Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the plaintiff, Kristin Cosby, claimed that the South Carolina Probation, Parole & Pardon Services (SCPPP) had discriminated against her based on her gender and retaliated against her for filing discrimination complaints in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cosby had previously worked for SCPPP, left, and then reapplied in 2012. When she was not rehired, Cosby filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which found in her favor. SCPPP rehired her, but Cosby alleged that she was subsequently subjected to gender discrimination and retaliation, including being denied a promotion, being investigated for inappropriate relationships with subordinates, and ultimately forced to resign.The court affirmed the district court's granting of summary judgment to SCPPP. The court held that Cosby had failed to establish her gender discrimination claim under both the disparate treatment and hostile work environment theories. For the disparate treatment claim, Cosby failed to identify a valid comparator — a similarly situated individual of a different gender who was treated more favorably. In her hostile work environment claim, Cosby's internal complaint did not constitute protected activity under Title VII because it did not oppose an unlawful employment practice. The court also found no causal connection between Cosby's 2012 EEOC charge and any adverse employment action taken by SCPPP in 2018, defeating her retaliation claim. View "Cosby v. South Carolina Probation, Parole & Pardon Services" on Justia Law

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A former medical student at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, Kieran Bhattacharya, sued multiple university officials, alleging they reprimanded, suspended, and expelled him in violation of the First Amendment because of his views expressed during a faculty panel on microaggressions. The officials asserted that they took these actions due to Bhattacharya’s confrontational and threatening behavior.The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia held that Bhattacharya could not provide evidence that the officials punished him due to his speech, siding with the officials. Bhattacharya appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Bhattacharya failed to present evidence sufficient to create a triable issue as to whether his speech caused the actions taken against him. The court found that the university's administrators appropriately exercised their authority to ensure the safety of the school’s faculty and staff. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of Bhattacharya's request to amend his complaint to add a conspiracy claim and the dismissal of his due process claim. View "Bhattacharya v. Murray" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Bikachi Amisi, a contract nurse, sued Officer Lakeyta Brooks and Officer Roy Townsend for violating her Fourth Amendment rights when she was mistakenly strip searched on her first day of work at Riverside Regional Jail. Amisi also brought several tort claims under Virginia state law. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing they were entitled to qualified immunity and good-faith immunity under Virginia law. They also argued that the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusivity provision barred Amisi's claims. The district court denied their motions and the defendants appealed.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. It held that both officers were not entitled to qualified immunity, a legal protection that shields officers who commit constitutional violations but who could reasonably believe their actions were lawful, because their actions were not reasonable and Amisi’s right to be free from unreasonable strip searches was clearly established. The court also held that the Virginia Workers' Compensation Act did not bar Amisi's state-law claims because her injuries did not arise out of her employment. The Court further held that Officer Townsend was not entitled to immunity under Virginia law as his belief that his conduct was lawful was not objectively reasonable. View "Amisi v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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In this case, a police officer, Michael Roane, shot and killed Tina Ray’s dog while attempting to serve an arrest warrant. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of Roane and remanded the case for trial. The crux of the case was the dispute over Roane's perception of the threat posed by the dog. Roane asserted that he believed the dog was unrestrained and posed an immediate threat to his safety. However, Ray and other witnesses testified that Roane had stopped his retreat and took a step towards the dog before shooting, suggesting that he knew the dog could no longer reach him and did not pose an imminent threat. The Court of Appeals held that this dispute over material facts was for a jury to resolve, not a court, and could not be decided prior to trial. The court also held that if a jury credits Ray's allegations and draws permissible inferences in her favor, it could infer that Roane's shooting of the dog was an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The court also rejected Roane's claim to qualified immunity. View "Ray v. Roane" on Justia Law

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The case involves Robert Mestanek, a citizen of the Czech Republic, who filed two Form I-130 petitions to establish his eligibility for lawful permanent residence in the United States based on his marriages to two different U.S. citizens. The first petition was filed by his then-wife Angel Simmons, and the second by his current wife Mary Mestanek. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied both petitions, the first on the grounds that Robert’s marriage to Angel was fraudulent, and the second based on the “marriage fraud bar” which prohibits approval of Form I-130 petitions for any noncitizen who has previously been found to have entered into a fraudulent marriage to circumvent immigration laws. The Mestaneks filed suit in federal district court seeking judicial review of USCIS’s denial of Mary’s Form I-130 petition. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of USCIS, and the Mestaneks appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision, agreeing that USCIS’s denial was neither arbitrary nor contrary to law. The court rejected all of the Mestaneks’ arguments, including their contention that USCIS applied the wrong legal standard for marriage fraud, and their assertion that the administrative record was incomplete and insufficient for judicial review. The court also found no due process violation by USCIS. View "Mestanek v. Jaddou" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around two developers, SAS Associates 1, LLC and Military 1121, LLC, who filed a complaint against the City Council of Chesapeake, Virginia, alleging that their equal protection rights were violated when their rezoning applications were denied by the council. The developers owned several parcels of land in Chesapeake and sought to combine them to create a 90-acre development involving housing units, commercial space, and a conservation district. Their plans required rezoning, which was denied by the Council citing community opposition and the ability to develop under existing zoning classifications. The developers filed a complaint alleging that their application was denied even though similar applications from other developers were approved, and the council's reasons for denial were irrational and arbitrary.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s decision to dismiss the developers' claim. The Court of Appeals found that the developers failed to demonstrate that they were treated differently from others who were similarly situated and that the unequal treatment was the result of discriminatory animus. Furthermore, the court highlighted that zoning decisions are primarily the responsibility of local governments and that the Developers did not provide any valid comparators to support their claim of discriminatory treatment. The court noted the lack of any evidence to infer discriminatory intent on the part of the City Council members and ruled that the Developers' disagreement with the Council's decision does not render the Council's judgment call pretextual. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing the complaint. View "SAS Associates v. City Council of Chesapeake" on Justia Law

