Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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A Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ordinance prohibits persons to “knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 20 feet from any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a health care facility.” Individuals purporting to provide “sidewalk counseling” to those entering abortion clinics claimed that the ordinance violated their First Amendment rights to speak, exercise their religion, and assemble, and their due process and equal protection rights. The court determined that the ordinance was content-neutral because it did not define or regulate speech by subject-matter or purpose, so that intermediate scrutiny applied, and reasoned that it must accept as true (on a motion to dismiss) claims that the city did not consider less restrictive alternatives. The claims proceeded to discovery. In denying preliminary injunctive relief, the court ruled that plaintiffs did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. The Third Circuit vacated. In deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs normally bear the burden of demonstrating likelihood of prevailing on the merits. In First Amendment cases where the government bears the burden of proof on the ultimate question of a statute’s constitutionality, plaintiffs must be deemed likely to prevail for purposes of considering a preliminary injunction unless the government has shown that plaintiffs’ proposed less restrictive alternatives are less effective than the statute. View "Reilly v. City of Harrisburg" on Justia Law

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Roquet, is a psychologist at the Avenel Special Treatment Unit (STU), where Oliver, a sexually violent predator, has been civilly committed for treatment. At least annually, the Treatment Progress Review Committee (TPRC) interviews each detainee and considers a range of materials to formulate a recommendation about whether the patient should progress to the next step in the program. Roquet, a member of the TPRC, wrote a report that recommended that Oliver not advance in treatment. The Report recognized that this was “not consistent” with Oliver’s treatment team's recommendation, but concluded that Oliver “had not fully met the treatment goals,” provided a detailed overview of Oliver’s sexual and non-sexual offenses, diagnostic history, and clinical treatment, and summarized the results of Oliver's interview, including that “it appears that he denies, minimizes or justifies much of his documented offense history,” and that “[h]e did not demonstrate remorse for his crimes or empathy for his victims.” Oliver sued, alleging retaliation for his First Amendment-protected participation in legal activities on behalf of himself and other STU residents. The Third Circuit concluded that Roquet was entitled to qualified immunity, reasoning that Oliver pleaded facts reflecting that Roquet based her recommendation on the medically-relevant collateral consequences of his protected activity, but has not sufficiently pleaded that the recommendation was based on the protected activity itself. View "Oliver v. Roquet" on Justia Law

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Court erred in dismissing civil rights claims as time-barred without considering whether inmate exhausted administrative remedies and whether limitations period should be tolled. Wisniewski, a Pennsylvania inmate, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. He worked as an aide in the prison’s law library. Believing that prison policies were harming inmates’ ability to access the courts, he registered complaints. Based on his possession of another inmate’s grievance forms, Wisniewski was found guilty of engaging in or encouraging unauthorized group activity, possession or circulation of a petition, possession of contraband, and lying to an employee. The charges were dismissed after Wisniewski spent 90 days in the Restricted Housing Unit. Wisniewski alleged additional retaliation: removal from his job, tampering with his television, denying him yard time, delaying his disciplinary confinement release, and interfering with his access to legal materials and the photocopier. The district court dismissed the claims arising out of events that occurred more than two years before the filing of the complaint and dismissed the remaining First Amendment retaliation claims for failure to state a claim. The Third Circuit reversed in part; the district court erred in dismissing the claims as time-barred without considering whether Wisniewski properly exhausted administrative remedies and to what extent the limitations period should be tolled. View "Wisniewski v. Fisher" on Justia Law

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Counsel was ineffective in failing to object to jury instruction concerning eyewitness testimony, using the words “may not” rather than “need not.” Bey was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and possessing an instrument of crime, based on a nonfatal shooting and a fatal shooting that took place in 2001. Philadelphia Police Officer Taylor was in the parking lot during the shooting: his identification of Bey as the shooter was consistent and unequivocal. However, in statements to Bey’s then-defense counsel, the surviving victim said that his shooter was not Bey. Defense counsel requested a “Kloiber” jury instruction. In instructing the jury, the court changed a word, telling jurors that they “may not” receive an identification with caution rather than instructing them that they “need not” receive the identification with caution. Defense counsel did not object. In his unsuccessful petition for state post-conviction relief, Bey raised an ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on the Kloiber instruction, but failed to highlight the “may not” language. The federal district court held that, to the extent that Bey’s ineffective assistance claims were not procedurally defaulted, Bey could not show prejudice because “there was overwhelming evidence of guilt.” The Third Circuit reversed, based on the Kloiber claim, finding cause to excuse Bey’s procedural default. View "Bey v. Superintendent Greene SCI" on Justia Law

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Pretrial detainee’s due process rights were not violated by placement in administrative segregation and restriction of phone privileges pending investigation of misconduct. While Steele was a pretrial detainee at New Jersey’s Middlesex County Adult Correction Center, officials received credible information that Steele was threatening other detainees in order to coerce them into using Speedy Bail Bond Service and was receiving compensation from Speedy. After interviewing Steele and advising him of the allegations, officials placed him in administrative segregation while they investigated. Steele’s telephone privileges were restricted to legal calls only. Steele filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violations of his due process rights when the defendants transferred him to administrative segregation and restricted his phone privileges, interfering with his ability to find a co-signer for his own bail. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for all defendants. Defendants’ limitation of Steele’s phone privileges did not “shock the conscience.” Steele has not met his heavy burden of showing that defendants exaggerated their response to the genuine security considerations that actuated his move. Steele’s transfer was for institutional security reasons rather than for discipline or punishment and he was accorded the required level of process. View "Steele v. Cicchi" on Justia Law

