Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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Police officers kicked down doors of a Camden, New Jersey residence. Hours earlier, Forrest had finished work for a contractor across the street. He went to the residence to speak with acquaintances and was inside, waiting for a cab. According to Forrest, the officers beat threatened him, then took Forrest to the hospital. In the police report, Officer Parry wrote that he had observed Forrest engaging in a hand-to-hand drug transaction, that Forrest initiated the physical altercation with officers, and that Forrest was in possession of 49 bags of a controlled substance. Forrest filed an Internal Affairs complaint in July 2008 but had no response. Forrest pleaded guilty to possession with intent and served 18 months. He was released when Parry admitted that he had falsified the police report. Three officers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deprive individuals of their civil rights, disrupting over 200 criminal cases. Forrest’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, 1985 was among 89 lawsuits against Camden. Forrest opted out of a global settlement. The district court unilaterally divided Forrest’s municipal liability claim into three theories: failure to supervise through Internal Affairs, failure to supervise, and failure to train. The court associated certain evidence to only the first theory, granted Camden summary judgment on the failure to supervise and train theories, excluded evidence that was material to the remaining theory, and “effectively awarded summary judgment on the state law negligent supervision claim.” The jury instructions confused the relevant law. The Third Circuit vacated. The artificial line, drawn by the district court, between what were ostensibly theories with largely overlapping evidence resulted in erroneous rulings as to what was relevant, and instructions as to what law the jury was to apply. View "Forrest v. Parry" on Justia Law

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In 1993, three men broke into the Connor home. Connor and Ezekiel returned during the break-in; Ezekiel was shot and killed. The intruders fled. Roach was arrested and charged with first-degree murder under Virgin Islands law and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution under federal law. He testified that he did not commit the crime and did not know a possible co-conspirator, Simon. Roach was convicted. Simon was later arrested. The Virgin Islands charged him with burglary, conspiracy, and first-degree premeditated murder. One week before trial, it moved to amend to charge felony-murder, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery. Simon’s attorney unsuccessfully objected. Two days before trial, the court again permitted an amendment. At trial, the government presented Roach as its key witness. Roach indicated that Simon orchestrated the burglary and shot Ezekiel. The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a stipulation to vacate and reduce Roach’s conviction to second-degree murder. The Third Circuit remanded the denial of Simon’s habeas petition. The Superior Court abused its discretion in declining to conduct an evidentiary hearing to address Simon’s claim that the government violated its Brady obligations by failing to disclose a prior agreement with Roach. The Appellate Division erred in dismissing Simon’s claim that his trial counsel was ineffective without remanding for an evidentiary hearing. Simon presented facts that, if true, tend to show his counsel had a conflict of interest by representing a co-conspirator at the time of his trial. View "Simon v. Government of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

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Santarelli was convicted of multiple crimes, including mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, and was sentenced to 70 months of imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed. Santarelli’s conviction became final on December 12, 2014. On November 30, 2015, Santarelli timely sought habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2255, alleging ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel in a combined 130 ways, In August 2016, Santarelli sought to amend her initial habeas petition to “include” in the “multiple grounds and constitutional violations . . . that specifically relate to enhancements, sentencing[,] and [S]entencing [G]uidelines.” The district court denied the motion as “time-barred” because the new allegations did not “relate back” to the initial habeas petition pursuant to FRCP 15(c). The court also denied Santarelli’s habeas petition on the merits. The Third Circuit denied a certificate of appealability with respect to the denial of Santarelli’s initial habeas petition on the merits but held that the allegations contained in Santarelli’s Motion to Amend “relate back” to the date of her initial habeas petition under Rule 15(c) and that her Subsequent Petition is not a “second or successive” habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. 2244 and 2255(h). The court remanded for the district court to consider the merits of her initial habeas petition as amended. View "United States v. Santarelli" on Justia Law

