Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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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

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Dunn County Sergeant Kurtzhals threatened physical violence against one of his fellow officers, Deputy Rhead. The Sheriff’s Office put him on temporary paid administrative leave and ordered him to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation. Kurtzhals, believing that his supervisors took this action because they knew that Kurtzhals has a history of PTSD stemming from his military service, not because his conduct violated the County’s Workplace Violence Policy and implicated public safety, sued for employment discrimination, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12112. The district court concluded that no reasonable jury could find that Kurtzhals’s PTSD was the “but for” cause of Dunn County’s action or that it was plainly unreasonable for Kurtzhals’s superiors to believe that a fitness-for-duty examination was warranted, and granted the county summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Kurtzhals had no evidence to support his claim of pretext; there is no evidence that his supervisors knew about Kurtzhals’s PTSD. Contrary to Kurtzhals’s argument that he and Rhead acted in a comparable fashion and should have been treated similarly, the record reflects that only Kurtzhals explicitly threatened physical violence. Rhead may have behaved in an intimidating fashion towards Kurtzhals, but their behavior was not identical. View "Kurtzhals v. County of Dunn" on Justia Law

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While in office, Courser, a former Republican member of the Michigan House of Representatives, had an affair with another representative, Gamrat. The defendants were legislative aides assigned to Courser and Gamrat. Worried that he and Gamrat eventually would be caught, Courser concocted a plan to get ahead of the story by sending out an anonymous email to his constituents accusing himself of having an affair with Gamrat, but including outlandish allegations intended to make the story too hard to believe. Courser unsuccessfully attempted to involve one of the defendants in the “controlled burn.” The defendants reported Courser’s affair and misuse of their time for political and personal tasks to higher-ups. In retaliation, Courser directed the House Business Office to them. After they were fired, the defendants unsuccessfully tried to expose the affair to Republican leaders, then went to the Detroit News. Courser resigned and pleaded no contest to willful neglect of duty by a public officer.Courser later sued, alleging that the defendants conspired together and with the Michigan House of Representatives to remove him from office. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all of Courser’s claims: 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985; violation of the Fair and Just Treatment Clause of the Michigan Constitution; computer fraud; libel, slander, and defamation; civil stalking; tortious interference with business relationships; negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress; RICO and RICO conspiracy; intentional interference with or destruction of evidence/spoliation; and conspiracy. View "Courser v. Allard" on Justia Law

