Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court vacated the interlocutory orders of the trial court concluding that Defendants' individual psychological assessments provided further support for the exclusion of the death penalty as to Defendants individually, holding that the constitutional issue in this case was not a "justiciable cause" before the circuit court and was not properly before the Supreme Court. At issue in these consolidated cases was whether evolving standards of decency require that the Eighth Amendment prohibit imposition of the death penalty as to a defendant under twenty-one years old at the time of his offense. Defendants argued before the circuit court that the current national consensus and scientific research supported raising the age for death-penalty eligible from age eighteen to twenty-one. At this stage in the proceedings, none of the defendants had been convicted or sentenced. The circuit court declared Kentucky's death penalty statute unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment insofar as it permits capital punishment for offenders under twenty-one years old at the time of their offense and that two of the defendants should not receive the death penalty. The Supreme Court vacated the interlocutory orders, holding that none of the defendants had standing to raise an Eighth Amendment challenge to the death penalty. View "Commonwealth v. Bredhold" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint alleging that Defendants knew that Mount Ida College was on the brink of insolvency but concealed this information, holding that Plaintiffs' claims were properly dismissed. Mount Ida, a higher education institution in Massachusetts, permanently closed after providing its students six weeks' notice that it was closing. Plaintiffs, current and prospective students, brought a putative class action against Mount Ida, its board of trustees, and five Mount Ida administrators (collectively, Defendants), alleging seven Massachusetts state law claims. The district court dismissed the complaint. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiffs' breach of fiduciary duty claim failed; (2) the district court did not err in dismissing Plaintiffs' violation of privacy claim; (3) no claims were stated for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, or fraud in the inducement; (4) Plaintiffs' allegations did not plausibly allege a breach of implied contract; and (5) the district court properly dismissed Plaintiffs' Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A claim. View "Squeri v. Mount Ida College" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, as the personal representative of her son, filed suit against a deputy, alleging that he violated her son's substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by stopping several bystanders from performing CPR on her son after he attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and held that the district court analyzed this case under the erroneous assumption that a deliberate indifference level of culpability was sufficient. Rather, the court held that the deputy's actions cannot be deemed to violate clearly established substantive due process rights, unless the jury finds that he acted with a level of culpability more than reckless interference with bystanders' attempted rescue efforts. In this case, the court could not conclude that the deputy's reckless or deliberately indifferent interference with bystanders' rescue attempts is sufficient to constitute a violation of plaintiff's clearly established substantive due process rights. The court held that the deputy's actions would rise to that necessary level should the jury find that the deputy acted for the purpose of causing harm to plaintiff's son. The court explained that, if the jury finds that the deputy intended to cause harm to plaintiff's son in the form of death or serious brain injury, and finds the other circumstances it assumed in this summary judgment posture, then plaintiff would have proved a violation of clearly established substantive due process rights. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Waldron v. Spicher" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of a petition for habeas corpus as time-barred. The panel held that the district court erred in its refusal to consider whether petitioner's claimed impairment was the cause of the untimeliness of the federal filing, despite his representation by state habeas counsel, and that the district court applied the wrong legal standard in evaluating whether state habeas counsel's misconduct supported equitable tolling. In this case, because the district court thought abandonment was required, it did not consider whether petitioner's state habeas counsel's misconduct qualified as an "extraordinary circumstance" under all the facts of this case. Accordingly, the panel remanded for the appropriate analysis. View "Milam v. Harrington" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Sampson pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The district court denied his motion to withdraw his plea and sentenced him to 15 years' imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court denied his subsequent 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, finding his claims waived or meritless. Sampson filed a 28 U.S.C. 2244 and 2255(h) motion seeking permission to file a second or successive 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. The Third Circuit denied the application, concluding that there was no new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable. Sampson cited the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Rehaif” holding that the government must prove that a defendant charged with violating section 922(g) knew both that he possessed a firearm and that he belonged to the relevant class of persons barred from possessing a firearm. Rehaif did not state a rule of constitutional law but only addressed what the statutes require for a conviction and the rule has not been made retroactive. Sampson was informed that the government