Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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While imprisoned at Moshannon Valley Correctional Center ()MVCC), Davis, a Jamaican national, requested permission to marry a non-inmate U.S. citizen. MVCC apparently imposed requirements on those wishing to get married, beyond the requirements specified in the Federal Bureau of Prison regulations. Davis alleges that, despite having complied with all requirements, including MVCC’s additional requirements, Warden Wigen denied the request. MVCC almost exclusively houses foreign nationals who have been ordered to be deported or are facing immigration proceedings. Davis claims that federal defendants and officials of GEO, a company that operates private prisons on behalf of the government, conspired to ensure that no MVCC inmate can get married; marriage could complicate, and perhaps stop, removal and other immigration proceedings. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of section 1983 claims, reasoning that the complaint did not allege a purely private conspiracy, so a basic premise of the district court’s decision on the availability of relief was erroneous. The court affirmed the dismissal of the Bivens claim as asking for an unsupportable extension of Bivens liability; the Supreme Court has never recognized or been asked to recognize, a Bivens remedy for infringement of the right to marry. The court affirmed the dismissal of other 42 U.S.C. 1981, 1983, and 2000d claims. View "Davis v. Samuels" on Justia Law

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Scripps was convicted of wire fraud for transferring millions of dollars from the bank accounts of his mother and autistic uncle—heirs to the family’s publishing fortune—into his own account. During sentencing arguments, the court repeatedly indicated that Scripps could address the court without personally asking Scripps if he wished to speak. The court asked defense counsel (Dezsi) whether Scripps wished to address the court. Dezsi stated that Scripps did not. The judge later concluded that “[t]here’s nothing in this record from which I could fairly conclude there’s any remorse” and sentenced Scripps to 108 months’ imprisonment, the maximum period of incarceration within the Guidelines range. On appeal, with Scripps represented by Dezsi, the Third Circuit affirmed. Scripps filed an unsuccessful 28 U.S.C 2255 motion, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel, including by failing to argue that the judge erred by not personally inviting Scripps to speak during sentencing. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(i)(4)(A)(ii) requires a sentencing judge to “address the defendant personally in order to permit the defendant to speak or present any information to mitigate the sentence.” The Third Circuit reversed. The district court abused its discretion in failing to conduct an evidentiary hearing. It is possible that appellate counsel’s failure to raise Rule 32 error “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” The Supreme Court has held that a Rule 32 query, directed towards counsel, does not satisfy the requirement that the court personally address the defendant. View "United States v. Scripps" on Justia Law

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Doe, a student at USciences, a private Philadelphia college, had completed nearly all the coursework required to earn a degree in biomedical science when two female students accused him of violating USciences’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. After investigating, USciences concluded that Doe violated the Policy and expelled him. Doe filed suit, alleging that USciences was improperly motivated by sex when it investigated and enforced the Policy against him. Doe also asserted that USciences breached its contract with him by failing to provide him the fairness promised to students under the Policy. The district court dismissed Doe’s complaint. The Third Circuit reversed. Doe’s complaint contains plausible allegations that USciences, in its implementation and enforcement of the Policy, succumbed to pressure from the U.S. Department of Education and has “instituted solutions to sexual violence against women that abrogate the civil rights of men and treat men differently than women.” Doe claimed the school investigated him but chose not to investigate three female students who allegedly violated the Policy with respect to alcohol consumption and sex. The court analyzed the Policy’s promise of “fairness,” an undefined term, by examining federal guarantees and state case law. View "Doe v. University of the Sciences" on Justia Law

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Section 1513 of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act prevents the plaintiffs from making political contributions because they hold interests in businesses that have gaming licenses. They sued, claiming First Amendment and Equal Protection violations. The district court concluded that Section 1513 furthers a substantially important state interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption but ruled that the restriction is unconstitutional because the Commonwealth did not draw it closely enough. The court permanently enjoined the enforcement of Section 1513. The Third Circuit affirmed. Limitations on campaign expenditures are subject to strict scrutiny. The government must prove that the regulations promote a “compelling interest” and are the “least restrictive means to further the articulated interest.” Even applying an intermediate threshold, examining whether the statute is “closely drawn,” the Commonwealth does not meet its burden. The overwhelming majority of states with commercial, non-tribal casino gambling like Pennsylvania do not have any political contribution restrictions that apply specifically to gaming industry-related parties. The Commonwealth’s implicit appeal to “common sense” as a surrogate for evidence in support of its far-reaching regulatory scheme is noteworthy in light of the approach taken by most other similarly situated states. View "Deon v. Barasch" on Justia Law

