Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff challenged the district court's summary judgment dismissal of her action for intentional discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as retaliation under Louisiana's Whistleblower Statute (LWS).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's discrimination claims, rejecting plaintiff's claim of intentional discrimination rooted in Christwood's failure to timely list her with the state as a director, claim of discriminatory pay, claim of discriminatory demotion, and claim of constructive discharge. The court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's whistleblower claim, holding that Christwood was plaintiff's employer. Because the district court concluded that Christwood was not an employer, it failed to address the remainder of plaintiff's LWS claim. Therefore, the court vacated the dismissal of the LWS claim and remanded for further consideration. View "Sanders v. Christwood" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying Proposed Intervenors' renewed motion to intervene in an action brought by the NAACP challenging the validity of Senate Bill 824. S.B. 824 established, inter alia, photographic voter identification requirements for elections in North Carolina.After determining that it has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291, the court held that the Proposed Intervenors have Article III standing to intervene for the purposes of intervention before the district court based on N.C. Gen Stat. 1-72.2 and Supreme Court precedent. The court rejected the arguments of the NAACP and the State Defendants that section 1-72.2 infringes on the powers of the Executive Branch in violation of the North Carolina Constitution's separation of powers provisions.In regard to intervention as a matter of right, the court held that the district court erred in determining that the Proposed Intervenors lacked a sufficient interest in the S.B. 824 litigation without careful consideration of section 1-72.2(a). Therefore, the court remanded for the district court to more fully consider the North Carolina statute in the analysis of the Proposed Intervenors' interest in the litigation. Because the Proposed Intervenors may have interests which may be practically impaired if not permitted to intervene in the action before the district court, the court remanded as to this issue as well. The court further stated that, although it was appropriate for the district court to apply the Westinghouse presumption since the Proposed Intervenors and the State Defendants appear to seek the same ultimate objective, the district court erred in demanding that the Proposed Intervenors overcome that presumption by the heightened standard of a "strong showing." In regard to permissive intervention, the court held that the district court failed to address sections 1-72.2(a) and (b) and 120-32.6. Given the import of those statutes, the court remanded for consideration of the permissive intervention request. View "North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Berger" on Justia Law

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Euclid Officers Rhodes and Catalani were dispatched to check on a “suspicious” vehicle in a residential area near a school. Stewart was sleeping in the car. Catalani shined his flashlight through the windows and saw indications of marijuana and alcohol. The officers did not turn on their dashboard camera, belt microphones, nor their vehicle’s overhead lights. Stewart woke up and started the car. Neither officer announced himself as a police officer. The officers attempted to remove Stewart from the car; Rhodes got into the car. Stewart drove away within the speed limit. Rhodes attempted to gain control of the gearshift and the keys while striking Stewart in the head. Rhodes eventually deployed his taser and pulled the trigger six times. The car came to a stop. Rhodes did not try to leave the car. Stewart then continued driving. When the car stopped, Rhodes fired two shots into Stewart’s torso. According to Rhodes, Stewart attempted to “punch” him. Rhodes shot Stewart three additional times. Stewart died from his wounds; 59 seconds elapsed from the time Catalani advised dispatch that Stewart was fleeing to the time he reported shots fired.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 as barred by qualified immunity but reversed the dismissal of state law claims. Regardless of whether a constitutional violation occurred, the contours of the right were not clearly established in these circumstances. Few cases have ever considered the danger faced by an officer inside a fleeing suspect’s vehicle and at what point it justifies the use of deadly force. Violation of Stewart's rights cannot be the “known or obvious consequence” disregarded by the city through its training program. Statutory immunity under Ohio law is distinct from federal qualified immunity. View "Stewart v. City of Euclid" on Justia Law

