Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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Plaintiff filed suit against his employer, the Sheriff of Broward County, under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the Sheriff retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights by suspending him with pay pending an investigation into his conduct.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), because plaintiff failed to allege that he suffered an adverse employment action. In this case, plaintiff filed suit against the Sheriff only five days after he was suspended with pay in accordance with the governing collective bargaining agreement. The court agreed with the district court that a five-day suspension with pay does not constitute adverse action for purposes of a First Amendment retaliation claim. The court explained that such a temporally-limited suspension pending an investigation into alleged misconduct would not deter a reasonable person from exercising his First Amendment rights. View "Bell v. Sheriff of Broward County" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Coral Ridge's complaint alleging a defamation claim against SPLC and a religious discrimination claim against Amazon. Coral Ridge alleged that SPLC is an Alabama-based nonprofit organization that publishes a "Hate Map,"—a list of entities the organization has characterized as hate groups—on its website. After Coral Ridge applied to be an eligible charity for the AmazonSmile program, Amazon denied its application because Coral Ridge is listed on the Hate Map as being anti-LGBTQ.The court found that Coral Ridge has not adequately alleged a state law defamation claim and that its proposed interpretation of Title II would violate the First Amendment. The court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed the defamation claim on the ground that Coral Ridge did not sufficiently plead actual malice. The court explained that Coral Ridge did not sufficiently plead facts that give rise to a reasonable inference that SPLC actually entertained serious doubts as to the veracity of its hate group definition and that definition's application to Coral Ridge, or that SPLC was highly aware that the definition and its application was probably false. The court also concluded that the district court correctly found that Coral Ridge's interpretation of Title II would violate the First Amendment by essentially forcing Amazon to donate to organizations it does not support. In this case, Coral Ridge's proposed interpretation of Title II would infringe on Amazon's First Amendment right to engage in expressive conduct and would not further Title II's purpose. View "Coral Ridge Ministries Media, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254 brought by petitioner, alleging that the district court erred when it held that he was not prejudiced by his attorney's failure to object to the introduction of hearsay evidence and it erred when it denied his Confrontation Clause claim.The court agreed with the district court that the conclusion of the Rule 3.850 state court that petitioner could not show prejudice under the Strickland standard was neither an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent nor an unreasonable determination of the facts. Undertaking the section 2254(d)(2) inquiry first, and applying that deferential standard of review, the court cannot conclude that the Rule 3.850 court's statement that the witness identified petitioner as the perpetrator was an unreasonable determination of fact in light of the evidence presented in state court. In regard to the Confrontation Clause claim, the court could not conclude that petitioner has met his burden under Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103, 135 S. Ct. 770, 786-87 (2011), to show that there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief. Finally, the court rejected claims of cumulative error, because the court could not conclude that petitioner can satisfy his burden of avoiding the preemptive effect of the state court decisions and of establishing prejudice. View "Tarleton v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit held that sexual harassment—both hostile housing environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment—is actionable under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, provided the plaintiff demonstrates that she would not have been harassed but for her sex.In this case, plaintiff filed suit against the property manager and the property's owner, alleging sexual harassment claims under the Act and state law. The district court found no guidance from the court on this question and therefore dismissed the complaint based on the ground that plaintiff's claims were not actionable under the Act. The court vacated the district court's order dismissing plaintiff's complaint and remanded for reconsideration. View "Fox v. Gaines" on Justia Law

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Spencer sued Sheriff Benison under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Benison violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by ordering him to remove cones and vehicles that were preventing Spencer’s neighbor from completing construction that Spencer claimed encroached on his property. The district court found that Benison acted outside the scope of his discretionary authority and was not entitled to qualified immunity on Spencer’s individual capacity claims and that Spencer had presented adequate evidence of a constitutional violation to sustain his section 1983 claims against Benison in both his individual and official capacities.The Eleventh Circuit reversed. Benison was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when he ordered Spencer to remove the cones and vehicles. It was a legitimate job-related function for Benison, an Alabama sheriff, to seek the removal of cones and vehicles for the purposes of achieving public safety, given that traffic was backing up and customers were unable to access a business. Benison properly carried out his duties by verbally commanding Spencer to remove the cones and vehicles and by threatening arrest should he fail to comply. Spencer failed to present adequate evidence of a constitutional violation; he did not demonstrate that Benison’s actions caused him to be deprived of a constitutionally-protected property interest. View "Spencer v. Benison" on Justia Law

