Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Cassandra Socha, a patrol officer with the Joliet Police Department (JPD), sent a text message to her neighbor criticizing her for testifying in the criminal trial of Socha’s boyfriend. A prosecutor recommended that Sergeant Edward Grizzle secure a search warrant for Socha’s cell phone, which he did, obtaining authority to search for any and all data related to electronic communications. Socha turned over her phone, expressing concerns about personal content. JPD detectives used forensic software to extract all data from her phone. Rumors later surfaced that explicit content from her phone had been seen by JPD members, with two detectives admitting to viewing such content.Socha sued the City of Joliet, Sgt. Grizzle, and others, bringing multiple claims under federal and Illinois law. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment to Sgt. Grizzle on the § 1983 claim, finding he was entitled to qualified immunity. The court also granted summary judgment to the City on the intrusion upon seclusion claim, rather than relinquishing supplemental jurisdiction over the Illinois law claim.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviewed the case. The court agreed that Sgt. Grizzle was entitled to qualified immunity and affirmed the summary judgment on the § 1983 claim. However, the court disagreed with the district court on the intrusion upon seclusion claim, concluding that a reasonable jury could find that Detective McKinney accessed Socha’s photograph intentionally and without authorization. Therefore, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment on that claim and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court also noted that the district court should decide whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim on remand. View "Socha v. City of Joliet" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Shanita Terrell, alleges that two deputies from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office forced her into a patrol car, and one of them sexually assaulted her. The deputies were off-duty but were in uniform and using patrol vehicles while working side jobs at a bar. Terrell woke up the next morning at home with pain in her vaginal area and no memory of having sex. A DNA test revealed that semen in her underwear matched one of the deputies, Michael Hines. Hines was later charged with sexually assaulting Terrell.Terrell sued Deputy Hines, Deputy Mark Cannon, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Harris County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court dismissed her claims against Cannon, Gonzalez, and Harris County for failing to state a claim. Terrell appealed the dismissal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Terrell failed to establish that Deputy Cannon violated a clearly established constitutional right. She also failed to allege the type of pattern of deliberate indifference required to establish liability for the County or its Sheriff. The court also dismissed Terrell's supervisory and municipal liability claims against Sheriff Gonzalez and Harris County, respectively. The court concluded that Terrell's allegations were insufficient to show a failure-to-train policy or a widespread pattern of misconduct. View "Terrell v. Harris County" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of self-described "lawful and peaceful protestors" who sued the City of Dallas, Dallas County, and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages for alleged constitutional violations stemming from their participation in the George Floyd demonstrations in Dallas. The plaintiffs claimed that they were wrongfully arrested and mistreated by the police during the protests. They also alleged that the City of Dallas had a policy of failing to adequately discipline its police officers, which led to their constitutional rights being violated.The district court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims against the City, the County, and the Sheriff’s Office. The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their municipal liability claims against the City, arguing that the district court erred in doing so.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the plaintiffs failed to show that the City of Dallas had a persistent and widespread practice of failing to discipline its police officers that amounted to deliberate indifference. The court also found that the plaintiffs failed to establish a causal link between the City's alleged failure to discipline and the violation of their rights. Furthermore, the court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that General Order 609.00, an official policy relating to mass arrests, was unconstitutional on its face. The court concluded that the policy did not affirmatively allow or compel unconstitutional conduct. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims against the City of Dallas. View "Verastique v. City of Dallas" on Justia Law

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The case involves a civil rights suit filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Peatinna Biggs, an intellectually disabled prisoner, against Sedgwick County, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department, and Sheriff Hanna in his individual and official capacities. Biggs alleged that Sheriff Hanna sexually assaulted her while transporting her between county jails. The district court dismissed the complaint against the County and the Sheriff’s Department, reasoning that the County could only be liable if the challenged conduct had been taken pursuant to a policy adopted by the official or officials, and Hanna’s actions were not pursuant to Department policies, but in direct contravention of them. Hanna was then found liable by a jury in his individual capacity.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The court held that Sheriff Hanna’s actions fell within the scope of his policymaking authority regarding the custody and care of prisoners and subjected the municipal defendants to liability. The court reasoned that when an official takes action over which he or she has final policymaking authority, the policymaker is the municipality, so it is fair to impose liability on that entity for that action. The court concluded that given that Hanna raped a prisoner in his custody while transporting the prisoner to another jail, that requirement was undoubtedly satisfied. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Whitson v. Hanna" on Justia Law