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Pirkel committed 17 crimes in 2007. He was suicidal when he was arrested. Pirkel expressed reservations about entering a plea; he was given 90 minutes to read police reports. When the court reconvened, Pirkel pleaded no contest to all of the charges except criminal sexual conduct and accosting a minor, which were dismissed. Pirkel stated that he understood the plea agreement and that no one had threatened him or promised him anything. Before sentencing, Pirkel sent the judge a letter expressing concerns with his representation and his plea. The court would not allow Pirkel to withdraw his plea, refused to appoint new attorneys, and sentenced Pirkel to 20-50 years’ imprisonment for assault with intent to murder,Pirkel's appointed appellate counsel, Ujlaky, advised Pirkel that he “found no issue of even colorable merit to pursue.” The judge who had presided over Pirkel’s plea and sentencing allowed Ujlaky to withdraw and declined to appoint new counsel. Michigan courts declined to hear his delayed pro se appeal. Pirkel filed a federal habeas petition. The district court found that Pirkel failed to exhaust several claims and denied relief on the other claims.The Sixth Circuit appointed counsel and allowed Pirkel to proceed on claims that his plea was rendered involuntary by ineffective assistance of trial counsel; that appellate counsel performed ineffectively; that the court violated Pirkel’s constitutional rights by allowing appellate counsel to withdraw; and that any exhaustion defense was waived. The court then reversed the denial of relief. The Michigan trial court failed to conduct its own review of the merits of Pirkel’s appeal before allowing counsel to withdraw based on a conclusory statement. The Constitution requires more. The Michigan courts unreasonably applied clearly established federal law. Pirkel is entitled to a new first-tier appeal in the Michigan courts View "Pirkel v. Burton" on Justia Law

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Castro-White, age 23, was found dead in his bedroom with signs of an opiate overdose. The Lorain Police Department retraced Castro-White’s final hours and identified Davis as the dealer who sold the drugs that killed Castro-White. Davis had sold the drug to Castro-White's friends, who had shared the drugs. Davis received a life sentence under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(C) which imposes a mandatory life sentence if a defendant with a prior felony drug conviction distributes an illegal substance and death results from its use.The Sixth Circuit rejected Davis' argument that the enhancement does not apply because he did not sell drugs directly to Castro-White. The enhancement’s text does not require such a buyer-seller relationship with the victim. The court also rejected Davis’s other evidentiary and instructional claims.The court remanded because the government conceded that the warrant that allowed the police to search Davis’ home and seize his cellphone lacked probable cause. The government claimed that the affiant gave additional unrecorded oral testimony to establish probable cause in front of the state magistrate who issued the warrant. The Fourth Amendment does not mandate recorded testimony, so the court allowed the government to offer evidence of this additional testimony in an evidentiary hearing on remand. View "United States v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Wal-Mart for retaliation and wrongful termination and an assistant manager at Wal-Mart for tortious interference with an employment contract. Plaintiff alleged that she was fired after she reported her supervisor for sexually harassing other Wal-Mart employees. Wal-Mart alleged that plaintiff was terminated because she violated Wal-Mart’s Investigation and Detention of Shoplifters Policy.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants, holding that plaintiff has met her prima facie burden of causation by showing close enough timing between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. However, the temporal proximity between plaintiff's protected activity and her termination is relevant to, but not alone sufficient to demonstrate, pretext. The court also held that a reasonable jury could not find that the supervisor's actions were the but-for cause of Wal-Mart's termination of plaintiff based on the record. View "Brown v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP" on Justia Law

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In 2013, defendant-appellant Donovan Muskett was indicted by grand jury, charged with four counts: assault with a dangerous weapon in Indian Country; aggravated burglary in Indian Country (based on New Mexico’s aggravated burglary statute by way of the federal Assimilative Crimes Act); using, carrying, possessing, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to and in furtherance of a crime of violence; and negligent child abuse in Indian Country. Muskett entered into a plea agreement, under which he pled guilty to the brandishing a firearm charge, the government dismissed the remaining three counts. The parties agreed that, contingent on the district court's acceptance of the plea agreement, Muskett would be sentenced to 84 months in prison. The district court accepted Muskett’s plea and sentenced him to 84 months of imprisonment followed by a three-year term of supervised release. In this matter, Muskett appealed the denial of his motion to vacate the brandishing conviction as a crime of violence based on the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019) (invalidating the residual clause in 18 U.S.C. 924(c)’s definition of a “crime of violence” as unconstitutionally vague). The parties’ primary disputed whether Muskett’s predicate federal felony—assault with a dangerous weapon, 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(3)—qualified as a crime of violence under the elements clause, thereby rendering harmless the Davis defect in his conviction. Muskett suggested the Tenth Circuit conduct this analysis using the law as it existed at the time of his conviction because application of current law would violate due process limits on the retroactive application of judicial decisions enlarging criminal liability. The Tenth Circuit found precedent compelled the conclusion that assault with a dangerous weapon was categorically a crime of violence under the elements clause. "And we conclude that at the time of his offense, Mr. Muskett had fair notice that section 924(c)’s elements clause could ultimately be construed to encompass his commission of assault with a dangerous weapon." The Court thus affirmed the district court's denial of Muskett’s section 2255 motion. View "United States v. Muskett" on Justia Law