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Beck claims he was assaulted by other inmates while detained at the Hamblen County, Tennessee jail. He sued Sheriff Jarnagin under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Jarnagin had no direct involvement in Beck’s detention; section 1983 does not impose vicarious liability on supervisors for their subordinates’ actions. Beck argued that the overcrowded jail has repeatedly failed minimum standards; that Jarnagin has long known of its failures; and that Jarnagin has been deliberately indifferent to inmate safety. The Tennessee Corrections Institute has identified the jail’s failures in inspection reports that are sent to Jarnagin each year. The court denied Jarnagin qualified immunity on Beck’s Fourteenth Amendment claim, reasoning that pretrial detainees have a clearly established right to be free from a government official’s deliberate indifference to inmate assaults.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Existing precedent would not have clearly signaled to Jarnagin that his responses to the overcrowding problem were so unreasonable as to violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Beck has no evidence suggesting that Jarnagin had any personal knowledge of Beck’s specific situation Jarnagin did make efforts “to abate” th3 general risk of inmate-on-inmate violence but did not have the power to allocate more taxpayer dollars to the safety problems. The court noted that Beck’s suit against Hamblen County remains viable. View "Beck v. Hamblen County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against a police officer and a Justice of the Peace under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating his Fourth Amendment rights. In 2017, when plaintiff was a witness in a courtroom, another witness testified that plaintiff was "not a legal citizen." Based on that statement, the Justice of the Peace presiding over the hearing spoke with the officer and the officer placed plaintiff in handcuffs, searched plaintiff's person, and escorted him to a patrol car outside the courthouse. While plaintiff was waiting in the back of the patrol car, the officer ran a warrants check on plaintiff that came back clean. The officer then contacted ICE officials and plaintiff was taken to an ICE facility, where he remained in custody for three months.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendants' motions for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Under Martinez-Medina v. Holder, 673 F.3d 1029, 1036 (9th Cir. 2011), the panel held that, unlike entry into the United States -- which is a crime under 8 U.S.C. 1325 -- illegal presence is not a crime. Under Melendres v. Arpaio, 695 F.3d 990, 1001 (9th Cir. 2012), the panel held that because mere unauthorized presence is not a criminal matter, suspicion of unauthorized presence alone does not give rise to an inference that criminal activity is afoot. In this case, the officer stopped and arrested plaintiff without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, respectively, and the Justice of the Peace integrally participated in his actions. Furthermore, plaintiff's right to be free from unlawful stops in this circumstance has been established since at least 2012, by which time both Melendres and Martinez-Medina were law of the circuit. View "Reynaga Hernandez v. Skinner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of three counts of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder with a multiple murder special circumstance and various gun use enhancements, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a venue change; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress items discovered during a warrantless search of his vehicle; (3) Defendant's decision not to testify was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary; (4) the trial court did not improperly exclude a defense expert; (5) the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's pretrial motion to exclude evidence of his gang membership; (6) there was no instructional error; (7) the prosecutor did not commit misconduct during penalty phase argument; and (8) Defendant's challenges to the victim impact testimony were unavailing. View "People v. Duong" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of four counts of first degree murder and other crimes, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion during the guilt phase or penalty phase of trial.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the evidence was sufficient to show that Defendant committed the murders with premeditation and deliberation; (2) the trial court did not err in admitting testimony of the People's crime scene reconstruction expert; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting certain crime scene and autopsy photographs of the victims; and (4) during the penalty phase, the trial court did not err by admitting victim impact testimony or in instructing the jury. View "People v. Morales" on Justia Law

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In a prior criminal action, the state court agreed with the plaintiff in this case that Defendant Chapman, a Medical Board investigator, used illegally-obtained files to fabricate evidence and to indict plaintiff on trumped-up charges of running a pill mill. Here, plaintiff filed a civil suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Chapman and another government agent for violating his constitutional rights by using instanter subpoenas to illegally search his clinic, resulting in the illegal seizure of property and patient records.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment and held that Chapman was not entitled to absolute immunity as an investigator and, because Chapman fulfilled the fact-finding role generally filled by law enforcement, she is only entitled to the level of immunity available to law enforcement -- qualified immunity. The court also held that malicious prosecution and abuse of process are not viable theories of constitutional injury. The court agreed with defendants that malicious prosecution and abuse of process are torts, not constitutional violations. However, the court remanded for the district court to decide whether plaintiff has waived his Fourth Amendment claims and whether he should be allowed to amend his complaint a third time to add a due process claim. View "Morgan v. Chapman" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a recent high school graduate and a transgender young man, filed suit against the school board through his next friend and mother, alleging violations of his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment granting plaintiff relief on both claims and held that the school district's policy barring plaintiff from the boys' restroom does not square with the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and Title IX's prohibition of sex discrimination. Applying heightened scrutiny, the court held that the record does not demonstrate that the school board has met its "demanding" constitutional burden by showing a substantial relationship between excluding transgender students from communal restrooms and student privacy. In this case, the policy is administered arbitrarily; the school board's privacy concerns about plaintiff's use of the boys' bathroom are merely hypothesized, with no support in the factual record; and the bathroom policy subjects plaintiff to unfavorable treatment simply because he defies gender stereotypes as a transgender person. Therefore, because the record reveals no substantial relationship between privacy in the school district restrooms and excluding plaintiff from the boys' restroom, the bathroom policy violates the Equal Protection Clause.Applying the Supreme Court's recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U.S. ___, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), the court held that excluding plaintiff from the boys' bathroom amounts to sex discrimination in violation of Title IX. The court explained that Title IX protects students from discrimination based on their transgender status; the school district treated plaintiff differently because of his transgender status and this different treatment caused him harm; and nothing in Title IX's regulations or any administrative guidance on Title IX excuses the discriminatory policy. Furthermore, plaintiff's discrimination claim does not contradict Title IX's implementing regulation. View "Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County" on Justia Law