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E.D., a female immigration detainee at the Berks County Residential Center Immigration Family Center (BCRC), brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against employee Sharkey, alleging that he violated her Fourteenth Amendment right to bodily integrity after the two had sexual relations. Sharkey’s co-workers and BCRC supervisor allegedly were deliberately indifferent to the violation and Berks County allegedly failed to implement policies to prevent the violating conduct. The District Court denied the defendants’ motion for qualified immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding that immigration detainees are entitled to the same constitutional protections afforded by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as pre-trial detainees and E.D.’s rights were clearly established. There is enough evidence to support an inference that the defendants knew of the risk facing E.D., and that their failure to take additional steps to protect her, acting in their capacity as either a co-worker or supervisor, “could be viewed by a factfinder as the sort of deliberate indifference” to a detainee’s safety that the Constitution forbids. View "E. D. v. Sharkey" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Pennsylvania inmate Houser sued prison officials (42 U.S.C.1983), claiming deliberate indifference to his medical needs. Houser unsuccessfully requested appointed counsel. Discovery proceeded. The defendants moved for summary judgment in 2013. Houser filed opposition papers pro se but again moved to appoint counsel. The court denied the defendants’ motions, granted Houser’s motion, and conducted a search to secure pro bono counsel. After two attorneys declined the case, Reed Smith assumed Houser’s representation and devoted over 1,000 hours to the case before moving to withdraw based on fundamental disagreements with Houser on strategy, a breakdown in communication, and an irremediably broken attorney-client relationship. The court told Houser that it could not dictate strategy, and stated: “We’re not going to ask anyone else... do you want to ... represent yourself?” Houser never gave a straightforward answer. The court granted Reed Smith’s motion. Houser unsuccessfully requested that the court put him back on the “appointment of counsel” list and stay the case. Noting that the case was five years old, the court pushed the trial to December 2015. In October 2015, Houser unsuccessfully moved to appoint counsel. A jury returned a verdict for the defendants. Houser unsuccessfully moved for a new trial based on the denial of his motion to appoint counsel. Houser moved to reconsider, arguing his claims had merit and involved “medical issues that were complex including requiring an expert” and the “conflicting testimony of multiple witness[es].” The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion; denying Houser new counsel was not an abuse of discretion. View "Houser v. Folino" on Justia Law

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The Passaic County Sheriff’s Office hired Tundo and Gilgorri as corrections officers on a trial basis. They were often absent and were frequently reprimanded for insubordination and incompetence. They were fired as part of a mass layoff before they had completed their 12-month trial period. Months later, Passaic County needed more employees. The Civil Service Commission created lists of former officers whom it might rehire, including Tundo and Gilgorri. Passaic County tried to remove the two from the lists based on their work history. The Commission blocked this attempt, restored them to the eligible list, and ordered Passaic County to place them in “a new 12-month working test period.” Passaic County then offered to rehire the two and asked them to complete a re-employment application, which asked them to agree not to sue Passaic County. They refused to complete the application. The Commission then removed them from the list. The Third Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of their 42 U.S.C. 1983 due process claims. The Commission has many ways to take anyone off its lists and did not promise that the two would stay on the lists nor constrain its discretion to remove them. Because there was no mutually explicit understanding that they would stay on the lists, the men had no protected property interest in doing so. View "Tundo v. County of Passaic" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Philadelphia police found drugs and a gun in an apartment that they thought was Randall’s. They arrested Randall. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office charged him but dropped all the charges in August 2015. When he was arrested in Philadelphia, he was already on probation in New Jersey and Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Hearing about his arrest, both jurisdictions issued detainers for him. After dropping the charges, Pennsylvania released Randall into New Jersey’s custody. He remained in custody, first in New Jersey and then in Delaware County, until December 24, 2015. On December 26, 2017, Randall sued the Philadelphia Law Department and the police officers who had arrested him under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed Randall’s claims as time-barred. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting Randall’s “continuing-violation” argument. Section 1983 borrows the underlying state’s statute of limitations for personal-injury torts. In Pennsylvania, that period is two years. When a Section 1983 claim accrues is a matter of federal law, under which a malicious-prosecution claim accrues when criminal proceedings end in the plaintiff’s favor. For Randall, that happened in August 2015, so he had until August 2017 to file his suit unless something tolled the statute of limitations. The continuing-violation doctrine focuses on continuing acts, not continuing injury. No Philadelphia defendant detained Randall beyond August 2015. View "Randall v. Philadelphia Law Department" on Justia Law