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California Government Code 32310, which bans possession of large capacity magazines (LCMs) that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition, violates the Second Amendment.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiffs who brought suit challenging section 32310. The panel applied a two-prong test to determine whether firearm regulations violate the Second Amendment. First, the panel held that section 32310 burdens protected conduct because firearm magazines are protected arms under the Second Amendment; LCMs are not unusual arms; LCM prohibitions are not longstanding regulations and do not enjoy a presumption of lawfulness; and there is no persuasive historical evidence in the record showing LCM possession falls outside the ambit of Second Amendment protection.Second, the panel held that strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard to apply where section 32310 strikes at the core right of law-abiding citizens to self-defend by banning LCM possession within the home; section 32310 substantially burdens core Second Amendment rights; decisions in other circuits are distinguishable; and Fyock v. City of Sunnyvale does not obligate the panel to apply intermediate scrutiny. Although the state has compelling interests in preventing and mitigating gun violence, the panel held that section 32310 was not narrowly tailored to achieve such interests. Finally, even if intermediate scrutiny applied, section 32310 would still fail under the more lenient standard. View "Duncan v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's adverse grant of summary judgment against plaintiff's Title VII lawsuit. The panel held that the undisputed facts clearly show that plaintiff was Castle's independent contractor and thus not entitled to Title VII protections. In this case, plaintiff was paid, taxed, and received benefits like an independent contractor; plaintiff's obligations to Castle were limited, providing him the freedom to run his own private practice; the contracts between Castle and plaintiff described him as an independent contractor. The panel stated that other factors also weighed in favor of plaintiff being an independent contractor. View "Henry v. Adventist Health Castle Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Federal law does not facially preempt California law governing universal service contributions from prepaid wireless providers. Federal law requires telecommunications providers, including wireless providers such as MetroPCS, to contribute to the federal Universal Service Fund, which helps provide affordable telecommunications access. California requires its own universal service contributions, adopting the Prepaid Mobile Telephony Services Surcharge Collection Act in 2014, which (prior to its recent expiration) governed the collection of surcharges from prepaid wireless customers. The CPUC issued resolutions implementing the Prepaid Act that required providers of prepaid services to use a method other than the three FCC recognized methods to determine the revenues generated by intrastate traffic that were subject to surcharge. MetroPCS filed suit challenging the CPUC's resolutions.The panel held that the expiration of the Prepaid Act did not cause this case to become moot and that the panel therefore has jurisdiction to reach the merits of MetroPCS's preemption claim. On the merits, the panel held that preemption is disfavored because there was a dual federal-state regulatory scheme and a history of state regulation in the area of intrastate telecommunications. In this case, the CPUC resolutions are not facially preempted by the Telecommunications Act and related FCC decisions. The panel rejected MetroPCS's argument that the resolutions conflict with the requirement of competitive neutrality by depriving prepaid providers (but not postpaid providers) of the "right" to calculate intrastate revenues in a way that avoids assessing the same revenues as federal contribution requirements. Furthermore, the panel rejected MetroPCS's argument that because prepaid providers are deprived of that "right," the resolutions are preempted regardless of the treatment of competing providers. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's ruling in favor of MetroPCS and remanded for the district court to consider in the first instance MetroPCS's other challenges to the resolution. View "MetroPCS California, LLC v. Picker" on Justia Law