Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals
Barkes v. First Corr. Med. Inc.
Christopher was a troubled man with a long history of mental health and substance abuse problems. He committed suicide in 2004, while in custody at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution (HRYCI) in Wilmington, Delaware, awaiting transportation to the Violation of Probation Center in Sussex County, Delaware. He had been arrested the previous day on an administrative warrant. Christopher was on probation for a domestic abuse conviction, and had been arrested for loitering while waiting to purchase drugs. His widow and children sued. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court, holding that prison administrators are not entitled to qualified immunity from an Eighth Amendment claim that serious deficiencies in the provision of medical care by a private, third-party provider resulted in an inmate’s suicide. View "Barkes v. First Corr. Med. Inc." on Justia Law
United States v. Mallory
Mallory and Ismail, employed as emergency medical technicians, were visiting the Philadelphia home of Delaine, their mother. At about 2:30 a.m. they were standing with friends in front of a neighbor’s home. Officer Enders approached, shined a spotlight, and ordered them to disperse. Although they complied, Ismail cursed Enders, who detained Ismail for a few minutes before releasing him. Ismail walked back toward Delaine’s house, seeing police cruisers out front. Officers Hough and Lynch had received a dispatch that there was a group of men outside the address and that a black male wearing a brown leather jacket over a black hooded sweatshirt, had a gun. Delaine approached the second cruiser and asked whether they had arrested Ismail. As they were speaking, Hough noticed that Mallory, standing nearby, matched the description. As Mallory spoke with the officers, his jacket lifted to reveal a revolver in his waistband. Hough exclaimed “gun!” exited the vehicle and ordered Mallory to stop. Mallory ran into Delaine’s house, shutting the door. The officers gave chase; pushed aside Delaine’s daughter; and kicked the door open. They entered the dark house, weapons drawn; searched the house; pried open a locked bathroom door; found Mallory; arrested and handcuffed him. As the officers proceeded through the house with Mallory they recovered a revolver from under umbrellas behind the front door, which had swung open into the house. Charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, Mallory successfully moved to suppress the gun. The Third Circuit affirmed, stating that it would not: “underplay the dangers that police officers may face when pursuing a suspect into an unfamiliar building. Nonetheless, once the officers had secured the premises and apprehended Mallory, the exigencies of the moment abated and the warrant requirement reattached.” View "United States v. Mallory" on Justia Law
Budhun v. Reading Hosp. & Med. Ctr.
In 2008, Budhun was hired by BHP. About 60 percent of her job was typing. She had received a final warning for tardiness, making her ineligible for transfer within the organization. Budhun took four weeks of Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2691, leave early in 2010. Budhun broke a bone in her hand in July 2010, unrelated to her job. Budhun returned some FMLA paperwork 10 days later, attaching a doctor's note, dated August 10, and stating that she could return to work on August 16, “No restrictions in splint.” Budhun returned to work, submitted the leave form, and stated that certification would arrive from the doctor in several days. There was a dispute about whether she could return to work if she could not type at full speed; the doctor’s statement was unclear. BHP extended FMLA leave until September 23, when her FMLA leave was exhausted, and approved non-FMLA leave through November 9. When she did not return after FMLA leave, BHP offered her position to another. Budhun was not eligible to transfer to another position. She was on leave, with benefits, through November 9, when BHP considered her to have voluntarily resigned. Budhun sued, alleging FMLA interference and retaliation. The court entered summary judgment for BHP, stating that Budhun suffered no adverse employment action because she was medically unable to return to work after her FMLA leave, and that Budhun could not establish any nexus between her termination and her FMLA leave, having been terminated months later. The Third Circuit vacated, reasoning that the adverse employment action occurred when Budhun was replaced. View "Budhun v. Reading Hosp. & Med. Ctr." on Justia Law
Montanez v. Sec’y PA Dep’t of Corrs.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) maintains bank accounts, which inmates use to purchase items such as soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and over-the-counter medications. Inmates are also responsible for the costs some medical and legal services. Inmates earn wages, capped at 51 cents an hour, for work conducted for the prison, or get gifts from friends and family. In 1998, the legislature authorized the DOC to deduct from inmate accounts to collect “restitution or any other court-ordered obligation or costs.” The DOC promulgated a policy that each DOC facility makes “payments of 20% of the inmate’s account balance and monthly income for restitution, reparation, fees, costs, fines, and/or penalties associated with the criminal proceedings … provided that the inmate has a balance that exceeds $10.00.” DOC authority to make deductions is automatically triggered when it receives a sentencing order that includes a monetary portion. There is no requirement that the order provide for automatic deduction. DOC does not provide inmates with any hearing or other opportunity to be heard before deductions commence. Inmates filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of procedural due process rights. After post-remand discovery, the district court granted defendants summary judgment, finding some claims time-barred, that one inmate had received all process he was due under the Constitution, and that corrections officials were entitled to qualified immunity from claims for monetary damages. The Third Circuit reversed as to the due process claims noting disputes of fact regarding notice and because the inmate never had any opportunity to be heard prior to deprivation, but otherwise affirmed. View "Montanez v. Sec'y PA Dep't of Corrs." on Justia Law
Dwyer v. Cappell
