Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2008, another inmate, Macari, assaulted Himmelreich, who had pleaded guilty to producing child pornography, Himmelreich alleges that Macari was placed in the general population despite making comments about targeting “pedophiles.” Himmelreich filed a Tort Claim Notice with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Himmelreich alleges that Captain Fitzgerald warned him not to complain and threatened to have him transferred. Prison officials subsequently placed Himmelreich in the special housing unit (SHU). Himmelreich claims that Fitzgerald told him it was because of the Tort Claim. Prison officials claim they placed Himmelreich in the SHU for his own protection after he complained of threats from other inmates.Himmelreich’s subsequent lawsuits alleged numerous claims against prison officials, including a “Bivens” claim for retaliation in violation of the First Amendment based on Fitzgerald’s alleged threats and statements. Fitzgerald unsuccessfully moved for summary judgment only on the ground that there is no Bivens remedy for a First Amendment retaliation claim. The Sixth Circuit dismissed Fitzgerald’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction because her appeal concerns neither a final order nor a non-final order entitled to review under the collateral order doctrine. View "Himmelreich v. Federal Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of the Defendants and dismissing Plaintiffs' action seeking a declaratory judgment that Mo. Rev. Stat. 321.320 is an unconstitutional special law and that House Bill No. 1446 (HB 1446) violates the single-subject provision of the Missouri Constitution, holding that the circuit court erred.The City of De Soto and James Acres brought this action against the governor and the attorney general challenging section 321.320 and HB 1446. The De Soto Fire Protection District intervened as a defendant. The circuit court entered judgment for Defendants. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below, holding that HB 1446 violates the prohibition against multiple subjects in Mo. Const. art. III, 23 and that the entire bill is invalid and may not be enforced. View "City of De Soto v. Parson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's reduction of a damages award in favor of Appellant in a medical negligence case against University Physician Associates (UPA) and various physicians (collectively, the Physicians), holding that the circuit court did not err.Appellant filed this lawsuit alleging that the Physicians acted negligently in the Caesarean delivery of her child and in her postpartum care. The jury allocated 100 percent of fault to the Physicians and awarded $30,000 in past economic damages, $300,000 in past non-economic damages, and $700,000 in future non-economic damages. The circuit court concluded that Mo. Rev. Stat. 538.210.2(2)'s non-economic damages for catastrophic personal injury applied and reduced the non-economic damages award from $1 million to $748,828. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 538.210's non-economic damage caps do not violate Mo. Const. art. I, 22(a); and (2) the Physicians' points on appeal lacked merit. View "Ordinola Velazquez v. University Physician Associates" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the circuit court rejecting Plaintiffs' claims challenging the refusal by the Department of Social Services (DSS) to provide MO HealthNet coverage, holding that the circuit court erred in declaring Mo. Const. art. IV, 36(c) constitutionally invalid.Plaintiffs, three Missourians eligible for MO HealthNet coverage under article IV, section 36(c), brought this action challenging the DSS's refusal to provide coverage on the grounds that the General Assembly failed to appropriate adequate funding. The circuit court rejected the claims, finding that the ballot initiative that enacted article IV, section 36(c) violated Mo. Const. art. III, 51, which prohibits initiatives from appropriating money without creating revenue to fund the initiative. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the circuit court's judgment, holding (1) article IV, section 36(c) does not appropriate money and does not remove the General Assembly's discretion in appropriating money to MO HealthNet; and (2) therefore, the circuit court erred in concluding that article IV, section 36(c) violates article III, section 51. View "Doyle v. Tidball" on Justia Law

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Sergio Rojas Arias appealed the summary denial of his petition to vacate his first degree murder conviction under Penal Code section 1170.95. The trial court found Arias was not entitled to relief, as a matter of law, because the jury that found him guilty of murder returned a true finding on a robbery-murder special-circumstance allegation associated with the conviction. Because Arias was not the actual killer, the special-circumstance finding meant the jury necessarily found Arias aided and abetted in the commission of the murder with an intent to kill, or aided and abetted in the commission of the robbery while acting as a major participant and with reckless indifference to human life. The California Courts of Appeal were divided on the question of whether a jury’s true finding on a felony-murder special-circumstance allegation categorically precludes resentencing under section 1170.95 where, as here, the true finding was made prior to California v. Banks, 61 Cal.4th 788 (2015) and California v. Clark, 63 Cal.4th 522 (2016). The Court here found persuasive the logic of those courts that determined a pre- Banks and Clark felony-murder special-circumstance finding did not necessarily preclude resentencing under section 1170.95. Thus, the Court concluded the trial court erred in denying Arias’s petition based solely on the existence of the true robbery-murder special-circumstance finding. "Further, given the limited record of conviction before us, we are unable to conclude the special- circumstance finding satisfied the standards set forth in Banks and Clark." The trial court was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings on whether Arias made a prima facie showing of entitlement to relief. View "California v. Arias" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Pedro Rodriguez was serving a determinate term of 14 years eight months in prison. This term was the result of two separate proceedings in the trial court, both of which ended with jury trials and judgments of conviction. Following the