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In November 2013, three men robbed a Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania bank. A bank employee, Kane, later admitted to assisting them. The next morning, the three were pulled over in North Carolina. Wilson stated they were driving to Georgia and admitted that they had a lot of cash in the car. The officer, suspecting that they were going to buy drugs in Atlanta, searched the car, found the stolen cash, turned it over to federal agents, then released the men. A week later, three men robbed a Phoenixville, Pennsylvania bank. The police got a tip from Howell, whom Wilson had tried to recruit for the heists. Howell provided Wilson's cell phone number. Police pulled his cell-site location data, which put him at the Bala Cynwyd bank right before the first robbery and showed five calls and 17 text messages to Kane that day. Howell identified Wilson and Moore from a video of the robbery. Kane and Foster took plea bargains. Wilson and Moore were tried for bank robbery, conspiracy, and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Moore was sentenced to 385 months’ imprisonment. Wilson received 519 months. The Third Circuit affirmed. Counsel’s stipulation that the banks were federally insured did not violate the Sixth Amendment, which does not categorically forbid stipulating to a crime’s jurisdictional element without the defendant’s consent or over the defendant’s objection. View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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Hardy entered the Correctional Institute in urgent need of medical care: he had previously had part of his leg amputated due to diabetes and had developed an infected open wound. He was taken immediately to the infirmary. He was not given the inmate handbook but was told it would be in his prison block. Hardy signed a form acknowledging receipt of the handbook. When Hardy arrived at his block, the handbook was not there. Hardy’s efforts to obtain the handbook or the Inmate Grievance System Policy manual issued to Pennsylvania Corrections staff were unavailing. Hardy did not know that exhausting that grievance process requires two levels of appeals. Hardy’s wound festered; he filed a grievance explaining that a medical provider refused to give him bandages and antibiotic ointment. That grievance was rejected because it was not presented in a courteous manner.” Hardy 's next grievance was rejected as lacking “information that there were any issues not addressed during [Hardy’s] sick call visit.” Hardy filed a grievance detailing the medical staff’s failure to properly treat his leg wound, including declining to follow a doctor’s recommendation to transfer him to a medical facility, and his fear that more of his leg would need to be amputated. The grievance coordinator read the rules to require separate grievances for mental and physical harms. Hardy asked his counselor how he should respond. His counselor told him to “fill out another one.” Unaware of the appeal requirement, Hardy submitted eight new grievances, which were rejected as time-barred. Hardy's last grievance; requesting transfer to a medical facility, was deemed “[f]rivolous.” More of Hardy’s leg was amputated. The Third Circuit reinstated Hardy’s civil rights claim. Under these circumstances, the counselor’s misrepresentation rendered the grievance process “unavailable” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). View "Hardy v. Shaikh" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Dooley was tried for five counts of attempted murder, five counts of aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of a crime, and reckless endangerment. A jury found him guilty but mentally ill (GBMI). Dooley filed grievances requesting the “D Stability Code” designation, which would have entitled him to greater mental health resources. A Department of Corrections (DOC) official told Dooley that after the GBMI verdict, the judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation and the report "did not support the GBMI designation and it was deleted from the final order.” The district court dismissed Dooley’s section 1983 complaint without leave to amend and declared that the dismissal constituted a “strike” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C.1915(g). The Third Circuit vacated. On these facts, Dooley’s contention that he retained the GBMI designation, at least to some extent, is not baseless. If, as the DOC contends, a jury found Dooley GBMI and a sentencing judge concluded that Dooley was not severely mentally disabled, that would not have eliminated his GBMI status. Under current DOC policy, it would have placed him in Category II of GBMI inmates, which would have required that he be placed on the D Roster and receive regular psychiatric evaluations. Even if the sentencing judge found him not severely mentally disabled, his GBMI verdict did not disappear or lose all significance. View "Dooley v. Wetzel" on Justia Law

