Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The county appealed the district court's post-verdict grant of judgment as a matter of law on Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims regarding the alleged seizure of a minor, L, by a social worker. Plaintiffs, L and her mother, appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment on their Fourteenth Amendment claims regarding the county's false letter allegedly impairing their right to familial association. The Ninth Circuit held that this circuit's precedent requires that, to establish a Fourteenth Amendment claim based on a minor being separated from his or her parents, plaintiffs must establish that an actual loss of custody occurred; the mere threat of separation or being subject to an investigation, without more, is insufficient. In this case, plaintiffs' allegations failed to establish a Fourteenth Amendment violation. Furthermore, mother's allegation that her Fourteenth Amendment familial association right was violated as a result of L's 5-minute seizure at her school also failed to establish a claim given that she never actually lost control over L. The panel also held that substantial evidence supported the jury's verdict in favor of the county on L's Fourth Amendment claim arising from the school seizure. The panel reversed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs' respective Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims regarding the seizure; reversed the district court's conditional grant of a new trial to mother on her seizure claim; affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of the county employees on plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment claims involving the false letter; and affirmed the district court's conditional grant of a new trial on L's Fourth Amendment claim. View "Dees v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jorge Corona was a backseat passenger in a car pulled over for a routine traffic stop by Clovis Police Officer Brent Aguilar. Plaintiff was arrested when he did not produce identification in response to the officer's demand for ID. Defendant Aguilar charged Plaintiff with: (1) resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer; and (2) concealing his identity. The district attorney’s office dismissed the concealing-identity charge, and a jury later acquitted Plaintiff of the charge against him for resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer. Plaintiff subsequently sued the arresting officers, Defendant Aguilar and police officer Travis Loomis; the City of Clovis; and the Clovis Police Department for, among other things, alleged constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983. As relevant here, Plaintiff alleged Defendant Aguilar violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest by arresting him without probable cause. Defendant Aguilar moved for partial summary judgment on Plaintiff’s unlawful-arrest claim based on qualified immunity, but the district court denied his motion. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with Officer Aguilar's contention that the district court erred in denying him qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit determined the officer arrested plaintiff without probable cause. "Additionally, clearly established law would have put a reasonable officer in Defendant Aguilar’s position on notice that his conduct violated Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest. Defendant Aguilar is therefore not entitled to qualified immunity." View "Corona v. City of Clovis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, Allina, for race and national origin discrimination as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the discrimination claims, holding that the record demonstrates that Allina considered plaintiff's race only to ensure that any corrective action was not based on racial discrimination; without direct evidence of discrimination, the court relied on the burden shifting McDonnell Douglas analysis; and, assuming plaintiff established a prima facie case, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that Allina's stated reason for terminating her was pretext. The court explained that nothing in Allina's Violence-Free Workplace policy or other policies prohibit Allina from treating some offenses as more severe than others and selecting a corrective action that it believes is proportional to the level of severity for the violation. In this case, Allina's response to plaintiff's grievance and the deposition of an Allina human resources director make clear that Allina believed that pushing a coworker was more severe than throwing a lab coat at a co-worker and that plaintiff's behavior justified a more severe punishment. View "Findlator v. Allina Health Clinics" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court, holding that an amendment to the City of Providence's zoning ordinance that restricted the number of college students who may live together in single-family homes in certain residential areas in Providence did not violate Plaintiffs' right to equal protection or due process under the Rhode Island Constitution. Plaintiffs, a real estate investment company, and four individuals who were college students and housemates leasing the real estate investment company's property, filed a declaratory judgment action against the City seeking to invalidate the amendment, arguing that the City had violated the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Rhode Island Constitution. The hearing justice entered judgment in favor of the City. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the amendment was rationally related to the legitimate state purpose of preserving the residential character of certain neighborhoods and that there was no constitutional violation. View "Federal Hill Capital, LLC v. City of Providence" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the city and a police officer, alleging claims for illegal seizure, unlawful search, and excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff also alleged claims under Alabama law for illegal search, false arrest, battery, and excessive force. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment to the officer based on qualified immunity, holding that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether the use of force was unconstitutional. In this case, the seriousness and permanence of plaintiff's injuries and the unusual alacrity and horsepower of the officer's leg sweep preclude his force from being characterized as de minimis. Furthermore, the court held that the law had clearly established that plaintiff's force was unconstitutional where no reasonable officer could have thought that sweeping plaintiff's legs out from under him and throwing him to the ground headfirst was a reasonable use of force. Plaintiff was somewhat frail and was not resisting or attempting to flee, and thus the law clearly forbade the officer's forceful takedown under the circumstances. Finally, the court held that the officer is not entitled to immunity under Alabama's immunity doctrine. View "Patel v. City of Madison" on Justia Law

