encounter any extraordinary circumstance that blocked timely filing because aphasia is not an “external” obstacle, The Seventh Circuit vacated. The record does not permit a determination of whether Perry’s difficulties stem from a brain injury that left him unable to understand or use language well enough to protect his interests or from his failure to do enough legal research to understand which time in state court would be excluded under section 2244(d)(2). View "Perry v. Brown" on Justia Law