Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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On June 7, 2019, around 4:20 a.m., two police officers detained Anthry Milla, who was sitting in his car in his driveway. The officers were investigating a nearby stabbing but had no description of a suspect. Milla was cooperative but closed his car door when the officers approached. The officers, suspecting involvement in the stabbing, detained Milla at gunpoint, searched his car, and found no evidence. Milla's parents confirmed his identity, and he was released after about eight minutes.Milla filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Fourth Amendment violations. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted summary judgment to the officers, finding their actions justified under the totality of the circumstances. The court also held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, as they did not violate Milla's constitutional rights.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reviewed the case de novo and vacated the district court's decision. The appellate court found that the officers lacked reasonable, particularized suspicion to detain Milla. The court emphasized that proximity to a crime scene and Milla's actions, such as closing his car door, did not constitute reasonable suspicion. The court also vacated the district court's award of qualified immunity, as the officers' actions were not justified under established Fourth Amendment standards. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the appellate court's opinion. View "Milla v. Brown" on Justia Law

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T.W., a Harvard Law School graduate with disabilities, sued the New York State Board of Law Examiners for denying her requested accommodations on the New York State bar exam in 2013 and 2014. She alleged violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. T.W. claimed that the Board's actions caused her to fail the bar exam twice, resulting in professional and financial harm.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York initially denied the Board's motion to dismiss, finding that the Board had waived its sovereign immunity under the Rehabilitation Act. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed this decision, holding that the Board was immune from suit under Section 504. On remand, the district court granted the Board's motion to dismiss T.W.'s Title II claim, ruling that the Board was an "arm of the state" and entitled to sovereign immunity. The court also held that Title II did not abrogate the Board's sovereign immunity for money damages and that T.W. could not seek declaratory and injunctive relief under Ex parte Young.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the Board is an arm of the state and thus entitled to sovereign immunity. It further concluded that Title II of the ADA does not validly abrogate sovereign immunity in the context of professional licensing. Additionally, the court found that the declaratory relief sought by T.W. was retrospective and therefore barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The court also ruled that the injunctive relief sought by T.W. was not sufficiently tied to an ongoing violation of federal law, making it unavailable under Ex parte Young. Consequently, the court affirmed the dismissal of T.W.'s claims for compensatory, declaratory, and injunctive relief. View "T.W. v. New York State Board of Law Examiners" on Justia Law

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The case involves Robert Paul Rundo and Robert Boman, who were charged with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Riot Act and with substantively violating the Act. The indictment alleges that Rundo is a founding member of the "Rise Above Movement" (RAM), a militant white supremacist group. Rundo and Boman, along with other RAM members, attended several political rallies where they violently attacked counter-protesters. The indictment details their involvement in rallies in Huntington Beach, Berkeley, San Bernardino, and Charlottesville, where they engaged in organized violence and later boasted about their actions online.The United States District Court for the Central District of California initially dismissed the indictment, finding the Anti-Riot Act unconstitutional due to facial overbreadth under the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit reversed this decision, holding that the Act was not facially overbroad except for certain severable portions. On remand, the district court dismissed the indictment again, this time based on a claim of selective prosecution. The district court concluded that the government selectively prosecuted RAM members while ignoring the violence of Antifa and related far-left groups, suggesting that the prosecution was based on the offensive nature of RAM's speech.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed the case and reversed the district court's judgment. The Ninth Circuit held that Rundo did not meet his burden to demonstrate that similarly situated individuals were not prosecuted and that his prosecution was based on an impermissible motive. The court found that the district court erred by comparing collective conduct to individual conduct and by holding that individual Antifa members were similarly situated to Rundo. The Ninth Circuit also held that Rundo failed to show that his prosecution was based on an impermissible motive, noting that timing and other factors cited by the district court were insufficient. The court reinstated the indictment and remanded the case for trial. View "USA V. RUNDO" on Justia Law