was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sampson knowingly possessed a firearm and pled guilty. View "In re: Sampson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals ruling that Appellant, a judgment creditor, did not have standing to bring a private cause of action against a city to enforce the city's obligations to its employees, holding that the right to indemnification set forth in Ohio Rev. Code 2744.07(A)(2) may be asserted only by an employee of a political subdivision. Appellant filed a complaint in federal district court asserted civil rights violations against the City of Cleveland and two of its police detectives. The court granted summary judgment for Cleveland but found that the detectives had violated Appellant's constitutional rights. The court entered a judgment against the detectives in the amount of $13,210,000. Appellant later filed this action against the City asserting, inter alia, claims of statutory indemnification under section 2744.07(B). The common pleas court concluded that the statute required the City to indemnify the officers and pay the judgment. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a judgment creditor may not proceed directly against a political subdivision under section 2744.07(B). View "Ayers v. Cleveland" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Lunada Bay Boys, alleging that defendants, sometimes with the tacit approval of city officials who did nothing to stop them, engaged in what is known as "localism" – a practice of keeping outsiders away from the surf site through threats and violence. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of Defendant Thiel and Mowat's anti-SLAPP motions, holding that defendants failed to establish that the cause of action arose from protected activity. In this case, the causes of action against Thiel and Mowat are pursued on a theory of conspiracy – conspiracy being a doctrine of liability and not a cause of action itself. The court focused on the tortious acts in which defendants are alleged to have conspired – the harassment of non-locals, the trail-obstructing, the rock-throwing, the running over with surfboards, the punching, the theft, the vandalism, the sexual harassment, the threats, and the intimidation. The court concluded that none of the actions are protected speech or petitioning activity. View "Spencer v. Mowat" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the district court's decision granting summary judgment to the City of Somerville, Massachusetts and dismissing Plaintiff's claim that the City unlawfully forced him to retire as a police officer when it discovered that he had basically no vision in one eye, holding that Plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact precluding summary judgment. Plaintiff brought this lawsuit alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and Massachusetts discrimination law. In granting summary judgment to the City, the district court ruled in part that no reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff could perform high-speed pursuit driving, which the court concluded was an essential function of his job. The First Circuit vacated the summary judgment, holding that Plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact as to whether his monocular vision rendered him unqualified to perform the essential job functions of an incumbent officer in the City's police department. View "Melo v. City of Somerville" on Justia Law

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Cybernet filed suit against three state officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for directing or participating in the unlawful destruction of its property in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Cybernet's claims stemmed from the execution of search warrants at two video sweepstakes stores owned and operated by Cybernet. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that, taken as a whole, the items seized were within the parameters of the search warrant and any incidental damage that took place is not indicative of the kind of gratuitous damage that would exceed Fourth Amendment bounds. Therefore, the court held that there was no Fourth Amendment violation. Cybernet's motion to compel discovery failed for the same reason. View "Cybernet, LLC v. David" on Justia Law

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Allen was convicted of aggravated robbery and murder for the death of 84-year-old English, whom he knew through a prison ministry. Allen’s thumbprint was found on England’s glasses. Cigarette butts consistent with Allen’s brand and saliva were found in English’s trash. The coroner put English’s time of death between before six a.m. on January 25, 1991. A bus driver remembered picking up Allen near English’s home around six a.m. that day. Allen was sentenced to death. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed. State courts denied post-conviction relief. Allen claimed he was denied due process because a juror, Worthington, initially indicated that she was not sure that she could be impartial. Worthington stated her brother had been killed two years earlier, that the man charged with the murder was acquitted, and she did not feel justice was done. The judge asked whether she could reach a verdict based solely on the evidence; Worthington said she could. Allen’s counsel stated that witnesses from the coroner’s office who testified at her brother’s trial would testify at Allen’s trial. Worthington stated that she was a bit anxious but denied that her reaction might substantially impact her ability to concentrate on Allen’s case. The Ohio Supreme Court held that the finding that Worthington was unbiased was supported by her testimony and that the judge could legitimately validate her statements because he saw and heard her. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. The determination of whether to seat a juror is an exercise of discretion by the trial court. The Ohio Supreme Court did not unreasonably apply established Supreme Court precedent. View "Allen v. Mitchell" on Justia Law