Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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In October 2018, Butts County Sheriff’s Office deputies placed signs in the front yards of the residences of all 57 registered sex offenders within the County, warning “STOP” and “NO TRICK-OR-TREAT AT THIS ADDRESS.” The Sheriff also posted an explanation of the signs on Facebook, in order to associate the signs with the registrants who lived on the properties. Before Halloween 2019, three registered sex offenders living in Butts County sued, seeking to enjoin the Sheriff from placing the signs again. Contrary to the Sheriff’s initial assertions, Georgia law does not forbid registered sex offenders from participating in Halloween. The district court rejected the suit on summary judgment.The Eleventh Circuit vacated. The Sheriff’s warning signs are compelled government speech, and their placement violates a homeowner’s First Amendment rights. The forced display of a government message on private property violates the “right to refrain from speaking at all,” and the signs are not a narrowly tailored means of serving a compelling government interest. The Sheriff’s interest in protecting children from sexual abuse is compelling but the Sheriff has not provided any evidence that the registrants actually pose a danger to trick-or-treating children or that these signs would serve to prevent such danger. View "McClendon v. Long" on Justia Law

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Georgia law places restrictions on which prospective candidates for elective office can appear on the general election ballot. The Libertarian Party of Georgia, prospective Libertarian candidates, and affiliated voters ask the court to hold that Georgia's ballot-access laws unconstitutionally burden their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and deny them equal protection.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court incorrectly held that the laws violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The court explained that, under the Anderson framework, the laws need only be justified by the State's important regulatory interests. In this case, the interests the Secretary asserts—in requiring some preliminary showing of a significant modicum of support before printing the name of a political organization's candidate on the ballot, in maintaining the orderly administration of elections, and in avoiding confusion, deception, and even frustration of the democratic process at the general election—are compelling. The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that Georgia's laws do not cause an equal protection violation. The court concluded that the Secretary's stated interest sufficiently justifies the distinction between candidates. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, vacated the district court's injunction, and remanded. View "Cowen v. Secretary of State of the State of Georgia" on Justia Law

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Booker is on Florida’s death row for first-degree murder. In 2012, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. In 2020, the Capital Habeas Unit of the Office of the Federal Public Defender (CHU) sought permission to represent Booker in state court to exhaust a “Brady” claim so that Booker could pursue the claim in a successive federal habeas petition. The Brady claim focused on the prosecution’s failure to disclose notes that allegedly could have been used to impeach an FBI hair expert. Booker said that he had learned through a FOIA request and a review by a qualified microscopist that there were inconsistencies between the expert’s trial testimony and his notes. The state objected to the appointment of CHU, noting that Booker had a state-law right to counsel through Florida’s Capital Collateral Regional Counsel North (CCRC-N); CCRC-N counsel was appointed to represent Booker in state court. Nonetheless, the district court appointed CHU under 18 U.S.C. 3599 to represent Booker in state courtThe Eleventh Circuit dismissed an appeal. Florida cannot establish standing based on a hypothetical conflict of interest that is not actual or imminent. State courts are empowered to reject appearances by CHU counsel, so the appointment cannot have inflicted an injury on Florida’s sovereignty. View "Booker v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the conditions of petitioner's supervision program render her "in custody" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 2241, such that the district court had jurisdiction to consider her habeas petition. The court also concluded that petitioner did not validly self-execute the 1995 deportation order when, shortly before it was entered, she voluntarily left the United States. Whether the court resolved 8 U.S.C. 1101(g)'s ambiguity through the principle of lenity or through Chevron deference, the court reached the same conclusion: Section 1101(g)'s two conditions operate successively. In this case, petitioner left the Untied States before she was ordered removed and thus she was not "deported or removed" within the meaning of Section 1101(g). Accordingly, the government may lawfully deport her under the still-operative 1995 order. View "Argueta Romero v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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Telcy, convicted of drug and firearms offenses, was sentenced to life imprisonment due to his armed career criminal enhancement. His 2010 section 2255 habeas petition, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel, was rejected. In 2013 and 2016, Telcy unsuccessfully sought permission to file second or successive section 2255 habeas petitions. In 2019, under the First Step Act, the district court. reduced Telcy’s sentence to a term of 235 months without holding a hearing or revisiting its previous factual findings.Telcy again sought permission to file a second or successive 2255 habeas petition, arguing that, because his guideline range was based on the ACCA enhancement and the district court considered this guideline range when it imposed a reduced sentence, he would suffer adverse collateral consequences if he were not allowed to challenge the enhancement in light of the Supreme Court’s Johnson decision. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his petition. For purposes of the bar on second or successive 2255 motions under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a First Step Act sentence reduction is not a “new judgment” that resets the clock, allowing a defendant to file a new, “first” habeas petition. When a district judge reduces a sentence under the First Step Act, the court is not authorized to conduct a plenary, de novo resentencing; the sentence reduction does not affect the validity or lawfulness of the underlying sentence. View "Telcy v. United States" on Justia Law