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Piasecki was convicted of 15 counts of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to three years’ probation. Pennsylvania sex offenders were then subject to “Megan’s Law” registration requirements. While Piasecki pursued appellate relief, that law expired and was replaced with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) to “bring the Commonwealth into substantial compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006,” which applied retroactively to Megan’s Law registrants. SORNA had increased registration and reporting requirements. Among other restrictions, Piasecki was required to register in-person every three months for the rest of his life and to appear, in-person, at a registration site if he were to change his name, address, employment, student status, phone number, or vehicle ownership. As a Tier III SORNA registrant, he could petition a court to exempt him from the requirements after 25 years. Piasecki was only subject to the SORNA restrictions when he filed his 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas petition, challenging his conviction. His probation and conditions of supervision had expired. Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit held that Piasecki was “in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State Court,” as required for jurisdiction. SORNA’s registration requirements were sufficiently restrictive to constitute custody and were imposed pursuant to the state court judgment of sentence. View "Piasecki v. Court of Common Pleas, Bucks County" on Justia Law

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The 2011 Virgin Islands Economic Stability Act (VIESA) sought to reduce government spending by reducing payroll while continuing to provide necessary public services. VIESA offered some of the government’s most expensive employees (with at least 30 years of credited service) $10,000 to chose to retire within three months. Those declining to retire had to contribute an additional 3% of their salary to the Government Employees Retirement System starting at the end of those three months. Two members of the System with over 30 years of credited service who chose not to retire claimed that the 3% charge violated federal and territorial laws protecting workers over the age of 40 from discrimination based on their age. The Third Circuit found the provision valid because it did not target employees because of their age under the Supreme Court’s 1993 decision in Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggin; its focus on credited years of service entitles the government to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)’s reasonable-factor-other-than-age defense. The Third Circuit concluded that the Virgin Islands Supreme Court would deem the provision consistent with existing territorial anti-discrimination statutes. View "Bryan v. Government of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

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When McKinney was granted tenure in 1974, his employment was governed by University Policies that provide that tenured faculty can be terminated only “for cause” and provide yearly salary raises for faculty who perform satisfactorily or meritoriously. Any salary increase for “maintenance” or merit becomes part of the base contract salary. No explicit provisions govern salary decreases; the Policy provides procedures to address complaints about salary decisions and requires that a faculty member “judged unsatisfactory” be informed of specific reasons related to teaching ability, achievements in research and scholarship, and service. In McKinney’s 2010 and 2011 reviews, Dean Keeler expressed concern about declining enrollment in McKinney’s classes, poor student evaluations, and a stagnant research agenda, but granted standard 2.0% and 1.5% maintenance increases. In 2012, McKinney ranked last among the Grad School faculty and was rated “less than satisfactory.” McKinney’s salary was increased by 0.5%. He was told that if his performance did not improve, he could receive a salary reduction. McKinney again ranked last in the 2013 review. Dean Keeler reduced his salary by 20%. McKinney sued, alleging that the University unconstitutionally deprived him of his property interest in his base salary. Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit concluded that he had no such property interest. The Policy language is not sufficient to give McKinney a “legitimate expectation” in the continuance of his base salary. The appeal provisions and the three-tiered rating structure indicate that salaries are subject to “possible annual adjustments,” and that McKinney had no more than a “unilateral expectation of receiving [his] full salary,” View "McKinney v. University of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law