Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Cattle rancher Zane Odell was a cattle rancher who had a permit to graze his cattle in parts of San Juan County, Utah on land held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration. On the morning of April 1, 2017, Odell left his corral gate open so his cattle could graze on state and federal public land and then return home to get water on his property. That same evening, Odell noticed that his corral gate had been shut and latched. Odell called the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department and reported the situation, explaining that but for a 10-foot gap in his fence, the closure of the corral gate risked depriving his cattle of water. Odell and Sergeant Wilcox reviewed video footage from Odell’s trail camera which showed part of a SUV’s license plate number. The SUV belonged to plaintiff Rosalie Chilcoat and her husband. A few days after Odell reported the gate closure, Chilcoat and her husband were driving on the county road near Odell’s property. Odell and two other ranchers caught up to the couple and detained them by blocking the public roadway. Odell called the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department and was told Chilcoat and her husband should not be allowed to leave until the deputy arrived. While waiting for the deputy, Odell accused Chilcoat and her husband of criminal activity and threatened them with jail time. Chilcoat was ultimately held on criminal charges relating to the initial gate closure. The State of Utah elected not to defend the state court’s ruling. The Utah Court of Appeals reversed the state court’s probable cause determination, ultimately resulting in the dismissal with prejudice of all remaining criminal charges pending against Chilcoat. Chilcoat then sued Odell, Prosecutor Laws, and San Juan County in federal district court in Utah, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants, and a state-law assault claim against Odell. Considering the allegations in Chilcoat's proposed amended complaint, and viewing all non-conclusory allegations in the light most favorable to Chilcoat, the Tenth Circuit concluded she stated a plausible municipal liability claim against San Juan County. The district court erred by denying her proposed amended complaint as futile under Rule 15(a)(2). The district court's denial of her request for leave to amend was reversed. View "Chilcoat v. San Juan County, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, operators of bowling alleys and roller-skating rinks in Michigan, sued Michigan Governor Whitmer, former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Gordon, and the Department alleging that various orders limiting the use of Plaintiffs’ properties early in the COVID-19 pandemic constituted an unconstitutional taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article X of the Michigan Constitution.The district court found that the defendants were entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment and dismissed the complaint for lack of jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause does not abrogate sovereign immunity. To accept Plaintiffs’ argument that states waived their sovereign immunity in suits that invoke a right incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment would destroy the protection the Eleventh Amendment was specifically ratified to provide; future plaintiffs could claim any right incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment is no longer subject to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Because Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages, the ultra vires theory of skirting Eleventh Amendment immunity is inapplicable. View "Skatemore, Inc. v. Whitmer" on Justia Law

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To dispute a property tax assessment under Detroit ordinances and Michigan state law, taxpayers “make complaint on or before February 15th" before the Board of Assessors. Any person who has complained to the Board of Assessors may appeal to the Board of Review. For the Michigan Tax Tribunal to have jurisdiction over an assessment dispute, “the assessment must be protested before the board of review.” On February 14, 2017, Detroit mailed tax assessment notices to Detroit homeowners, including an “EXTENDED ASSESSORS REVIEW SCHEDULE” that would conclude on February 18, just four days later. At a City Council meeting on February 14, the city announced: “The Assessors Review process will end this year February the 28th.” News outlets reported the extension and that Detroit had waived the requirement of appearance before the Board of Assessors so residents could appeal directly to the Board of Review. Detroit did not distribute individualized mailings to so inform homeowners.Plaintiffs filed a class action, alleging violations of their due process rights; asserting that Michigan’s State Tax Commission assumed control of Detroit’s flawed property tax assessment process from 2014-2017 so that its officials were equally responsible for the violations; and claiming that Wayne County is “complicit” and has been unjustly enriched. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, citing the Tax Injunction Act and the principle of comity. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that a state remedy is uncertain. View "Howard v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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After a man was found incompetent to stand trial, and his civil commitment proceeding was dismissed, he stayed in jail for six more years. Plaintiff, the man’s guardian, filed suit against the District Attorney, Sheriffs, and Clay County under Section 1983, challenging the man’s years-long detention.   