Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Louisiana Trooper Curlee observed a handicap-plated truck after nightfall stopped on the road's shoulder, high atop the Pontchartrain Expressway. Curlee stopped to investigate, saw men spray painting the overpass wall, and based upon their odd statements, sought their identification. Evans, the driver, and Gizzarelli complied. Kokesh refused to comply and videotaped the encounter. Curlee arrested Kokesh because of his failure to provide identification, determined that the two other men were acting on Kokesh’s instructions, decided Gizzarelli should be released, photographed the overpass, and wrote Evans a ticket for illegally stopping on the interstate shoulder.Kokesh subsequently sued. The district court dismissed all claims for injunctive and declaratory relief, all official-capacity claims, and all state law claims, leaving only 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against Curlee in his individual capacity for unreasonable seizure and excessive force and First Amendment retaliation. The district court granted Curlee qualified immunity as to the excessive force claim but denied it as to the unreasonable seizure claim and the First Amendment claim. The Fifth Circuit reversed, in favor of Curlee, describing the incident as “a regular investigation of an extraordinary and hazardous situation created voluntarily by the plaintiff.” Curlee’s conduct was in accord with reasonable expectations. “The Fourth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. 1983 should not be employed as a daily quiz tendered by videotaping hopefuls seeking to metamorphosize law enforcement officers from investigators and protectors, into mere spectators, and then further converting them into federal defendants.” View "Kokesh v. Curlee" on Justia Law

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Google, as required by 18 U.S.C. 2258A(f), reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that Wilson had uploaded images of apparent child pornography to his email account as attachments. No one at Google had opened or viewed Wilson’s attachments; its report was based on an automated assessment that the images Wilson uploaded were the same as images other Google employees had earlier viewed and classified as child pornography. Someone at NCMEC then, also without opening or viewing them, sent Wilson’s email attachments to the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, where an officer viewed the attachments without a warrant. The officer then applied for warrants to search Wilson’s email account and Wilson’s home, describing the attachments in detail in the application.The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of Wilson’s motion to suppress. The government’s warrantless search of Wilson’s email attachments was not justified by the private search exception to the Fourth Amendment. The government search exceeded the scope of the antecedent private search because it allowed the government to learn new, critical information that it used first to obtain a warrant and then to prosecute Wilson; the government agent viewed email attachments even though no Google employee had done so. The government has not established that what a Google employee previously viewed were exact duplicates of Wilson’s images. View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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On a well-lit summer evening in a Des Moines neighborhood with community-reported drug crimes, police officers Minnehan and Steinkamp lawfully stopped Haynes for suspected (mistaken) involvement in a drug deal. The exceedingly polite and cooperative exchange between the three did not make either officer view Haynes as a safety risk. Haynes could not find his driver’s license but shared three separate cards bearing his name. Steinkamp then handcuffed him. While the polite interaction continued, the cuffs stayed on. They also stayed on after a clean frisk and a consensual pocket search. They stayed on after the officers declined Haynes’s invitation to search another pocket and Haynes’s car. The officers declined another squad car’s offer to help.The district court rejected, on summary judgment, Haynes’s Fourth Amendment claims. 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Eighth Circuit reversed. Handcuffs constitute “greater than a de minimus intrusion,” their use requires the officer to demonstrate that the facts available to the officer would warrant a man of reasonable caution in believing that the action taken was appropriate. Here, the officers failed to point to specific facts supporting an objective safety concern during the encounter. Minnehan and Steinkamp had fair notice that they could not handcuff Haynes without an objective safety concern. View "Haynes v. Minnehan" on Justia Law

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Beach Blitz sued the City and individuals, asserting that the City’s enactment and enforcement of ordinances regulating the sale of liquor and requiring businesses selling liquor to obtain licenses violated its substantive and procedural due process rights and that the City’s closure of its store one day after it met with a City attorney constituted retaliation for Beach Blitz’s protected First Amendment conduct. The district court dismissed the due process claims on the merits, without prejudice, and without leave to amend, and the First Amendment retaliatory claim on the merits, without prejudice but with leave to amend. Beach Blitz did not amend its that claim by the stated deadline. The district court found the City to be the prevailing party on all five claims, determined that each of them was “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation,” and awarded attorney fees for each.The Eleventh Circuit upheld the prevailing party determination because the City rebuffed Beach Blitz’s efforts to effect a material alteration in the legal relationship between the parties and affirmed frivolity determination concerning the procedural and substantive due process claims. The court vacated in part. There was sufficient support in precedent for Beach Blitz’s position that its retaliation claim was not so groundless on causation as to be frivolous. View "Beach Blitz Co. v. City of Miami Beach" on Justia Law

