Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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In a case involving the Department of Child and Family Services of the County of Los Angeles and individual social workers, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a mixed ruling. The case arose from the removal of two minor children from their parents' custody following an anonymous report that the parents were using medical marijuana to treat one child's severe autism. The court affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment.The Circuit Court reversed the district court's summary judgment for the defendants on the parents' claim of judicial deception. The court concluded that the application submitted by the defendants in support of the warrant for removal contained misrepresentations and omissions and a reasonable trier of fact could find these misrepresentations material.The Circuit Court also reversed the district court's summary judgment for defendants on the parents' intentional infliction of emotional distress claim and their Monell claim, which argued that the county had an unofficial policy of encouraging social workers to omit exculpatory information from warrant applications.However, the Circuit Court affirmed the district court’s judgment on the Fourth Amendment claim concerning the social worker's interview of one child at her school, finding that the social worker was entitled to qualified immunity. The court also found no error in the district court's handling of a jury question during trial.The court remanded the case for further proceedings on the claims of judicial deception, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the Monell claim.The case was remanded for further proceedings on these issues. View "SCANLON V. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES" on Justia Law

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A group of current and former inmates, or their representatives, filed a class action lawsuit against Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon, and Patrick Allen, the Director of the Oregon Health Authority, claiming that the state's COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, which prioritized corrections officers over inmates, violated their Eighth Amendment rights. The defendants moved to dismiss the claim, asserting immunity under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act. The district court denied the motion, and the defendants appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, finding that the defendants were immune from liability for the vaccine prioritization claim under the PREP Act. The court held that the statutory requirements for PREP Act immunity were met because the "administration" of a covered countermeasure includes prioritization of that countermeasure when its supply is limited. The court further concluded that the PREP Act's provisions extend immunity to persons who make policy-level decisions regarding the administration or use of covered countermeasures. The court also held that the PREP Act provides immunity from suit and liability for constitutional claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, even if those claims are federal constitutional claims. View "MANEY V. BROWN" on Justia Law

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An inmate in Texas, Raul Gerardo Favela, Jr., alleged that prison officials had ignored warnings and failed to prevent him from being assaulted by another inmate. Favela sued several employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that their failure to protect him violated his constitutional rights. However, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, stating that Favela had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the decision of the district court, finding that the summary judgment was inappropriate. Favela's declaration that he had filed and timely submitted grievances relating to his claims was found to be sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact, thereby meeting his burden to counter the defendant's prima facie case. The court concluded that the matter of the credibility of Favela's statement was a matter for trial, and not for summary judgment. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Favela v. Collier" on Justia Law

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In the state of Montana, William James Rupnow Jr., a licensed bail bondsman, was accused of criminal offenses after he tried to apprehend a client, Victorianne Dahl, who had violated her bail conditions. Dahl had consistently been late with payments and had violated other conditions of her release. Rupnow resorted to using pepper spray in his attempt to detain Dahl, leading to the State charging him with felony assault with a weapon and aggravated assault. Rupnow was ultimately acquitted on the aggravated assault charge, but the jury could not reach a verdict on the assault with a weapon charge. In response, Rupnow filed a lawsuit against the Montana State Auditor and Commissioner of Insurance, Mike Winsor, Jennifer Hudson, and XYZ government subdivision, alleging malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and violation of his rights under the Montana Constitution. The defendants requested the case be dismissed based on prosecutorial immunity, a motion which the District Court granted. Rupnow appealed the decision, arguing that as a bail bondsman, he had the authority to arrest Dahl without a warrant.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reviewed the case and affirmed the lower court's decision to dismiss Rupnow's case. The Court found that Montana's statutory scheme for pre-trial release, or bail, did not provide bail bondsmen with an unfettered right to remit a bail bond client to jail without an outstanding warrant. The Court reasoned that the legislature did not intend to grant bail bondsmen arrest authority that far exceeded that of law enforcement officers. Therefore, Rupnow did not have the authority to arrest Dahl without a warrant, meaning there was probable cause to charge Rupnow with the crimes he was accused of. The Court concluded that Rupnow's claims of malicious prosecution and abuse of process failed as a matter of law. View "Rupnow v. State Auditor" on Justia Law

