Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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In 2009, Augustin asked Jordan to “find somebody” who sold cocaine. “Hoss,” subsequently sold Augustin six ounces of cocaine for $5,100. The deal went bad and Augustin kidnapped Jordan at gunpoint. Augustin’s associate released Jordan. Augustin was arrested. From prison, Augustin tried to arrange for a hitman to kill Jordan. The district court ultimately sentenced Augustin to a 380-month term for seven counts of conviction plus a consecutive 120-month term under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) for using a firearm during a crime of violence. After an unsuccessful appeal, Augustin unsuccessfully moved to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255.Later, Augustin filed a second or successive section 2255 motion, arguing that his section 924(c) conviction was unlawful under the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Davis” decision. The district court agreed. Rather than resentencing Augustin, the court corrected his sentence by vacating the section 924(c) conviction and its consecutive 120-month sentence. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Augustin’s section 924(c) sentence played no role in the district court’s calculation of his other sentences. View "United States v. Augustin" on Justia Law

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In 1989, Middlebrooks of felony murder and aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to death. His conviction and death sentence were upheld on direct and collateral review. When Middlebrooks was sentenced to death, electrocution was Tennessee’s only method of execution. In 2000, Tennessee adopted lethal injection as the default method of execution. Under current law, electrocution is an option for execution only if an inmate sentenced to death before 1999 chooses execution by electrocution; lethal injection is declared unconstitutional; or the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) certifies that a necessary lethal-injection ingredient is unavailable. Middlebrooks will not choose execution by electrocution. In 2018, TDOC adopted a three-drug protocol of midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride as an alternative to pentobarbital.Middlebrooks and other death row challenged the constitutionality of the three-drug protocol. Tennessee then eliminated the pentobarbital protocol The state court dismissed their complaint. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of proving that pentobarbital was available as an alternative means of execution, although other states used pentobarbital in executions.The district court dismissed Middlebrooks’ 42 U.S.C. suit, citing res judicata. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Middlebrooks' facial challenge plausibly alleged new facts that allow a reasonable inference that pentobarbital is available to Tennessee for use in executions. Middlebrooks’s as-applied claim does not rest on any newly developed individual condition that would render impermissible the application of res judicata principles. View "Middlebrooks v. Parker" on Justia Law

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Canton’s 2006 Tree Ordinance prohibits the unpermitted removal, damage, or destruction of trees of specified sizes, with exceptions for agricultural operations, commercial nurseries, tree farms, and occupied lots smaller than two acres. If Canton issues a permit, the owner must replace removed trees on its own or someone else’s property or pay into Canton’s tree fund. For every landmark tree removed, an owner must replant three trees or pay $450. For every non-landmark tree removed as part of larger-scale tree removal, an owner must replant one tree or pay $300.In 2016, Canton approved the division of F.P.'s undeveloped property, noting the permitting requirement. The parcels were bisected by a county drainage ditch that was clogged with fallen trees and debris. The county refused to clear the ditch. F.P. contracted for the removal of the trees and debris and clearing other trees without a permit. Canton determined that F.P. had removed 14 landmark trees and 145 non-landmark trees. F.P. was required to either replant 187 trees or pay $47,898. F.P. filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for F.P. on its as-applied Fifth Amendment claim; although the ordinance, as applied to F.P., was not unconstitutional as a per se physical taking, it was unconstitutional as a regulatory taking and as an unconstitutional condition. Canton has not made the necessary individualized determination; the ordinance fails the “rough proportionality” required by Supreme Court precedent. View "F.P. Development, LLC. v. Charter Township of Canton" on Justia Law

