Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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The LA Times appeals the district court's denial of its motions to unseal court records relating to a search warrant allegedly executed on Senator Richard Burr in connection with an insider-trading investigation and the government's memorandum opposing its motion to unseal.The DC Circuit remanded the case to the district court to reconsider its common law analysis in light of new disclosures from a related investigation by the SEC and Senator Burr's public acknowledgment of the Justice Department's investigation, as well as precedent governing how the common law right should be balanced against competing interests. The district court shall reconsider the L.A. Times' challenge that it was fundamentally disadvantaged by the district court's decision to seal the government's opposition memorandum and attached exhibits. View "Los Angeles Times Communications LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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In a public-health emergency, 42 U.S.C. 265 authorizes the Executive Branch to "prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places as he shall designate." The Executive exercised that power during the COVID-19 pandemic, issuing a series of orders prohibiting "covered aliens" from entering the United States by land from Mexico or Canada.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction in part, finding that it is likely that aliens covered by a valid section 265 order have no right to be in the United States and concluding that the Executive may expel plaintiffs under section 265, but only to places where they will not be persecuted or tortured. The court addressed plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits and rejected their arguments that section 265 covers only transportation providers such as common carriers; that the Executive has no power to expel aliens for violating a valid section 265 order; and that they are entitled to apply for asylum. However, the court concluded that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their narrow argument that under section 1231 the Executive cannot expel them to places where they face persecution or torture. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the equities require a preliminary injunction to stop the Executive from expelling plaintiffs to places where they will be persecuted or tortured. The court remanded for further proceedings and ultimate resolution of the merits, including plaintiffs' claim that the section 265 order is arbitrary and capricious. View "Huisha-Huisha v. Mayorkas" on Justia Law

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The FCC promulgated a regulation which originally authorized the installation on private property, with the owner's consent, of "over-the-air reception devices," regardless of State and local restrictions, "including zoning, land-use, or building regulation[s], or any private covenant, homeowners' association rule or similar restriction on property." The FCC later expanded coverage to include antennas that act as "hub sites" or relay service to other locations. Petitioners, expressing concern about possible health effects from increased radiofrequency exposure, argued that the proliferation of commercial-grade antennas would increase the suffering of those with radiofrequency sensitivity—violating their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the U.S. Constitution's protections of private property and personal autonomy. Petitioners also contend that the amendments would deny affected individuals fair notice and an opportunity to be heard.The DC Circuit first concluded that two of the petitioners' interests are impacted directly by the FCC's order and that CHD has associational standing. The court also concluded that the Commission's citation of and reliance on the Commission's Continental Airlines decision provided sufficient explanation for its authority to expand the regulation to hub-and-relay antennas carrying broadband Internet. The court rejected petitioners' contentions to the contrary that the order is unsupported by Section 303 of the Communications Act. Finally, the court rejected petitioners' contention that the order lacks a reasoned foundation because the Commission disregarded the human health consequences of its action. Rather, the court concluded that the Commission sufficiently explained that its order does not change the applicability of the Commission's radio frequency exposure requirements and that such concerns were more appropriately directed at its radiofrequency rulemaking. Furthermore, the Commission may also preempt restrictions on the placement of the new category of antennas now included in the regulation. Therefore, the court denied the petition challenging the FCC's order. View "Children's Health Defense v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Breiterman was subjected to three disciplinary actions imposed by her employer, the U.S. Capitol Police. She was suspended after commenting to fellow employees that women had to “sleep with someone” to get ahead. She was later placed on administrative leave and ultimately demoted for leaking a picture of an unattended Police firearm to the press. Although Breiterman admitted to this misconduct, she sued the Police, alleging sex discrimination, retaliation in violation of the Congressional Accountability Act, 2 U.S.C. 1301, and unlawful retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment.The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Police. The Police provided legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for suspending Breiterman, placing her on administrative leave during an investigation into the media leak, and demoting her from a supervisory position; nothing in the record would allow a reasonable jury to conclude that those reasons were a pretext for discrimination or retaliation. Supervisors are entrusted with greater authority than officers, held to a higher standard, and disciplined more severely than officers for similar violations, so Breiterman’s nonsupervisory comparators are too dissimilar to draw any inference of discriminatory treatment. Even assuming some procedural deviation occurred, the deviations were not so irregular as to indicate unlawful discrimination. View "Breiterman v. United States Capitol Police" on Justia Law