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In a case before the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, the plaintiffs, two police officers injured in a shooting, filed a suit against Chester Arms, LLC (the seller of the firearm used in the shooting), and the New Hampshire Department of Safety (DOS) (which conducted the background check for the sale of the firearm). The suit accused Chester Arms of negligent entrustment and DOS of negligent entrustment and negligence per se. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of both defendants on the basis of immunity under state law. The court of appeals affirmed the lower court's decision.The court of appeals found that the state law barring lawsuits against firearms manufacturers and sellers for damages resulting from the criminal or unlawful use of their products by a third party was constitutional and not preempted by federal law. The court found that the law was designed to safeguard citizens' fundamental right to bear arms by limiting suits against the firearms industry, thereby protecting its solvency and ensuring law-abiding citizens have access to firearms. The court also found that the law did not violate the plaintiffs' constitutional right to equal protection or right to a remedy.Regarding the suit against DOS, the court found that DOS had not been negligent in its background check as the shooter was not disqualified from owning a firearm at the relevant time under federal law. Therefore, the court concluded that any alleged error in the trial court's immunity analysis was harmless as DOS was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. View "Hardy v. Chester Arms, LLC" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Curtis Stewart, an inmate in the Missouri correctional system, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against various Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) officials, including MDOC Director Anne Precythe. Stewart alleged that he was subjected to excessive force and cruel and unusual punishment due to a policy of handcuffing and shackling prisoners to a steel bench for hours. Precythe filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that she was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied Precythe’s motion with respect to qualified immunity.The appeal court reversed the district court's decision. It held that Stewart failed to plausibly allege that Precythe authorized a policy that permitted jailers to use excessive force where it was unnecessary or unprovoked. The court also found that the complaint did not plausibly allege that Precythe acquiesced in any such practice of unprovoked or unwarranted excessive force because it failed to allege a pattern of such conduct.The court further noted that Stewart’s allegations against Precythe regarding the restraint policy did not violate the Eighth Amendment. The court held that the allegations represented the kind of punishment necessary “to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.” There were no allegations that Precythe’s conduct in adopting and promulgating the policy was “repugnant to the conscience of mankind.” Therefore, the court concluded that Precythe was entitled to qualified immunity. The court reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to Precythe and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Stewart v. Precythe" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a lower court's ruling in a case involving Sarah Felts, who had been blocked on Twitter by Lewis E. Reed, the then-President of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. Felts sued Reed in his official capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated. The district court ruled in favor of Felts, granting her declaratory relief, nominal damages, costs, and attorney’s fees. On appeal, the Board’s new President, Megan E. Green, challenged the district court's ruling.The court held that the act of blocking Felts on Twitter constituted a final municipal policy decision in the area of the City’s business associated with the office of the President of the Board of Aldermen. It also held that Reed administered the account under color of law as an official government account, and that blocking Felts violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The court further concluded that Reed, as the President of the Board of Aldermen, had the authority to establish the final social media policy for his office and that his decision to block Felts was a deliberate choice of a guiding principle and procedure to silence online critics. Therefore, the City of St. Louis was held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court affirmed the district court's judgment granting Felts declaratory relief and nominal damages. View "Felts v. Green" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Nevada considered whether the Nevada State Engineer had the authority to combine multiple existing hydrographic basins into one "superbasin" for the purposes of water administration and management based on a shared source of water. The State Engineer had combined seven basins into one superbasin, the Lower White River Flow System (LWRFS), after determining that the waters of these basins were interconnected such that withdrawals from one basin affected the amount of water in the other basins. The State Engineer also found that the previously granted appropriations of water exceeded the rate of recharge in the LWRFS. Various entities who owned water rights throughout the new superbasin challenged the State Engineer's decision, claiming that he lacked the authority to manage surface waters and groundwater jointly and that his decision violated their due process rights.The Supreme Court of the State of Nevada held that the State Engineer indeed had the authority to manage surface waters and groundwater conjunctively and to jointly administer multiple basins. The court also found that the State Engineer did not violate the rights holders' due process rights because they received notice and had an opportunity to be heard. The court reversed the lower court's decision that had granted the rights holders' petitions for judicial review and remanded the matter back to the lower court for further proceedings to determine whether substantial evidence supported the State Engineer's factual determinations. View "Sullivan v. Lincoln County Water District" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Desiree Martinez, sued Channon High, a City of Clovis police officer, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Officer High violated her due process rights by disclosing her confidential domestic violence report to her abuser, Kyle Pennington, who was also a Clovis police officer. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to Officer High.The appellate court held that while Officer High did violate Ms. Martinez's due process rights under the state-created danger doctrine by disclosing her confidential domestic violence report to Mr. Pennington, the right was not clearly established at the time of the violation. The court explained that state actors are generally not liable for failing to prevent the acts of private parties, but an exception applies where the state affirmatively places the plaintiff in danger by acting with deliberate indifference to a known or obvious danger. In this case, Officer High's disclosure of Ms. Martinez's confidential report to Pennington, whom she knew was an alleged abuser, placed Ms. Martinez in actual, foreseeable danger. However, it was not clearly established in 2013 that Officer High’s actions violated Ms. Martinez’s substantive due process rights. The court clarified that going forward, an officer would be liable under the state-created danger doctrine when the officer discloses a victim’s confidential report to a violent perpetrator in a manner that increases the risk of retaliation against the victim. View "MARTINEZ V. HIGH" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around two developers, SAS Associates 1, LLC and Military 1121, LLC, who filed a complaint against the City Council of Chesapeake, Virginia, alleging that their equal protection rights were violated when their rezoning applications were denied by the council. The developers owned several parcels of land in Chesapeake and sought to combine them to create a 90-acre development involving housing units, commercial space, and a conservation district. Their plans required rezoning, which was denied by the Council citing community opposition and the ability to develop under existing zoning classifications. The developers filed a complaint alleging that their application was denied even though similar applications from other developers were approved, and the council's reasons for denial were irrational and arbitrary.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s decision to dismiss the developers' claim. The Court of Appeals found that the developers failed to demonstrate that they were treated differently from others who were similarly situated and that the unequal treatment was the result of discriminatory animus. Furthermore, the court highlighted that zoning decisions are primarily the responsibility of local governments and that the Developers did not provide any valid comparators to support their claim of discriminatory treatment. The court noted the lack of any evidence to infer discriminatory intent on the part of the City Council members and ruled that the Developers' disagreement with the Council's decision does not render the Council's judgment call pretextual. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing the complaint. View "SAS Associates v. City Council of Chesapeake" on Justia Law