Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction and sentence for manufacturing a controlled substance, holding that the circuit court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence that Defendant argued was the fruit of an illegal entry and search of his home.Law enforcement went to Defendant's home to serve a domestic violence emergency protective order (EPO) that prohibited Defendant from possessing firearms and provided for the surrender of firearms to the officer serving the EPO. The officers concluded that the EPO served as a search warrant permitting them to enter and search Defendant's home for weapons. When the officers stepped into the residence, they smelled marijuana and performed a protective sweep, including a pat down of Defendant. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence, which the circuit court denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) an EPO is not a de facto search warrant, and no exception to the warrant requirement applied to otherwise validate the entry into and search of Defendant's home; and (2) therefore, the circuit court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress. View "State v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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After the DEA terminated Darek and Lisa Kitlinski's employment based on their refusal to participate in an internal investigation into their own allegations of misconduct by the DEA, the Kitlinskis alleged that the DEA terminated Darek in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), and that the DEA terminated Lisa in retaliation for her support of Darek’s USERRA claims against the DEA. The Kitlinskis also claim that the DEA retaliated against them for their prior protected activity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the DEA, concluding that the Kitlinskis offer no evidence that Darek's military service or his prior USERRA-protected activity was a motivating factor in his termination. Furthermore, even assuming that Armstrong v. Index Journal Co., 647 F.2d 441, 448 (4th Cir. 1981), applies here, the court has little difficulty concluding that the DEA's interest in ensuring its employees' full participation in internal investigations outweighs any interest Lisa had in promoting USERRA's nondiscriminatory purpose. The court also concluded that no reasonable factfinder could conclude that the DEA terminated the Kitlinskis' employment in retaliation for engaging in protected activity. The court explained that the Kitlinskis offer no evidence showing that the DEA terminated their employment for any reason other than their conduct during the OPR investigation. The court rejected the Kitlinskis' remaining claims. View "Kitlinski v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction, holding that the State's discovery motion at Defendant's first court appearance seeking to photograph transitory scratches on Defendant's arms was not a critical stage of the criminal proceeding that required the presence of defense counsel.At Defendant's first appearance on criminal sexual conduct charges the State made a discovery motion to take photographs of transitory scratch marks on Defendant's arms. At issue was whether the discovery motion was a critical stage of the proceedings entitling Defendant to have counsel present. The court of appeals concluded that the discovery hearing on the "otherwise-valid" discovery request to noninvasively photograph scratches was not a critical stage of the proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no violation of Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel under the circumstances of this case. View "State v. Zaldivar-Proenza" on Justia Law

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Gamble, an African-American, began working for FCA in 2015 and received a copy of FCA’s policy concerning sexual harassment, which could result in termination. Months later, two female employees complained that Gamble had sexually harassed them. After interviewing witnesses, Pollard, a human resources manager, concluded that Gamble had violated FCA’s policy and issued a warning. He acknowledged the warning and attended remedial training but disputed the harassing nature of his comments. In 2017, Gamble’s supervisor reported that he had witnessed Gamble acting inappropriately toward a female. Pollard initiated another investigation. Another woman complained that Gamble had also acted inappropriately toward her. Gamble was terminated.He filed suit, alleging discriminations based on his race, age (63), and disability (having battled cancer), and citing Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; 42 U.S.C. 1981; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C, 12112; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C.A. 621–34.1 The district court granted FCO summary judgment. Gamble had abandoned his ADEA and ADA claims; his section 1981 claim for race discrimination was time-barred by a provision in his employment contract. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No reasonable jury could infer that Gamble was treated less favorably than a similarly situated employee outside of his protected class. There was no evidence FCA gave a pretextual reason for firing him. View "Gamble v. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Appellant was not entitled to relief.Appellant was convicted in Massachusetts of murder in the first degree. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed. In his habeas petition, Appellant argued that testimony was erroneously introduced at trial that he had given to a grand jury without being advised of his privilege against self-incrimination. Appellant presented this same argument in his challenge to his conviction on appeal and in his appeal of the denial of his motion for a new trial, all without success. The district court denied Appellant's habeas petition. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Appellant's Fifth Amendment rights were not violated by the admission of his grand jury testimony. View "Woods v. Medeiros" on Justia Law