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Bellion produces and distributes vodka that is infused with NTX, a proprietary blend that Bellion contends mitigates alcohol’s damage to a person’s DNA. Bellion filed a petition with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the agency that regulates alcoholic beverage labeling and advertising, to determine whether Bellion could lawfully make certain claims about NTX on labels and in advertisements. TTB found that the claims were scientifically unsubstantiated and misleading so that including them on vodka labels and in advertisements would violate the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, 27 U.S.C. 201, and TTB’s regulations.Bellion filed suit, alleging that TTB’s denial of the petition violated Bellion’s First Amendment rights and that the standards under which TTB rejected the proposed NTX claims are unconstitutionally vague. The district court granted TTB summary judgment. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. In making its decision, TTB did not rubber-stamp the FDA’s analysis of the scientific evidence or delegate final decision-making authority to the FDA. Bellion’s proposed claims are misleading and can be proscribed consistent with the First Amendment. Bellion received a clear response from TTB about why its proposed claims were denied. Bellion cannot bring an as-applied vagueness challenge to the regulation; its facial challenge to the regulation is without merit. View "Bellion Spirits, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Gaskins served almost eight years of a 22-year sentence on a narcotics conspiracy charge before the D.C. Circuit reversed his conviction for insufficient evidence in 2012. At his trial, Gaskins had invoked his constitutional right not to testify. After the reversal of his conviction, he sought limited discovery and a chance to testify in support of his motion for a certificate of innocence under 28 U.S.C. 2513, a prerequisite to a claim against the government for compensation for wrongful imprisonment. The district court denied the certificate of innocence without acting on Gaskins’ motion for discovery.The D.C. Circuit vacated. A failure to prove criminal culpability beyond a reasonable doubt requires acquittal but does not necessarily establish innocence. On a motion for a certificate of innocence, the burden is on the claimant to prove his innocence by a preponderance of the evidence. The district court erred by denying Gaskins’ motion for a certificate of innocence without addressing his procedural motion. The key issue bearing on whether Gaskins is entitled to the certificate concerns his state of mind--whether he agreed to work with co-conspirators with the specific intent to distribute drugs. His actions, as established by the trial evidence, do not add up to the charged offenses unless he agreed to join the conspiracy. The court declined to reassign the case. View "United States v. Gaskins" on Justia Law

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In 2014, ATF agents executing a search warrant at Johnson’s home recovered explosive powder, items associated with the production of explosive devices, and boxes containing .37-millimeter ammunition shells with caps and primers on them. One shell had been assembled as an improvised explosive device (IED) using explosive powder, a fuse, and a primer. Agent Campbell looked through the boxes and disassembled and examined the IED. In 2017, while reviewing photos, Campbell noticed items that he had not examined, discovered that one of the shell casings “appeared to be loaded,” and concluded it had been converted into a second IED. The 2018 indictment charged: Unlawful Receipt or Possession of an Unregistered Firearm and Destructive Device; Unlawful Making of a Firearm; Possession of a Weapon of Mass Destruction (D.C. Code); Unlawful Receipt or Possession of an Unregistered Firearm and Destructive Device; Unlawful Making of a Firearm; Possession of a Weapon of Mass Destruction; and Conspiracy to Smuggle Goods. There was a federal possession, federal manufacture, and D.C. possession charge for each IED. The court permitted the defense to argue that the evidence had been mishandled by the government and that Campbell was not a credible witness. The D.C. Circuit remanded Johnson's convictions. The federal firearm possession convictions are “multiplicitous” of the federal firearm manufacturing convictions, in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause; the D.C. law convictions are multiplicitous of each other. The court also remanded a claim that Johnson received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel in rejecting a plea agreement. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Arrington was convicted of assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon and of unlawfully possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The judge calculated a mandatory 210-240-month sentencing range and sentenced Arrington to 240 months. Arrington’s sentencing range involved a higher base offense level for the unlawful possession of a firearm because he “had at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence,” U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(a)(2); he also received an enhancement as “a career offender” because he had “at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence,” U.S.S.G. 4B1.1. The judge applied the “residual clause” in the Guidelines' definition of "crime of violence." In 2003, Arrington was denied post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255.The Supreme Court rendered the Guidelines advisory while Arrington’s first petition was pending. In 2015, the Court held (Johnson) that the Armed Career Criminal Act’s “residual clause” was unconstitutionally vague. In 2016, the Supreme Court held that “Johnson announced a substantive rule that has retroactive effect in cases on collateral review.” Within a year of Johnson, Arrington sought leave to file a successive section 2255 motion challenging his sentence in light of Johnson. The district court denied his motion as untimely. The D.C. Circuit reversed. The Johnson decision recognized a person’s right not to have his sentence dictated by the unconstitutionally vague language contained in a mandatory residual clause identical to that in the Guidelines. View "United States v. Arrington" on Justia Law

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In March 2020, the District of Columbia's mayor declared a public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Corrections responded by instituting policies intended to protect its employees and inmates from the coronavirus. On March 30, inmates at D.C. correctional facilities filed a class action, asserting claims under 28 U.S.C. 2241 and 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments. The district court appointed amici to investigate conditions at D.C. correctional facilities; based on their report the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order on April 19, generally requiring Corrections to address identified problems. Although COVID cases in the facilities decreased, significant problems remained. In June 2020, the district court entered a preliminary injunction, ordering the defendants to ensure inmates receive medical attention within 24 hours after reporting medical problems, to contract for COVID-19 cleaning services, ensure quarantine isolation units are nonpunitive and provide access to confidential legal calls. Corrections took steps to comply. One month later, Corrections moved to vacate the preliminary injunction due to changed circumstances. Amici reported substantial improvement but imperfect compliance with the preliminary injunction.The district court denied the motion. The D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. 3626(a)(2), the preliminary injunction has expired; the cases are now moot. View "Banks v. Booth" on Justia Law

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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