Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court dissolving Plaintiff's marriage to Defendant, holding that Plaintiff was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.At issue in this case was the extent to which a Connecticut court may enforce the terms of a "ketubah," a contract governing marriage under Jewish law. The trial court in this case denied Plaintiff's motion to enforce the terms of the parties' ketubah as a prenuptial agreement on the ground that doing so would be a violation of the First Amendment to the United States constitution. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court properly denied Plaintiff's motion to enforce the ketubah; and (2) the trial court's alimony order, considered in light of Plaintiff's net earning capacity, was not an abuse of discretion. View "Tilsen v. Benson" on Justia Law

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Carrie Pueblo brought an action against her former domestic partner, Rachel Haas seeking joint custody and parenting time for a child whom Haas conceived through in vitro fertilization and gave birth to in 2008, during the parties’ relationship. Haas moved for summary judgment, arguing that because the parties had never married and Pueblo had no biological or adoptive relationship to the child, Pueblo lacked standing to sue and also failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case without prejudice. After Haas moved for reconsideration, the trial court dismissed the action with prejudice. Pueblo then filed her own motion for reconsideration, arguing that she had standing as a natural parent, despite the lack of genetic connection, following the Court of Appeals decision in LeFever v. Matthews, 336 Mich App 651 (2021), which expanded the definition of “natural parent” to include unmarried women who gave birth as surrogates but shared no genetic connection with the children. Pueblo also argued the trial court order violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection, as well as those of the child. Furthermore, Pueblo argued that any dismissal should have been without prejudice. The trial court denied reconsideration, distinguishing LeFever on the ground that Pueblo had not given birth to the child. Pueblo appealed, reasserting her previous arguments and further asserting that the equitable-parent doctrine should extend to the parties’ relationship, which had been solemnized in a civil commitment ceremony when it was not yet legal in Michigan for same-sex partners to marry. The Court of Appeals rejected these arguments and affirmed the trial court. Because Michigan unconstitutionally prohibited same-sex couples from marrying before Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 US 644 (2015), the Michigan Supreme Court narrowly extended the equitable-parent doctrine as "a step toward righting the wrongs done by that unconstitutional prohibition. A person seeking custody who demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the parties would have married before the child’s conception or birth but for Michigan’s unconstitutional marriage ban is entitled to make their case for equitable parenthood to seek custody." The trial court's judgment was reversed and the case remanded for that court to apply the threshold test for standing announced here. View "Pueblo v. Haas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued a Missouri judge for putting his kids in jail twice, once after a custody hearing and again after ordering law enforcement to pick them up in Louisiana. The complaint alleged that Defendant’s action of placing Plaintiff’s children in jail and then later in a juvenile-detention facility violated their First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Defendant argued that he should receive absolute immunity, but the district court disagreed and ruled that the case could proceed. At issue on appeal is whether judicial immunity shields these acts.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The court explained that Defendant’s decision to personally escort the kids to jail took what would otherwise be a judicial act too far. Judges have the authority to order an officer or a bailiff to escort an unruly litigant to jail. The court wrote that Defendant crossed the line; however, when he personally escorted the kids to jail, stood there while they removed their clothes and belongings, and personally came back an hour later to release them. Further, the court explained that here, even if Defendant had no “express authority” to issue the pick-up order, he is immune because he had jurisdiction to issue one. He cannot be sued, in other words, no matter how erroneous his interpretation of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act may be. View "D. Bart Rockett v. The Honorable Eric Eighmy" on Justia Law