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Peroza-Benitez awoke, hearing Reading Police Officers breaking down his apartment door. They were executing a search warrant related to suspected drug offenses. Peroza-Benitez climbed out of his window onto the roof wearing undergarments and flip flops and led officers on a rooftop chase. Officer Smith radioed that Peroza-Benitez had a firearm. Peroza-Benitez apparently dropped the firearm, which landed in an alley. Peroza-Benitez denies having a firearm. Peroza-Benitez entered an abandoned building and attempted to escape through a window. Smith and Haser grabbed Peroza-Benitez and attempted to hoist him back inside; he resisted. Haser punched Peroza-Benitez. The officers let go. Peroza-Benitez fell and landed in a below-ground, concrete stairwell. Officers’ testimony differs as to whether Peroza-Benitez voluntarily moved upon landing. Peroza-Benitez testified that he was knocked temporarily unconscious. Officer White tased Peroza-Benitez, without providing a verbal warning. Peroza-Benitez was taken to the hospital, where he underwent surgery for arm injuries and a fractured leg.The district court rejected his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit on summary judgment, citing qualified immunity. The Third Circuit vacated. There was a “clearly established” right for an injured, visibly unarmed suspect to be free from temporarily paralyzing force while positioned as Peroza-Benitez was. A reasonable jury could conclude that Haser “repeatedly” punched Peroza-Benitez in the head and caused him to fall, in violation of that right. Tasing a visibly unconscious person, who just fell over 10 feet onto concrete, also violates that person’s Fourth Amendment rights. View "Peroza-Benitez v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Joan Unrein became legally blind and could no longer drive herself to work, a 120 mile round trip. She asked her employer, Colorado Plains Medical Center, to allow her to work a flexible schedule dependent on her ability to secure rides. The Medical Center permitted this arrangement for a while, but it became a problem because Unrein’s physical presence at the hospital was unpredictable. The flexible schedule arrangement ended in 2016, and was never reinstated. After Unrein was terminated, she sued the Medical Center for failure to accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. After a bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of the Medical Center because it concluded Unrein’s accommodation request was unreasonable since a physical presence at the hospital on a set and predictable schedule was an essential job function of her position. Unrein appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, agreeing that Unrein’s physical presence at the hospital on a set and predictable schedule was essential to her job, and the ADA did not require an employer to accommodate employees’ non-work related barriers created by personal lifestyle choices. View "Unrein v. PHC-Fort Morgan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for vehicular homicide and driving under the influence, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions and that the circuit court's error in denying Defendant's motion to suppress was harmless.On appeal, Defendant argued that the circuit court erred when it denied her motion to suppress a statement that she made to law enforcement officers at the hospital and when it denied her motion for a judgment of acquittal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court erred by denying Defendant's suppression motion, but the error was harmless given the overwhelming evidence against her; and (2) the evidence was sufficient to sustain Defendant's convictions. View "State v. Angle" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a long-time customer with a visual disability who must access websites with screen reader software, filed suit against Winn-Dixie under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after he was unable to access Winn-Dixie's website with his software. The district court found that Winn-Dixie's website violated the ADA.The Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded, concluding that plaintiff had Article III standing to bring the case where the difficulties caused by his inability to access much of the website constitute a concrete and particularized injury that is not conjectural or hypothetical and will continue if the website remains inaccessible; the websites are not places of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA because, pursuant to the language of Title III, public accommodations are limited to actual, physical places; and Winn-Dixie's limited use website, although inaccessible by individuals who are visually disabled, does not function as an intangible barrier to an individual with a visual disability accessing the goods, services, privileges, or advantages of Winn-Dixie's physical stores (the operative place of public accommodation). The court explained that, absent congressional action that broadens the definition of "places of public accommodation" to include websites, the court cannot extend ADA liability to the facts presented here, where there is no barrier to the access demanded by the statute. View "Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of appellant's amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Appellant challenged the denial of his passport applications and sought a declaration of U.S. citizenship under 8 U.S.C. 1503(a). Appellant also brought a statutory claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and a constitutional claim under the Fifth Amendment. Appellant conceded in district court that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider his first two claims (his section 1503(a) claim and his statutory APA claim), leaving only his constitutional claim, which the district court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider.The court held that Congress intended section 1503(a) to be the exclusive remedy for a person within the United States to seek a declaration of U.S. nationality following an agency or department's denial of a privilege or right of citizenship upon the ground that the person is not a U.S. national. Therefore, the "any other statute" proviso of section 702 maintains the United States' sovereign immunity against petitioner's constitutional claim because the statute of limitations contained in section 1503(a) has run and thus expressly forbids the relief sought. View "Cambranis v. Blinken" on Justia Law