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In 2008, the Delaware correctional system was facing scandal for its handling of inmate releases. One inmate committed suicide in his cell on the day he was supposed to be—but was not—released. Dozens of others had either been released too early or too late. Reform consisted of establishment of a new Central Offender Records office within the Delaware Department of Corrections. Inmates who were over-detained sued top correctional officials in a putative class action, claiming that Delaware’s problems with over-detentions have, if anything, gotten worse since 2008. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The court noted that “hard, reliable data about the number of over-detentions occurring each year is more or less missing from the record.” To survive summary judgment on an allegation of deliberate indifference, the plaintiffs needed more than speculation connecting any increase in over-detentions with the COR policies they deem ineffective. View "Wharton v. Danberg" on Justia Law

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Brandon, convicted of burglary, was sentenced to 16–48 months’ imprisonment. During intake, Brandon informed mental health staff that he had attempted suicide, had recently engaged in self-harm, and had plans about how to kill himself. Brandon was diagnosed with serious mental disorders, identified as a “suicide behavior risk,” and placed on the mental health roster. During his incarceration at Pennsylania's SCI Cresson, Brandon reported suicidal thoughts. Brandon did not receive counseling or evaluation; any mental health interviews were conducted “through the cell door slot in the solitary confinement unit.” Brandon was repeatedly subjected to solitary confinement. Most SCI Cresson incidents of self-harm occurred in solitary confinement. During Brandon’s incarceration, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated allegations that SCI Cresson provided inadequate mental health care, failed to adequately protect prisoners, and subjected them to excessive periods of isolation. Ultimately, the DOJ reported “systemwide failure” to consider mental health issues appropriately, a “fragmented and ineffective” mental healthcare program, insufficient staffing, poor recordkeeping, screening and diagnostic procedures, deficient oversight and lack of training in the proper response to warning signs by mentally ill prisoners. Brandon, age 23, committed suicide while in solitary confinement. The Third Circuit reversed dismissal of his parents’ civil rights claims. Their allegations support an inference that, despite knowing of Brandon’s vulnerability and the increased risk of suicide in solitary confinement, the defendants disregarded that risk and permitted Brandon to be repeatedly isolated in solitary confinement. View "Palakovic v. Wetzel" on Justia Law

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Wagner, age 15, was walking home, when a man demanded that she get into his car. Wagner refused and told him that she would call the police. He sped away. Stowe Township Officers Sciulli and Ruiz responded and recorded the girl’s description of the vehicle as a red, four-door sedan with a Pennsylvania license plate bearing the letters ACG, driven by a white male with dark hair, around 35 years old. The next day, her mother was driving Wagner home when Wagner saw a red car. She told her mother that it was the car that had stopped her the day before. The license number was JDG4817. They followed the car to a parking lot and saw the driver. Wagner’s mother drove her to the police station. Officers identified the car as belonging to Andrews, obtained Andrews’ license photo, and created a photo array. Wagner identified Andrews. Sciulli went to the parking lot and saw Andrews’ vehicle, a three-door coupe. Sciulli drafted an affidavit of probable cause. A magistrate issued an arrest warrant. Andrews was charged with, but acquitted of, luring a child into a motor vehicle, stalking, corruption of a minor, and harassment. He filed suit. The Third Circuit reversed the district court’s determination that Sciulli was entitled to qualified immunity, noting Siulli’s omission of information about the license plate and vehicle description discrepancies from the affidavit. View "Andrews v. Scuilli" on Justia Law

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The Mirabellas alleged that their neighbors extended their backyard into wetlands owned by Montgomery Township, Pennsylvania by fencing the open space, placing playground equipment, and landscaping. They complained to the Township, which removed the fence, required the neighbors to move their playground equipment and required the neighbors to stop landscaping the open space. The Mirabellas alleged the neighbors continued to “cut and clear.” They continued to complain. The Township gave the neighbors permission to mow the open space. The Mirabellas, both attorneys, notified the Township Board that they intended to sue their neighbors and stated that, as the owner of the open space, “the Township will be an indispensable party.” Officials interpreted this as a threat that the Mirabellas would sue the Township and responded that the Township would seek sanctions. The Board’s chair, Walsh, emailed the Mirabellas to “direct all further communications to the Township attorney. Please never contact me, the Board of Supervisors or the Township employees directly.” The Mirabellas attended a Board meeting and protested the destruction of the open space and the emails. The Mirabellas filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging First Amendment violations. The district court rejected claims of qualified immunity. The Third Circuit reversed. While the Mirabellas adequately alleged a retaliation claim and a violation of their right to petition, those rights were not clearly established for purposes of qualified immunity. View "Mirabella v. Villard" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs suffered from disabilities, for which each was prescribed an emotional support animal. Each woman obtained a dog. This violated the “no dogs” rule of their condominium association. Plaintiffs each sought an accommodation for an emotional support animal by filing paperwork, with a doctor’s letter prescribing an emotional support animal, and a dog certification. Other residents became upset about the presence of the dogs. The condominium board voted to impose a fine. When a new Board President took office, the Board granted the accommodation requests and waived the accrued fines. Plaintffs filed suit under the Fair Housing Act, alleging that the association denied their reasonable requests for accommodation (42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(3)(B)) and interfered with the exercise of their fair housing rights (42 U.S.C. 3617). Plaintiff Walters committed suicide while her case was pending. The district court dismissed Walters’ Fair Housing Act claims entirely due to her death and rejected Kromenhoek’s claims on the merits. The Third Circuit reversed. The survival of claims under the Fair Housing Act is not governed by Section 1988(a), but by federal common law, under which a claim survives the death of a party. There were genuine issues of material fact regarding the merits of the claims. View "Revock v. Cowpet Bay West Condominium Association" on Justia Law