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Vincent Bell, a pretrial detainee with an amputated right leg, alleged that deputies used excessive force during a cell extraction and transfer at the San Francisco Jail. Bell claimed that Sergeant Yvette Williams did not provide him with a wheelchair or other mobility device, forcing him to hop on one leg until he fell. Deputies then carried him by his arms and leg, causing him pain and minor injuries. Bell sued under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act.The United States District Court for the Northern District of California held a jury trial. The jury found in favor of Bell on his excessive force claim against Williams and his ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims against the City and County of San Francisco. However, the jury did not find that Williams caused Bell physical or emotional harm. The jury awarded Bell $504,000 in compensatory damages against the City but not against Williams. The district court denied the defendants' post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed the case. The court affirmed the jury's verdict on Bell's Fourteenth Amendment excessive force claim and his ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims, finding substantial evidence supported these claims. However, the court reversed the district court's decision on Bell's Monell theory of liability, concluding that Bell did not present substantial evidence showing that the City's training was the product of deliberate indifference to a known risk. The court also vacated the jury's compensatory damages award, deeming it grossly excessive, and remanded for a remittitur or a new trial on damages. View "BELL V. WILLIAMS" on Justia Law

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Officer Daniel Irish, while pursuing a suspect, was bitten by a police K9 named Thor, handled by Deputy Keith McNamara. Irish sued McNamara under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights due to excessive force and unreasonable seizure. The incident occurred during a high-speed chase that ended in a cemetery, where McNamara deployed Thor without a leash. Irish, unaware of the K9's presence, was bitten by Thor, who was commanded to "get him" by McNamara.The United States District Court for the District of Minnesota denied McNamara's motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity. The court reasoned that it was clearly established that a seizure occurred under the Fourth Amendment, despite acknowledging the incident as a "highly unfortunate accident."The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the case. The court focused on whether it was clearly established that the K9's bite constituted a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The court noted that for a seizure to occur, an officer must intentionally apply physical force or show authority to restrain an individual's freedom of movement. The court found that the law was not clearly established regarding whether an officer's subjective intent was necessary for a seizure. The court concluded that McNamara did not subjectively intend to seize Irish, as evidenced by his commands to Thor to disengage and his immediate actions to restrain the K9.The Eighth Circuit held that it was not clearly established that an officer could seize a fellow officer with a K9 without subjectively intending to do so. Therefore, McNamara was entitled to qualified immunity. The court reversed the district court's decision and remanded with instructions to dismiss Irish's complaint. View "Irish v. McNamara" on Justia Law

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Phillip Robbin was removing a tree from a residential lot in the City of Berwyn when he was confronted by Sarah Lopez, a city inspector. Lopez berated Robbin using racial slurs, which led Robbin to demand disciplinary action against her. The Mayor of Berwyn denied Robbin's request for Lopez's termination, leading Robbin to sue the City, the Mayor, and Lopez for violations of his substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and state law.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed Robbin’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), finding that he failed to state a federal claim. The court also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims, leading to Robbin's appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviewed the case de novo. The court held that Robbin failed to allege a violation of a fundamental right and that the conduct described did not "shock the conscience," which are necessary elements for a substantive due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court noted that while Lopez's use of racial slurs was deplorable, it did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Consequently, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Robbin's complaint. View "Robbin v. City of Berwyn" on Justia Law

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In April 2012, Arnold Black was arrested during a traffic stop by East Cleveland police officers without any legitimate reason. Detective Randy Hicks violently assaulted Black and detained him in a storage room for four days. Black sued Hicks, Chief Ralph Spotts, and the City of East Cleveland for his injuries. In August 2019, a jury awarded Black $20 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages against Hicks and Spotts each. The trial court also awarded Black $5.2 million in prejudgment interest.The City of East Cleveland and Spotts appealed to the Eighth District Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s judgment. The Ohio Supreme Court declined jurisdiction over their discretionary appeal, and the United States Supreme Court denied the city’s petition for a writ of certiorari. Despite these rulings, the city failed to satisfy the judgment or take steps to appropriate the necessary funds.The Supreme Court of Ohio reviewed the case and granted Black’s request for a writ of mandamus. The court held that Black had a clear legal right to enforcement of the civil judgment and that the city had a legal duty to pay the judgment, including pre- and postjudgment interest. The court ordered the city to satisfy the judgment or take the necessary steps to appropriate the funds as described in R.C. 2744.06(A). The court rejected the city’s argument that a pending trial-court motion could reduce the amount owed, noting that Black had established the exact amount of money owed with sufficient evidence. View "State ex rel. Black v. Cleveland" on Justia Law

