Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an action alleging that the FAA wrongfully terminated plaintiff. Plaintiff filed her action in the district court within the 30-day statutory limitations period, but she mistakenly named only the FAA and her former supervisor as defendants. Because plaintiff's action alleged claims of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, she should have named the head of the executive agency to which the FAA belonged, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. After the statute of limitations had expired, the FAA moved to dismiss and Secretary Chao then filed her own motion to dismiss. The Ninth Circuit held that plaintiff was entitled to relation back under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(2). The panel held that the district court adopted an overly technical interpretation of the term "process" as used in Rule 15(c)(2). Rather, the panel held that the notice-giving function of "process" under Rule 15(c)(2) was accomplished whether or not the summons accompanying the complaint was signed by the clerk of court. Furthermore, the requirements for relation back were met here where both the United States Attorney and the Attorney General were sufficiently notified of the action within Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m)'s 90-day period. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Silbaugh v. Chao" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court convicting Appellant of first-degree felony murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, and a firearm enhancement and sentencing Appellant as a habitual offender to life imprisonment, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying Appellant's motions for directed verdict or his motion to suppress and did not sentence him illegally. Specifically, the Court held (1) contrary to Appellant's argument on appeal, substantial evidence supported the first-degree murder conviction and one of the aggravated robbery convictions; (2) the circuit court did not err by sentencing Appellant as a habitual offender to a term of life imprisonment because he had two prior convictions for crimes that he had committed as a minor and for which he was tried as an adult; and (3) the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress his taped statement to police during which he requested an attorney. View "Price v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree rape of a child under age thirteen, holding that the circuit court erred in admitting statements from an unavailable witness, but the error was harmless. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial judge's order admitting, as other acts evidence, statements from an unavailable witness violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the statements at issue were testimonial and of a constitutional magnitude; (2) the circuit court's decision to admit the statements violated Defendant's Sixth Amendment right of confrontation; but (3) the affect of the circuit court's error in admitting the statements at trial was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Richmond" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that Allergan was not entitled to summary adjudication of plaintiff's first cause of action for disability discrimination. The court held that plaintiff provided direct evidence of disability discrimination where Allergan terminated him because the temporary corporate benefits staffer mistakenly believed he was totally disabled and unable to work. The court held that Allergan was not entitled to summary adjudication of plaintiff's fourth cause of action for retaliation where plaintiff's emails would permit a reasonable trier of fact to find that he sufficiently communicated to Allergan that he believed the way he was treated (i.e. ignored and not accommodated for his disability) was discriminatory. Furthermore, Allergan failed to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for plaintiff's termination. The court held that plaintiff's fifth cause of action for failure to prevent discrimination and seventh cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy should survive summary adjudication for the same reasons as his causes of action for discrimination and retaliation. Accordingly, the court issued a peremptory writ of mandate vacating the trial court's order to the extent it granted summary adjudication on these causes of action. View "Glynn v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The question of whether all speech over the microphone was government speech is a heavily fact-intensive one that looks at the history of the government's use of the medium for communicative purposes, the implication of government endorsement of messages carried over that medium, and the degree of government control over those messages. After FHSAA denied access to a loudspeaker for a proposed religious speech before a high school football game, Cambridge Christian filed suit alleging claims arising under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the United States and Florida Constitutions. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. The Eleventh Circuit held that Cambridge Christian's claims for relief under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses have been adequately and plausibly pled. In this case, the history factor weighed against finding government speech and the control factor was indeterminate. Therefore, based on the limited record, the court found that it was plausible that the multitude of messages delivered over the loudspeaker should be viewed as private, not government, speech. While the court agreed with the district court that the loudspeaker was a nonpublic forum, the court held that Cambridge Christian has plausibly alleged that it was arbitrarily and haphazardly denied access to the forum in violation of the First Amendment. The court also could not say that in denying communal prayer over the loudspeaker, the FHSAA did not infringe on Cambridge Christian's free exercise of religion. