Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Fazzino's equal protection right and has taken his property without compensation, and that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Stratta's First Amendment right to free speech. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity, ripeness, Burford abstention, and qualified immunity.  The Fifth Circuit held that the district court erroneously concluded that BVGCD is an arm of the State of Texas and therefore immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment. In this case, five of the six Clark factors weigh against finding BVGCD is an arm of the state of Texas where, most importantly, funds from the Texas treasury will not be used to satisfy a judgment against the entity. Furthermore, the Directors are likewise not entitled to assert such immunity. The court also held that Fazzino's takings claim is ripe for adjudication because Fazzino fully pursued the administrative remedies available to him before filing this action, and the district court abused its discretion in deciding to abstain under Burford. Finally, the court held that neither BVGCD nor its Board was required to respond on the merits, and thus the substance of these allegations must be tested in discovery and further proceedings. The court reversed the district court's Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal as to all defendants and remanded. However, the court affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Stratta's First Amendment claims. View "Stratta v. Harris" on Justia Law

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A man parked his car in San Francisco's Sutter-Stockton Garage, leaving his dog in the car. When he returned, he saw his dog had been brutally killed. A security guard viewed video clips from the incident and recognized Best, who was charged with second-degree burglary of a vehicle; killing, maiming, or abusing an animal; and vandalism of the vehicle, plus four misdemeanors. The trial court declared a doubt about Best’s competency; Best apparently refused to face the judge in order to avoid having her image recorded. Experts evaluated Best; the court found Best mentally competent to stand trial. The matter was continued for a Faretta hearing. A different judge confirmed that Best had read and initialed each portion of an “Advisement and Waiver of Right to Counsel” and inquired into Best’s education and awareness of the charges. The court engaged in extensive questioning. Some of Best’s responses betrayed a lack of understanding of legal concepts and procedures. When the court asked Best about possible defenses, her discussion verged on incoherence. Best gave clear, accurate answers to simpler questions. The court denied her motion. Best was convicted. The court of appeal reversed; the trial court erred in denying Best the right to represent herself on the grounds she had not knowingly and voluntarily made that choice. The court rejected arguments that the Faretta motion was untimely and that Best was disruptive and disobedient and noted that the transcript does not show Best was advised of the maximum punishment she faced. View "People v. Best" on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania Trooper Ramirez stopped a car for speeding after running the license plate and learning the car was owned by Enterprise. It lacked typical rental stickers. Each vent had an air freshener clipped to it. The driver, Fruit, gave Ramirez his license and rental car agreement, identifying his passenger, Garner. The rental agreement listed Fruit as the authorized driver but limited to New York and appeared to have expired 20 days earlier. Ramirez questioned Garner; 12 minutes into the stop, Ramirez put their information into his computer and learned that neither man had outstanding warrants, although Fruit was on supervised release. Both had extensive criminal records, including drug and weapons crimes. Enterprise confirmed that Fruit had extended the rental beyond the listed expiration date. Ramirez resolved to ask permission to search the vehicle but waited for backup, which arrived 37 minutes into the stop. Fruit declined permission to search. Ramirez stated that he was calling for a K-9 and Fruit was not free to leave. "Zigi" arrived 56 minutes into the stop, alerted at the car, then entered the vehicle and alerted in the back seat and trunk. A search revealed 300 grams of cocaine and 261 grams of heroin. Both men were indicted for conspiracy to possess (and possession) with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine. The district court denied their motion to suppress, ruling that Ramirez had “an escalating degree of reasonable suspicion” that justified extending the stop. In a consolidated appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. Ramirez had reasonable suspicion to extend the stop based on information he obtained during the first few minutes of the traffic stop before he engaged in an unrelated investigation; no unlawful extension of the stop occurred. View "United States v. Fruit" on Justia Law

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This appeal challenges the legality of lease-leaseback agreements used by school districts for construction and modernization projects. The trial court entered judgment dismissing plaintiff's remaining conflict of interest claims because the challenged projects had all been completed, which it held rendered the reverse validation action moot. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of dismissal, holding that allowing plaintiff's claims to proceed long after the projects have been finished would undermine the strong policy of promptly resolving the validity of public agency actions. In this case, the lease-leaseback agreements were subject to validation, and plaintiff's conflict of interest claims necessarily challenge the validity of the agreements, regardless of label or remedy. Because the projects were completed, plaintiff's claims are moot. View "McGee v. Torrance Unified School District" on Justia Law

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Section 1513 of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act prevents the plaintiffs from making political contributions because they hold interests in businesses that have gaming licenses. They sued, claiming First Amendment and Equal Protection violations. The district court concluded that Section 1513 furthers a substantially important state interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption but ruled that the restriction is unconstitutional because the Commonwealth did not draw it closely enough. The court permanently enjoined the enforcement of Section 1513. The Third Circuit affirmed. Limitations on campaign expenditures are subject to strict scrutiny. The government must prove that the regulations promote a “compelling interest” and are the “least restrictive means to further the articulated interest.” Even applying an intermediate threshold, examining whether the statute is “closely drawn,” the Commonwealth does not meet its burden. The overwhelming majority of states with commercial, non-tribal casino gambling like Pennsylvania do not have any political contribution restrictions that apply specifically to gaming industry-related parties. The Commonwealth’s implicit appeal to “common sense” as a surrogate for evidence in support of its far-reaching regulatory scheme is noteworthy in light of the approach taken by most other similarly situated states. View "Deon v. Barasch" on Justia Law

