Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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Leroy Johnson, a supervisor at Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation (Wabtec), was terminated after failing to fully disclose his contact with a COVID-19 positive individual, violating the company's COVID-19 protocols and a Last Chance Agreement he had signed. Johnson, the only salaried black employee at the plant, sued Wabtec for wrongful termination under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Wabtec.The district court's decision was based on the conclusion that Johnson had not established a prima facie case of discrimination. Johnson had argued that he was treated less favorably than similarly situated white employees, but the court found that the employees he cited were not similarly situated as they were not terminated for misconduct. The court also found that Johnson's failure to fully disclose his potential COVID-19 exposure constituted a safety concern and misconduct, which was grounds for termination under the Last Chance Agreement.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court agreed that Johnson had not established a prima facie case of discrimination and that his termination was due to his misconduct, not his race or age. The court also noted that Johnson had waived his ADEA claim by failing to address its merits in his opening brief. View "Johnson v. Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Marvel Jones, a civilly committed individual at Norfolk Regional Center in Nebraska, filed a pro se civil rights complaint against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS), several correctional facilities, and unnamed individuals. Jones alleged that the institutions' policies and the individuals' actions obstructed his right to legal assistance and unlawfully limited his access to the courts while he was incarcerated. He claimed that the NDCS's law library policies, which prohibit prison librarians and legal aides from assisting inmates in conducting legal research and other legal activities, violated his federal rights.The defendants moved to dismiss the case, citing sovereign immunity and the applicable statutes of limitations. The district court granted the motion, finding that Jones's claims against the correctional facilities and the individual defendants in their official capacities were indeed barred by sovereign immunity and the statutes of limitations. However, the court did not dismiss the claims against the unnamed individual defendants in their individual capacities. Instead, it conditionally dismissed the case against NDCS, requiring it to provide Jones with the requested names and addresses of the unnamed defendants. NDCS appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that the district court's order violated NDCS's sovereign immunity. The court noted that once the district court concluded that NDCS was entitled to sovereign immunity, it lacked the authority to hold NDCS in as a litigant, even on a relatively minor disclosure condition. The court reversed and vacated the portion of the district court’s order that conditioned NDCS’s dismissal on its disclosure of the identities and addresses of the unnamed defendant employees and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Jones v. Dept. of Correctional Services" on Justia Law

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Samantha Howard, a pharmacist with Type I diabetes and hypoglycemic unawareness, began working at Bothwell Regional Medical Center, operated by the City of Sedalia, Missouri. Howard requested to keep food and drink at her desk, which was granted. Later, she requested to bring a service dog into the pharmacy to help her manage her diabetes. Bothwell denied this request, citing potential risks of contamination. Unable to agree on an alternative accommodation, Howard resigned and filed a lawsuit alleging that Bothwell's failure to make a reasonable accommodation violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The jury ruled in favor of Howard, awarding her compensatory and emotional damages. Bothwell appealed the district court's denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law de novo. The court found that the case was governed by its recent decision in Hopman v. Union Pac. R.R., which clarified the definition of "reasonable accommodation" under the ADA. The court concluded that Howard failed to identify any employer-sponsored benefit or program to which she lacked access due to the absence of her service dog. The court ruled that providing a service dog at work so that an employee with a disability has the same assistance the service dog provides away from work is not a cognizable benefit or privilege of employment. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's order and remanded the case with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Bothwell. View "Howard v. City of Sedalia, Missouri" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of former detainees at the Medium Security Institution (MSI) in St. Louis, who alleged that they were subjected to inhumane conditions in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. They sought to represent classes of pre-trial and post-conviction detainees, asserting that both categories of detainees were subjected to poor physical conditions and inadequate operations. After the district court denied their first motion to certify, the plaintiffs returned with new proposed classes and renewed their motion. The district court granted the renewed motion, and the City of St. Louis appealed.The district court had initially denied the plaintiffs' motion to certify four classes, citing the open-ended class periods and the City's undisputed improvements to conditions at MSI over time. However, the court suggested that a more focused claim covering a more discrete time period and a more uniform class might be appropriate for class certification. In response, the plaintiffs filed a renewed motion for class certification, proposing four new, more narrowly defined classes. The district court granted the renewed motion, certifying the four new classes.The City of St. Louis appealed the district court's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, challenging both the decision to certify the classes and several of its procedural aspects. The appellate court reversed the certification of the classes and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court found that the district court had abused its discretion in certifying the classes, as the classes were not "sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation." The court also found that the district court had erred in describing the standard for liability and had failed to conduct a rigorous analysis of the requirements for class certification. View "Cody v. City of St. Louis" on Justia Law

