Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254 to petitioner, who pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual battery on a child between the ages of 12 and 18 years old by someone in familial or custodial authority, one count of possession of child pornography with intent to promote, four counts of possession of child pornography, and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The court held that the district court did not violate Clisby v. Jones, 960 F.2d 925 (11th Cir. 1992) (en banc), by failing to address all claims fully, and petitioner never presented an independent coercion claim; the district court did not err in denying, without an evidentiary hearing, petitioner's claim that counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him of a prosecutorial vindictiveness defense; and the district court did not err in denying, without an evidentiary hearing, petitioner's claim that counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him of a double jeopardy defense to the charges of possession of child pornography and possession of child pornography with intent to promote. The court explained that the vindictive prosecution claim and double jeopardy defense would not have succeeded and petitioner suffered no prejudice from counsel's failure to raise the claims. View "Barritt v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Sexton pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and aggravated robbery; an Ohio state court judge sentenced him to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Sexton later argued that Ohio law required a three-judge panel to receive his plea and impose the sentence and that he was not aware of that purported error nor was he told about his right to appeal his sentence. Within 13 months, he wrote to the Ohio Public Defender, which replied with a form that Sexton could use to pursue pro se claims pro se. Two weeks later, Sexton filed a pro se petition to vacate his sentence, focused on Sexton’s co-defendant, who apparently testified against him and received a more lenient sentence. Sexton made assertions that amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court dismissed the petition as time-barred and failing to state any claims warranting either relief or an evidentiary hearing. Sexton says that in 2017 he learned, from another inmate, that he should have been sentenced by a three-judge panel. Sexton filed an application for leave to file a delayed appeal with the affidavits from Sexton and the other inmate. Ohio courts denied Sexton’s application. The Sixth Circuit vacated the dismissal of his federal habeas petition; 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1)(D) made timely Sexton’s claim that he was denied due process and equal protection in 2017 when the Ohio court denied his motion for leave to file a direct appeal. View "Sexton v. Wainwright" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Aaron Jensen sued defendant-appellees West Jordan City and Robert Shober for Title VII retaliation, First Amendment retaliation, malicious prosecution, and breach of contract. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Jensen on all his claims and awarded $2.77 million in damages. The trial court discovered the jury did not properly fill out the verdict form, so the court instructed the jury to correct its error. When the jury returned the corrected verdict, it had apportioned most of the damages to Jensen’s Title VII claim. Because the district court concluded that Title VII’s statutory damages cap applied, the court reduced the total amount of the award to $344,000. Both parties appealed. They raised nine issues on appeal, but the Tenth Circuit concluded none of them warranted reversal and affirmed. View "Jensen v. West Jordan City" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Indiana University student Jill Behrman went for a bike ride but never returned. The police later found her bicycle less than a mile from the home of Myers, on the north side of Bloomington. Two years later a woman (Owings) confessed to the murder. The case was reopened when a hunter came upon Behrman’s remains far from the location Owings described. Recognizing her story no longer added up, Owings recanted her confession and admitted to lying about the murder in hopes of leniency on other charges. A renewed investigation led the authorities to Myers, who was eventually charged with the murder. Multiple Indiana courts affirmed his conviction. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of his application for a federal writ of habeas corpus. Myers’s trial counsel was plainly deficient by promising to prove that Behrman was killed by someone else although he had to know he could not follow through on that promise and by failing to object to testimony about a bloodhound tracking Behrman’s scent. However, given the strength of the state’s case against him, including many self‐incriminating statements that Myers made to many different people, combined with other evidence, his counsel’s deficient performance did not prejudice him. View "Myers v. Neal" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of appellate jurisdiction, defendants' appeal of the district court's denial of summary judgment, which resulted in a denial of qualified immunity, and the district court's denial to reconsider the summary judgment order. In this case, defendants grounded their motion for reconsideration in the district court ostensibly on both Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60(b). At oral argument, defendants acknowledged that their motion for reconsideration was brought under Rule 59(e) to alter or amend the judgment. The panel held that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal of the summary judgment order in this case, because it is untimely where there is no dispute that the appeal was filed nearly a year after the underlying summary judgment order. Furthermore, the filing of an untimely motion will not toll the running of the appeal period. The panel also held that it lacked jurisdiction over the order denying the Rule 59(e) motion for reconsideration of a denial of qualified immunity, where it did not have jurisdiction over the appeal of the underlying order. Finally, the panel declined to exercise its discretion to award plaintiff attorney's fees for this appeal. View "Hanson v. Shubert" on Justia Law

