Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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The case revolves around the death of Darius Caraway, who overdosed while serving a murder sentence at Whiteville Correctional Facility in Tennessee, operated by CoreCivic, Inc. Caraway's estate, represented by his mother, sued CoreCivic and three of its officials, alleging that they violated Caraway's Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from overdosing. The estate argued that CoreCivic deliberately understaffed the facility, leading to inadequate screening of prison guard applicants, smuggling of illegal drugs, and lack of supervision, which allowed fentanyl to proliferate at Whiteville. The estate claimed that the defendants knew about this proliferation but did nothing about it, leading to Caraway's death by overdose.The United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee dismissed the estate’s complaint, stating that the claims were conclusory allegations of unconstitutional conduct devoid of well-pled factual support. The estate appealed this dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the estate failed to adequately allege that Caraway faced an objectively excessive risk of harm from unfettered access to drugs inside Whiteville. The court also found that the estate failed to sufficiently allege that the defendants knew of a drug problem at Whiteville or that they didn't reasonably respond to the alleged risk. The court concluded that the estate failed to meet the requirements of a failure-to-protect claim under the Eighth Amendment. The court also dismissed the estate's procedural claims, stating that the district court properly treated the motion as one to dismiss and that the estate had forfeited its argument about the district court's failure to issue a scheduling order. View "Caraway v. CoreCivic of Tennessee, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, a taxi driver, Lufti Said Saalim, sued Walmart and several individuals, including deputy sheriffs, alleging violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and state law claims following an incident at a Walmart in Toledo, Ohio. Saalim claimed that while waiting for his passengers at a loading zone, he was approached by a Walmart employee and subsequently by Deputy Sheriff Jeffrey Bretzloff, who was working as a private security guard for Walmart. Saalim alleged that Bretzloff used excessive force during the encounter, including pulling him out of his cab and using a taser on him.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's decision that granted Bretzloff qualified immunity on Saalim's Fourth Amendment claim. The court held that Saalim plausibly alleged that Bretzloff's use of force was unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment. The court also found that this right was clearly established at the time of the incident.However, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Saalim's Fourteenth Amendment claim, agreeing that it was identical to his Fourth Amendment claim. The court also affirmed the dismissal of Saalim's state law claims of assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false arrest, and false imprisonment, as they were barred by the statute of limitations.The court remanded the case for further proceedings on Saalim's Fourth Amendment claim against Bretzloff; his § 1983 municipal liability claim against Sheriff Navarre; and his state law claims of negligent hiring, supervision, training, and retention and vicarious liability against the Walmart Defendants and McNett. View "Saalim v. Walmart, Inc." on Justia Law

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In the case under review, the appellant, Lafayette Deshawn Upshaw, was convicted of crimes associated with two separate incidents occurring on the same day: a gas station robbery and a home invasion. Following exhaustion of state court remedies, Upshaw sought habeas relief in federal court, upon which the district court granted relief on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and violation of the Batson rule.The ineffective assistance of counsel claim was based on trial counsel's failure to investigate potential alibi witnesses. The Batson rule violation claim was derived from the State’s use of peremptory challenges to strike six Black jurors. The Warden appealed the district court's decision, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling.The court found that the trial counsel's failure to investigate potential alibi witnesses and to request an adjournment to rectify the situation was unreasonable and prejudicial to Upshaw, constituting ineffective assistance of counsel. The court also found that the State's failure to provide race-neutral reasons for striking certain jurors, coupled with the trial court's failure to properly evaluate the State's justifications, constituted a violation of the Batson rule. The court held that even a single racially motivated peremptory strike requires relief. The court concluded that both of these errors entitled Upshaw to habeas relief. View "Upshaw v. Stephenson" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Thurman King sued Officers Zachary Abbate and Jason Bradley, the City of Rockford, the Rockford Public Safety Department, and other municipal officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law for incidents stemming from a 2019 traffic stop. The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the defendants but denied their motion for summary judgment on qualified and governmental immunity grounds for King’s federal and state tort claims against Abbate and Bradley. The court also denied their motion on King’s Monell claim against the City and Department. The defendants appealed this denial.The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed in part, the district court’s denial of qualified and governmental immunity to Abbate and Bradley. The court found that Abbate was entitled to qualified and governmental immunity for his takedown maneuver against King but not for the subsequent conduct on the ground. The court also dismissed the City and Department’s appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction.The court found a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Abbate and Bradley had probable cause to believe that King committed any underlying crimes, which defeated the officers' claims for summary judgment on King’s false arrest claim. The court affirmed the district court's denial of governmental immunity to Abbate and Bradley for their conduct on the ground but reversed the denial of governmental immunity to Abbate for his takedown maneuver. The court also affirmed the district court’s denial of governmental immunity to Abbate and Bradley for King’s false arrest claim. View "King v. City of Rockford, MI" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Jason Schwebke, brought a lawsuit against his employer, United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM), alleging disability discrimination under state and federal law. Schwebke, who is deaf, claimed that UWM failed to provide him with necessary accommodations and retaliated against him. In response, UWM participated in extensive discovery procedures for several months without invoking its right to arbitration as per the parties' employment agreement.Seven months into the case, UWM moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied this motion, reasoning that UWM had implicitly waived its right to compel arbitration through its conduct. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision.The appellate court applied the principle from the Supreme Court's decision in Morgan v. Sundance, Inc., which held that a party may waive its contractual right to arbitrate by participating in litigation. In applying this rule, the court found that UWM's actions—participating in extensive discovery, failing to raise arbitration in its defense, and not moving to compel arbitration until seven months into the case—were completely inconsistent with reliance on the arbitration agreement. The court therefore concluded that UWM had implicitly waived its right to arbitration. View "Schwebke v. United Wholesale Mortgage LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Kellie Farris, called 911 alleging that another woman had damaged her car. However, responding sheriff's deputies ended up arresting Farris instead. Farris alleged that during her arrest and subsequent transportation to jail, the deputies used excessive force. She also claimed that she was suicidal and that the deputies' actions were unreasonable given her state of mind.In response, the deputies argued that they had probable cause for Farris's arrest based on corroborated eyewitness testimony and physical evidence in Farris's car. They further contended that Farris's suicidal behavior justified the level of force used to restrain and control her.On reviewing the case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed with the lower court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The court found that the deputies had probable cause for Farris's arrest and that the force used was minimal and reasonably necessary given Farris's behavior. The court also rejected Farris's claim that the county had an unconstitutional policy of inadequately training its deputies, finding no evidence of deliberate indifference or a pattern of excessive force.The court noted that states may pass laws or prison policies that protect detainees' privacy or liberty more than the Constitution demands, but Farris failed to show how this was relevant to her Fourth Amendment claim.In conclusion, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, ruling in favor of the deputies and the county on all counts. View "Farris v. Oakland County" on Justia Law