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, 134 Stat. 281 (2020) (CARES Act), among other things, imposed a 120-day moratorium on evictions for rental properties receiving federal assistance. The CDC then issued a temporary eviction moratorium on September 4, 2020, that suspended the execution of eviction orders for nonpayment of rent. Before the CDC's order was originally set to expire on December 31, 2020, Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which extended the CDC's order through January 31, 2021. The CDC's order was then extended again through March 31, 2021, and again through June 30, 2021, and again through July 31, 2021.Plaintiffs, several landlords seeking to evict their tenants for nonpayment of rent and a trade association for owners and managers of rental housing, filed suit alleging that the CDC's orders exceeds its statutory and regulatory authority, is arbitrary and capricious, and violates their constitutional right to access the courts.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction based on plaintiffs' failure to show an irreparable injury. The court declined to find that the CDC's order is unconstitutional, and failed to see how the temporary inability to reclaim rental properties constitutes an irreparable harm. Furthermore, the court explained that, without any information about a tenant’s financial or employment picture, the court has no way to evaluate whether she will ever be able to repay her landlord; to decide otherwise based solely on the CDC declaration would be to conclude that no one who signed the declaration is likely to repay their debts after the moratorium expires. Given the lack of evidence and the availability of substantial collection tools, the court could not conclude that the landlords have met their burden of showing that an irreparable injury is likely. View "Brown v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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After the district court entered a preliminary injunction requiring Fulton County Jail officials to provide regular out-of-cell time to female inmates with psychiatric disabilities and to improve the sanitary conditions in their cells, the officials appealed. The officials argue that the district court abused its discretion in granting plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction because neither the traditional requirements for a preliminary injunction nor the Prison Litigation Reform Act's (PLRA) additional need-narrowness-intrusiveness requirements were satisfied. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the preliminary injunction expired by operation of law under the terms of the PLRA and thus dismissed the appeal as moot and vacated the preliminary injunction order. View "Georgia Advocacy Office v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated its previous opinion and substituted it with this opinion. This revised opinion does not reach the Title IX question and reaches only one ground under the Equal Protection Clause instead of the three Equal Protection rulings the court made in the August 7 opinion.Plaintiff, a recent high school graduate and a transgender young man, filed suit against the school board through his next friend and mother, alleging violations of his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.The court affirmed the district court's entry of judgment in favor of plaintiff on the equal protection claim under the heightened intermediate scrutiny standard, concluding that the school district's policy barring plaintiff from the boys' restroom violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection, because the school district assigns students to sex-specific bathrooms in an arbitrary manner. In this case, the school board has not met its "demanding" constitutional burden by showing a substantial relationship between its policy for excluding transgender students from certain restrooms and student privacy. The court affirmed the district court's award of damages because plaintiff undoubtedly suffered harm as a result of this violation. Because plaintiff prevails on his equal protection claim, which fully entitles him to the relief granted by the district court, the court declined to reach his Title IX claim. View "Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County, Florida" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the hotel alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. 1981, which prohibits racial discrimination in contracting. Plaintiff claimed that one of the hotel's employees falsely accused him of engaging in inappropriate behavior at the pool, that the employee did so because she harbored animus against Arabs, and that employee's accusation led to his eviction.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of the complaint, concluding that, at this preliminary stage, plaintiff's allegations plausibly allege a circumstantial case of racial discrimination. The court explained that plaintiff adequately alleged that he was treated differently from comparators who were similarly situated to him in all material respects. In this case, he and his fiancée were hotel guests, sat by the pool, and behaved entirely appropriately; other, non-Arab hotel guests sat by the pool and acted similarly; and the towel attendant singled out him and his fiancée, fabricated a story about them, and caused them to be evicted. Furthermore, plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that the towel attendant intended to cause him a contractual injury based on the attendant's racial animus. The court noted that a cat's-paw theory of liability under section 1981 is not inconsistent with the stricter causal standard. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Ziyadat v. Diamondrock Hospitality Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a yacht club member, filed suit against the club for discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Florida Civil Rights Act after the club refused plaintiff's request to bring her service dog into the clubhouse and expelled her from its membership.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the club on plaintiff's ADA claims because the record does not establish that the club is a "private club" exempt from the ADA or the Florida Civil Rights Act. The court explained that the record contains substantial evidence that the club fails to ensure the seclusion of its members on much of its property and often fails to do so even in its clubhouse. However, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's retaliation claim because plaintiff failed to rebut the club's nondiscriminatory justifications for expelling her. In this case, plaintiff failed to rebut the club's liveaboard justification for her suspension and expulsion. View "Ring v. Boca Ciega Yacht Club Inc." on Justia Law