Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (LaFHAC) sued Azalea Garden Properties, LLC (Azalea Garden), alleging that Azalea Garden discriminated on the basis of race and disability at its apartment complex in Jefferson, Louisiana, in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The district court dismissed LaFHAC’s disability claim but allowed its disparate impact race claim to proceed, subject to one caveat: The district court certified a permissive interlocutory appeal on the issue of whether the “predictably will cause” standard for FHA disparate-impact claims remains viable after Inclusive Communities Project Inc. v. Lincoln Property Co., 920 F.3d 890 (5th Cir. 2019).   The Fifth Circuit remanded the case with instructions to dismiss LaFHAC’s claims without prejudice. The court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction over this case. Along the same lines, the court wrote that it cannot consider the district court’s certified question. The court explained that LaFHAC has plausibly alleged a diversion of resources, as it shifted efforts away from planned projects like its annual conference toward counteracting Azalea Garden’s alleged discrimination. But “an organization does not automatically suffer a cognizable injury in fact by diverting resources in response to a defendant’s conduct.” The court wrote that LaFHAC failed to plead an injury because it failed to allege how its diversion of resources impaired its ability to achieve its mission. Thus, the court held that because LaFHAC has not alleged a cognizable injury, it lacks standing to bring the claims it alleges in this action. View "LA Fair Housing Action v. Azalea Garden" on Justia Law

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Savion Hall, an inmate at Midland County Jail, suffered severe breathing issues that were known to prison officials. The jail contracted with Soluta, Inc., a private company, for medical services, but Soluta employees failed to provide standard medical care to Hall and fabricated his medical reports. Eventually, Hall required urgent medical attention, but when he asked Daniel Stickel, a prison guard, for help, Stickel followed set protocol: Hall was only supposed to receive “breathing treatments” every four hours; because less than four hours had elapsed since Hall’s last treatment, Stickel sent him back to his cell. Eventually, Hall was seen by a doctor, who called Emergency Medical Services (“EMS”). Hall died in the hospital. Plaintiffs, various relatives and representatives of Hall’s estate appealed the dismissal of his constitutional claims against Midland County and Stickel.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that municipalities such as Midland County cannot be held liable unless plaintiffs can show “(1) an official policy (or custom), of which (2) a policymaker can be charged with actual or constructive knowledge, and (3) a constitutional violation whose ‘moving force’ is that policy or custom.” The court explained that there are no allegations that anyone other than the Soluta employees was aware, or should have been aware, of the nurses’ failure to provide adequate medical care. The court reasoned that this implies that neither Soluta nor Midland County4 knew of the “policy” of failing to follow the proper medical procedures. Further, the court held that Plaintiffs have not plausibly pleaded deliberate indifference predicated on a delay in medical treatment. View "Robinson v. Midland County, Texas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff is a devout Rastafarian who vowed to “let the locks of the hair of his head grow,” a promise known as the Nazarite Vow. During his brief stint in prison, Plaintiff was primarily housed at two facilities, and each facility respected Plaintiff’s vow. With only three weeks left in his sentence—Plaintiff was transferred to RLCC. Plaintiff explained that he was a practicing Rastafarian and provided proof of past religious accommodations. And Plaintiff also handed the guard a copy of the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Ware v. Louisiana Department of Corrections. The guard threw Plaintiff’s papers in the trash and summoned RLCC’s warden. When the Warden arrived, he demanded Plaintiff hand over documentation from his sentencing judge that corroborated his religious beliefs. Guards then carried him into another room, handcuffed him to a chair, held him down, and shaved his head. Plaintiff brought claims under RLUIPA and Section 1983. He also pleaded state law claims for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of the Louisiana constitution. The district court agreed with Defendants and held that those claims were moot. Plaintiff appealed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that while Sossamon I RLUIPA’s text suggests a damages remedy, recognizing as much would run afoul of the Spending Clause. Tanzin doesn’t change that—it addresses a different law that was enacted under a separate Congressional power with “concerns not relevant to [RLUIPA].” Accordingly, the court held because Sossamon I remains the law, Plaintiff cannot recover monetary damages against the defendant-officials in their individual capacities under RLUIPA. View "Landor v. Louisiana Dept of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Verona Police Department twice arrested L.B. for his connection to violent shootings. Both times, however, he was released while his charges were pending. Just five months after his second arrest, L.B. drove to Annie Walton’s house and opened fire—killing Annie Walton and injuring her grandson, Aliven Walton. Annie Walton’s wrongful death beneficiaries (collectively, Plaintiffs ) believe the City of Verona and the Verona Chief of Police, J.B. Long, are responsible for the shooting at Annie Walton’s home, so they sued under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. At summary judgment, the district court initially dismissed all claims. But Plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration, and the district court reversed course—finding the City of Verona was not entitled to sovereign immunity under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. Plaintiffs and the City of Verona subsequently filed interlocutory appeals.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed Plaintiffs appeal for lack of jurisdiction and reversed the district court’s finding against the City regarding sovereign immunity. The court explained that Long had no special duty to protect Plaintiffs besides his general duty to keep the public safe as the City’s Chief of Police. The court explained that the only evidence that demonstrates Long had knowledge of any connection between L.B. and Plaintiffs comes from Long’s investigative file, where there is a copy of a trespassing complaint that Annie filed against L.B. in 2016. Accordingly, the court held Long did not owe a duty to protect Plaintiffs from L.B.’s drive-by shooting. Thus, Plaintiffs cannot sustain their negligence claims or their MTCA claims against the City. View "Walton v. City of Verona" on Justia Law