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's decision in part. The court affirmed the district court's decision holding that Cambridge Christian failed to plead a substantial burden under the Florida Religious Free Restoration Act (FRFRA) because it has not alleged that the FHSAA forbade it from engaging in conduct that its religion mandates. The court also affirmed the district court's decision insofar as it rejected Cambridge Christian's request for declaratory relief under the Establishment Clauses. View "Cambridge Christian School, Inc. v. Florida High School Athletic Assoc., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied TDCJ's motion to vacate the district court's order granting Texas death row inmate Patrick Henry Murphy's motion seeking to stay his execution. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the stay and agreed with the district court's implicit finding that Murphy had a strong likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that the TDCJ policy violates his rights by allowing inmates who share the same faith as TDCJ-employed clergy greater access to a spiritual advisor in the death house. The court held that Murphy's claim was timely, and rejected TDCJ's exhaustion argument. View "Murphy v. Collier" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Texas Secretary of State and the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, alleging that the DPS System violates the Equal Protection Clause and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment declaring defendants in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and the NVRA, holding that plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to pursue their claims. The court held that plaintiffs have not established a substantial risk that they will attempt to update their voter registrations using the DPS System and be injured by their inability to do so. Therefore, plaintiffs have not established an injury in fact sufficient to confer standing to pursue declaratory and injunctive relief. Furthermore, the capable-of-repetition-yet-evading-review doctrine was not implicated by plaintiffs' claims. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's injunction and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint. View "Stringer v. Whitley" on Justia Law

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The Ohio Department of Public Safety fired Trooper Johnson after he sexually harassed women while on duty. When the Department learned of the first incident, it let him sign a “Last Chance Agreement,” which said the Department would not fire him if he followed the rules for two years. When the Department learned of another incident, it fired Morris Johnson for violating the Last Chance Agreement. The district court and Sixth Circuit found that the Department did not racially discriminate against Johnson in doing so. Johnson did not show that he was “similarly situated” in all of the relevant respects to an employee of a different race who was treated better. While Johnson and a white trooper both acted inappropriately, their situations were different. The white trooper’s first incident was unverified while the Department verified all of Johnson’s incidents. Johnson propositioned a woman to go out with him; the white trooper did not. Johnson pulled a woman over without probable cause to ask her out; the white trooper did not. Johnson went to a woman’s home; the white trooper did not. The two troopers had different direct supervisors and were subject to different standards because Johnson signed a Last Chance Agreement. View "Johnson v. Ohio Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree on theories of extreme atrocity or cruelty and felony-murder and related crimes and declined to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E, holding that there was no reason to reverse the convictions or to reduce the degree of guilt. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant was not deprived of his constitutional right to a competent interpreter to interpret the trial proceeding into his native language; (2) despite Defendant's arguments to the contrary, trial counsel provided effective assistance; (3) there was no error in the jury instructions as to joint venture liability, the merger doctrine, and the duty to find the highest crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt; (4) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in making certain rulings concerning the conduct of the trial; and (5) there was no reason to order a new trial or to reduce the degree of guilt. View "Commonwealth v. Lee" on Justia Law

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On appeal from a guilty plea to possessing 144 pounds of marijuana the Supreme Court remanded this case to the district court for recalculation of Defendant's fine, holding that Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-130(1) is facially unconstitutional to the extent it does not allow the sentencing judge to consider whether the thirty-five percent market value fine is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense. Section 45-9-130(1) requires a district court to impose a mandatory thirty-five percent market value fine in drug possession convictions. Pursuant to section 45-9-130(1), the district fined Defendant $75,600, which was thirty-five percent of the market value of the marijuana she was convicted of possessing. On appeal, Defendant argued that the mandatory thirty-five percent market value fine imposed in every drug possession conviction violated her constitutional right against excessive fines because the statute does require consideration of the offender's financial resources, the nature of the crime committed, and the nature of the burden the required fine would have on the offender. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that section 45-9-130(1) is facially unconstitutional and that a sentencing judge may not impose the thirty-five percent market value fine without considering the factors in Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-231(3). View "State v. Yang" on Justia Law