Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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John Jay’s assistant coach (“Coach”) was “increasingly agitated, angry and enraged over his belief that the referee crew was making ‘bad calls,’” and over “alleged racial comments” Plaintiff, a referee, had directed at players. Coach told John Jay players “to hit” Plaintiff because “he need[ed] to pay the price.” The Coach pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily injury, affirming that he did “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to Plaintiff by striking him.” This civil rights suit, filed in state court and later removed to federal court, followed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the school district. The court held no policy or custom of Northside Independent School District directed the assault on Plaintiff—quite the opposite, the Coach had gone rogue in ordering the assault—so the district is not liable under section 1983.   But the state-created-danger theory does not even fit this situation in which a public employee ordered private actors to commit an assault. Instead, the theory applies when a state actor creates a dangerous condition that results in harm. It involves a mens rea of deliberate indifference, not the intentional infliction of harm. Instead, it is an example of a public official’s ordering private actors to engage in the conduct. The law has long recognized that state action exists when a state actor commands others to commit acts as much as when the state actor commits those act. Further, the court left it to the district court to determine complaint has alleged a violation of clearly established due process law. View "Watts v. Northside Indep Sch Dist, et al" on Justia Law

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Greenpoint Tactical Income Fund and its affiliates and managers were the subjects of an FBI investigation into suspected fraud, particularly with respect to Greenpoint’s asset valuation practices. The investigation led to the issuance of a search warrant for plaintiffs’ properties and the seizure of some assets. Plaintiffs filed suit against Agent Pettigrew and Assistant United States Attorney Halverson, alleging violations of their Fourth Amendment rights by submitting a false and misleading affidavit in support of the search warrant. They sought damages. The district court dismissed the suit, concluding that plaintiffs were seeking to extend “Bivens” to a “new context” and that “special factors” counseled hesitation in doing so.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal on different grounds. Even assuming that Bivens can reach the Fourth Amendment violations alleged here, Halverson is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity and Agent Pettigrew is entitled to qualified immunity. There is no allegation that Halverson was interviewing witnesses himself, was actively involved in the investigation as it was unfolding, or personally vouched for the truth of the allegations in Pettigrew’s affidavit. A reasonable agent in Pettigrew’s position could believe the allegations amounted to probable cause. View "Greenpoint Tactical Income Fund LLC v. Pettigrew" on Justia Law

