Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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Hampton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and aiding and abetting possession of a firearm in furtherance of the conspiracy. His 204-month sentence was eventually reduced to 180 months based on an amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines. Hampton sought a further reduction by way of compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A). Hampton had to exhaust all administrative rights, or, alternatively, wait 30 days after the warden’s first “receipt of [his] request.” Hampton sought administrative relief but filed his motion with the district court before the warden’s 30-day response period had run. The court opted to hold the motion “until the 30-day window ran” and later denied Hampton’s motion “for the reasons stated” in the government’s brief, without further explanation.The Sixth Circuit remanded. Following enactment of the First Step Act, district courts facing defendant-filed motions seeking release under section 3582(c)(1)(A) should analyze whether extraordinary and compelling circumstances merit a sentence reduction and whether the applicable section 3553(a) factors warrant such a reduction. It is not clear whether the court denied Hampton’s motion based upon permissible grounds advanced by the government under section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i)—that Hampton failed to demonstrate extraordinary and compelling circumstances—or instead denied Hampton release due to a strict application of U.S.S.G. 1B1.13, which the government invoked, but which is no longer a mandatory step Hampton must satisfy. View "United States v. Hampton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, alleging claims of race- and gender-based discrimination under Title VII and racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of her action for failure to state a claim, because plaintiff was not an "employee" of the firm she sought to sue. The court explained that plaintiff was a partner and equal owner of the firm, not an employee, and thus she is not within the scope of Title VII's coverage.In regard to plaintiff's section 1981 claim, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to plead specific factual allegations tending to corroborate her claim of eligibility for leave. In this case, plaintiff declined to indicate the nature of the medical conditions or events that allegedly qualified her for leave, despite being the individual best-positioned to do so. Furthermore, even if plaintiff's qualification for leave was assumed, plaintiff failed to allege that her race was the but-for cause of the Board's denial of her leave application as required by the Supreme Court's recent holding in Comcast Corporation v. National Association of African American-Owned Media, 140 S.Ct. 1009 (2020). As to plaintiff's one factually-specific, non-conclusory allegation of racially-motivated conduct, she failed to allege any facts linking it to the Board vote denying her short-term leave. View "Lemon v. Myers Bigel, P.A." on Justia Law

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Dustin Lance was denied medical treatment for priapsm at a detention center in McAlester, Oklahoma. He ultimately sued the sheriff and four jail guards; summary judgment was entered in favor of all defendants. After review of his appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed in part. Like the district court, the Court concluded that one of the jail guards, Edward Morgan, had qualified immunity because he didn’t violate Lance’s constitutional right to medical care. But the Court concluded that qualified immunity was unavailable to the three other jail guards: Mike Smead, Dakota Morgan, and Daniel Harper. And the sheriff, Chris Morris, was not entitled to summary judgment in his official capacity because the factfinder could reasonably determine that the county’s policies had violated Lance’s constitutional right to medical care. View "Lance v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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Gear, a native of Australia, moved to Hawaii to work. Gear’s employer applied for, and Gear received, an “H-1B” nonimmigrant visa. Gear later returned from visiting Australia with a rifle. Gear was fired and needed a new visa. Gear created a new company and obtained a new H-1B visa. A DHS agent learned Gear was present on an H-1B visa and bragged about owning firearms, and obtained a search warrant. Before the search, Gear stated, “he couldn’t possess a firearm … because he was not a U.S. citizen.” Gear stated his ex-wife had shipped a rifle and gun safe to Hawaii but he claimed they had been discarded because “he couldn’t have it.” Gear eventually admitted that the gun and safe were in the garage.He was charged under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5)(B) for possessing a firearm while being an alien who had been admitted under a nonimmigrant visa. The jury was instructed the government had to prove Gear “knowingly possessed” the rifle, that had been transported in foreign commerce, and that Gear had been admitted under a nonimmigrant visa. Before Gear was sentenced, the Supreme Court decided Rehaif, holding that under section 922(g), the government must prove the defendant “knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.”The Ninth Circuit affirmed Gear’s conviction. While the government must prove the defendant knew he had a nonimmigrant visa, the erroneous jury instructions did not affect Gear’s substantial rights because the record overwhelmingly indicates that he knew it was illegal for him to possess a firearm. View "United States v. Gear" on Justia Law