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DeJesus claims that in 2016, he was sexually assaulted by a prison official, Lewis. DeJesus had an attorney to represent him in court, but shortly before trial, the district court allowed counsel to withdraw. DeJesus was ill-prepared for trial because he had not been provided discovery materials. He was not given transcripts of the depositions taken in discovery until the morning of his trial and tried to read through them—for the first time—during the morning break. Ultimately DeJesus presented only his own testimony. The jury ruled in favor of the defendants.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. When a prisoner proves that a prison official, acting under color of law and without legitimate penological justification, engages in a sexual act with the prisoner, and that act was for the official’s own sexual gratification, or for the purpose of humiliating, degrading, or demeaning the prisoner, the prison official’s conduct amounts to a sexual assault in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Here, the jurors should have been instructed that the only fact they had to find was whether the sexual assault occurred. On the record, however, DeJesus has not established that any errors made during the trial were likely to have resulted in an incorrect verdict. View "DeJesus v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Based on his assault on his wife and her parents, Minnick was charged with aggravated battery, attempted first‐degree murder, and several counts of first‐degree reckless endangerment and attempted burglary, while using a dangerous weapon. Minnick agreed to plead no contest, except for attempted murder, which was dismissed and read‐in, and leave sentencing to the court, exposing him to 73 years of confinement. The court sentenced Minnick to 27 years.Wisconsin courts rejected his argument that his trial attorney improperly guaranteed and unreasonably estimated that he would receive a much shorter sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court denied review. Wisconsin courts then rejected his post-conviction argument that counsel was constitutionally ineffective because she failed to advise him that he could withdraw his no-contest pleas before sentencing if he provided a “fair and just reason” and that, when counsel learned that the PSR recommended a sentencing range exceeding what she had advised, she should have moved to withdraw his pleas.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief. Although Minnick’s claims could have been analyzed differently—including whether the state court’s decision on counsel’s sentencing advice warranted deference under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. 2254, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals did not unreasonably apply the Strickland deficient‐performance prong in concluding that a plea withdrawal claim was not clearly stronger than the argument that Minnick’s postconviction counsel advanced. View "Minnick v. Winkleski" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion to suppress his federal New Hampshire prosecution on double jeopardy grounds, holding that Defendant's double jeopardy rights did not attach in earlier Maine criminal proceedings.In 2018, Defendant was indicted in the District of Maine with criminal offenses. On January 31, 2020, the United States filed a motion to dismiss the indictment without prejudice. Defendant filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal or dismissal with prejudice, arguing that, given the government's accompanying admission that it could not prove its case and his lengthy pretrial detention, due process required an acquittal or dismissal with prejudice. The district court denied the motion and dismissed the case without prejudice. Also on January 31, 2020, the United States filed a criminal complaint in the New Hampshire district court. A grand jury issued an indictment. Defendant moved to dismiss count two on double jeopardy grounds. The district court denied the motion. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that jeopardy did not attach to Defendant's Maine criminal proceedings. View "United States v. Suazo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the sheriff's department and deputies involved in plaintiff's second arrest based on mistaken identity. Plaintiff alleged that defendants violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by falsely arresting him, overdetaining him, and failing to institute policies and train deputies to prevent these things from happening.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's rulings on the false arrest and Monell claims. The court concluded that the mistaken arrest of plaintiff on the wanted warrant of someone by the same name was reasonable within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment, and the deputies are entitled to qualified immunity on the false arrest claim. However, the court vacated the district court's dismissal of the overdetention claim because plaintiff sufficiently alleged facts establishing that defendants failed to take any action for three days and nights after they learned of information that raised significant doubts about defendant's identity. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Sosa v. Martin County" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's adverse grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action brought by a pretrial detainee against prison officials, alleging violation of his constitutional rights when he was denied visitation with his children due to a blanket policy of prohibiting detainees from visitations by minor children. The court determined that its case law up to now has not necessarily made clear that the prison officials violated plaintiff's constitutional rights by enforcing the blanket prohibition on visitation with minor children, and thus qualified immunity was appropriate to protect defendants from liability.However, the court noted that the time is ripe to clearly establish that such behavior may amount to a constitutional violation in the future. The court joined the Seventh Circuit in holding that prison officials who permanently or arbitrarily deny an inmate visits with family members in disregard of the factors described in Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), and Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126 (2003), have acted in violation of the Constitution. View "Manning v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that the Chisom decree, which created Louisiana's one majority-black supreme court district, does not govern the other six districts. Therefore, the district court properly denied Louisiana's motion to dismiss this Voting Rights Act suit for lack of jurisdiction. In this case, the state argued that the Chisom decree centralizes perpetual federal control over all supreme court districts in the Eastern District of Louisiana, which issued the decree. The court concluded that the district court rejected that reading for good reason because it is plainly wrong. Rather, the present suit addresses a different electoral district untouched by the decree. View "Allen v. Louisiana" on Justia Law