Attorney Andrew Dwyer and his law firm (collectively, Dwyer) launched a website that published excerpts from judicial opinions by New Jersey judges about Dwyer’s lauded abilities as a lawyer. One of the judges requested that his quoted comments be removed from the website, but Dwyer refused on the ground that the quotation was not false or misleading. As a result of the dispute, the New Jersey Bar’s Committee on Attorney Advertising (Committee) proposed, and the New Jersey Supreme Court eventually adopted, an attorney-conduct guideline that banned advertising with quotes from judges or judicial opinions. The final version of the guideline, however, allowed attorneys to advertise with the full text of judicial opinions. The day before the guideline went into effect Dwyer filed this action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, arguing that the guideline was an unconstitutional restriction on speech. The district court granted summary judgment for the Committee, concluding that the guideline was not a ban on speech but instead was a disclosure requirement. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the guideline, as applied to Dwyer’s accurate quotes from judicial opinions, violated his First Amendment right to advertise his commercial business. Remanded. View "Dwyer v. Cappell" on Justia Law
Cox v. Horn
More than 20 years ago, Cox was convicted in Philadelphia of first-degree murder and related charges. In 2000, he sought a federal writ of habeas corpus. The district court dismissed in 2004, finding that all but one of Cox’s claims were procedurally defaulted due to counsel’s failure to pursue them in initial post-conviction state court proceedings and that the preserved claim lacked merit. The Third Circuit affirmed. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Martinez v. Ryan, announcing an exception to longstanding precedent: under certain circumstances, for purposes of habeas review, post-conviction counsel’s failure to raise ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims could excuse a procedural default of those claims. Within three months, Cox moved under FRCP Rule 60(b)(6), for relief from the 2004 order. The district court denied the motion, finding that the intervening change in law, “without more,” did not provide cause for relief. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. For relief to be granted under Rule 60(b)(6), “more” than the important change of law is required: what must be shown are “extraordinary circumstances where, without such relief, an extreme and unexpected hardship would occur.” What those extraordinary circumstances could be in the context of Martinez was neither offered to the district court by the parties nor discussed by the court. View "Cox v. Horn" on Justia Law
United States v. Cruz
Cruz was arrested for assaulting, resisting, or impeding Social Security Administration employees and two counts of threatening a federal law enforcement officer. The district court granted a judgment of acquittal on Count I, and a jury returned guilty verdicts on Count II and Count III. After the court received the pre-sentence investigation report, the prosecution successfully moved for a determination of competency. A Federal Bureau of Prisons forensic psychologist concluded that Cruz was mentally incompetent and suffered from schizophrenic disorder, bipolar type. After a hearing, the court concluded that Cruz was incompetent and found that he could not proceed with sentencing. A second report concurred with the diagnosis, noted Cruz’s ongoing refusal to take anti-psychotic medication recommended by BOP personnel, concluded that without medication Cruz would remain incompetent, and stated that “there is a substantial probability that [his] competency can be restored with a period of” forced medication. The prosecution obtained an order authorizing the BOP to medicate Cruz against his will. The Third Circuit affirmed, citing the Supreme Court decision, United States v. Sell (2003), and reasoning that the government can have a sufficiently important interest in forcibly medicating a defendant to restore his mental competency and render him fit to proceed with sentencing. View "United States v. Cruz" on Justia Law
Constitution Party of PA v. Aichele
Political groups challenged the constitutionality (42 U.S.C. 1983) of two provisions of Pennsylvania’s election code that regulate ballot access. Sections 2911(b) and 2872.2(a), require that candidates seeking to be included on the general election ballot (other than Republicans and Democrats) submit nomination papers with a specified number of signatures. Section 2937 allows private actors to object to such nomination papers and have them nullified, and permits a Pennsylvania court, as that court deems “just,” to impose administrative and litigation costs on a candidate if that candidate’s papers are rejected. The district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the aspiring political parties established that their injury-in-fact can fairly be traced to the actions of the Commonwealth officials and that the injuries are redressable. View "Constitution Party of PA v. Aichele" on Justia Law
Branch v. Sweeney
In 1993, Branch entered a Newark building, inhabited by drug dealers and addicts, just before Mosley was fatally shot. When the police arrested Branch the next day, he had the gun that shot Mosley. Branch testified that he went to the building to retrieve $50 that he had paid for fake cocaine. He encountered a lookout, and, though he claims to have been unarmed, insisted on going inside. Inside, Branch saw several people and asked who had supplied the fake cocaine. Lee produced a gun and told Branch to get out. Branch claims that in the ensuing scramble, Lee’s gun discharged, that Lee dropped her gun, and that he grabbed it and ran out. Branch called two witnesses who confirmed his account. The state called several witnesses who indicated that Branch went to the building to rob its occupants and killed Mosley. All of the witnesses had long criminal records. The arresting officer testified that Branch ran, fought him, and tried to pull a weapon. Despite apparent reservations, the jury convicted Branch. After state appellate proceedings and two remands, the trial court sentenced Branch to life for aggravated manslaughter. The appellate court affirmed. After unsuccessful state post-conviction proceedings, Branch unsuccessfully sought federal habeas relief. The Third Circuit vacated, stating that it could not find any justification for trial counsel’s failure to call two potential witnesses; if they had testified consistently with their pretrial written statements, there is a reasonable probability that the evidence would not have favored the prosecution. The state courts’ conclusions were unreasonable applications of federal law, so the district court was required to hold a hearing to ascertain reasons for not calling the potential witnesses. View "Branch v. Sweeney" on Justia Law
Powell v. Weiss
Powell, a former Pennsylvania state inmate, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections violated his Fourteenth Amendment right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law when it revoked its decision to release him to a community correctional center. The DOC conceded that the revocation was based on an improper calculation of Powell’s sentence. The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding that Pennsylvania inmates do not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the expectation of release to a community correctional center. View "Powell v. Weiss" on Justia Law