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In this case, residents of the Waples Mobile Home Park in Fairfax, Virginia, challenged the park's policy that required all adult tenants to provide proof of their legal status in the United States in order to renew their leases. The plaintiffs, four Latino families, argued that this policy violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) because it disproportionately ousted Latinos from the park. The district court initially granted summary judgment in favor of the park, reasoning that the policy was necessary to avoid criminal liability under a federal statute prohibiting the harboring of undocumented immigrants.However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment. The court of appeals found that the district court had misunderstood the federal anti-harboring statute. The court of appeals noted that the statute requires more than simply entering into a lease agreement with an undocumented immigrant to be in violation. Rather, a person must knowingly or recklessly conceal, harbor, or shield undocumented immigrants from detection. The court of appeals concluded that the park's policy of verifying tenants' legal status did not serve the park's stated interest of avoiding liability under the anti-harboring statute. Consequently, the park had not met its burden at the second step of the three-step burden-shifting framework established for disparate-impact claims under the FHA. As such, the court of appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment for the park and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Reyes v. Waples Mobile Home Park Limited Partnership" on Justia Law

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In a case brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, residents of the Waples Mobile Home Park in Fairfax, Virginia, challenged the Park's policy requiring all adult tenants to provide proof of their legal status in the United States in order to renew their leases. The plaintiffs, noncitizen Latino families, argued that this policy disproportionately ousted Latinos from the Park and therefore violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The district court initially granted summary judgment in favor of the Park, reasoning that the policy was necessary to avoid criminal liability under a federal statute prohibiting the harboring of undocumented immigrants.On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The court determined that the anti-harboring statute did not plausibly put the Park at risk for prosecution simply for leasing to families with undocumented immigrants. Furthermore, the court found that the Park's policy did not serve a valid interest in any realistic way to avoid liability under the anti-harboring statute. Therefore, the Park did not meet its burden at the second step of the three-step burden-shifting framework established for disparate-impact claims in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. Given these findings, the Court of Appeals did not need to reach the third step to determine whether a less discriminatory alternative was available. As such, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment for the Park and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Reyes v. Waples Mobile Home Park Limited Partnership" on Justia Law

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The case concerned Everett Maynard, a police officer in West Virginia, who was convicted of deprivation of rights under color of law. This conviction was based on his use of excessive force against an arrestee, Robert Wilfong, which resulted in Wilfong being hospitalized with a broken nose and lacerations on his upper head. During the trial, witnesses were required to wear face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Maynard appealed his conviction, arguing that the mask requirement violated his Sixth Amendment rights, and that the district court erred in applying sentencing enhancements for obstruction of justice and for causing "serious bodily injury."The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence. It held that the mask requirement did not violate Maynard's Sixth Amendment right, as the protection against the spread of COVID-19 is an important public policy interest and the reliability of the witnesses’ testimony was assured. This was because the witnesses were under oath, cross-examined, and the jury could observe their demeanor. The court also found no error in the application of sentencing enhancements. The court agreed with the district court's finding that the injuries inflicted on Wilfong constituted "serious bodily injury," and affirmed the application of the obstruction of justice enhancement, finding that a defendant's perjurious testimony at trial is relevant to sentencing because it reflects on a defendant’s criminal history, willingness to obey the law, and general character. View "US v. Maynard" on Justia Law

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In this case, Alyssa Reid, a former faculty member at James Madison University (JMU) in Virginia, was accused of violating JMU’s Title IX policy against non-consensual relationships based on her past relationship with a graduate student. JMU and its officials investigated the accusation and held a hearing, leading to a decision that Reid violated the policy. Reid appealed the decision to JMU’s provost, who denied her appeal. Subsequently, Reid sued JMU and several officials, raising three due process claims under both 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Virginia Constitution, as well as a sex discrimination claim under Title IX.The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia held that Reid’s claims accrued when the dean made his decision, and thus they were barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Reid appealed this decision, arguing that her claims accrued not when the dean issued his decision, but when the provost denied her appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with Reid. The court found that Reid did not have a complete and present cause of action until JMU reached a final decision in her Title IX proceedings. The court determined that JMU did not make clear that the dean’s decision was its official position. Rather, JMU’s official position was made clear to Reid when the provost denied her appeal with a “final,” non-appealable decision. Therefore, Reid’s due process and Title IX claims were not barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations, and the court reversed the district court's dismissal of Reid’s claims and remanded for further proceedings. View "Reid v. James Madison University" on Justia Law