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Ali, a non-practicing Muslim of Egyptian descent, was a non-tenured high school teacher. His supervisor received complaints about Ali’s instruction on the Holocaust. One English teacher reported that her students were questioning historical accounts of the Holocaust, opining that Hitler didn’t hate the Jews and that the death counts were exaggerated. Students’ written assignments confirmed those accounts. Ali also presented a lesson on the September 11 terrorist attacks, requiring students to read online articles translated by the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Ali posted links to the articles on a school-sponsored website: “U.S. Planned, Carried Out 9/11 Attacks—But Blames Others” and “U.S. Planning 9/11 Style Attack Using ISIS in Early 2015.” The MEMRI articles also contained links to other articles, such as “The Jews are Like a Cancer, Woe to the World if they Become Strong.” A reporter questioned Principal Lottman and Superintendent Zega. Lottman directed Ali to remove the MEMRI links from the school’s website. The following morning, Ali met with Zega and Lottman; his employment was terminated. Ali sued under New Jersey law and 42 U.S.C. 1981, claiming that Lottman referred to him as “Mufasa,” asked Ali if “they had computers in Egypt,” and remarked on his ethnicity during the meetings that resulted in Ali’s termination. He alleged discrimination, hostile work environment, free speech and academic freedom violations, and defamation. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Ali cannot show that his termination for teaching anti-Semitic views was a pretext for discrimination. View "Ali v. Woodbridge Township School District" on Justia Law

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On April 3, 2020, 20 immigration detainees filed a habeas petition (28 U.S.C. 2241), seeking immediate release, claiming that due to underlying health conditions, their continued detention during the COVID-19 pandemic puts them at imminent risk of death or serious injury. The district court found that the petitioners face irreparable harm and are likely to succeed on the merits, that the government would “face very little potential harm” from their immediate release, and that “the public interest strongly encourages Petitioners’ release.” Without waiting for a response from the government, the court granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) requiring the release. The government moved for reconsideration, submitting a declaration describing conditions at the facilities, with details of the petitioners’ criminal histories. The court denied reconsideration, stating that the government had failed to demonstrate a change in controlling law, provide previously unavailable evidence, or show a clear error of law or the need to prevent manifest injustice. The court extended the release period until the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted but attached conditions to the petitioners’ release. The government reports that 19 petitioners were released; none have been re-detained. The Third Circuit granted an immediate appeal, stating that the order cannot evade prompt appellate review simply by virtue of the label “TRO.” A purportedly non-appealable TRO that goes beyond preservation of the status quo and mandates affirmative relief may be immediately appealable under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(1). View "Hope v. Warden Pike County Correctional Facility" on Justia Law

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Stephens called 911 and reported that Gibbons hit her and had a gun in his truck. The police responded. Stephens obtained a temporary restraining order, prohibiting Gibbons from possessing firearms and from returning to Stephens’s house. The next day, Gibbons went to Stephens’s house. Stephens was talking on the phone; the friend called the police. Gibbons left Stephens’s house. Trooper Conza arrived. Stephens stated that Gibbons had waved a gun throughout their argument. Conza told Stephens to go to the police barracks and reported over the radio that Gibbons had brandished a firearm. Conza, with Troopers Bartelt and Korejko, visited the nearby home of Gibbons’s mother, James. James stated that she did not know where Gibbons was and that he might be off his schizophrenia medication. While driving to the barracks, Stephens saw Gibbons walking alongside the road and called 911. The Troopers responded. Bartelt parked his car and, exiting, observed that Gibbons was pointing a gun at his own head. Bartelt drew his weapon, stood behind his car door, and twice told Gibbons to drop his weapon. Gibbons did not comply. Bartelt shot Gibbons twice within seconds of stopping his car. Gibbons died that night. In James’ suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Third Circuit held that Bartelt is entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate Gibbons’s clearly established rights. Bartelt’s pre-standoff knowledge of Gibbons differs from that of officers involved in cited cases. Bartelt could reasonably conclude that Gibbons posed a threat to others. View "James v. New Jersey State Police" on Justia Law