Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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After Topletz lost a civil case in Texas state court, the plaintiff served him with discovery requests aimed at uncovering his assets. Topletz supplied many of the requested records but failed to produce documents related to a family trust of which he is a beneficiary. The court ordered production, but the trustee (Topletz’s brother) purportedly sent Topletz a letter stating that the trust agreement allowed Topletz only to inspect the documents, not to obtain copies, and that it would breach the trustee’s fiduciary duty to supply the requested records. The state court granted a motion for contempt and sanctions against Topletz, finding that the requested documents were under his control for purposes of discovery. The court sentenced Topletz to detention for 14 days or until he provided proper responses.After unsuccessful state court proceedings, Topletz filed a federal habeas petition, arguing that the contempt order violated his constitutional right to due process by requiring him to produce documents that he could not obtain. He requested a preliminary injunction to allow him to remain free during the adjudication of his petition. The district court denied Topletz the preliminary injunction because it found that he was unlikely to succeed on the merits. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. Topletz failed to show a substantial likelihood that the state court’s decision was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent or based on an unreasonable interpretation of the facts in light of the evidence. View "Topletz v. Skinner" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a complaint challenging a COVID-19 public health order entered by St. Louis County in April 2020 which included provisions limiting the size of gatherings in churches. Plaintiffs allege that the order violated their rights to free exercise of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly under federal and state law. The district court concluded that plaintiffs lacked Article III standing on these claims because they did not adequately allege that an order of the court would redress their injuries.The court concluded that the district court properly construed the complaint and correctly dismissed it for lack of an Article III case or controversy. The court explained that the district court properly limited its analysis to whether plaintiffs alleged a redressable injury arising from their inability to participate in religious activities with ten or more persons at their respective churches. The court agreed with the district court that the complaint does not adequately allege that an injunction against enforcement of the April 2020 Public Health Order would have redressed plaintiffs' injuries. The court stated that, without a sufficient factual allegation that plaintiffs' churches would allow ten or more persons to gather if the Order were enjoined, the complaint did not adequately allege Article III standing.The court also concluded that, even if plaintiffs had adequately alleged Article III standing in May 2020, any controversy over the Public Health Order of April 20, 2020, is now moot. In this case, given the developments since May 2020, there is no reasonable expectation that the County will reinstate its Order of April 2020 and limit religious gatherings to fewer than ten persons. Furthermore, there have also been developments in the law. View "Hawse v. Page" on Justia Law

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This case arose from Port's efforts, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps, in planning and executing the Freeport Harbor Channel Improvement Project. To construct new facilities, the Port needs land, and has consequently been acquiring properties in the East End with the goal of eventually buying up the entire neighborhood. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendants intentionally discriminated against East End residents during its expansion in violation of section 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and denied plaintiff's administrative complaint in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).The Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's section 601 claim because plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege that the Port acted with discriminatory intent. However, the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's APA claim. The court explained that the Corps' decision to deny plaintiff's administrative complaint was not committed to its discretion and is thus reviewable under the APA. On remand, the court instructed the district court to consider only the issue of whether the Corps correctly denied plaintiff's administrative complaint on the basis that it lacked jurisdiction due to an absence of federal financial assistance within the meaning of Title VI. View "Rollerson v. Brazos River Harbor Navigation District of Brazoria County Texas" on Justia Law

