Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Hewittel was convicted of armed robbery and related offenses based solely on the testimony of the victim. Three witnesses—one of them having little relationship with anyone in the case—were prepared to testify in support of Hewittel’s alibi that he was at home, almost a half-hour from the crime scene when the crime occurred. Hewittel’s attorney failed to call any of those witnesses at trial, not because of any strategic judgment but because Hewittel’s counsel thought the crime occurred between noon and 12:30 p.m. when Hewittel was at home alone. The victim twice testified (in counsel’s presence) that the crime occurred at 1:00 or 1:30 p.m.—by which time all three witnesses were present at Hewittel’s home. Counsel also believed that evidence of Hewittel’s prior convictions would have unavoidably come in at trial. In reality, that evidence almost certainly would have been excluded, if Hewittel’s counsel asked. Throughout the trial, Hewittel’s counsel repeatedly reminded the jury that his client had been convicted of armed robbery five times before.The trial judge twice ordered a new trial. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, based in part on the same mistake regarding the time of the offense. The federal district court granted a Hewittel writ of habeas corpus. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, calling the trial “an extreme malfunction in the criminal justice system.” View "Hewitt-El v. Burgess" on Justia Law

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In 2021, Tennessee enacted a statute that vaccination, masking, and quarantine decisions: “A local health entity or official, mayor, governmental entity, or school does not have the authority to quarantine a person or private business for purposes of COVID-19,” and “a school or a governing body of a school shall not require a person to wear a face mask while on school property” unless various conditions are met. Before seeking accommodation under its terms, eight minor students with disabilities filed suit, alleging that the legislation violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101m Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Supremacy Clause. The district court granted a preliminary injunction with respect to sections of the Act concerning face coverings for schools and provisions that prohibit local health officials and schools from making quarantining decisions as they relate to public schools.While acknowledging that the case is moot, the Sixth Circuit dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction. The plaintiffs’ argument that they are injured because the Act categorically violates the ADA amounts to an overly generalized grievance. They do not seek redress for a completed violation of a legal right; they seek only prospective relief to protect against future violations. Their injuries are not fairly traceable to any defendant, so no remedy applicable to those defendants (be it an injunction or a declaration) would redress the alleged injuries. View "R. K. v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Wellpath contracted with the jail to provide on-site medical staff and services. Wellpath assigned Dr. Cogswell, to work at the jail. While there, he sexually assaulted three inmates during their visits to the medical clinic. None of the women called out for help or otherwise indicated to the jail staff that anything untoward was occurring. One inmate, Bills recounted seeing an unidentified officer “glance through the little crack of the white curtain [and give] kind of like a head nod,” which Bills interpreted as the officer saying to Cogswell “I got your back.” Wellpath had a policy that if there was a sensitive exam going on, there would be a chaperone. During Cogswell’s tenure, Macomb Officer Horan reported to Wellpath’s nursing director and a Wellpath paramedic that Cogswell was potentially violating this policy by seeing patients unchaperoned, using a privacy screen. At Horan’s request, the nursing director “pop[ped] [her] head in” and saw “nothing out of the ordinary[ or] suspicious.”Days after their assaults, inmates reported the incidents to the jail. Wellpath learned of the reports the same day and immediately informed Cogswell not to report to work. Following an investigation, his employment was terminated. Cogswell was later convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. In the inmates’ suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants, citing the lack of evidence that the defendants knew of Cogswell’s assaults before they were reported. View "Buetenmiller v. Macomb County Jail" on Justia Law

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In 2019, Tennessee imposed new requirements for conducting voter-registration activities. The law required individuals to register with the state; complete state-administered “training”; file a “sworn statement” agreeing to obey Tennessee’s voter-registration laws; and return “completed” voter-registration forms within 10 days. Plaintiffs argued that the law significantly burdened their rights of speech and association, in violation of the First Amendment, and was unconstitutionally vague. The court stated that the defendants had offered “little, if any, evidence” in support of the Act’s requirements, “despite having had an opportunity” and held that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the merits, further noting “the vagueness about the scope and nature" of the Act. The court “ordered” the defendants “not to take any steps to implement” or otherwise enforce the challenged provisions. The defendants did not appeal. Seven months later, the state repealed the provisions.The district court approved a stipulation to dismiss the case without prejudice. Plaintiffs were awarded attorneys’ fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988, as the “prevailing party.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A preliminary injunction that, as a practical matter, concludes the litigation in the plaintiffs’ favor and that is not challenged on appeal, is, in this case, enduring enough to support prevailing-party status under section 1988. View "Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP v. Hargett" on Justia Law

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Reho, proceeding pro se, moved for an extension of time to apply for a certificate of appealability and to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal, 83 days after the district court entered judgment denying his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion. If Reho’s motion was a notice of appeal, it was three weeks late, 28 U.S.C. 2107(b)(1); Fed.R.App.P. 4(a)(1)(B)(i).The Sixth Circuit remanded. If Reho’s motion was a notice of appeal, it was time-barred. However, the motion, which repeatedly asks for an extension of time and offered an explanation for his delay, is better construed as a motion for an extension of time to file a notice of appeal, 28 U.S.C. 2107(c); Fed.R.App.P. 4(a)(5)(A); the district court may extend the time to file a notice of appeal based on “excusable neglect or good cause” if the petitioner moves for an extension within 30 days of the expiration of the time to file a notice of appeal. On remand, the district court must determine whether Reho has shown excusable neglect or good cause so as to merit an extension of time to file a notice of appeal. View "Reho v. United States" on Justia Law

