Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Eleventh Circuit certified the following question to the Supreme Court of Georgia under O.C.G.A. 15-2-9: Does O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 conflict with Georgia Constitution Article VI, Section VIII, Paragraph I(a) (or any other provision) of the Georgia Constitution? View "Gonzalez v. Governor of the State of Georgia" on Justia Law

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A certified class claimed that during 2011 female inmates at an Illinois prison were strip-searched as part of a training exercise for cadet guards; the inmates were required to stand naked, nearly shoulder to shoulder, in a room where they could be seen by others not conducting the searches, including male officers. Menstruating inmates had to remove their sanitary protection in front of others, were not given replacements, and many got blood on their bodies, clothing, and the floor. The naked inmates had to stand barefoot on a floor dirty with menstrual blood and raise their breasts, lift their hair, turn around, bend over, spread their buttocks and vaginas, and cough.The district court awarded summary judgment to defendants on the 42 U.S.C. 1983 Fourth Amendment theory; a jury returned a defense verdict on the Eighth Amendment claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed but, on rehearing, reversed, holding that the Fourth Amendment protects a right to bodily privacy for convicted prisoners, albeit in a significantly limited way, including during visual inspections. The court remanded for the district court to assess whether the plaintiffs have demonstrated that an issue of fact exists as to the reasonableness of the strip and body cavity searches. View "Henry v. Hulett" on Justia Law

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Morris worked for nine years as a train conductor for BNSF. The company fired him after he committed two speeding infractions during a single shift on a train carrying hazardous chemicals and failed to follow company rules requiring self-reporting of the violations. Morris, who is African American, invoked Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), and sued to challenge his termination, alleging that BNSF punished him more severely than non-black employees who committed similar safety violations. A jury found in his favor. Morris was awarded $531,292 in back pay, $137,450 in front pay, $275,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages of $370,000The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the viability of Morris’s theory of discrimination, the sufficiency of his evidence, discovery rulings, and remedies. Morris introduced comprehensible and detailed evidence about how other employees were treated after committing safety violations. Although the supervisor responsible for any race-based discrimination did not make the termination decision, that supervisor’s decision to channel Morris down the path of formal discipline was based on race. The district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to order reinstatement. View "Morris v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for Carroll County, Virginia, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that her former employer violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause by terminating her in retaliation for reporting alleged sex discrimination.In line with Fourth Circuit precedent and the majority of courts to consider the question, the court held that a pure retaliation claim is not cognizable under the Equal Protection Clause. The court explained that, to the extent a public employee contends she suffered adverse consequences for expressing complaints or reporting discrimination to her employer, her claim arises under the First Amendment. Furthermore, to the extent a public employee links an alleged retaliatory action to her gender, that allegation would constitute part of an equal protection discrimination claim, not a freestanding retaliation claim. In this case, plaintiff has not made such an allegation, nor has she pleaded a First Amendment action. Rather, the right to be free from retaliation for protesting sexual harassment and sex discrimination upon which plaintiff solely relies is a right created by Title VII, not the equal protection clause. The court noted that these existing legal avenues challenging public employer retaliation remain open to employees, but declined to create a new one under the auspices of the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim under the Equal Protection Clause. View "Wilcox v. Lyons" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against a deputy sheriff and others, alleging that the deputy violated plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights in two ways: (1) by using unconstitutionally excessive force when he placed plaintiff in an unventilated, un-air-conditioned transport van and kept him there for an unreasonable amount of time; and (2) by exhibiting deliberate indifference when he recklessly disregarded plaintiff's serious medical needs. Plaintiff also alleged state law claims. The district court granted the deputy's motion for summary judgment.The Eleventh Circuit held that, although the deputy violated plaintiff's constitutional rights by applying excessive force, it was not clearly established at the time of his transport. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to this claim. The court also held that the deputy exhibited deliberate indifference to plaintiff's serious medical need when he ignored plaintiff's resulting distress, which included unconsciousness, shaking, profuse sweating, and labored breathing. Furthermore, the deputy was on notice that he was confronted with a serious medical need and did nothing to aid plaintiff. Therefore, the deputy was not entitled to qualified immunity on the deliberate indifference claim. Finally, the court held that the district court erred in rejecting plaintiff's adjunct state-law claims on official immunity grounds. View "Patel v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court's dismissal, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), of plaintiffs' amended complaint brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against various state officials, alleging that New York State's firearm licensing laws, N.Y. Penal Law 400.00, violate plaintiffs' rights under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The district court dismissed on grounds of mootness or lack of standing the claims of all but two plaintiffs, against all but two defendants, for failure to plead injury-in-fact or traceability of injury to other defendants; dismissed claims for money damages against the two remaining defendants on grounds of judicial and Eleventh Amendment immunity; dismissed individual-capacity claims against those defendants for injunctive relief as barred by 42 U.S.C. 1983; and dismissed the surviving claims on the grounds that the section 400.00 licensing criteria of "good moral character," "good cause," and "proper cause" are not unconstitutionally vague, and that the statutory scheme, while impacting Second Amendment rights, does not burden those rights substantially, closely relates to the State's interests in public safety, and thus survives intermediate scrutiny.The Second Circuit has been informed by the parties of events that have rendered the claims of certain plaintiffs moot and the court otherwise affirmed the rulings of the district court principally for the reasons stated by the district court. The court dismissed as to the Libertarian Party, which expressly disclaimed any request for appellate relief; dismissed as moot insofar as it pursues relief on behalf of plaintiff Rober, who is deceased with no successor or representative having been substituted for her; dismissed insofar as it pursues relief on behalf of plaintiff Kuzma, whose acquisition of a firearm license has made moot any claim that was pursued for him; and dismissed insofar as it pursues injunctive relief on behalf of plaintiff Cuthbert, whose relocation to Colorado has made him ineligible to apply for a New York concealed-carry permit. The court considered all of the other arguments properly before it and found them to be without merit. View "Libertarian Party of Erie County v. Cuomo" on Justia Law