The district court first dismissed the District Attorney from the case. However, the court determined that the Sheriffs were not entitled to qualified immunity on the detention claim because their constitutional violations were obvious. It denied summary judgment to Clay County too, finding that there was strong evidence that the Sheriffs were final policymakers for the county.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed Clay County’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction and affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment as to the Sheriffs.  The court first held that it lacked jurisdiction over the ruling keeping Clay County in the case. The Court explained that, unlike the Sheriffs, municipalities do not enjoy immunity. Further, the court wrote it did not have pendent party jurisdiction over Clay County. Defendants assume that if Clay County’s liability is “inextricably intertwined” with that of the individual officers, that provides “support [for] pendent appellate jurisdiction.” But the court has never permitted pendent party (as opposed to pendent claim) interlocutory jurisdiction.   Further, taking the evidence in Plaintiff’s favor, the Sheriffs violated the man’s due process right by detaining him for six years in violation of the commit-or-release rule and the circuit court’s order enforcing that rule. The court explained that it was clearly established that the Sheriffs could be liable for a violation of the man’s clearly established due process right. View "Harris v. Clay County, MS" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Cl.G., on behalf of his minor son, C.G., appealed a district court’s dismissal of his case against Defendants-Appellees Cherry Creek School District (District or CCSD) and various employees for alleged constitutional violations stemming from C.G.’s suspension and expulsion from Cherry Creek High School (CCHS). In 2019, C.G. was off campus at a thrift store with three friends. He took a picture of his friends wearing wigs and hats, including “one hat that resembled a foreign military hat from the World War II period.” C.G. posted that picture on Snapchat and captioned it, “Me and the boys bout [sic] to exterminate the Jews.” C.G.’s post (the photo and caption) was part of a private “story,” visible only to Snapchat users connected with C.G. on that platform. Posts on a user’s Snapchat story are automatically deleted after 24 hours, but C.G. removed this post after a few hours. He then posted on his Snapchat story, “I’m sorry for that picture it was ment [sic] to be a joke.” One of C.G.’s Snapchat “friend[s]” took a photograph of the post before C.G. deleted it and showed it to her father. The father called the police, who visited C.G.’s house and found no threat. Referencing prior anti-Semitic activity and indicating that the post caused concern for many in the Jewish community, a CCHS parent emailed the school and community leaders about the post, leading to C.G.'s expulsion. Plaintiff filed suit claiming violations of C.G.'s constitutional rights. Defendants moved to dismiss, which was ultimately granted. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the First Amendment limited school authority to regulate off-campus student speech, particularly speech unconnected with a school activity and not directed at the school or its specific members. Defendants maintained that C.G. was lawfully disciplined for what amounts to off-campus hate speech. According to Defendants, although originating off campus, C.G.’s speech still spread to the school community, disrupted the school’s learning environment, and interfered with the rights of other students to be free from harassment and receive an education. The Tenth Circuit determined Plaintiff properly pled that Defendants violated C.G.’s First Amendment rights by disciplining him for his post; the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s first claim was reversed in part. The Court affirmed dismissal of Plaintiff’s further facial challenges to CCSD’s policies. Questions of qualified and absolute immunity and Plaintiff’s conspiracy claim were remanded for further consideration. View "C1.G v. Siegfried, et al." on Justia Law

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After Wichita police received a seemingly legitimate call, officers had to make a split-second decision based on fraudulent threats and reports of violence. Unfortunately, that "swatting" call and the subsequent reaction from police resulted in an innocent man’s death. Officers rushed to Andrew Finch's house, where the caller claimed a deranged man who had just killed his father and was holding the rest of his family hostage at gunpoint. Finch had not committed any crime and had no way of knowing why police were surrounding his home. As Finch exited the house, multiple officers yelled different commands. Ten seconds later, one officer thought he saw Finch reaching for a weapon and shot him in the chest. Finch's estate brought a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging excessive force and other constitutional violations. The district court granted summary judgement in favor of some of the responding officers and the City of Wichita, but denied summary judgment as to the officer who fired the fatal shots. Finch appealed the grant of summary judgment to one officer and the City; the officer appealed the denial of qualified immunity. The district court held that a reasonable jury could have found that Finch was unarmed and unthreatening. The Tenth Circuit concluded it was bound by those findings for the purposes of this appeal. Thus, the claims against Officer Rapp could go forward. The Court found the claims against the City were properly resolved. In addition, the Court concluded the district court correctly found that Finch did not put forth sufficient evidence to prevail on his municipal liability claim against the City. View "Finch, et al. v. Rapp" on Justia Law