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The defendant was convicted by a jury in the Allegan Circuit Court of multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct. During the trial, the presiding judge exchanged emails with the county prosecutor, expressing concerns about the police investigation. The defendant later discovered these communications and moved for a new trial, alleging judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective assistance of counsel. The case was reassigned to a different judge, who granted the motion for a new trial due to the appearance of impropriety created by the emails. The prosecution appealed this decision.The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, holding that the trial court had abused its discretion in granting a new trial. The appellate court concluded that the trial judge's ex parte communications were permissible for administrative purposes under the judicial conduct code and did not influence the jury's verdict. The defendant then sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.The Michigan Supreme Court reviewed the case and held that the trial judge's ex parte communications violated the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct. The court found that these communications were not for administrative purposes and created an appearance of impropriety. However, the court concluded that the communications did not show actual bias or a high probability of bias that would violate the defendant's constitutional rights. The court also determined that the trial judge's failure to recuse herself did not result in a miscarriage of justice, as the jury was unaware of the communications and the trial prosecutor did not alter her strategy in response to them. Therefore, the court affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision, holding that the trial court had no legal basis to grant a new trial. View "People of Michigan v. Loew" on Justia Law

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Reginald Pittman, a pretrial detainee at the Madison County jail, attempted suicide and suffered a severe brain injury. He claimed that two guards ignored his requests for crisis counseling before his suicide attempt. Pittman sued Madison County and various jail officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment for failing to provide adequate medical care. The case has a lengthy procedural history, including three appeals and three trials.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois initially granted summary judgment for the defendants, but this was reversed in part by the Seventh Circuit in Pittman I. After a first trial, the Seventh Circuit in Pittman II reversed and remanded for a new trial due to the erroneous exclusion of evidence. In Pittman III, the Seventh Circuit found a jury instruction error and remanded for a third trial. In the third trial, the district court instructed the jury in line with Pittman III, requiring proof that the officers were subjectively aware or strongly suspected a high likelihood of self-harm. The jury returned a verdict for the defendants.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviewed the case and found that the jury instruction was erroneous. The court clarified that Pittman did not need to prove subjective awareness of the risk of harm. Instead, the jury should have been instructed to determine whether the defendants made an intentional decision regarding Pittman’s conditions of confinement and whether they acted objectively unreasonably by failing to mitigate the risk. Despite this error, the court concluded that the erroneous instruction did not prejudice Pittman, as the case was presented as a credibility contest between the testimony of the guards and an inmate. Therefore, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the verdict for the defendants. View "Pittman v. Madison County, Illinois" on Justia Law

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Harris Ford, an inmate in the North Carolina Department of Corrections, filed a lawsuit against six prison officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from an attack by another inmate. Ford claimed that he had informed the officials of the risk through numerous complaints and grievances, but they were deliberately indifferent, leading to the attack where he was severely injured.The United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina granted summary judgment in favor of the prison officials. The court concluded that Ford's complaints were not specific enough to enable the officials to investigate and respond appropriately. Additionally, the court found that Ford failed to demonstrate the necessary mens rea of deliberate indifference required for an Eighth Amendment violation.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the district court's judgment regarding five of the six prison officials. The appellate court agreed that Ford did not provide sufficient evidence to show that these officials were deliberately indifferent to his safety. However, the court vacated the summary judgment concerning Officer Jerry Ingram. The court found that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Ingram's actions, specifically his public questioning of Ford about the threats, knowingly exacerbated the risk to Ford and contributed to the attack. The case was remanded for further proceedings against Officer Ingram. View "Ford v. Hooks" on Justia Law