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Before 2013, the Michigan Department of Corrections provided kosher meals with meat and dairy to Jewish prisoners and allowed charitable Jewish organizations to bring in traditional religious foods for Jewish holidays. In 2013, MDOC implemented a universal vegan meal for all prisoners who qualify for a religious diet and stopped allowing Jewish organizations to send food. Prisoners claiming that their religious convictions require them to eat a meal with kosher meat and one with dairy on the Jewish Sabbath and four Jewish holidays brought a class action on behalf of all Jewish MDOC prisoners under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc-1(a), arguing that the policy substantially burdens their sincere religious beliefs.The Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment in the prisoners’ favor. Because MDOC’s policy completely bars the asserted practice here—eating meat and dairy at mealtime—the prisoners’ failure to buy meat and dairy products at the commissary does not undermine the sincerity of their belief. Even if the prisoners spent every penny on beef sticks and dry milk, prison policy would still bar their religious exercise of eating those items as part of their meals. There was evidence suggesting that these prisoners do in fact sincerely believe that cheesecake is required on Shavuot. View "Ackerman v. Washington" on Justia Law

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A Xenia Police dispatcher contacted officer Reed about a double-parked vehicle with the person in the backseat allegedly “shooting up.” Reed observed a vehicle straddling the line between a standard parking spot and a handicap-only space; it was not displaying a handicap placard or license plate and was illegally parked. Prigmore opened the rear passenger door of the vehicle. Reed saw what appeared to be a handgun in the pocket of the door; he activated his body camera, unholstered his firearm, and secured the gun. With Prigmore out of the vehicle, Reed observed another firearm (a BB gun) on the seat where Prigmore had been sitting.Days later, federal agents arrested Prigmore for drug trafficking. The agents did not interview or Mirandize Prigmore immediately because he appeared to be “under the influence.” When he arrived at booking, Prigmore appeared coherent and stated—unprompted—“that gun was mine.” A warranted search of Prigmore’s residence uncovered a box of ammunition. Charged with possessing a firearm and ammunition as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), Prigmore had a “volatile relationship” with his attorneys, resulting in two competency hearings. The Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction and 120-month sentence, rejecting arguments that the district court erred in finding him competent to stand trial, should have granted his motions to suppress, and that his sentence was substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Prigmore" on Justia Law

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Marc was arrested and taken to the Madison County Detention Center (MCDC). Marc’s wife, Dawn, told the police that her husband had lung cancer and needed immediate medical attention. Marc’s medical records also stated that he had a blood clot in his leg. Dawn alleges that medical staff removed his pain medication patch, placed him on “inappropriate” psychoactive medications, and failed to provide him with his prescriptions. The medical contractor, Correct Care, refused to honor Marc’s scheduled chemotherapy appointments. Marc was transferred to Kentucky State Reformatory (KSR). He arrived with an elevated heart rate, difficulty breathing, and swelling in his leg. Staff withheld his prescribed medication, breathing treatments, and chemotherapy. Marc died less than a month after his arrest. His family was informed two days later. The autopsy revealed fluid accumulated in his lungs. Medical staff would have discovered this fluid if they had administered his prescribed breathing treatments.Dawn’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 Eighth Amendment complaint alleged supervisory liability against Erwin, Acting Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Corrections, claiming that Erwin “accepted” Marc’s transfer into KSR and “would have been made aware of [Marc’s] medical conditions” and had promulgated and maintained some of KSR’s allegedly unconstitutional policies. Dawn alleged that Erwin was “specifically aware that Correct Care” had a pattern of failing to provide inmates with adequate health care. The Sixth Circuit ordered the dismissal of the claims against Erwin. Dawn's complaint did not allege any “active unconstitutional behavior” by Erwin nor explain how his behavior proximately caused Marc’s injuries; Erwin is entitled to qualified immunity. View "Crawford v. Tilley" on Justia Law

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Western Michigan University, a public university, requires student-athletes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 but considers individual requests for medical and religious exemptions on a discretionary basis. Sixteen student-athletes applied for religious exemptions. The University ignored or denied their requests and barred them from participating in any team activities. The student-athletes sued, alleging that University officials violated their free exercise rights.The district court preliminarily enjoined the officials from enforcing the vaccine mandate against the plaintiffs. The Sixth Circuit declined to stay the injunction and proceedings in the district court pending appeal. The court called the issue “a close call” but concluded the free exercise challenge will likely succeed on appeal. The University’s vaccine mandate does not coerce a non-athlete to get vaccinated against her faith because she, as a non-athlete, cannot play intercollegiate sports either way. The mandate does penalize a student otherwise qualified for intercollegiate sports by withholding the benefit of playing on the team should she refuse to violate her sincerely held religious beliefs. The court applied strict scrutiny and reasoned that the University did not establish a compelling interest in denying an exception to the plaintiffs or that its conduct was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. View "Dahl v. Board of Trustees of Western Michigan University" on Justia Law