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Mack, a practicing Muslim, was an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania, and worked for pay at the prison’s commissary. Mack alleges that he was harassed, based on his religion, by correctional officers Roberts and Venslosky, who supervised the inmates working in the commissary. Mack alleges that he raised these issues with their supervisor, Stephens; that upon overhearing Mack’s oral complaint to Stephens, Roberts told Mack, “[y]ou are not going to be here long”; and that Venslosky fired Mack less than two weeks later. The district court denied the government’s motion for summary judgment on Mack’s First Amendment retaliation claim. The Third Circuit reversed. The court noted that no statute provides a damages remedy for constitutional claims brought against federal officials. Although the Supreme Court recognized an implied damages action for such claims under the Fourth Amendment in 1971 (Bivens), the Court has since recognized an implied damages remedy in only two other instances. In 2017, the Supreme Court cautioned against creating additional implied damages remedies and explicitly declared expansion of Bivens a “disfavored judicial activity.” The Third Circuit declined to expand Bivens to create a damages remedy for Mack’s First Amendment retaliation claim. View "Mack v. Yost" on Justia Law

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Rick Ryan Febbo was deemed ineligible for early parole consideration because he was serving a sentence and has prior convictions for indecent exposure, an offense requiring registration as a sex offender under California Penal Code section 290. He filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus to challenge the decision denying him eligibility for early parole consideration. The trial court concluded the regulation making him ineligible for such consideration violated Proposition 57 and granted Febbo relief. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal held that indecent exposure under Penal Code section 314 was a nonviolent felony offense as that term was used in section 32(a)(1). The CDCR regulations were therefore invalid to the extent they deny early parole consideration to inmates based solely on a current or prior conviction for indecent exposure. As a consequence, Febbo could not be denied eligibility for early parole consideration solely based on his convictions for that offense. View "In re Febbo" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of one count of first degree murder and two counts of attempted first degree murder. In this case, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a list of basic rules for spectators at trial and required spectators to show photographic identification before being allowed entry into the courtroom. On direct appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected petitioner's argument that the identification requirement violated his Sixth Amendment public right to trial. The court held that petitioner failed to demonstrate that the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision -- that no closure occurred because there was no evidence that the requirement was enforced -- is both contrary to and an unreasonable application of Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984), and Presley v. Georgia, 558 U.S. 209 (2010) (per curiam). Finally, the court declined to exercise its discretion by expanding the certificate of appealability. View "Taylor v. Dayton" on Justia Law

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After Mark Ivey died while in jail, Mark's father (plaintiff) filed suit under Missouri's wrongful death statute against three jail employees under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims of deliberate indifference to Mark's serious medical needs. Plaintiff also filed suit against the county on the ground that its failure to train the officers caused Mark's death. The coroner ruled that Mark's cause of death was acute asthma exacerbation. The district court denied summary judgment as to all defendants. The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the officers did not violate clearly established law and are entitled to qualified immunity. The court held that the officers here faced a materially different situation than in McRaven v. Sanders, 577 F.3d 974 (8th Cir. 2009). In this case, Mark was conscious and able to communicate; he told the officers that he did not want medical assistance and raised various complaints to the nurse who checked on him; and, even assuming the officers knew Mark had asthma or was withdrawing from drugs, the record shows Mark affirmatively declined their offers to assist him with those difficulties. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction to resolve the county's appeal where the question of whether it is liable for failing to train its officers is not inextricably intertwined with the matter of qualified immunity. View "Ivey v. Audrain County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of state and local governments and a group of non-profit organizations, filed separate suits under the Administrative Procedure Act, both challenging the validity of a DHS rule interpreting 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4), which renders inadmissible to the United States any non-citizen deemed likely to become a public charge. The district court entered orders in both cases to enjoin implementation of the rule nationwide. After determining that the States and the Organizations have Article III standing to challenge the rule and that they fall within the zone of interests of the public charge statute, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction enjoining the implementation of the rule. The court held that plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the rule is contrary to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The court explained that, in reenacting the public charge ground in 1996, Congress endorsed the settled administrative and judicial interpretation of that ground as requiring a holistic examination of a non-citizen's self-sufficiency focused on ability to work and eschewing any idea that simply receiving welfare benefits made one a public charge. Furthermore, the rule makes receipt of a broad range of public benefits on even a short-term basis the very definition of "public charge." Therefore, that exceedingly broad definition is not in accordance with law. The court also held that plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the rule is arbitrary and capricious. In this case, DHS has not provided a reasoned explanation for its changed definition of "public charge" or the rule's expanded list of relevant benefits. The court further held that plaintiffs have established irreparable harm, and that the balance of the equities and the public interest tips in favor of granting the injunction. However, the court modified the scope of the injunctions to cover only the states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. View "New York v. United States Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law