Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The case involves Suzy Martin, the owner and president of Smart Elevators Co., a certified minority- and woman-owned elevator service and repair company. The company, which historically did most of its business with the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago, saw its customer base change after a whistleblower complaint alleged that Martin and her company engaged in a bribery and kickback scheme with a University of Illinois Chicago employee. This led to an investigation by the Office of the Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor (OEIG), which concluded that Martin, Smart Elevators, and the University employee had engaged in a kickback scheme that violated Illinois ethics law and University policy and recommended that the University sever ties with Martin and her company.As a result of the report, the State and City ceased doing business with Martin and Smart Elevators, causing the company to lose millions in preexisting and potential contracts. Martin sued several State and City entities and officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, bringing “stigma-plus” procedural due process claims under the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed her amended complaint with prejudice.Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that Martin's occupation was operating an elevator service and repair business, not just providing those services specifically to the State or City. The court also found that despite the loss of State and City contracts, Martin had not been denied her liberty to pursue her occupation as she remained the owner and operator of Smart Elevators, which continued to operate and even managed to secure a contract with the Department of Justice in 2021. As such, the court found no violation of Martin's occupational liberty rights. View "Martin v. Haling" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiffs, Susan Johnson and Jocelyne Welch, brought an action against the City of Biddeford, Chief of Police Roger P. Beapure, and Officer Edward Dexter of the Biddeford Police Department, alleging a violation of substantive due process rights under the state-created danger test. Johnson and Welch's action stems from a violent incident involving their landlord, James Pak. Pak became agitated about the number of cars parked in the driveway of the property he rented to Johnson and her son, Thompson. During a confrontation, Pak made gun-shaped hand gestures and said "bang." Thompson called the police and Officer Dexter responded.Officer Dexter spoke with both parties separately. During his conversation with Pak, Pak expressed his anger and frustration, making various threatening remarks. Despite these threats, Officer Dexter did not arrest, detain, or initiate a mental health intervention for Pak. After speaking with Pak, Officer Dexter returned to Johnson and Thompson's apartment, informing them that Pak was "obviously extremely upset" but did not relay the specific threats made by Pak. A few minutes after Officer Dexter left, Pak entered Johnson and Thompson's apartment and shot Johnson, Thompson, and Welch.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that Officer Dexter was entitled to qualified immunity against the plaintiffs' claim of violation of substantive due process rights under the enhancement-of-danger prong of the state-created danger test. The court found that a reasonable officer in Dexter's position would not have understood, based on the facts of the case, that he was violating any such rights by his actions and inactions. View "Johnson v. City of Biddeford" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the plaintiffs, The Arc of Iowa and several parents of children with disabilities, sought to challenge a provision of the Iowa Code that prevents schools from imposing mask mandates unless required by other laws. They had received a preliminary injunction from a lower court that had been vacated by this court due to changing circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. On remand, the district court granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, declaring that the phrase 'other provisions of law' in the contested Iowa Code section includes Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and that the contested Iowa Code section cannot be cited as the sole basis for denying a student's request for reasonable modification or accommodation under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act that requires others to wear masks.The defendants, the Governor of Iowa and the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, appealed to the Eighth Circuit, raising issues of exhaustion of remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), standing of the plaintiffs, and the propriety and necessity of the relief granted by the district court.The appellate court, after de novo review, found that the plaintiffs failed to meet the requirements for standing, which include having suffered an injury in fact, traceability of the injury to the defendant's conduct, and the likelihood of redress by a favorable judicial decision. The court found that the general risks associated with COVID-19 were not enough to constitute "imminent and substantial" harm for standing. It also concluded that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the alleged injuries were fairly traceable to the conduct of the Governor or the Director of the Department of Education. As a result, the court vacated the district court's order and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss due to lack of standing. View "The Arc of Iowa v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, Joseph Hoskins was stopped by a Utah state trooper, Jared Withers, because his Illinois license plate was partially obscured. The situation escalated when Trooper Withers conducted a dog sniff of the car, which led him to search the car and find a large amount of cash. Mr. Hoskins was arrested, and his DNA was collected. Mr. Hoskins sued Trooper Withers and Jess Anderson, Commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety, alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments and state law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that Trooper Withers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop because Utah law requires license plates to be legible, and this applies to out-of-state plates. The court also found that the dog sniff did not unlawfully prolong the traffic stop, as Mr. Hoskins was searching for his proof of insurance at the time. The court ruled that the trooper's protective measures, including pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins, handcuffing him, and conducting a patdown, did not elevate the stop into an arrest due to Mr. Hoskins's confrontational behavior.The court further held that the dog's reaction to the car created arguable probable cause to search the car and that the discovery of a large amount of cash provided arguable probable cause to arrest Mr. Hoskins. The court found that Trooper Withers did not violate any clearly established constitutional rights by pointing a gun at Mr. Hoskins in retaliation for protected speech or as excessive force. Lastly, the court found no violation of Mr. Hoskins's due process rights related to the handling of his DNA sample, as neither the Due Process Clause nor state law created a protected interest in a procedure to ensure the destruction of his DNA sample. View "Hoskins v. Withers" on Justia Law