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Sarah Watkins filed a lawsuit against the City of St. Louis, Missouri, and six individual police officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the officers used excessive force during a routine traffic stop. Watkins was stopped for a traffic violation near St. Louis Lambert International Airport. After she was asked to step out of her car, she was handcuffed and allegedly subjected to verbal abuse, forced into a vehicle, pepper-sprayed, and repeatedly hit on the leg with a baton. Watkins was later treated for injuries to her legs, face, and body.The district court dismissed Watkins's claims, ruling that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity on her Fourth Amendment excessive force claims. The court also dismissed the claims against the City, stating that Watkins failed to provide sufficient facts to state a claim for municipal liability under § 1983 and Monell v. Department of Social Services.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the dismissal of Watkins's claims. The court found that Watkins had sufficiently alleged a violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. The court also determined that this right was clearly established at the time of the traffic stop. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of Watkins's Fourth Amendment excessive force claims against the individual officers. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of Watkins's § 1983 claims against the City, as she had not alleged sufficient facts to support the existence of an unconstitutional policy or custom. View "Watkins v. City of St. Louis, Missouri" on Justia Law

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Five employees of The Mayo Clinic, a Minnesota non-profit corporation, filed a lawsuit alleging that the organization failed to accommodate their religious beliefs under Title VII and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). The employees claimed that they were terminated for refusing to comply with Mayo's Covid-19 vaccination or testing policies. The plaintiffs sought religious accommodations for the vaccination requirement, citing their Christian religious beliefs. Mayo denied the accommodations for three plaintiffs who refused to get the vaccine. It granted vaccination exemptions to two plaintiffs, but required them to test for Covid-19 weekly, which they refused.The district court dismissed the claims, ruling that two plaintiffs did not exhaust their administrative remedies under Title VII, the other plaintiffs failed to plausibly plead religious beliefs that conflict with Mayo’s Covid-19 policies, and the MHRA fails to provide relief for not accommodating religious beliefs.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case. The appellate court found that the district court erred in finding that two plaintiffs did not exhaust their administrative remedies under Title VII. The court also found that all plaintiffs adequately pled a conflict between their Christian religious beliefs and Mayo Clinic’s Covid-19 policy. Furthermore, the appellate court disagreed with the district court's finding that the MHRA does not provide a cause of action for failure to accommodate religious beliefs. The appellate court held that the MHRA, being a remedial act, should be construed liberally to secure freedom from discrimination for persons in Minnesota, and thus provides protection against failures to accommodate religious beliefs. View "Ringhofer v. Mayo Clinic Ambulance" on Justia Law

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Cory Sessler, a religious preacher, and his group were preaching loudly at a commercial festival in Davenport, Iowa. The festival was held in a fenced-off area of the city's downtown streets and sidewalks, which were typically considered a "traditional public forum". However, during the festival, pedestrian access was controlled and vendors had rented spaces to sell goods. Sessler and his group, who were not paying vendors, were asked by police officers to relocate outside the fences due to complaints from nearby vendors. Sessler later sued the officers and the city, alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights.The district court denied Sessler's request for a preliminary injunction, a decision which was affirmed by the appellate court. After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, concluding that the officers did not violate Sessler's rights and that they were protected by qualified immunity. The court also granted summary judgment to the city on the official-policy claims.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed that qualified immunity applied to the claims against the officers. The court found that it was unclear whether the fenced-off city streets and sidewalks remained a "traditional public forum" or served as a less-protected "limited public forum" during the festival. The court also found that no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the officers' actions were anything but content neutral or that such actions were unreasonable. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Sessler v. City of Davenport, Iowa" on Justia Law