second proceeding, the trial court announced a single, aggregate term of imprisonment for all of Rodriguez’s felony convictions from both proceedings. In the first proceeding, the trial court imposed a one-year prior prison term enhancement under former Penal Code section 667.5(b). This one-year term was included in the aggregate term of imprisonment imposed following the second proceeding. While Rodriguez’s appeal of the second proceeding was pending, section 667.5 was amended to limit the prior prison term enhancement to sexually violent offenses. Rodriguez contended the amendment applied retroactively to him under In re Estrada, 63 Cal.2d 740 (1965) because his aggregate sentence was not yet final when the amendment became effective. The Attorney General contended that the judgment in the first proceeding, where the enhancement was imposed, was final before the amendment became effective, and its finality was not affected by its inclusion in the aggregate term of imprisonment announced by the court following the second proceeding. The Court of Appeal concluded that, under Estrada, the amendment to section 667.5 did not apply retroactively to eliminate the prior prison term enhancement imposed on Rodriguez in the first proceeding. Rodriguez's petition for habeas relief was thus denied. View "In re Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition in which petitioner, a federal prisoner, sought to challenge his 2014 career offender sentence. Petitioner had previously filed a 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion in Ohio that was denied. Petitioner contends that, in light of intervening Supreme Court decisions, his previous convictions do not qualify him for career offender status. See Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016); Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254 (2013).Generally, a federal prisoner who seeks to challenge the legality of confinement must utilize a section 2255 motion. Under the "escape hatch" provision of section 2255(e), a federal prisoner may file a section 2241 petition only when the prisoner makes a claim of actual innocence and has not had an unobstructed procedural shot at presenting that claim. The district court held that petitioner failed to meet either of these requirements.The panel agreed with the district court that petitioner has not established a claim of actual innocence. In this case, petitioner does not dispute the validity of the conviction or that he committed the drug and firearm crimes leading to his sentence. Rather, petitioner claims actual innocence in light of Allen v. Ives, 950 F.3d 1184 (9th Cir. 2020). The panel distinguished Allen from this case and held that petitioner cannot show that he was actually innocent of the career offender enhancement utilized during sentencing. View "Shepherd v. Unknown Party" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff Donald Shooter's 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, Javan Mesnard, and the Arizona Governor's Chief of Staff, Kirk Adams, wrongfully engineered Shooter's expulsion as a representative from the Arizona House. In early 2018, Shooter was expelled from the Arizona House by a 56-3 vote after a legislative investigation into sexual harassment allegations concluded that he had created a hostile work environment. After the cause of action was removed to federal court, the district court dismissed the federal claim and remanded the state-law claims back to state court.The panel agreed that Shooter's federal cause of action under section 1983 was properly dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Because the complaint's allegations do not raise a plausible inference of sex discrimination, the panel concluded that Shooter's equal protection claim based on such a theory was properly dismissed. Furthermore, Shooter's two distinct due process theories are barred by qualified immunity. In this case, Shooter has failed to demonstrate a clearly established right to any due process protections beyond those already afforded to him by the Arizona House of Representatives. The panel concluded that the district court correctly held that Mesnard and Adams were entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in failing sua sponte to grant Shooter leave to amend. View "Shooter v. Arizona" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of resisting arrest, holding that neither federal or Arizona Batson jurisprudence requires a trial court to expressly address a demeanor-based justification when two race-neutral reasons are offered, the non-demeanor-based justification is explicitly deemed credible, and there is no finding that the demeanor-based justification is pretextual.On appeal, Defendant argued that the prosecutor's disparate treatment of jurors and failure to conduct voir dire on the issue of prior jury service demonstrated that the prosecutor had discriminatory intent during jury selection. The court of appeals remanded the case on the grounds that the trial court did not expressly determine whether the proffered justifications were not only race-neutral but also credible. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion and affirmed the trial court's denial of Defendant's Batson challenge, holding that the trial court satisfied its obligations under federal and Arizona Batson jurisprudence. View "State v. Porter" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a tenured professor, filed suit against MSCU, the University, and five University employees, under 42 U.S.C. 1981 and 1983, claiming various discrimination and retaliation counts. Plaintiff's complaint stemmed from a series of decisions made between 2013 and 2016 about faculty class schedules, resource allocation, and participation in certain programs. Plaintiff, a Black man born in Nigeria, claimed the individual defendants made these adverse decisions against him because of his race and national origin. Plaintiff also claimed the individual defendants retaliated against him for an earlier lawsuit against the University, and for reporting a University employee's alleged discriminatory conduct.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's freestanding section 1981 claims, concluding that he was barred from asserting section 1981 retaliation claims against state actors. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's section 1983 claims, concluding that plaintiff failed to provide direct evidence of retaliation and thus failed to establish causation. View "Onyiah v. St. Cloud State University" on Justia Law