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Brown, a prisoner in the Illinois River Correctional Center, experienced abdominal pain. A few days later, the prison’s nurse practitioner prescribed some pain medicine. Brown returned to his cell, but the pain became more severe. Brown was taken to the prison’s ’infirmary, where the prison’s nurses and doctor treated him over three-and-a-half days. Despite the treatment, the symptoms worsened, and Brown was transported to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with appendicitis, which required surgery to remove his appendix. Brown sued, alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The prison medical staff did not act with deliberate indifference toward Brown’s serious medical condition. Brown may have received subpar care in the prison’s infirmary but medical malpractice is not a constitutional violation. › Brown has presented no direct or circumstantial evidence that the physician “actually knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of harm.” View "Brown v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court imposing a mandatory five-year conditional release term in connection with Defendant's conviction of fourth-degree assault of a secure treatment facility employee of the Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program (MSOP), holding that there was a rational basis for the sentencing disparity at issue in this case.After he was convicted, Defendant filed a petition for postconviction relief arguing that Minn. Stat. 609.2231, subd. 3a(e) required the district court to impose different sentences for the same conduct based on the defendant's civil commitment status, and therefore, his sentence violated his equal protection rights under the United States and Minnesota Constitutions. The district court denied postconviction relief, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the disparate sentence survived rational basis review. View "State v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was an engineer for the City of Pharr, Texas. When his supervisors asked him to sign a document he did not believe was true, Plaintiff refused. Ultimately, he was terminated and filed this case against the city and two of Plaintiff's supervisors.Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court held a hearing and denied Defendant's motion. Two days later, the court entered a minute order; however, no written order was attached. Exactly 412 days later, Defendant appealed the denial of his motion for summary judgment, claiming that the court's oral ruling was not appealable and that he is technically appealing the court's refusal to rile on his motion.The Fifth Circuit rejected Defendant's reasoning. A bench ruling can be effective without a written order and triggers appeal deadlines if it is final. Here, the court's order was final. While the district court's ruling did not comply with Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 58, an alternate interpretation would give Defendant infinite time to appeal. View "Ueckert v. Guerra" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of her minor daughter, alleged that Defendant, an employee of the Kauai County Police Department, deceived the Hawaii family court when she assisted the non-custodial father of Plaintiff’s daughter in obtaining a temporary restraining order that prevented Plaintiff, the sole custodial parent, from having any contact with her daughter. Plaintiff further alleged that Defendant conspired with the noncustodial father and state officials to extract the daughter from her school and place her in the father’s custody without Plaintiff’s knowledge or court order.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss, on the basis of qualified immunity, an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging violations of Plaintiff’s right to familial association.The court stated that although Defendant may ultimately prove that Plaintiff’s allegations were false, at the pleading stage, the court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true. When the alleged events in this case occurred, the law clearly established that a parent and child’s constitutional right to familial association is violated when a state official interferes with a parent’s lawful custody through judicial deception. The law also clearly established that a state official cannot remove a child from a lawful custodial parent without consent or court order unless the official has reasonable cause to believe that the child is in imminent danger and, even then, the scope and duration of the removal must be reasonable. Here, Plaintiff plausibly alleged that Defendant violated these rights by deliberately failing to inform the family court of a custody order. View "HANNAH DAVID V. GINA KAULUKUKUI" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of two murders and finding true the special circumstances that one murder occurred during the commission of a robbery, that the other murder involved the killing of a witness and that Defendant had been convicted of multiple murders, and sentencing Defendant to death, holding that no errors required reversal of the judgment.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) substantial evidence supported the excusal of juror J.W. for cause; (2) assuming that the trial court erred when it allowed the prosecution to introduce "other acts" evidence at the guilt phase of trial, any error was harmless; (3) assuming that the trial court erred in introducing evidence at the penalty phase regarding Defendant's participation in mutual combat was harmless; and (4) there was no cumulative error requiring reversal of the judgment below. View "People v. Pineda" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court entering judgment upon the jury's verdict that Defendant committed first degree murder, robbery, burglary, and firearm possession by a felon and sentencing him to death, holding that while the court committed statutory error, there were no additional errors or rulings that caused Defendant undue prejudice.On appeal, Defendant asserted that several errors in the guilt and penalty phases occurred, resulting in cumulative prejudice warranting reversal of his convictions. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed, holding (1) the trial court erred by allowing Defendant to be absent from trial without a written waiver, but the error was not prejudicial; and (2) Defendant failed to identify any other reversible error on appeal. View "People v. Poore" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on proposed Initiatives #67 (2021-2022), #115 (2021-2022) and #128 (2021-2022), and whether they violated the single-subject requirement of the Colorado Constitution. Each indicative included provisions that would allow food retailers already licensed to sell beer to also sell wine, and provisions that would authorize third-party delivery services to deliver all alcoholic beverages sold from licensed retailers to consumers at their homes. After review, the Supreme Court determined the Initiatives violated the single-subject requirement, and the Title Board lacked jurisdiction to set titles for them. Accordingly, the Board’s actions were reversed. View "Fine v. Ward" on Justia Law

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Freed created a Facebook profile, limited to his “friends.” Eventually, he exceeded Facebook’s 5,000-friend limit on profiles and converted his profile to a “page,” which has unlimited “followers.” His page was public, anyone could “follow” it; for the page category, Freed chose “public figure.” Freed was appointed Port Huron’s city manager. He updated his Facebook page to reflect that title. In the “About” section, he described himself as “Daddy ... Husband ... and City Manager, Chief Administrative Officer for the citizens of Port Huron, MI.” Freed listed the Port Huron website as his page’s website, the city’s general email as his page’s contact information, and the City Hall address as his page’s address. Freed shared photos of family events, visits to local community events, and posts about administrative directives he issued as city manager. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, he posted policies he initiated for Port Huron and news articles on public-health measures and statistics. Lindke responded with criticism. Freed deleted those comments and eventually “blocked” Lindke from the page.Lindke sued Freed under 42 U.S.C 1983, arguing that Freed violated his First Amendment rights. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Freed. Freed’s Facebook activity was not state action. The page neither derives from the duties of his office nor depends on his state authority. View "Lindke v. Freed" on Justia Law