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A medical resident, Dr. Jacquelyn Mares, was dismissed from Wright State University’s (WSU) obstetrics and gynecology residency program due to ongoing complaints and escalating disciplinary actions related to her unprofessional behavior. Following her dismissal, Mares was also terminated from her position at Miami Valley Hospital, where she was employed during her residency. As a result, Mares sued WSU, the hospital, its owner-operator Premier Health Partners, and several WSU employees, alleging violations of her procedural and substantive due process rights, as well as various contract-based state law claims. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants.In its ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that WSU did not violate Mares' procedural due process rights when it dismissed her from the residency program. The court found that WSU had followed its internal procedures closely and that Mares was afforded more than enough process. Also, the court held that WSU did not violate Mares' substantive due process rights. It determined that WSU's decision to dismiss her was not arbitrary or capricious, nor was it conscience-shocking. Finally, the court held that Miami Valley Hospital did not breach its contractual duties when it terminated Mares after her dismissal from WSU’s residency program. The court concluded that the hospital acted within the scope of the employment contract. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s decision to grant the defendants' summary judgment. View "Mares v. Miami Valley Hospital" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was presented with an appeal involving an Ohio hospital's mandate for its employees to get COVID-19 vaccines. The plaintiffs, a group of current and former employees who had requested religious exemptions from the mandate, sued the hospital for religious discrimination under Title VII and Ohio Revised Code § 4112 after the hospital initially rejected all religious exemptions. The district court dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, leading to this appeal.The appellate court affirmed the dismissal for the majority of plaintiffs, ruling they lacked standing to sue because they could not demonstrate sufficient injury. However, the court reversed the dismissal for two of the plaintiffs who had resigned after their religious exemption requests were denied but before the hospital changed its policy and granted all religious exemptions. The court held that these two plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that they were forced to resign, or "constructively discharged", and thus had standing to sue.Furthermore, the court found that these two plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that the hospital failed to provide reasonable accommodations for their religious practices and treated them differently from other employees. Consequently, they had stated plausible claims for relief under Title VII and Ohio Revised Code § 4112. The case was remanded for further proceedings concerning these two plaintiffs. View "Savel v. MetroHealth System" on Justia Law

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In this case, a prisoner, Kyle Brandon Richards, appealed a district court's decision to dismiss his civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The lawsuit was dismissed because Richards reportedly failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The plaintiff alleged sexual harassment, retaliation, and destruction of property by Resident Unit Manager Thomas Perttu. Specifically, Richards claimed that Perttu prevented him from filing grievances related to the alleged abuse by destroying or ripping them up.The defendant, Perttu, moved for summary judgment, arguing that Richards had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The district court denied the motion due to questions of fact. After an evidentiary hearing, a magistrate judge recommended that the district court find that Richards had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Richards appealed, alleging errors by the district court, bias by the magistrate judge, and the need for a free transcript of the evidentiary hearing.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit addressed whether the district court should have ordered an evidentiary hearing to decide the disputed questions of fact intertwined with the exhaustion issue. The Court of Appeals found that the Seventh Amendment required a jury trial when the resolution of the exhaustion issue under the PLRA would also resolve a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the merits of the plaintiff’s substantive case. Therefore, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Richards v. Perttu" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Ilya Kovalchuk, was driving his vehicle when off-duty police officer Matthew Ward began driving erratically behind him, ordered him to pull over, and held Kovalchuk at gunpoint without any justification. Kovalchuk filed a lawsuit against Ward and the City of Decherd, Tennessee, alleging that Ward violated his Fourth Amendment rights and that the City’s failure to investigate Ward’s background before hiring him led to Kovalchuk’s injuries. The district court dismissed the claims against the City, finding that Kovalchuk failed to adequately plead allegations supporting municipal liability.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court determined that in order to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege facts that, if accepted as true, are sufficient to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. The court found that Kovalchuk did not plausibly allege that the City of Decherd was deliberately indifferent to a known or obvious consequence of its decision to hire Ward. According to the court, Kovalchuk's allegations of "issues," "concerns about [Ward’s] demeanor and professionalism," and his "fail[ure] to complete [a] training program" were insufficient to establish a causal link between Ward's hiring and Kovalchuk's injury. The court further stated that a plaintiff cannot use discovery to bridge the gap between a deficient pleading and the possibility that a claim might survive upon further investigation. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Kovalchuk's claims against the City of Decherd. View "Kovalchuk v. City of Decherd" on Justia Law