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The case involves Dr. Firdos Sheikh, who brought Fourth and Fifth Amendment claims against former special agents with the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Dr. Sheikh alleged that the agents fabricated evidence in a search warrant affidavit and submitted misleading reports to prosecutors, leading to her arrest and criminal prosecution.Previously, the district court dismissed Dr. Sheikh's claims. The court applied the two-step framework from Ziglar v. Abbasi to determine whether implied causes of action existed. The court held that Dr. Sheikh's claims presented a new context as they differed from cases where the Supreme Court implied a damages action. The court also found that several special factors indicated that the Judiciary was arguably less equipped than Congress to weigh the costs and benefits of allowing a damages action to proceed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal. The court agreed that Dr. Sheikh's claims presented a new context under Bivens and that special factors counseled hesitation in extending an implied cause of action. The court noted that the claims risked intrusion into the Executive Branch's prosecutorial decision-making process, were leveled against agents of HSI who investigate immigration and cross-border criminal activity, and alternative remedial structures existed. View "Sheikh v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Xavier T. Vidot, an inmate, filed a complaint against the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) and its officials, alleging that they failed to provide inmates with a daily minimum of 8.5 hours outside their cells, in violation of RIDOC's internal policy and a state statute. The plaintiff sought a writ of mandamus, a declaration of violation, and a permanent injunction.The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that RIDOC's internal policies do not establish a private cause of action for inmates and that the application of these policies involves discretionary decisions. The plaintiff responded, asserting that the defendants had a ministerial legal duty to operate in accordance with RIDOC's policy and that the statute does not afford the defendants any discretion except that which is allowed by internal policies.The Superior Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, reasoning that the policies governing these issues are internal and discretionary, as they are not codified in the statute. The plaintiff appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the Superior Court's decision. The court found that the statute outlining the duties of the director of the Department of Corrections clearly bestows upon the director a great deal of discretion in the exercise of his or her duties. The court also found that both the previous and amended versions of RIDOC's policy contemplate that RIDOC must exercise its discretion in "exigent circumstances," in the case of "emergencies," or in the event of "overriding conditions"—all for the purpose of maintaining a "safe and orderly operation of the facility." Therefore, the court concluded that the hearing justice did not err in denying relief in the form of a writ of mandamus and in granting the motion to dismiss. View "Vidot v. Salisbury" on Justia Law

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In April 2018, Benjamin Evans was shot and killed by Police Deputy Brian Krook in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, after Evans knelt in a crosswalk with a loaded gun pointed at his own head. Following a criminal trial, Krook was acquitted of a second-degree manslaughter charge. Subsequently, Evans' father, William O. Evans, Jr., filed a civil lawsuit against Krook under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Krook sought summary judgment based on qualified immunity, a defense unavailable when an officer uses deadly force against someone who does not pose an immediate threat of serious physical harm to another.The District Court for the District of Minnesota denied Krook's motion for summary judgment, citing genuine factual disputes over whether Evans' gun was ever pointed at the officers and whether Evans posed an immediate threat to them. Krook appealed this decision, challenging the denial of qualified immunity.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in reviewing the case, first addressed the question of jurisdiction. The court noted that it did not have jurisdiction to review the district court's determination regarding evidence sufficiency, i.e., what facts a party may or may not be able to prove at trial. The court's jurisdiction was limited to the purely legal question of whether the conduct that the district court found was adequately supported in the record violated a clearly established federal right.The court found that the availability of qualified immunity in this case hinged on whether Krook acted reasonably under the circumstances by shooting Evans because Evans either pointed his gun at another or otherwise wielded his gun in a menacing fashion. The court concluded that the inconclusive nighttime videos of Evans' actions did not clearly contradict the district court's factual determinations. Therefore, resolving the underlying factual dispute was beyond the court's limited review. As such, the court dismissed the appeal, stating it lacked the jurisdiction to resolve it. View "Evans v. Krook" on Justia Law

