Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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Metropolitan Police officers in uniform, with body cameras, were patrolling an area known for gun- and drug-related crime. They saw three men hanging out on the sidewalk and exited their car to talk to them. One man began to walk away; Officer Goss approached him. Mabry and the third man stayed. The man who tried to leave became irate as Goss spoke with him. Officer Tariq walked over and patted the man down. Officer Volcin stayed with Mabry and the third man.Seeing the pat-down, Mabry raised his shirt and said, “I’ve got nothing,” and “you have no probable cause to search me.” Volcin asked about a satchel with a cross-body strap Mabry was carrying. The officers requested that he open the satchel. Mabry repeatedly said that he had nothing. Volcin never grabbed Mabry or the satchel, nor said that Mabry could not leave. Eventually, Mabry ran. During the ensuing chase, Mabry discarded the satchel, which Goss recovered. Mabry eventually stopped. Volcin opened the satchel and discovered a spring for a large-capacity magazine. While walking, Mabry made unsolicited statements indicating he was in possession of a firearm and drugs. Mabry had a pistol, 30 rounds of ammunition, an extended magazine, crack cocaine, and amphetamines.The D.C. Circuit reversed the denial of Mabry's motion to suppress. Mabry was “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes. The circumstances show the officers’ conduct constituted a show of authority to which Mabry submitted. View "United States v. Mabry" on Justia Law

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Long is serving a 29-year sentence at a federal medical penitentiary for violent racketeering offenses committed over the course of three decades. A double amputee, he suffers from other disabling medical conditions. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged through the federal prison system, Long sought compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A), arguing that his distinct medical susceptibility to COVID-19 and the failure of prison officials to curb the disease’s rapid spread constituted “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for release. The district court denied his motion, believing itself bound by a policy statement issued by the Sentencing Commission that bars courts from releasing any incarcerated defendant unless the court first finds that he “is not a danger to the safety of any other person or to the community,” U.S.S.G. 1B1.13(2).The D.C. Circuit vacated, joining seven other circuits in holding that this policy statement is not applicable to compassionate release motions filed by defendants. The policy statement applies only to motions for compassionate release filed by the Bureau of Prisons. Because it is not clear what the district court might have done had it considered the correct factors, its reliance on an incorrect Guidelines policy establishes an effect on Long’s substantial rights. View "United States v. Long" on Justia Law

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Four years after his release from prison, and after completing three years of supervised release, plaintiff was told he would have to serve another 27 months in jail based on an erroneous release from prison because he had a consecutive misdemeanor to serve. Plaintiff filed a writ of habeas corpus and the district court ruled that he must serve the remainder of his sentence. Plaintiff appealed, but the district court failed to act on the appeal until December 2013, at which point it dismissed the petition as moot because plaintiff had been released from jail upon completion of his sentence.Plaintiff then filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that his spontaneous incarceration deprived him of due process under the Fifth Amendment. The district court dismissed the case based on claim preclusion in light of plaintiff's prior unsuccessful habeas corpus action. The DC Circuit reversed and, on remand, the district court granted summary judgment for the District.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment that plaintiff failed to establish a pattern of constitutional violations or to demonstrate deliberate indifference. The court explained that plaintiff's evidence fails to show either that the District had a relevant custom of unconstitutional actions or that the District acted with deliberate indifference. However, the court vacated the entry of summary judgment for the District on the claim of unconstitutional policy because the nature and contours of the alleged policy present a number of disputed issues of material fact. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Hurd v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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A military commission was convened to try al-Tamir, apprehended in Turkey in 2006 and held at Guantanamo Bay for seven years without charges, for war crimes. Captain Waits presided over al-Tamir’s commission for two and a half years. A DOJ prosecutor was the first attorney to speak on the record. Weeks later, Waits applied to be a DOJ immigration judge. In his applications, he identified the al-Tamir commission. He received no interviews. In 2017, Waits was hired by the Department of Defense's Navy Office of the Judge Advocate General Criminal Law Division, after again mentioning his role in the commission.In 2019, the D.C. Circuit held that a military judge’s application for an immigration judge position created an appearance of bias requiring recusal, Waits disclosed his employment applications to al-Tamir and the commission. Rubin and Libretto later served on al-Tamir’s commission, Blackwood was a civilian advisor for all three judges and applied for outside employment while assisting Rubin. Libretto denied al-Tamir's motions to dismiss based on Waits’s and Blackwood’s job applications and to disqualify Libretto based on Blackwood’s continued assistance. Libretto declared that he would reconsider any of Waits’s decisions that al-Tamir identifies. The Court of Military Commission Review upheld that decision. The D.C. Circuit denied mandamus relief. The government’s offer affords al-Tamir an “adequate means” to attain the relief he seeks; Blackwood’s job search did not “clear[ly] and indisputabl[y]” disqualify the judges he served. View "In re: al-Tamir" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two former Liberian officials, allege that Global Witness, an international human rights organization, published a report falsely implying that they had accepted bribes in connection with the sale of an oil license for an offshore plot owned by Liberia. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint for failing to plausibly allege malice. The court concluded that the First Amendment provides broad protections for speech about public figures, and the former officials have failed to allege that Global Witness exceeded the bounds of those protections. In this case, plaintiffs advanced several interlocking theories to support the allegation of malice, but the court agreed with the district court that these theories fail to support a plausible claim that Global Witness acted with actual malice. View "Tah v. Global Witness Publishing, Inc." on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the District in an action brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by plaintiff, alleging that OAG's denial of her multiple requests for a lateral transfer to a different unit within OAG constituted unlawful sex discrimination and unlawful retaliation for filing discriminatory charges with the EEOC. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to establish that she suffered an adverse employment action. In this case, no reasonable jury could conclude that plaintiff suffered materially adverse consequences associated with the denial of her lateral transfer requests for purposes of her discrimination or retaliation claim. View "Chambers v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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In July 2019, the Department of Justice announced a revised protocol for execution by lethal injection using a single drug, pentobarbital. Plaintiffs, federal death row inmates, sought expedited review of three of the district court's rulings, and two plaintiffs with upcoming execution dates moved for stays of execution pending appeal.The DC Circuit held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for the government on plaintiffs' Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA) claim. In this case, plaintiffs had pointed to several alleged discrepancies between the 2019 Protocol and state statutes dictating different methods of execution or aspects of the execution process. The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that there was no conflict, either because the government had committed to complying with the state statutes at issue or because no plaintiff had requested to be executed in accordance with them.However, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment challenge for failure to state a claim. The court held that, by pleading that the federal government's execution protocol involves a "virtual medical certainty" of severe and torturous pain that is unnecessary to the death process and could readily be avoided by administering a widely available analgesic first, plaintiffs' complaint properly and plausibly states an Eighth Amendment claim. The court denied Plaintiffs Hall and Bernard's request for a stay of execution based on the Eighth Amendment claim. The court also held that the district court should have ordered the 2019 Protocol to be set aside to the extent that it permits the use of unprescribed pentobarbital in a manner that violates the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FDCA). Finally, the court affirmed the district court's denial of a permanent injunction to remedy the FDCA violation. View "Roane v. Barr" on Justia Law