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Under 28 U.S.C. 2253, in a habeas corpus proceeding or a proceeding under section 2255 before a district judge, the final order shall be subject to review, on appeal, by the court of appeals for the circuit in which the proceeding is held.The Second Circuit determined, sua sponte, that it lacks jurisdiction to hear petitioner's appeal because a district court's order denying a certificate of appealability is not an appealable final order. In this case, petitioner moves for a certificate of appealability and for leave to file an oversized motion for a certificate of appealability, challenging the district court's order denying a certificate of appealability. The court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and denied petitioner's motion as moot. View "Lasher v. United States" on Justia Law

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SmileDirect filed suit against the Georgia Board of Dentistry, including the Board’s members in their individual capacities, alleging inter alia, antitrust, Equal Protection, and Due Process violations related to the amendment of Ga. Bd. of Dentistry R. 150-9-.02. On appeal, the Board members challenged the denial of their motion to dismiss the complaint with respect to the alleged antitrust violations.After determining that it does have appellate jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that, based on the facts alleged in SmileDirect's complaint, the Board members are not entitled to state-action immunity under Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341 (1943), at this point in the litigation, and the district court properly denied their motion to dismiss. In this case, the Board members have failed to satisfy the Midcal test by failing to meet the "active supervision" prong of the test and both prongs are necessary to satisfy the test. Furthermore, the court rejected the Board members' argument that ipso facto state-action immunity is available merely because of the Governor's power and duty, and without regard to his actual exercise thereof. The court explained that the Board members have established no more than the mere potential for active supervision on the part of the Governor, and thus they have fallen far short of establishing that the amended rule was "in reality" the action of the Governor. View "SmileDirectClub, LLC v. Battle" on Justia Law

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Daisy Arias suffered sustained, egregious sexual harassment for most of the time she was employed by defendant-petitioner, Blue Fountain Pools & Spas, Inc. The primary culprit was defendant-petitioner, Sean Lagrave, a salesman who worked in the same office as Arias. Arias says Lagrave did everything from repeatedly asking her for dates to grabbing her and describing "his own sexual prowess." Arias complained about Lagrave’s conduct repeatedly over the course of her employment, but things came to a head on April 21, 2017: Lagrave yelled at Arias in front of coworkers, used gender slurs, and then physically assaulted her, bumping her chest with his own. Arias called the police and later left work. Arias told the owner, defendant-petitioner, Farhad Farhadian, she wasn’t comfortable returning to work with Lagrave. Farhadian did nothing initially, refused to remove Lagrave, then terminated Arias’s health insurance, and finally told Arias to pick up her final paycheck. Though Farhadian claimed Arias had quit, she says she was fired. Arias filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and received a right to sue letter on August 14, 2017. She then filed this lawsuit alleging, relevant to this appeal, hostile work environment sex discrimination and failure to prevent sexual harassment. Petitioners moved for summary judgment, seeking, among other things, to have the hostile work environment claim dismissed as time-barred and the failure to prevent harassment claim dismissed as having an insufficient basis after limiting the allegations to the conduct that wasn’t time-barred. The trial court concluded Arias had created a genuine issue of material fact as to all her causes of action and denied the motion. Petitioners brought a petition for writ of mandate, renewing their statute of limitations argument, claiming Arias could not establish a continuing violation because she admitted she had concluded further complaints were futile. The Court of Appeal concluded Arias has shown she could establish a continuing violation with respect to all the complained of conduct that occurred during Farhadian’s ownership of the company. Further, the Court determined there was a factual dispute over whether and when Arias’s employer made clear no action would be taken and whether a reasonable employee would have concluded complaining more was futile: "that question must be resolved by a jury." The Court denied petitioners' request for mandamus relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Blue Fountain Pools and Spas Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant in an action brought by plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging a malicious prosecution claim. In this case, defendant arrested plaintiff and charged him with congregating on the sidewalk in violation of the City Code of Columbia, South Carolina. Defendant voluntarily dropped the charge over three years later. Plaintiff alleged that defendant arrested him without probable cause and ultimately dismissed the case because plaintiff was innocent.The court held that there is a genuine dispute of material fact concerning the termination of criminal proceedings against plaintiff. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court held that plaintiff has presented testimony that conflicts with defendant's explanation, as well as corroborating circumstantial evidence from which a jury could reasonably infer that the nolle prosse was consistent with plaintiff's innocence. Therefore, in light of the evidence and the fact that the district court cannot weigh credibility at this stage, summary judgment was not appropriate. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Salley v. Myers" on Justia Law