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In a custody dispute between Hadzi-Tanovic and her former husband, Pavlovich, an Illinois state court ordered that Hadzi-Tanovic’s parenting time with her children be supervised. She filed suit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985 against her ex-husband, the children’s guardian ad litem, and the state court judge, alleging they conspired to violate her and her children’s rights to family association and her right to a fair and unbiased trier of fact. The district court dismissed her complaint on abstention grounds.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It is well established that federal courts do not have jurisdiction to review such state court decisions. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine imposes a “jurisdictional bar” that prohibits federal courts other than the U.S. Supreme Court from reviewing final state court judgments The state court order at issue is final, so the Rooker-Feldman doctrine’s finality requirement is met. Allegations of state court corruption are not sufficient to avoid the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Hadzi-Tanovic has not argued that state law or procedures prevented her from raising her federal constitutional issues in state court. Parties may raise procedural and substantive due process challenges to custody orders in Illinois state court. View "Hadzi-Tanovic v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted Petitioner's petition for review of the decision of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the trial court granting the City of Austin's plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing this case brought by Plaintiff alleging that the City provided taxpayer money to abortion-assistance organizations in violation of Texas law, holding that the case must be remanded.The trial court granted the City's plea to the jurisdiction without explaining its reasons and dismissed with prejudice Petitioner's claim that the City's budget violated Texas law and dismissed with prejudice Petitioner's claim that the City's 2019 budget violated the Gift Clause. The court of appeals affirmed, relying on the Supreme Court's holding in Roe to conclude that Petitioner's claim could not proceed. Petitioner petitioned for review. After briefing was complete, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022). The Supreme Court granted Petitioner's petition for review without regard to the merits and vacated the judgments below, holding that, because Dobbs overruled Roe, remand was required for consideration of the effect this change in the law and any intervening factual developments on Petitioner's claims. View "Zimmerman v. City of Austin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the district court finding that Nev. Rev. Stat. 432B.393(3)(c) violates due process, holding that the statute does not infringe on the fundamental liberty interest a parent has in the care and custody of his or her child and thus does not violate due process.Section 432B.393(3)(c) relieves a child welfare services agency from its duty to provide reasonable efforts to reunify a child with his or her parent if a court finds that the parents' parental rights were involuntarily terminated with respect to the child's sibling. A court master recommended that the district court find section 432B.393(3)(c) unconstitutional because, for purposes of terminating the parent-child relationship, it could lead to a presumption that the parent is unfit without any consideration of present circumstances. The Supreme Court vacated the district court's order, holding (1) insofar as section 432B.393(3)(c) relieves an agency of making reunification efforts it does not infringe on a parent's fundamental liberty interest in the care and custody of his or her child and therefore does not violate due process; and (2) although the district court erred, the petition must be denied as moot. View "Washoe County Human Services v. District Court" on Justia Law

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The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition alleging that the minor had been sexually abused by her father. Mother was not named as an offending parent in the petition. The juvenile court found that the Department failed to prove the sexual abuse allegations against the father but did not dismiss the petition. Instead, the court found that the evidence supported jurisdiction based upon unpleaded allegations of emotional abuse by the mother, a position urged by the minor’s counsel but opposed by the Department. The court subsequently entered a disposition order.The court of appeal reversed. The juvenile court violated the mother’s due process rights when it established jurisdiction based on the conduct of a parent the Department never alleged was an offending parent, and on a factual and legal theory not raised in the Department’s petition. Parents have a due process right to be informed of the nature of the proceedings and the allegations upon which the deprivation of custody is predicated so that they can make an informed decision on whether to appear, prepare, and contest the allegations. View "In re S.V." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court remanded this case in which the district court prohibited Father from encouraging his children to adopt the teachings of any religion without Mother's consent, holding that Father had a fundamental right to encourage his children in the practice of religion and that the district court's prohibition was not narrowly tailored to address the harms identified by the court.When they married, Father and Mother were both members of the Order, a polygamous religious community. Based on the parties' inability to agree on decisions regarding their four children, the district court granted sole legal custody to Mother and prohibited Father from encouraging the children to adopt the teachings of any religion. The Supreme Court remanded this case to the district court, holding (1) parents have a fundamental right to encourage their children in the practice of religion, and this right is not dependent upon legal custody; (2) strict scrutiny applies to this case; and (3) the district court's prohibition is not narrowly tailored to address the identified harms. View "Kingston v. Kingston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting the petition filed by the Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS) to terminate Father's parental rights, holding that Father was not entitled to relief on his claims of error on appeal.On appeal, Father argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the termination proceedings and that the district court erred in denying his motion to set aside the entry of default. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed, holding (1) because Wyo. Stat. 14-2-318(a) does not create a mandatory right to counsel, it does not create a statutory right to effective assistance of counsel in termination of parental rights cases; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Father's motions to set aside the entry of default. View "Roberts v. State, Dep't of Family Services" on Justia Law

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In this complaint brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 42 U.S.C. 1985(3) relating to the custody of Plaintiffs' children, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing this suit seeking damages for alleged violations of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights to familial integrity, free exercise of religion, and due process of law, holding that there was no error.Plaintiffs brought this action seeking money damages and equitable relief for actions Defendants took with respect to three of their daughters. On appeal, Plaintiffs challenged the dismissal of their claims for money damages regarding the custody of S.M. and D.M. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the judge properly dismissed as untimely all claims relating tot he custody of S.M.; and (2) as to the remaining claims, the trial judge properly concluded that the complaint failed to allege conduct plausibly exposing Defendants to liability and that other claims were foreclosed by absolute immunity. View "Milchtein v. Milwaukee County" on Justia Law