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On December 14, 2021, the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion in this case, upholding the district court's rejection of Plaintiff's challenge to an ATF rule determining that bump stocks are "machineguns" for purposes of the National Firearms Act (NFA) and the federal statutory bar on the possession or sale of new machine guns.However, after a majority of the eligible circuit judges voted in favor of hearing the case en banc, the court vacated its prior opinion so the entire court could hear the case. View "Cargill v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Several public-sector employees filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 seeking to recover any agency fees taken from their paychecks by the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association and Santa Clara County. Specifically, Plaintiffs sought a refund for fees paid before the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty., & Mun. Emps., Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018) (prohibiting public-sector unions from collecting compulsory agency fees).In the district court, Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment, claiming they were entitled to a good-faith defense because their actions were expressly authorized by then-applicable United States Supreme Court law and state law. Plaintiffs appealed.On appeal, Plaintiffs acknowledge that Danielson v. Inslee, 945 F.3d 1096 (9th Cir. 2019) precludes their claim against the Union. The Ninth Circuit held that the rule announced in Danielson also applies to municipalities because "precedent recognizes that municipalities are generally liable in the same way as private corporations in sec. 1983 actions." Thus, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' claim against both the Union and the County. View "SEAN ALLEN V. SANTA CLARA CNTY CORR. POA" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court quashed the portion of the superior court order granting partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs as to liability against Westlo Management, LLC on counts one, two, three, and seven of Plaintiffs' third-amended complaint, holding that the record was inadequate for a determination of whether the hearing justice abused his discretion in granting the motion to intervene filed by The Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.Plaintiff Curtis Andrade filed a charge of discrimination with the Commission. The Commission found probable cause that Defendants had violated Plaintiff's rights. Plaintiff then filed this action, after which the hearing justice granted the Commission's motion to intervene as a party plaintiff. The hearing justice granted Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on four counts against Westlo, finding that Westlo had discriminated against Plaintiff by denying him the reasonable accommodation of having his dog his residence. The Supreme Court vacated the decision below, holding that Westlo failed provide the Court with a proper transcript of the hearing on the Commission's motion to intervene this Court was unable to conduct a meaningful review of the superior court's decisions on the issue of the Commission's intervention. View "Andrade v. Westlo Management LLC" on Justia Law

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The Department of Public Safety and Corrections (“DPSC”) regularly engages local parish jails to house convicted state prisoners. Five of the locally housed prisoners brought claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against local jail officials and DPSC officials. They alleged that the DPSC officials, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, looked away from the administrative failure they knew was leaving prisoners in jail who had served their sentences. The DPSC officials challenged the district court’s denial of qualified immunity.   Plaintiffs proceeded against Defendants under two theories, arguing that DPSC officials violated the Plaintiffs’ clearly established right to timely release from prison by: (1) failing to adopt policies ensuring the timely release of DPSC prisoners; and (2) directly participating in the conduct that caused their over detention.   The Fifth Circuit concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Defendants knew of a “pattern of similar constitutional violations,” such that their inaction amounted to a disregard of an obvious risk. DPSC’s Lean Six Sigma study revealed that 2,252 DPSC prisoners were annually held past their release date. Defendants cannot avoid the evidence that the study exposed unlawful detentions of prisoners. A reasonable factfinder could conclude that Defendants’ awareness of this pattern of delays and their conscious decision not to address it rises to the level of deliberate indifference. Further, because a reasonable jury may find that Defendants’ inaction was objectively unreasonable in light of this clearly established law, they have failed to show they are entitled to qualified immunity. View "Crittindon, et al v. LeBlanc, et al" on Justia Law