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Zen Group, Inc., is “a Florida Medicaid provider of services to developmentally-disabled minors.” Zen Group alleges that beginning in 2018, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration wrongfully attempted to recoup payments rendered under the Agency’s “Behavior Analysis Services Program.” Zen Group asserts that the officials made baseless referrals for investigation of fraud and suspended payments to Zen Group in retaliation for the previous exercise of its constitutional rights in an administrative proceeding. Zen Group complained that the officials’ retaliation violated its due-process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and its speech and petition rights under the First Amendment. The district court dismissed the complaint.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that Zen Group’s due process and First Amendment claims for damages are both barred by qualified immunity. And Zen Group lacks standing to seek injunctive relief. The court explained that Zen Group alleged that it had “completely ceased operations” in June 2020. It did not allege that it had resumed providing services to Medicaid recipients. The court explained that in that context, the most it can fairly infer from the assertion that Zen Group “remains a Florida Medicaid provider” is that Zen Group remains an active corporation authorized by the state to provide Medicaid services, even though it is not currently doing so. The allegations in the amended complaint do not support the inference that Zen Group faces anything more than a speculative risk of future injury if it resumes providing services or the officials decide to engage in retaliatory fraud referrals against an inactive provider with respect to services rendered in the past. View "Zen Group, Inc., et al v. State of Florida Agency for Health Care Administra, et al" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing this complaint brought by Appellant requesting a writ of mandamus to compel the City of Mentor to commence appropriation proceedings for an alleged taking of Appellant's property, holding that the court of appeals did not err in granting the City's motion to dismiss.Appellant brought this complaint alleging that the decision of the City to deny a permit that would allow him to place a houseboat on a pond that he owned constituted a taking of his property. The court of appeals granted the City's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, holding (1) Appellant had an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law and was not entitled to a writ of mandamus to compel the City to commence appropriation proceedings; and (2) the court of appeals lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over Appellant's remaining claims. View "State ex rel. Duncan v. Mentor" on Justia Law

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A nine-year-old girl took her own life after a classmate repeatedly delivered racist insults to her. The girl's mother and grandmother sought to hold the school system and several school officials accountable for her death. The family filed a lawsuit asserting claims arising under federal and state law against the school system and the school officials. The district court granted summary judgment to the school system and its officials, concluding that the family failed to satisfy various elements of their federal statutory claims and that qualified immunity barred at least one of the claims. The court concluded that the state law claims failed on immunity grounds. The family appealed.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Although the response of the school system and its officials was "truly discouraging," the standard for relief in cases of student-on-student harassment was not met. The court explained that a reasonable jury could not find that DCS acted with deliberate indifference, that it intentionally discriminated against the girl, or that Defendants' actions were arbitrary or conscience-shocking. Thus, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to the defendants on the family's Title IX, Title VI, equal protection, and substantive due process claims. View "Jasmine Adams, et al v. Demopolis City Schools, et al" on Justia Law