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National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden owned by the nonprofit North American Butterfly Association, lies along the border with Mexico. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) planned to build a segment of the border wall through the Center. The Association sued, citing the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and two environmental statutes. DHS has not analyzed the environmental impact of border wall-related activities at the Center (42 U.S.C. 4332(2)(C)), nor consulted with other federal agencies about how to minimize the impact of those activities on endangered species. An appropriation act subsequently prohibited funding for border fencing at the Center.The district court dismissed all claims, citing the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, 8 U.S.C. 1103, as stripping jurisdiction over the statutory claims because the DHS Secretary waived the application of environmental laws with respect to the construction of roads and physical barriers at the Center.The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part, first holding that the claims were not moot and that jurisdiction over the statutory claims was not stripped by IIRIRA, nor was review channeled directly to the Supreme Court. The court held that DHS’s waiver determination defeats the statutory claims, that the Association failed to state a Fourth Amendment claim of unreasonable seizure of property it acknowledges to be “open fields,” but that the Association stated a procedural due process claim under the Fifth Amendment. View "North American Butterfly Association v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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Under the terms of a 2008 injunction, the Secretary must make various Federal Reserve Notes distinguishable to the visually impaired no later than the next scheduled redesign of each denomination. The Council challenged the district court's most recent denial of the Council's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) motion to impose a firm deadline on the Secretary.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that the district court violated neither the letter nor spirit of the court's mandate in American Council of the Blind v. Mnuchin, 878 F.3d 360 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (ACB II). In this case, the district court's security rationale is a management consideration, not a budgetary one. The court explained that ACB II does not require the district court to quantify its security rationale in dollar-denominated terms. The district court's feasibility rationale also comports with ACB II's mandate. The court also held that the district court's rationales for denying the Council's Rule 60(b) motion are sufficiently supported by the record where the district court cited the Secretary's estimate that adding the RTF to the $10 note by the end of 2020 would likely push back the security redesign of each denomination by at least two years—possibly more. The district court's feasibility rationale is also well supported by the record. View "American Council of the Blind v. Mnuchin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her employer, the EEOC, alleging that the agency had subjected her to a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and had violated her rights under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.The DC Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's retaliatory hostile work environment claim under Title VII, as well as her interference and reasonable accommodation claims under the Rehabilitation Act. The court stated that an employer's deliberate attempts to affect an employee's finances and access to healthcare strike the court as precisely the type of conduct that might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of the retaliatory hostile work environment claim under Title VII for events occurring in 2013 and remanded. The court also held that the district court erred by treating the Confirmation Form and Huffer Letter as definitive proof that the only accommodation plaintiff sought was an uncertain and indefinite amount of paid leave. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of the reasonable accommodation claim and remanded. The court also reversed the dismissal of the interference claim and remanded for further consideration of plaintiff's interference allegations. Finally, the court held that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's confidentiality and medical inquiries claims. View "Menoken v. Dhillon" on Justia Law