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Inmate Germaine Smart alleged that prison officials Ronald England, Gary Malone, and Larry Baker violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for reporting an alleged sexual assault by England. Smart claimed that England sexually assaulted him during a pat-down search, but after an internal investigation, Smart's allegations were found to be unfounded and England charged Smart with lying. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the officials did not violate Smart's First Amendment rights. The court stated that a prisoner's violation of a prison regulation is not protected by the First Amendment, and in this case, the prison tribunal's finding that Smart lied, which was based on due process and some evidence, was conclusive. Therefore, the officials were entitled to qualified immunity. View "Smart v. England" on Justia Law

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In July 2018, Brian Lawler, a pretrial detainee, committed suicide at a county jail in Hardeman County, Tennessee. Lawler's father, Jerry Lawler, brought a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the officers had been deliberately indifferent to the risk that Brian would commit suicide. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the laws in place at the time of the suicide did not clearly establish that the officers’ actions violated the Constitution. The court noted that in 2018, to hold officers liable for failing to prevent a pretrial detainee’s suicide, it was necessary to prove that the officers subjectively believed there was a strong likelihood the inmate would commit suicide. The evidence showed that the officers did not subjectively believe that Lawler was likely to take his life. Therefore, the court reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to the officers. View "Lawler v. Hardeman County" on Justia Law

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In a case heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, plaintiff Jeffrey Hughes, an inmate in a Tennessee state prison, sued the Tennessee Board of Parole, alleging that the Board's refusal to move up his parole hearing date resulted in his overincarceration. Hughes believed that a recent change in state law entitled him to an earlier parole hearing. The Board refused his request, and he was paroled about three months after the date he believed he became eligible for release. The district court dismissed the case on the ground that the defendants, members of the Board, were absolutely immune from suit for their acts. Hughes then appealed.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision, holding that the members of the Tennessee Board of Parole were entitled to absolute immunity from damages suits challenging its decision on when to hold a parole hearing. The court found that the Board's decision to schedule (or not to reschedule) a parole hearing was a judicial act, akin to a judge scheduling a court hearing. As such, the defendants were acting in a quasi-judicial capacity and were entitled to absolute immunity. The court also rejected Hughes's arguments of judicial estoppel and res judicata, stating that the defendants could not have raised their immunity defense in the previous state suit and thus were not barred from raising it in the present federal suit. View "Hughes v. Duncan" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute over the rights of retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms in New Jersey. The plaintiffs, three retired officers and two organizations, sued New Jersey officials, arguing that a federal statute, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA), gives them a federal right to carry a concealed firearm anywhere in the United States, including within New Jersey, and that LEOSA preempts any more burdensome state requirements. The state countered that the federal statute does not provide such an enforceable right, and even if it did, it would only apply to officers who retired from federal or out-of-state law enforcement agencies. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that LEOSA does provide certain retired officers with an enforceable right to carry concealed firearms, and that this right extends equally to officers who retired from New Jersey agencies and those who retired from federal or out-of-state agencies. The court concluded that LEOSA also preempts contrary aspects of New Jersey law. Therefore, the court affirmed the District Court’s order granting declaratory and injunctive relief to the retired officers. View "Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the interpretation of the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004 (LEOSA), which allows certain qualified retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms, and its relation to New Jersey’s more restrictive retired police officer permitting law. The retired law enforcement officers from various agencies claimed that LEOSA provided them with a federal right to carry concealed firearms in New Jersey, superseding the state law. The State of New Jersey argued that LEOSA did not provide an enforceable right and, if it did, it would only apply to officers who retired from federal or out-of-state law enforcement agencies—not to officers who retired from New Jersey law enforcement agencies.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that LEOSA does provide certain retired officers who meet all the statutory requirements with an enforceable right, and that right extends equally to officers who retired from New Jersey agencies and those who retired from federal or out-of-state agencies. The court held that the federal statute also preempts contrary aspects of New Jersey law. Therefore, the court affirmed the District Court’s order granting declaratory and injunctive relief to the retired officers, allowing them to carry concealed firearms. View "Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit considered an appeal by several Missouri public officials who were denied qualified immunity by a lower court regarding five claims arising from a murder prosecution. The murder case, involving Donald Nash who was eventually convicted for the murder of Judy Spencer, was reopened in 2007, 25 years after the crime occurred. The officials based their case on a theory that DNA evidence found under Spencer's fingernails belonged to Nash, which they asserted could not have remained present if Spencer had washed her hair after their last encounter.Nash was convicted and spent 11 years in prison until the Missouri Supreme Court set aside his conviction in 2020. The charges were dismissed after DNA testing on the shoelace used to strangle Spencer supported Nash’s noninvolvement. Nash and his wife filed a lawsuit against the officials, claiming violations of rights including unlawful arrest and detention, fabrication of evidence, failure to investigate, violations of rights of access to courts, and violation of the right to familial and marital associations.The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and dismissed in part the appeals on the denial of qualified immunity. The court held that the officials were not entitled to qualified immunity on the claim of unlawful arrest and detention, finding that the omission of certain exculpatory facts from the probable cause affidavit negated probable cause for Nash's arrest. However, the court reversed the denial of qualified immunity for the claim alleging violation of the right to familial and marital associations, as this was not a clearly established constitutional right in 2008. The court dismissed the officials' appeal on the remaining claims due to lack of jurisdiction, as these involved genuine disputes of material fact to be resolved by a jury. View "Estate of Nash v. Folsom" on Justia Law