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Due to a settlement in a civil matter, Plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated in Gatesville, Texas had an inmate trust fund worth nearly $100,000.00. In December of 2019, Plaintiff made a suspicious withdrawal, and Appellee, a former senior warden, notified her that she was under investigation for trafficking. Shortly after, Plaintiff was found guilty of the lowest level of rule violation. Plaintiff now asserts that she has submitted approximately three or four separate withdrawal requests to TDCJ, which were all denied without notice or an opportunity to be heard in violation of her procedural due process rights. The district court granted summary judgment to all Appellees and entered a final judgment. Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration pursuant to Rule 59(e) and a Rule 15(a) motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, which the district court denied.   The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and reversed the district court’s ruling denying Plaintiff’s Rule 59(e) motion. The court explained that the Ex Parte Young exception applies to this case. The court explained that any of Plaintiff’s claims seeking declaratory relief based on purported constitutional violations occurring in the past, as well as any requests for monetary damages, are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. However, her claims to enjoin a future action that might violate her constitutional rights may proceed. Further, the court held that Plaintiff provided evidence that her procedural due process rights were violated, which precludes summary judgment. Finally, the court found that the court erred in not vacating the judgment and granting Plaintiff leave to amend her pleadings. View "Calhoun v. Collier" on Justia Law

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Three individuals filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Wayne County has a policy or practice of seizing vehicles and their contents without probable cause, simply because of the vehicle’s location in an area generally associated with crime. Wayne County impounds the vehicles and their contents until the owner pays a redemption fee: $900 for the first seizure, $1,800 for the second, and $2,700 for the third, plus towing and storage fees. The owner's only alternatives are to abandon the vehicle or to wait for prosecutors to decide whether to initiate civil forfeiture proceedings. Before a forfeiture action is brought, there are multiple pretrial conferences involving the owner and prosecutors, without a judge; prosecutors attempt to persuade the owner to pay the fee by pointing out that storage fees accrue daily. Missing just one conference results in automatic forfeiture. It takes at least four months, beyond any previous delays to arrive before a neutral decisionmaker. The seizure proceedings are conducted under Michigan’s Nuisance Abatement statute, the Controlled Substances Act, and the Omnibus Forfeiture Act, which do not protect plaintiffs from the pre-hearing deprivation of their properties.The Sixth Circuit held that Wayne County violated the Constitution when it seized plaintiffs’ personal vehicles—which were vital to their transportation and livelihoods— with no timely process to contest the seizure. Wayne County was required to provide an interim hearing within two weeks to test the probable validity of the deprivation. View "Ingram v. Wayne County, Michigan" on Justia Law

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When the Covid pandemic struck, the California State University (CSU) directed that instruction be provided remotely. To provide such instruction, Plaintiff, a biology professor at CSU-Los Angeles, incurred expenses that CSU refused to reimburse for a computer and other equipment. Plaintiff sued CSU’s board of trustees on behalf of himself and similarly situated faculty, alleging Labor Code section 2802 obligated CSU to reimburse employees for necessary work-related expenses. CSU demurred, arguing that as a department of the state, it enjoys broad exemption from Labor Code provisions that infringe on its sovereign powers. Plaintiff appealed from a judgment of dismissal entered after the trial court sustained CSU’s demurrer without leave to amend.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that absent express words or positive indicia to the contrary, a governmental agency is not within the general words of a statute. The court further wrote that although this exemption is limited to cases where the application of the statute would impair the entity’s sovereignty, subjecting CSU to Labor Code section 2802, in this case, would do so because it would infringe on the broad discretion CSU enjoys under the Education Code to set its own equipment reimbursement policies. Further, the court noted that because CSU did not violate section 2802, Plaintiff is not an aggrieved employee for purposes of PAGA. His PAGA claim therefore fails with his section 2802 claim. View "Krug v. Board of Trustees of the Cal. State Univ." on Justia Law