Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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San Rafael voters approved by a two-thirds vote a Paramedic Services Special Tax, imposing an annual special tax up to a maximum of 14 cents per square foot on all nonresidential structures in the city to fund paramedic services. In 2015-2016, the city determined that the Assessor had been inadvertently omitted certain properties from the Paramedic Tax assessment. City officials rectified this oversight prospectively and sought to collect a portion of the Tax that had gone unpaid. One property owner that received notice of the levy was Valley Baptist, a nonprofit religious organization that operates a church on property within city boundaries. The city requested payment of $13,644.Valley Baptist filed suit, challenging the constitutionality of the Tax as applied to a place of worship. Valley Baptist argued that it is exempted from payment of all property taxes under article XIII, section 3(f) of the California Constitution, including the Paramedic Tax. Reversing the trial court, the court of appeal held that the religious exemption does not extend to non-ad valorem special property taxes like the Paramedic Tax. The constitutional articles added by Propositions 13 and 218 do not evince an intent by the electorate to extend the scope of article XIII exemptions to special property taxes. View "Valley Baptist Church v. City of San Rafael" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Oregon State Bar, alleging First Amendment violations arising from the Oregon State Bar's (OSB) requirement that lawyers must join and pay annual membership fees in order to practice in Oregon. Specifically, plaintiffs contend that (1) the two statements from the April 2018 Bulletin are not germane; (2) compelling them to join and maintain membership in OSB violates their right to freedom of association; and (3) compelling plaintiffs to pay—without their prior, affirmative consent—annual membership fees to OSB violates their right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, the Crowe Plaintiffs alone contend that the Bar's constitutionally mandated procedural safeguards for objecting members are deficient, and the Gruber Plaintiffs alone continue to argue on appeal that OSB is not entitled to sovereign immunity from suit. The district court dismissed all of plaintiffs' claims.The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that precedent forecloses the free speech claim, but neither the Supreme Court nor this court has resolved the free association claim now before the panel. Even assuming both statements at issue were nongermane, the panel concluded that plaintiffs' free speech claim failed. As alleged, the panel also concluded that the OSB's refund process is sufficient to minimize potential infringement on its members' constitutional rights. However, the panel explained that plaintiffs may have stated a viable claim that Oregon's compulsory Bar membership requirement violates their First Amendment right of free association. On remand, the panel noted that there are a number of complicated issues that the district court will need to address. First, the district court will need to determine whether Janus v. Am. Fed'n of State, Cnty., & Mun. Emps., Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2477, 2481 (2018), supplies the appropriate standard for plaintiffs' free association claim and, if so, whether OSB can satisfy its "exacting scrutiny standard." Given that the panel has never addressed such a broad free association claim, the district court will also likely need to determine whether Keller v. State Bar of California's, 496 U.S. 1, 13–14 (1990), instructions with regards to germaneness and procedurally adequate safeguards are even relevant to the free association inquiry. Finally, the panel concluded that the district court erred by determining that OSB was an arm of the state entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the district court with instructions. View "Crowe v. Oregon State Bar" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the convictions received by Defendants, three former employees of the New England Compounding Center (NECC), for a number of federal offenses related to aspects of NECC's operation that were identified in the course of a federal criminal investigation into NECC's medication, holding that there was no prejudicial error.In 2012, patients across the country began falling ill after having been injected with a contaminated medication compounded by NECC. After many of these patients died, a federal criminal investigation ensued. A jury found Stepanets, Svirskiy, and Leary each guilty of committing multiple federal crimes. The First Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions and Stepanets' sentence, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions; (2) it was not clear or obvious error under the Eighth Amendment for the district court to impose the sentence that Stepanets received; (3) Svirskiy's challenges to his convictions were without merit; and (4) Leary's arguments on appeal were unavailing. View "United States v. Stepanets" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting summary judgment against Plaintiffs, who argued that they were employees of Defendant within the context of the Minimum Wage Amendment (MWA), Nev. Const. art. XV, section 16, holding that summary judgment was improper.Plaintiff, dancers, demanded minimum wages from Defendant, a men's club. Defendant refused to pay because it considered Plaintiffs independent contractors. Plaintiffs brought this class action seeking a ruling that they were employees rather independent contractors and were therefore entitled to minimum wages. The district court concluded that Nev. Rev. Stat. 608.0155 applied to Plaintiffs, rendering them independent contractors ineligible for minimum wages. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiffs were employees within the MWA's meaning; and (2) Nev. Rev. Stat. 608.0155 does not abrogate the constitutional protections to which Plaintiffs were entitled. View "Doe Dancer I v. La Fuente, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion for postconviction relief after an evidentiary hearing, holding that the district court did not err in finding that trial counsel was effective.In his motion for postconviction relief, Defendant argued that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to file a direct appeal at Defendant's direction. The district court denied the motion after holding an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not clearly err in finding that Defendant did not direct trial counsel to file a direct appeal, and therefore, trial counsel was not deficient in allegedly not filing the appeal. View "State v. Russell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of possession of a controlled substance and two counts of carrying a concealed weapon, holding that there was no merit to Defendant's claims on appeal.On appeal, Defendant contended that the district court erred in overruling his motion to suppress, that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, and that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of carrying a concealed weapon. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because there was no Fourth Amendment violation the court properly overruled Defendant's motion to suppress; (2) there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict; and (3) trial counsel did not perform deficiently. View "State v. Lowman" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction in the United States District Court for the District of Maine for possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a hearing under Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978).After he was charged, Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence discovered during a search of his home due to what he claimed were false statements and omissions in the affidavit supporting the application for the search warrant. The district court denied the suppression motion, including Defendant's request for an evidentiary hearing. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's Franks motion. View "United States v. Alexandre" on Justia Law