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Caquelin's land was subject to a railroad easement. The Surface Transportation Board granted the railroad permission to abandon the line unless the process (16 U.S.C. 1247(d)) for considering the use of the easement for a public recreational trail was invoked. That process was invoked. The Board issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use or Abandonment (NITU), preventing effectuation of the abandonment approval and blocking the ending of the easement for 180 days, during which the railroad could try to reach an agreement with two entities that expressed interest in the easement for trail use. The NITU expired without such an agreement. The railroad completed its abandonment three months later. Caquelin sued, alleging that a taking occurred when the government, by issuing the NITU, prevented the termination of the easement during the 180-day period. Following a remand, the Claims Court again held that a taking had occurred. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting the contention that the multi-factor approach adopted for government-created flooding in the Supreme Court’s 2012 “Arkansas Game” decision displaced the categorical-taking analysis adopted in Federal Circuit precedents for a NITU that blocks termination of an easement. The categorical taking analysis is applicable even when that NITU expires without a trail-use agreement. A NITU does not effect a taking if, even without a NITU, the railroad would not have abandoned its line during the period of the NITU. Here, the evidence permits a finding that abandonment would have occurred during the NITU period if the NITU had not issued. View "Caquelin v. United States" on Justia Law

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After Map Kong was fatally shot by police in Burnsville, Minnesota, plaintiff filed suit against the city and the officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law. The district court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity and official immunity. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court erred in denying the officers qualified immunity. The court held that, even if the facts showed that the officers had violated Kong's Fourth Amendment right, the law at the time of the shooting did not clearly establish the right. In this case, Kong ran toward bystanders with a knife against the officers' repeated orders to drop the weapon; there was at least one pedestrian visible on the body-camera footage; and a steady flow of vehicles through the parking lot meant that citizens might quickly approach or step out of their vehicles. Therefore, the court held that a reasonable officer would have believed the law permitted shooting Kong under these circumstances. The court also held that, even if the officers acted negligently, they did not intentionally disregard the police department's policy on crisis intervention for persons. Therefore, the officers are entitled to official immunity and the district court erred in denying summary judgment on the state-law negligence claim. Furthermore, the city is entitled to vicarious official immunity. View "Sok Kong v. City of Burnsville" on Justia Law

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Defendant Loren Kandzior challenged his conviction on one count of sexual assault on two grounds: (1) that the trial court erred by excluding evidence of a prior false rape allegation; and (2) that his right to a fair trial was violated because the jury was exposed to “extraneous, highly prejudicial information” - namely, the substance of an undetermined number of bench conferences that occurred during the three-day trial. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court committed plain error by failing to investigate when it became aware that the jury may have overhead numerous bench conferences during defendant’s trial. Accordingly, defendant’s conviction was vacated and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Vermont v. Kandzior" on Justia Law

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Defendants Thomas and Katherine Ferguson appealed their respective convictions for animal cruelty and a judgment for animal forfeiture, both arising from the conditions in which they kept over twenty animals in their care. In September 2017, defendants’ landlord entered their trailer to check the smoke detectors. He found the interior of the residence smelled strongly of urine and ammonia, and he observed more than two dozen animals in “questionable living conditions.” Numerous dogs were crowded into small crates and lacked access to food and water, including a nursing mother and her puppies. Birds were kept in dirty cages and their water was viscous and filled with feces, food, and feathers. Landlord took photographs and a video of some of the animals, including three dogs sharing one travel crate. Landlord, his family, and other contractors continued to do maintenance work on the property for the next month, during which time the animals remained in similar conditions. One of landlord’s contractors eventually contacted the police regarding the animals’ conditions. Defendants challenged their ultimate convictions on the basis that the affidavit prepared by a police officer in support of the search warrant that led to the charges relied on information obtained from a prior illegal search, and therefore the court should have excluded all evidence obtained as a result of the warrant. They challenged the forfeiture order on the ground that the court improperly admitted hearsay statements in the forfeiture hearing. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to the criminal convictions because even if the information from the challenged prior search was stricken, the remaining portions of the affidavit were sufficient to support the search warrant that led to the charges. The Court agreed that the court improperly allowed hearsay evidence in the forfeiture proceeding, and remanded for the court to reconsider its ruling without the objectionable evidence. View "Vermont v. Ferguson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the Attorney General of the United States in his official capacity as head of the Department of Justice (DOJ), alleging that the DOJ had denied her a promotion to a Division Director position because of her gender, in violation of 42 U.S.C. 2000e-16, and her age, in violation of 29 U.S.C. 633a. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the DOJ. The DC Circuit held that a reasonable jury could find that the DOJ's proffered nondiscriminatory reason for denying plaintiff the promotion that she sought was pretextual and that discrimination was the real reason. In this case, a reasonable jury could find in plaintiff's favor based on her superior qualifications, the accumulated evidence of gender discrimination, and pretext. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Stoe v. Barr" on Justia Law