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The case involves an Asian American federal employee, Tommy Ho, who alleged that his employer declined to promote him in retaliation for his previous activity protected by Title VII. Ho had been employed as a criminal investigator in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) since 1999. He filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint in 2015 alleging racial discrimination. In 2017 and 2018, he applied for three promotions but was not selected for any of them. Ho filed two more EEO complaints alleging that these non-selections were due to retaliation. The case at hand centers on Ho's application for a program manager position in 2019, for which he was not selected.The district court dismissed Ho's complaint, holding that it failed to sufficiently allege a causal connection between Ho's protected EEO activity and his non-selection for the program manager position. The court concluded that the ten-month gap between Ho's latest protected activity and his non-selection was too long to support an inference of causation.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that, when viewed as a whole and in the light most favorable to Ho, his allegations narrowly sufficed to support a plausible inference that his protected activity was a but-for cause of his non-selection. The court noted that Ho had previously complained about the conduct of the very people responsible for filling the opening, and that he was qualified for the position. The court also noted that the alleged reason for Ho's non-selection was entirely subjective. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ho v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The case involves Dianne Hensley, a justice of the peace in Texas, who announced that due to her religious beliefs, she would not perform weddings for same-sex couples but would refer them to others who would. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued her a public warning for casting doubt on her capacity to act impartially due to the person's sexual orientation, in violation of Canon 4A(1) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. Hensley did not appeal this warning to a Special Court of Review (SCR) but instead sued the Commission and its members and officers for violating the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA) and her right to freedom of speech under Article I, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution. The trial court dismissed her claims for lack of jurisdiction, and the court of appeals affirmed.The Supreme Court of Texas held that Hensley's suit was not barred by her decision not to appeal the Commission’s Public Warning or by sovereign immunity. The court affirmed the part of the court of appeals’ judgment dismissing one of Hensley's declaratory requests for lack of jurisdiction, reversed the remainder of the judgment, and remanded to the court of appeals to address the remaining issues on appeal. The court found that the SCR could not have finally decided whether Hensley is entitled to the relief sought in this case or awarded the relief TRFRA provides to successful claimants. View "HENSLEY v. STATE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT" on Justia Law

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This case involves a minor, Kodi Gaines, who was injured during a police standoff that resulted in the death of his mother, Korryn Gaines. The standoff occurred when Baltimore County police officers attempted to serve arrest warrants on Ms. Gaines and her boyfriend at her apartment. When officers entered the apartment, they found Ms. Gaines seated on the floor with a shotgun. A six-hour standoff ensued, during which Ms. Gaines acted erratically, sometimes negotiating with officers, at other times threatening them. Corporal Royce Ruby, a member of the SWAT team, fired a shot at Ms. Gaines when he observed her raise her shotgun into a firing position. The shot passed through Ms. Gaines, ricocheted off a refrigerator, and hit Kodi.The case was initially heard in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, which found in favor of the defendants, Baltimore County and Corporal Ruby. The court ruled that the evidence at trial could not sustain a verdict on Kodi’s claim of violation of his right to substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Appellate Court affirmed the lower court's decision on two grounds: that Kodi had waived his claim by not pursuing it during the first round of appellate proceedings, and that qualified immunity barred Kodi’s claim.The case was then heard by the Supreme Court of Maryland. The court disagreed with the Appellate Court’s decision on waiver but agreed that under the standard established by the United States Supreme Court, qualified immunity precludes Kodi’s claim. Therefore, the court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Court. View "Cunningham v. Baltimore County" on Justia Law