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In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 57, the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016,” which amended the California Constitution to grant early parole consideration to persons convicted of a nonviolent felony offense. Petitioners Alexei Kavanaugh, Alberto Moreno, and Larry Smith were denied parole release under the procedures established by the parole regulations. In separate habeas corpus proceedings challenging the parole denials, the trial courts invalidated the parole regulations and ordered new parole consideration proceedings for the petitioners. The courts found the parole regulations were unconstitutional because they did not guarantee the assistance of legal counsel for potential parolees, they did not require in-person parole hearings, and they permitted individual hearing officers to make parole release decisions. According to the courts, the parole regulations conflict with section 32’s guarantee of parole consideration and violate prisoners’ procedural due process rights. The Court of Appeal concluded the parole regulations did not conflict with the constitutional guarantee of parole consideration or violate due process. "Section 32... vests CDCR with authority to adopt regulations in furtherance of its guarantee of parole consideration. CDCR acted within its mandate by enacting the parole regulations." Further, the Court concluded parole regulations required annual parole eligibility reviews, set forth sufficiently definite criteria governing parole release decisions, mandated a written statement of reasons for each parole release decision, and granted prisoners notice of the parole proceeding, an opportunity to submit a written statement to the Board of Parole Hearings (the Board), and the right to seek review of an adverse decision. "These features adequately safeguard against arbitrary and capricious parole release decisions." Orders granting the petitioners’ habeas corpus petitions were reversed. View "In re Kavanaugh" on Justia Law

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Defendant Nabeel Aziz Khan (“Nabeel”) and his brother, Defendant Dr. Shakeel Kahn were convicted by a Wyoming jury on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Defendants were tried together; they appealed separately, but because their appeals raised several overlapping issues, the Tenth Circuit addressed both appeals in this opinion. In 2008, Dr. Kahn started a medical practice in Ft. Mohave, Arizona. Later that year, Nabeel arrived in Arizona and began assisting with managing Dr. Kahn’s practice. After Nabeel’s arrival, Dr. Kahn’s practice shifted towards pain management. Dr. Kahn regularly prescribed patients various controlled substances. The prescriptions he wrote aligned closely with what patients were able to pay, rather than the patients’ medical need; when patients were prescribed more pills, Dr. Kahn charged more for his medical services, and when patients could not afford the price of the prescription, Dr. Kahn prescribed fewer pills, or withheld a prescription entirely. The price of prescriptions also closely tracked the “street price” of the pills. In addition to shifting towards pain management, Dr. Kahn’s practice also shifted to a primarily “cash-only” basis, although he also accepted payment in personal property, including firearms. Many of Dr. Kahn’s patients sold pills so they could afford their prescriptions. Beginning in late 2012, pharmacies in the Ft. Mohave area began refusing to fill prescriptions issued by Dr. Kahn. In 2015, he opened a second practice in Casper, Wyoming. During that time, Dr. Kahn continued to travel to Arizona to see patients about once per month; other patients travelled to Wyoming to see Dr. Kahn. Nabeel primarily resided at Dr. Kahn’s Arizona residence, and acted as office manager for the Arizona office. Dr. Kahn’s wife, Lyn Kahn, acted as office manager for the Wyoming office. In 2016, the government investigated Dr. Kahn's prescribing practices, which lead to a search warrant executed on Dr. Kahn's Wyoming residence, his Arizona residence, and a separate business he and his wife owned in Wyoming, "Vape World." Reviewing defendants' challenges, the Tenth Circuit concluded the trial court committed no reversible errors and affirmed defendants' convictions. View "United States v. Khan" on Justia Law

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John Doe was expelled from the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine (CHM) for allegedly sexually assaulting two women, Roe 1 and Roe 2, on the night of the school’s formal dance. An outside consultant had determined that the evidence supported a finding that Doe had sexually assaulted the women. CHM convened a panel, which affirmed those findings without an in-person hearing. While this process was ongoing, the Sixth Circuit held that universities must offer an in-person hearing with cross-examination in cases where the fact-finder’s determination depends on witness credibility.CHM then gave Doe an in-person hearing, conducted over the course of three days before a Resolution Officer selected by the university. Doe was permitted to testify and, through his attorney, to cross-examine Roe 1 and Roe 2. The Resolution Officer did not require Roe 1 to answer every question that Doe’s attorney posed. Both Doe and his attorney were present throughout the entire hearing. After considering the credibility of the witnesses, the Resolution Officer again found that the evidence supported a finding that Doe had sexually assaulted the women.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Doe’s suit alleging violations of the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and Title IX. Doe received ample due process throughout the course of his three-day hearing. View "Doe v. Michigan State University" on Justia Law