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Golf Village owns, maintains, and administers a 900-acre planned community in Powell, including one of 11 separate lots in a commercial development. A 2003 “Declaration of Private Roads” refers to the use of private roads by each commercial lot owner, its employees, customers, and invitees. In 2010, one lot was transferred to the city for a municipal park. In 2018, the City began using three streets without Golf Village’s permission, removed a curb, and built a construction entrance. Golf Village sued (42 U.S.C. 1983), claiming that Powell has taken its property without just compensation or due process.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Golf Village did not establish the loss of its right to exclude; it could terminate the alleged taking by building a gate at the private street's entrance to ensure that everyone who drives on those streets is an invited guest. Under Golf Village’s analysis, any time the government took an action that made a property owner’s property more popular, regardless of what actions the property owner could take, there would be a taking. Any increased traffic, which may lead to additional maintenance costs, is merely a government action outside the owner’s property that causes consequential damages within. There are no material allegations that Golf Village cannot use and enjoy the private roads to the extent that it did before the City’s actions. View "Golf Village North, LLC v. City of Powell" on Justia Law

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Devereux suffered a major stroke during or around the period of his custody by Knox County for misdemeanor first-time DUI. Corrections officers were in and out of the holding cell where he sat motionless for several hours but did not provide medical attention until it was too late to mitigate the stroke’s effects. Devereux brought federal civil rights claims and negligence claims under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (TGTLA), which waives sovereign immunity for certain claims, but not those arising from “civil rights.”The district court dismissed all of Devereux’s claims against the officers and his civil rights claims against Knox County. It declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the TGTLA claims and dismissed them without prejudice, allowing Devereux to refile in state court. Knox County argued that the court should have retained jurisdiction and determined that the TGTLA’s “civil rights exception” necessarily barred Devereux’s negligence claims. The Sixth Circuit vacated in part. The best approach is to give Tennessee courts a fresh opportunity to consider whether the TGTLA claims ivolve civil rights. The court vacated “to prevent any issue of collateral estoppel in state court based on this aspect of the district court’s reasoning. The court declined to certify the issue to the Tennesse Supreme Court. View "Devereux v. Knox County" on Justia Law

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Brawner was detained at the Scott County jail. On her written questionnaire, Brawner answered that she needed to continue her prescription medications, listing three controlled substances: suboxone, clonazepam, and gabapentin. She denied having a serious medical condition that required attention and denied having epileptic seizures. The officer noted that Brawner did not appear capable of understanding all the questions. There is conflicting evidence about whether Brawner’s intake form ever made it to the jail nurse. Days later, Brawner suffered multiple seizures and was taken to a hospital. A treating physician diagnosed her with epilepsy and prescribed Phenobarbital. The hospital was not told that Brawner had not been permitted to take her prescribed medications. At the jail doctor’s instruction, jail nurse Massengale discontinued Brawner’s Phenobarbital and instead administered Dilantin. Over the next several days, Brawner suffered multiple seizures before finally being taken to a hospital.Brawner sued, claiming she suffered permanent, debilitating injuries. The Sixth Circuit reinstated two of her claims. A reasonable jury could find that Brawner had an objectively serious medical need, and that Massengale was either subjectively aware of the risk to Brawner from suddenly discontinuing her medications, in keeping with County policy against distributing controlled substances at the jail and failed to respond reasonably to that risk, or that Massengale recklessly failed to act reasonably to mitigate that risk, by following a policy that allowed the jail to wait 14 days before conducting a medical examination. View "Brawner v. Scott County" on Justia Law