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Officials switched Flint’s municipal water supply from the Detroit Water Department to the Flint River, reviving a dormant treatment plant. Flint residents immediately complained of water that looked, tasted, and smelled foul. There was evidence of E. coli contamination in the water, a localized outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, and a dangerously high lead poisoning rate in children. Without proper corrosion-control treatment, lead leached from aging pipes into the water. The plaintiffs, children who suffered lead poisoning, brain damage, and other injuries, sued “governmental defendants” and “engineering defendants.” Criminal charges were prosecuted at the same time.The appellants, Flint Emergency Managers, and the former Flint Director of Public Works sought a protective order in the civil litigation after their initial criminal charges were dismissed, asking the court to delay discovery pertaining to them until the criminal statute of limitations expired or to seal the discovery. The district court denied the motion. Each sat for a deposition; none invoked the Fifth Amendment. All were later indicted.The governmental defendants settled the civil case. The remaining civil defendants served subpoenas on appellants, who moved to quash, contending that they would invoke their privilege against self-incrimination. The court denied the motions, concluding that they had waived the privilege by testifying at their depositions. At trial, after each appellant invoked the Fifth Amendment, the court played videos of the depositions. After a mistrial, the court scheduled a retrial.The Sixth Circuit vacated. Appellants’ deposition waivers did not waive the privilege at trial because the waiver extended only through cross-examination at their depositions. View "Walters v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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The Cincinnati Citizen Complaint Authority investigates alleged police misconduct and usually interviews the relevant officers, complainants, and other witnesses. Officers are required to participate in such investigations. An officer may bring a union representative to the interview. The Authority video records the interviews. Sergeant Hils, the President of the Union, claims that Authority Investigator Ekeke, in recording an officer’s interview, selectively turned off the recording when the officer made exculpatory statements. Another time, he alleges, Ekeke “threatened” an officer before the interview. Hils tried to record an interview of Officer Knapp, whom he represented. The Authority instituted a policy, prohibiting officers or their representatives from recording the interviews.Hils and affected officers sued, alleging violations of their free-speech rights, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The union filed an unfair labor practices charge, which led to a partial settlement agreement. The city agreed to record all future interviews. The district court held that the settlement agreement mooted the selective-recording claims and that the First Amendment does not include a right to record a government investigation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The policy satisfies rational-basis review. The Authority has legitimate interests in maintaining order and fairness during its interviews by ensuring the ongoing interviews are not selectively broadcasted, by ensuring the integrity of the investigation, by protecting the subjects of the investigation from unfair and precipitous public criticism, and by trying to prevent other subjects of the investigation from hearing prior interviews. View "Hils v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Lamb was involved in an altercation with a WCI correctional office. Lamb alleges that other correctional officers retaliated by beating him and deploying pepper spray against him while he was handcuffed outside the presence of surveillance cameras. That night, Lamb was transferred to the Lebanon Correctional Institution (LeCI), where he was placed in restrictive housing. Lamb filed an internal informal complaint. WCI responded with a computer entry on the prison’s internal system, stating “[y]ou will be able to give your statement during the use of force investigation.” Lamb asserts that he did not receive this response for two years because he did not have access to the System while in restrictive housing. Lamb also alleges that he filed second and third informal complaints and unsuccessfully asked LeCl officers for forms to escalate his grievance. Lamb was transferred to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. Lamb allegedly sent an appeal letter to the Chief Inspector of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. There is no record of this letter.Lamb filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action. The district court dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). The Sixth Circuit reversed. While Lamb did not exhaust his administrative remedies properly, there remain material disputes of fact about whether prison officials rendered those administrative remedies unavailable. View "Lamb v. Kendrick" on Justia Law

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Oakland County took title to the plaintiffs’ homes under the Michigan General Property Tax Act, which (after a redemption period) required the state court to enter a foreclosure judgment that vested “absolute title” to the property in the governmental entity upon payment of the amount of the tax delinquency or “its fair market value.” The entity could then sell it at a public auction. No matter what the sale price, the property’s former owner had no right to any of the proceeds.In February 2018, under the Act, Oakland County foreclosed on Hall’s home to collect a tax delinquency of $22,642; the County then conveyed the property to the City of Southfield for that price. Southfield conveyed the property for $1 to a for-profit entity, the Southfield Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which later sold it for $308,000. Other plaintiffs had similar experiences.The plaintiffs brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, citing the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The “Michigan statute is not only self-dealing: it is also an aberration from some 300 years of decisions.” The government may not decline to recognize long-established interests in property as a device to take them. The County took the property without just compensation. View "Hall v. Meisner" on Justia Law

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Colerain Township prohibited the public from posting “inappropriate” or “offensive” comments on the police department’s Facebook page and prohibited the public from making “disrespectful” comments at its board of trustees meetings. Davis was active in criticizing the board and the department, through oral comments at board meetings and written comments on the Facebook page. Davis sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that the Township had violated the First Amendment. She alleged that the prohibitions discriminated against speech based on the speaker’s viewpoint and that the (alleged) removal of her video from the Facebook page amounted to retaliation. The parties agreed that the comments section of the Facebook page and the public-participation portion of board meetings were “limited public forums.” The district court rejected Davis’s challenges to the Facebook Rule, finding the categorical ban on posting videos viewpoint-neutral and reasonable. It upheld the Meeting Rule, finding that the board had not applied it to Davis in a discriminatory way. It rejected overbreadth and vagueness challenges.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Davis’s claims for lack of jurisdiction. Davis did not raise her free-speech claims in an Article III case or controversy. She failed to show that the Facebook rule has injured her in the past or is likely to do so in the future. The Township has repealed the meeting rule. View "Davis v. Colerain Township, Ohio" on Justia Law