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In November 2021, the Secretary of Health and Human Services issued an interim rule that requires facilities that provide health care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to ensure that their staff, unless exempt for medical or religious reasons, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 86 Fed. Reg. 61,555. Under the rule, covered staff must request an exemption or receive their first dose of a two-dose vaccine or a single-dose vaccine by December 6, 2021. Florida unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction to bar the interim rule’s enforcement.The Eleventh Circuit upheld the denial of the motion, first deciding not to apply the mootness doctrine and to exercise jurisdiction despite another district court’s issuance of a nationwide injunction. Florida failed to demonstrate a substantial likelihood that it will prevail on the merits, that it will suffer irreparable injury absent an injunction, or that the balance of the equities favors an injunction. The Secretary has express statutory authority to require facilities voluntarily participating in the Medicare or Medicaid programs to meet health and safety standards to protect patients. The Secretary provided a detailed explanation for why there was good cause for dispensing with the notice-and-comment requirement. Ample evidence supports the Secretary’s determination that facility staff vaccination will provide important protection for patients. View "State of Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Davis, a former Congressman, mayoral candidate, candidate for governor of Alabama, and federal prosecutor, is Black. In 2016, he became Executive Director of LSA, a non-profit law firm serving low-income Alabamians. Davis experienced problems with some of his subordinates and colleagues; some complained to LSA’s Executive Committee. On August 18, 2017, as Davis left work, he was informed that the Executive Committee had voted to suspend him with pay pending an investigation of those complaints. A “Suspension Letter” cited spending decisions outside the approved budget, failure to follow LSA's hiring policies and procedures, creating new initiatives without Board approval, and creating a hostile work environment for some LSA employees. LSA posted a security guard in front of its building and hired Mowery, an Alabama political consultant, to handle public relations related to Davis’s suspension. Mowery had handled one of Davis’s failed political campaigns until their relationship soured; Mowery had worked for the campaign of Davis’s opponent in another race.Days later, Davis notified the Board of his resignation. He filed suit, alleging race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981 and under Title VII, and defamation. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Being placed on paid leave was not an adverse employment action and Davis did not raise a fact issue on his constructive discharge claim. LSA’s disclosures to Mowery did not constitute “publication”—an essential element of defamation. View "Davis v. Legal Services Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a police officer individually and the City of Miami Beach on plaintiff's claims of excessive force and state law battery. Plaintiff alleged that his arrest was effected and he was fully secured, not resisting, and not posing a threat when the officer gratuitously and forcibly struck him in his face.The court reviewed the evidence and videos in the light most favorable to plaintiff, and with the benefit of oral argument, concluding that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of defendants. In this case, a reasonable jury could find that the officer used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment when he entered the holding cell and forcibly struck plaintiff, who was then secure, not resisting, and not a safety threat to any officers. Furthermore, an objectively reasonable officer would have known at the time that it was clearly unlawful to gratuitously and forcibly strike an arrestee who was fully secured, not resisting, not posing a safety threat, and not attempting to flee. Likewise, summary judgment is not warranted on plaintiff's state law battery claims. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. City of Miami Beach" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was convicted of felony obstruction of a law enforcement officer in a Georgia state court, he brought suit against the individual defendants under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging excessive force under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as state law claims.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants on all federal claims and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the pendent state claims. In regard to plaintiff's excessive force claim against the civilian bystander that assisted the police in subduing plaintiff, the court held that a civilian's rendering of brief, ad hoc assistance to a law enforcement officer is not state action, absent proof of a conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of another. In regard to Deputy Thacker, the court applied the Graham factors and concluded that the deputy did not use excessive force where plaintiff suffered only de minimus injuries that were entirely consistent with a routine takedown. In regard to Deputy Brantley, the court again applied the Graham factors and concluded that the taser was not clearly excessive under the circumstances where two crimes were at issue by the time the taser was deployed: plaintiff had an outstanding warrant for his arrest, and he had already begun his active and loud obstruction of the arrest. In regard to Sheriff Johnson, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that he was disabled within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act. View "Charles v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In 1981, a Georgia federal district court concluded that Atlanta’s zoning regulations for adult businesses were constitutionally overbroad in their entirety and permanently enjoined their enforcement. Atlanta did not appeal. Cheshire operates an Atlanta adult novelty and video store, Tokyo Valentino, and sued, asserting that the definitions of “adult bookstore,” “adult motion picture theater,” “adult mini motion picture theater,” “adult cabaret,” and “adult entertainment establishment” in the current Atlanta City Code are facially overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.On remand, the district court granted Atlanta summary judgment. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not err in providing a narrowing construction of certain terms (the term “patron” in the definitions of “adult motion picture theater” and “adult mini-motion picture theater”) in the challenged provisions. The phrase “intended, designed, or arranged” suggests that the challenged provisions do not apply to isolated or intermittent uses of the property. Cheshire failed to show that any overbreadth in the provisions is “substantial” as required by Supreme Court precedent. The challenged provisions do not purport to ban the activities or conduct they define or describe but are part of a zoning scheme regulating where covered establishments can locate or operate. View "Cheshire Bridge Holdings, LLC, v. City of Atlanta," on Justia Law