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The Plaintiffs claimed that Ohio’s COVID-19 restrictions and stay-at-home orders have made it impossibly difficult for them to meet existing requirements for initiatives to secure a place on the November ballot, in violation of their First Amendment rights. An Ohio petition for a referendum must include signatures from 10 percent of the applicable jurisdiction’s electors that voted in the last gubernatorial election, each signature must “be written in ink,” and the initiative’s circulator must witness each signature. The initiative’s proponents must submit these signatures to the Secretary of State 125 days before the election for a constitutional amendment and 110 days before the election for a municipal ordinance. Ohio’s officials postponed the Ohio primary election but declined to further modify state election law. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, imposing a new deadline and prescribing the type of signature that the state must accept. The Sixth Circuit granted a stay of the injunction. Ohio’s compelling and well-established interests in administering its ballot initiative regulations outweigh the intermediate burden those regulations place on the plaintiffs. Ohio specifically exempted conduct protected by the First Amendment from its stay-home orders; the court means by which petitioners could obtain signatures. By unilaterally modifying the Ohio Constitution’s ballot initiative regulations, the district court usurped this authority from Ohio electors. View "Thompson v. DeWine" on Justia Law

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This appeal challenges the district court's denial of appellants' motion for a temporary restraining order and order to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not issue in appellants' challenge to the application of California and San Diego's stay-at-home orders to in-person religious services during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Ninth Circuit issued an order denying appellants' emergency motion seeking injunction relief permitting them to hold in-person religious services during the pendency of this appeal. The panel held that appellants have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on appeal. The panel explained that, where state action does not infringe upon or restrict practices because of their religious motivation and does not in a selective manner impose burdens only on conduct motivated by religious belief, it does not violate the First Amendment. In this case, the panel stated that we are dealing with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there presently is no known cure. The panel held that the remaining factors do not counsel in favor of injunctive relief. View "South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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In 2014-2015, Flint and Michigan state officials caused, sustained, and covered up the poisoning of a community with lead- and legionella-contaminated water after the city began delivering Flint River water to its predominantly poor, African-American residents, knowing that it was not treated for corrosion. Flint residents reported that there was something wrong with the way the water looked, tasted, and smelled and that it was causing rashes. In response, the city treated the water with additional chlorine—exacerbating the corrosion, which contaminated the water with hazardous levels of lead and caused an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. State and city officials failed to stop the delivery of Flint River water and assured the public that the water was safe, knowing it was not. Flint's children will likely be permanently developmentally stunted. Six years later, corroded pipes still infect the water and poison Flint residents. In a consolidated class action, claiming deliberate indifference to the residents being poisoned in violation of their substantive due process right to bodily integrity, the district court denied motions to dismiss with respect to every defendant except State Treasurer Dillon. The Sixth Circuit affirmed but remanded the issue of whether Dillon should be dismissed in light of recent holdings; Dillon was not Treasurer at the time of the switch to river water . No legitimate government purpose justifies the city and state officials’ actions. View "Waid v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Cody Cox sued Defendant Don Wilson, a deputy in the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Department, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Cox alleged that when Wilson shot him in his vehicle while stopped on Interstate 70, Wilson violated the constitutional prohibition against the use of excessive force by law-enforcement officers. Plaintiff appealed when the jury returned a verdict in favor of the deputy, arguing the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury to consider whether Wilson unreasonably created the need for the use of force by his own reckless conduct. The Tenth Circuit determined that although the district court incorrectly stated the Supreme Court had recently abrogated the Tenth Circuit's precedents requiring such an instruction in appropriate circumstances, the evidence in this case did not support the instruction. "No law, certainly no law clearly established at the time of the incident, suggests that Wilson acted unreasonably up to and including the time that he exited his vehicle and approached Cox’s vehicle." Therefore, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of Deputy Wilson. View "Cox v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order granting Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that Arizona's standard conditions of probation, which permit warrantless searches of a probationer's "property," apply to cell phones and that the search in this case was compliant with the Fourth Amendment. While Defendant was on probation, an adult probation department surveillance officer arrested Defendant for violating several conditions of probation. En route to jail, the officer looked through incriminating text messages and photos on Defendant's phone. The State subsequently indicted Defendant on sex counts of sexual conduct with a minor. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence gathered from the cell phone search. The trial court granted the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the plain meaning of "property" in one of Defendant's conditions of supervised probation included cell phone, and Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014), did not vary that meaning; and (2) under the totality of the circumstances, the officer's search of Defendant's cell phone was reasonable and did not violate the Fourth Amendment. View "State v. Lietzau" on Justia Law