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The case involves a Bosnian family, Elvir Durakovic, his wife Sanela, and their daughter, who sought asylum in the United States. The family claimed they were persecuted in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to their Muslim faith and Durakovic's past work as a police informant. They alleged that the Board of Immigration Appeals violated their due process rights by denying them an extension of time to file their brief and lacked substantial evidence in determining their ineligibility for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).The immigration judge initially denied all relief, finding that while the family's testimony was credible and they had suffered harm, there was no connection between the harm suffered and their protected group. The judge concluded that Durakovic was targeted for his cooperation with the police, not because of his Muslim faith. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the immigration judge's decision, dismissing the family's appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the Board's decision and denied the family's petition. The court found no violation of due process rights as the family was able to submit their appellate brief on time. The court also found substantial evidence supporting the Board's decision that the family was not persecuted for their Muslim faith but rather Durakovic's past informant activities. The court further held that the family failed to show it was more likely than not they would be singled out for torture if they returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina, thus not qualifying for CAT relief. View "Durakovic v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The case involves Charles and Lisa Kass, parents of Brody Kass, who sued the Western Dubuque Community School District (the District) alleging that the District violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other statutes when it developed Brody’s individualized education program (IEP) for the 2020–21 school year. Brody has epilepsy, autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, severe vision impairment, and intellectual disabilities. Despite Brody having enough credits to graduate, his IEP Team determined he had unmet transitional needs and should remain in school. The District proposed that Brody would not enroll in general education courses in the traditional classroom setting. Instead, Brody would spend a half-day focusing on developing his reading and math skills through individualized and practical training. The Kasses objected to the proposed IEP and filed a complaint with the Iowa Department of Education.The administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled in favor of the District on all claims, concluding the District did not violate Brody’s right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the 2018–19 or 2019–20 school years. The ALJ also determined neither the draft IEP nor its development violated any procedural or substantive provisions of the IDEA. The Kasses brought this action in federal district court, alleging violations of the IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. The district court affirmed the ALJ’s decision on the IDEA claims and dismissed the other claims as subsumed under the IDEA claims.The United States Court of Appeals For the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that compensatory education may be available beyond a student’s twenty-first birthday. The court also concluded that the District complied with the IDEA’s procedural requirements in drafting the May 2020 IEP. The court found that the May 2020 IEP’s specific and measurable goals were reasonably calculated to enable Brody to progress in light of his circumstances, and thus met the IDEA’s requirements. View "Kass v. Western Dubuque Community School District" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around an incident involving Corey Fisherman, an inmate at Minnesota’s maximum-security prison, and David Launderville, a prison guard. Fisherman was being transferred to a more restrictive area after a shank was found in his cell. During the transfer process, Fisherman initially refused to undergo a strip search, leading to the intervention of the A-Team, a group of guards trained to handle noncompliant inmates, which included Launderville. After the search, Fisherman objected to kneeling and placing his hands through a small opening in his cell door. Once he complied, he was handcuffed. Fisherman alleges that Launderville kneed him six times, three times each in the face and body, while another guard kneeled on his legs. Launderville, however, claims he struck Fisherman twice in the leg because he was resisting.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. The magistrate judge identified a potential jury issue: whether Launderville struck a restrained inmate six times in the face and body or a partially unrestrained one just twice in the leg. The district court adopted the report and recommendation, leading to an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, denying Launderville's claim of qualified immunity. The court found that a reasonable jury could conclude that the repeated blows to Fisherman's head and body were "malicious and sadistic." The court also determined that the law was clearly established that repeatedly striking a fully restrained inmate violates the Eighth Amendment. Therefore, the court concluded that every reasonable official in Launderville's position would have understood that kneeing a restrained inmate several times in the face and body violated that right. View "Fisherman v. Launderville" on Justia Law