Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's sentence in connection with her Alford plea to four counts of child endangerment entered pursuant to a plea agreement, holding that the State breached the plea agreement with Defendant and that Defendant's original counsel was ineffective for failing to object. On appeal, Defendant argued that, pursuant to the plea agreement between the parties, the State was obligated to jointly recommend a deferred judgment. Instead, at the sentencing hearing, the State recommended, and the court imposed, a two-year suspended prison sentence without objection from defense counsel. The court of appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence. Thereafter, amendments to Iowa Code 814.6 and 814.7, enacted in Senate File 589, were signed into law and became effective. The State argued before the Supreme Court that Senate File 589 foreclosed relief in this appeal. The Supreme Court held (1) sections 814.6 and 814.7, as amended, do not apply to a direct appeal from a judgment and sentence entered before July 1, 2019; and (2) the State breached the plea agreement and Defendant's counsel was ineffective. The Supreme Court remanded the case for the State's specific performance of the plea agreement and resentencing by a different judge. View "State v. Macke" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of habeas relief, holding that a juror's external communication with her pastor regarding the death penalty was not harmless. Given how Federal Rule of Evidence 606 limits the presentation of evidence in these circumstances, the court held that it was especially important for it to view the record practically and holistically when considering the effect that a juror's misconduct reasonably may be taken to have had upon the jury's decision. In this case, the juror shared the pastor's counsel with the other jurors in an apparent effort to convince someone it was okay to vote for the death penalty. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Barnes v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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This consolidated appeal arose after Massage Envy’s stated reason for the termination of intervenor was its fear that she might contract and later develop Ebola due to her trip to Ghana. EEOC and intervenor appealed the entry of judgment for Massage Envy on their employment discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), as amended by the ADA Amendments of 2009. The Eleventh Circuit held that, even construing the statute broadly, the terms of the ADA protect persons who experience discrimination because of a current, past, or perceived disability—not because of a potential future disability that a healthy person may experience later. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's final judgment in favor of Massage Envy. View "Lowe v. STME, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) imposes a mandatory 15-year minimum sentence for a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 922(g) if the defendant has three or more previous convictions for “violent felon[ies]” or “serious drug offense[s],” 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1). Greer pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), plus 13 counts of armed bank robbery, section 2113, and using a firearm during a crime of violence, section 924(c)). The parties agreed that Greer was punishable under ACCA, given his five prior Ohio convictions for aggravated burglary. The court imposed a 272-month sentence. After the Supreme Court invalidated ACCA’s “residual clause,” and made that decision retroactive to cases on collateral review, Greer moved to vacate his sentence, 28 U.S.C. 2255. The district court denied Greer’s motion holding that his aggravated burglary convictions qualified under ACCA’s enumerated-offense clause. While Greer’s appeal was pending, the Sixth Circuit held that Tennessee’s aggravated burglary statute was not an ACCA “violent felony” because its definition of “habitation” was broader than the enumerated offense of generic burglary under 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii). The government conceded that Greer was not properly classified, given the similarity in language between the Tennessee statute and the Ohio statute, reserving the right to withdraw its concession after the Supreme Court decided the issue. The Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit’s decision concerning the Tennessee statute. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Greer’s petition for relief. View "Greer v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) denying Appellant's petition to proceed in forma pauperis in a civil action requesting judicial review, holding that Appellant failed sufficiently to raise a constitutional question. In his civil action, Appellant asserted that prison officials initiated and conducted disciplinary proceedings against him in violation of his constitutional rights. The circuit court concluded that Appellant failed to state a colorable cause of action and that ADC officials were entitled to sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's denial of Appellant's petition, holding that Appellant did not state sufficient allegations entitling him to judicial review of ADC's administrative procedures. View "Muntaqim v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Oregon Supreme Court was asked to decide the scope of the state civil rights laws and antiretaliation provision in ORS 659A.030(1)(f). The question before the Court was whether the retaliation prohibited by the statute included includes disparaging statements made by defendant, plaintiff’s former supervisor, to an admissions officer at plaintiff’s MBA program. Defendant offered two reasons why it would not be: (1) he was not a “person;” and (2) his statements to the admissions officer did not “otherwise discriminate against” plaintiff, within the meaning of those terms as used in the statute. The Supreme Court disagree with both. “Person,” the Court determined, included all “individuals,” and “otherwise discriminate against” was a broad term that encompasses defendant’s conduct. The Court therefore affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, which ruled in plaintiff’s favor and remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "McLaughlin v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action for damages, alleging that the city, the police department, and an officer violated plaintiff's constitutuional rights when he was detained and tased as part of an arrest. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the city, because plaintiff failed to provide the evidence to support his claims of municipal liability. In this case, plaintiff has not presented any evidence to suggest that the city has created, adopted, or supported any policy or custom that would demonstrate municipal liability. The court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the officer on the First Amendment claim, where, as here, speech and nonspeech elements combine in the same course of conduct, a sufficiently important government interest in regulating the nonspeech element can justify incidental limitations on First Amendment freedoms. In regard to the excessive force claims against the officer, the court held that the first and third tasings were objectively reasonable, but there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the second tasing amounted to excessive force. Accordingly, the court reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Jackson v. Stair" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of sexual assault in the first degree, holding that cumulative error resulting from prosecutorial misconduct deprived Defendant of a fair trial. On appeal, Defendant argued that the prosecutors committed numerous instances of misconduct during the state's case-in-chief and during the State's closing and rebuttal arguments. The Supreme Court remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) the prosecutor violated the district court's Wyo. R. Evid. 404(b) order; (2) both prosecutors engaged in improper victim impact argument unrelated to credibility; (3) the prosecutor repeatedly argued facts that were not in evidence; (4) the prosecutor intentionally used inflammatory language in closing argument; and (5) cumulative error deprived Defendant of a fair trial. View "Bogard v. State" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was terminated from his position as a substitute teacher, he filed suit against defendants under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging in relevant part procedural due process and stigma‐plus claims related to the termination of his employment. Plaintiff was terminated from his position after defendants instituted an investigation into sexual misconduct claims, but ultimately concluded that there were no grounds for an investigation. The Second Circuit held, with respect to plaintiff's due process claim, that he failed to establish a clearly established right to the meaningful opportunity to utilize his teaching license. The court also held that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that defendantsʹ conduct was sufficiently stigmatizing under clearly established law so as to give rise to a "stigma‐plusʺ claim. Therefore, the court held that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and the district court erred by denying summary judgment as to both claims. The court remanded with instruction. View "Mudge v. Zugalla" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, and other offenses, holding that the circuit court did not err by denying Defendant's motions to suppress and did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant's proposed jury instructions on lesser-included offenses. Prior to trial, Defendant filed three motions to suppress his statements to law enforcement and also moved to suppress evidence derivative of his arrest on the basis that the officer engaged in racial profiling as the basis for the traffic stop. The circuit court denied the motions to suppress. Defendant was subsequently convicted. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err in denying Defendant's motions to suppress; and (2) did not err in refusing to give Defendant's proposed lesser included offense instructions. View "State v. Willingham" on Justia Law