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Since 2011, Jonesboro’s wastewater system has spewed sewage onto Stringer’s property and into her home during heavy rains. Stringer repeatedly complained to the town and its mayor, then brought a “citizen suit” under the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1365, with constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for the uncompensated taking of her property and the mayor’s retaliation. Stringer ran against the mayor in 2014 and claims he retaliated by ignoring her pleas, getting the town to sue her frivolously, and refusing to provide sandbags. The Louisiana Departments of Health (LDOH) and Environmental Quality (LDEQ) have long known about the problems. LDEQ sent the town warning letters and issued compliance orders about unauthorized discharges, including those afflicting Stringer. LDOH issued a compliance order about the discharges on Stringer’s property, imposed mandatory ameliorative measures, and assessed a daily fine. The district court dismissed, finding that the CWA prohibits such suits when a state is addressing the problem through “comparable” state law and finding her section 1983 claims untimely under Louisiana’s one-year prescriptive period. The Fifth Circuit affirmed as to the section 1983 claims. Stringer was long aware of the underlying facts and failed to sue within a year. The Fifth Circuit reversed in part. The enforcement action to which the court pointed—the state health department’s enforcement of the sanitary code—is not “comparable” to the CWA under circuit precedent. View "Stringer v. Town of Jonesboro" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Brown was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. Before Brown’s anticipated 2011 release, the state obtained a civil commitment order under the Texas Sexually Violent Predator Act. The Act required civilly committed persons to “reside in a Texas residential facility under contract with" OVSOM or another approved location and to participate in OVSOM-provided “treatment and supervision.” While confined at Fort Worth, Brown was indicted for violating his commitment terms and confined at the Tarrant County Jail as a pre-trial detainee. Brown posted bond and was transferred to the Cold Springs Jail, pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding with OVSOM’s predecessor: Tarrant County (Sheriff Anderson) would provide “housing, meals, and other usual services” in the Work Release Program; OVSOM's predecessor had responsibility for “obtaining and paying for all programs" required for its clients. Brown, acquitted of violating his commitment terms, did not receive sex offender treatment at Cold Springs.Brown filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint, based on the 20-day confinement without sex offender treatment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his claims against Tarrant County and Anderson. Anderson is entitled to qualified immunity and Brown states no claim against the county. At the time of the challenged conduct, there was a circuit split on whether sexually violent or dangerous offenders have a due process right to treatment. Anderson’s failure to provide Brown with sex offender treatment did not violate clearly established law. View "Brown v. Tarrant County" on Justia Law

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Former inmate Kotler sued prison officials, claiming that they planted a weapon in his housing area in retaliation for his activities on an inmate grievance committee. He also alleged violations of his due process rights in a disciplinary hearing over the incident. After a second remand, the district court dismissed Kotler’s due process claim as abandoned during prior appeals, and dismissed the alleged linchpin defendant, now-deceased Superintendent Donelli, finding that no one timely moved for substitution of Donelli’s successor after his death. A jury returned a defense verdict on Kotler’s retaliation claims.The Second Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part. The dismissal of Donelli was proper; under FRCP 25(a), the 90-day deadline for a plaintiff to move to substitute a defendant is triggered by service of a notice on the plaintiff of the defendant’s death, regardless of whether that notice was also served upon the decedent’s successor or representative. The district court gave Kotler a fair trial on his retaliation claim. The court asked witnesses questions, limited Kotler’s questioning of a witness, and told Kotler to hurry up numerous times but in light of the entire record, the court’s questions were attempts to clarify and organize information. A supplemental jury instruction did not constitute fundamental error. Kotler did not abandon his due process claim during his previous appeals, so the district court erred in dismissing it. View "Kotler v. Jubert" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of jurisdiction, an interlocutory appeal of the district court's order denying qualified immunity to defendant in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that defendant used excessive force when he shot Wayne Anderson. The panel explained that it lacked jurisdiction to review defendant's arguments because his interlocutory appeal challenges only the district court's conclusion that there is sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute as to the factual question that will determine whether defendant's use of force was reasonable. In this case, rather than "advanc[ing] an argument as to why the law is not clearly established that takes the facts in the light most favorable to [the Estate]," which the panel would have jurisdiction to consider, defendant contests "whether there is enough evidence in the record for a jury to conclude that certain facts [favorable to the Estate] are true," which the panel did not have jurisdiction to resolve. View "Estate of Wayne Steven Anderson v. Marsh" on Justia Law

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When LaSpina began working for the Scranton Public Library, all Library employees were exclusively represented in collective bargaining by Local 668. No employee had to join the Union; an employee could join and pay full membership dues or decline to join and pay a lesser nonmember “fair-share fee.” LaSpina joined the Union. In 2018, the Supreme Court held, in "Janus," that compelling nonmembers to pay fair-share fees violates their First Amendment associational rights. LaSpina resigned from the Union and sued, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief, including a refund of the portion of the dues she paid the Union equal to the nonmembers’ fair-share fees, and a refund of membership dues deducted from her paycheck after she resigned.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. LaSpina had no standing to seek a refund of any portion of the dues she made prior to Janus because she cannot tie the payment of those dues to the Union’s unconstitutional deduction of fair-share fees from nonmembers. If LaSpina is due a refund of monies that were deducted from her wages after she resigned, the claim is not a federal one. LaSpina’s claim that the Union may not collect any dues from an employee until that employee knowingly and freely waives their constitutional right to resign from membership and withhold payments is moot as LaSpina no longer is a Union member. View "LaSpina v. SEIU Pennsylvania State Council" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction for distribution of a controlled substance and affirmed Defendant's remaining convictions, holding that there was insufficient evidence to support the distribution conviction.A jury found Defendant guilty of felony murder, distribution of a controlled substance, attempted aggravated robbery, criminal possession of a weapon, attempted murder in the second degree, criminal discharge of a firearm, aggravated battery, and aggravated burglary. The Supreme Court reversed one conviction and otherwise affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in consolidating Defendant's cases for trial; (2) the evidence was insufficient to convict Defendant of distribution; and (3) the jury instructions on Defendant's aggravated robbery, felony murder, and criminal possession of a firearm charges were not erroneous. View "State v. Crosby" on Justia Law