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California has two statutory mechanisms for detaining, evaluating, and treating persons who have been declared incompetent to stand trial for a felony that entailed a threat of bodily harm, and who continue to pose a danger to others. When the reason is a "developmental disability," the applicable mechanism is civil commitment under Welfare and Institutions Code section 6500; when the reason is a "mental disease, defect, or disorder," the applicable mechanism is a so-called Murphy conservatorship under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPS Act) (section 5000 et seq.), section 5008, subdivision (h)(1)(B). Under section 6500, the one-year recommitment period ends on the anniversary of the date of the recommitment order; for a Murphy conservatorship, the one-year period ends on the anniversary of the date of the initial commitment order. Because, as is common, recommitment orders under section 6500 are not fully litigated (and hence not issued) until after the anniversary of the date of the initial commitment order, the end dates for section 6500 recommitments typically get pushed out further and further with each recommitment.The Court of Appeal held that this "creep" of the end date under section 6500 does not violate equal protection in regard to Murphy conservatorships. The court explained that individuals civilly committed under section 6500 and Murphy conservatorships are not similarly situated for purposes of fixing the end date for a recommitment. Even assuming that persons civilly committed under section 6500 and in a Murphy conservatorship are similarly situated for purposes of the timetable for terminating a one-year period for a recommitment, the court concluded that there is a sufficient justification for that differential treatment that withstands rational basis scrutiny. Accordingly, the court affirmed the end date for the section 6500 recommitment in this case. View "People v. Nolasco" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. This court previously granted petitioner's application for a certificate of appealability (COA) on two issues: first, whether petitioner's trial was tainted by the exclusion of black jurors (the Batson Claim); and second, whether trial counsel rendered unconstitutionally ineffective assistance before trial and during the guilt phase of trial by failing to conduct an adequate investigation (the Strickland Claim).After rejecting the state's procedural default, abandonment, and waiver arguments, the court concluded that, because petitioner cannot identify clearly established federal law requiring state courts sua sponte to find and consider all facts and circumstances that may bear on whether a peremptory strike was racially motivated when those facts and circumstances were not identified by the strike's challenger, this argument is insufficient to surmount the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's relitigation bar and the court is unable to grant relief on the Batson Claim. The court also concluded that petitioner's Strickland Claim ultimately fails because he cannot show prejudice affecting his substantial rights. In this case, the "unaffected" circumstantial evidence of petitioner's crime, including his direct confession, is overwhelming. View "Ramey v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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Kengerski, a Captain at the Allegheny County Jail, made a written complaint to the jail Warden alleging that a colleague had called his biracial grand-niece a “monkey” and then sent him a series of text messages with racially offensive comments about his coworkers. Seven months later, Kengerski was fired. He contends the firing was retaliation for reporting his colleague’s behavior and sued t under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3(a). The district court granted the defendant summary judgment, holding that Kengerski, who is white, could not maintain a claim for Title VII retaliation.The Third Circuit vacated. Title VII protects all employees from retaliation when they reasonably believe that behavior at their work violates the statute and they make a good-faith complaint. Harassment against an employee because he associates with a person of another race, such as a family member, may violate Title VII by creating a hostile work environment. A reasonable person could believe that the Allegheny County Jail was a hostile work environment for Kengerski. Kengerski may not ultimately succeed on his retaliation claim or even survive summary judgment on remand. The county claims that it fired him for an unrelated reason that is unquestionably serious: mishandling a sexual harassment claim. View "Kengerski v. Harper" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former employee of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, filed suit against the Army under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that she was subject to a hostile work environment based on sex and that the Army retaliated against her after she reported sexual harassment. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the Army.The Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the Army on plaintiff's hostile work environment claim where she failed to establish that the harassment she experienced was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive working environment. However, the court concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Army on plaintiff's retaliation claim where she presented enough admissible evidence to raise a genuine doubt as the legitimacy of the Army's stated motive for her termination. Accordingly, the court remanded this claim for further proceedings. View "Hairston v. Wormuth" on Justia Law

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Perez was born in rural Mexico in 1989 and entered the U.S. without authorization at age 13. He has two children, who were born in the U.S., whom he visits and helps support financially. In July 2016, Perez was attending a barbeque when a violent fight broke out. Several young men wielding bats and machetes were attacking a member of a rival gang. Perez borrowed a firearm from an acquaintance and fired several shots into the air. Hearing the gunshots, the young men scattered, and Perez returned to the barbeque and returned the gun to his acquaintance. Days later, the NYPD obtained a video recording of the incident, identified Perez, and identified the firearm.Perez was charged with possession of a firearm and ammunition while being an alien illegally and unlawfully in the U.S., 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5). Perez unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that section 922(g)(5) on its face violated the Second Amendment by erecting a categorical bar on the possession of firearms by illegal or unlawful aliens. The Second Circuit affirmed. Assuming without deciding that, even as an undocumented alien, Perez is entitled to Second Amendment protection, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5), as applied to Perez, withstands intermediate scrutiny. View "United States v. Perez" on Justia Law

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Bellin brought a putative class action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that managed long-term care plans (MLTCs) that contract with New York State violate Medicaid beneficiaries’ due process rights by denying them the right to appeal an MLTC’s initial determination of the personal care services hours the MLTC will provide the beneficiary if they choose to enroll with the MLTC. Bellin also alleged that beneficiaries are entitled to this appeal right, and to notice of the right, under federal statutory and constitutional law. Bellin brought her claims against ElderServe, an MLTC that she alleges denied her these rights, and Zucker, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, for his alleged failure to enforce these asserted rights.The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Bellin’s federal law claims on the grounds that the relevant federal statutes do not provide Medicaid beneficiaries a right to appeal initial personal care services hours determinations. The court vacated the dismissal of Bellin’s Fourteenth Amendment due process claims; Bellin plausibly alleged a constitutionally protected property interest in the determination of her personal care services hours. View "Bellin v. Zucker" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals rejecting Defendant's claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that a factfinder may consider extrinsic evidence of the sexual purpose of a person charged with producing a visual depiction of murder.Defendant was convicted of thirty-three counts of child sex crimes, including aggravated sexual abuse of a child and forcible sodomy of a child. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial counsel was ineffective based on his failure to object to the prosecutor's request that the jury consider Defendant's subjective intentions in deciding whether Exhibits 21 and 22 - two photographs obtained from Defendant's laptop - qualified as child pornography under Utah law. The court of appeals concluded that Defendant had asserted a successful claim for ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to Exhibit 22 but not Exhibit 21 and reversed Defendant's conviction based on Exhibit 22. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not identify a basis for challenging the State's invitation for the jury to consider Defendant's subjective intention in creating an image that qualified as child pornography as a depiction of child nudity for the purpose of sexual arousal under Utah Code 76-5b-103(10)(f). View "State v. Jordan" on Justia Law