Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals

by
In 2013, the City of Worcester, Massachusetts adopted the Aggressive Panhandling Ordinance and the Pedestrian Safety Ordinance, which prohibited coercive or risky behavior by panhandlers, other solicitors, and demonstrators seeking the attention of motor vehicle drivers. Two plaintiffs were homeless people who solicited donations from the City’s sidewalks. The third plaintiff was a City school committee member who had customarily displayed political signs near traffic during the campaign season. Plaintiffs brought suit challenging the new ordinances as violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court denied a preliminary injunction against enforcing the ordinances, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of any of their constitutional claims. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction as to all provisions of the ordinances except for the Aggressive Panhandling Ordinance’s prohibition against nighttime solicitation, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the preliminary injunction. View "Thayer v. City of Worcester" on Justia Law

by
When control of the Puerto Rican government changes parties, the political party assuming office often terminates the employment of public employees affiliated with the party going out of power and fills the vacancies with its own members. Plaintiff, a Popular Democratic Party (PDP) activist, was employed with a trust position at Puerto Rico’s State Insurance Fund Corporation (SIFC) while the PDP was in power. Plaintiff was moved into a career position at the SIFC when it became clear the opposing party would win an upcoming election. Had Plaintiff remained in a trust position, his employment could have been terminated without violating the First Amendment. A subsequent audit of employees performed by the new administration revealed that Plaintiff’s appointment did not conform with Puerto Rican law. Plaintiff’s reclassification to a career position was subsequently annulled, and he was dismissed. Plaintiff filed suit against SIFC and other defendants, alleging that he was terminated because of his political association in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court concluded that Defendants were entitled to summary judgment under the Mt. Healthy doctrine. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff failed to produce any evidence that undermined Defendants’ proffered nondiscriminatory reasons for his reclassification and later termination. View "Reyes-Perez v. State Ins. Fund Corp." on Justia Law

by
Corizon, Inc. was a private independent contractor that provided healthcare services to inmates at Cumberland County Jail (CCJ) under a contract with the jail. After Paul Galambos, died from self-inflicted injuries that he sustained while he was a pretrial detainee at CCJ, Galambos’s estate brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that three employees of Corizon were deliberately indifferent to Galambos’s serious medical needs. Defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The magistrate judge denied Defendants’ motions, concluding that material and disputed issues of fact existed that precluded the grant of immunity. Defendants appealed. The First Circuit dismissed the appeal for want of appellate jurisdiction under Johnson v. Jones because the district court’s denial of immunity turned on findings that there remained disputed issues of material fact and inference. View "Cady v. Cumberland County Jail" on Justia Law

by
After a jury trial, Petitioner was found guilty of second degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm. Petitioner appealed his conviction, contending that the Commonwealth used its peremptory challenges to exclude young African Americans in violation of the equal protection principles laid down in Batson v. Kentucky. The Massachusetts Appeals Court (MAC) concluded that Petitioner had failed to make a prima facie showing that the Commonwealth’s use of peremptory challenges was likely motivated by the jurors’ race. Petitioner failed to obtain relief on appeal in the Massachusetts courts and subsequently sought a writ of habeas corpus from the United States District Court. The district court denied the petition. The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court, holding that the MAC’s application of the first Batson prong was clear error and represented an objectively unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Remanded to the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing and to complete the Batson inquiry. View "Sanchez v. Roden" on Justia Law

by
Defendant was charged with several drug trafficking crimes. Defendant engaged in several pre-trial antics in an apparent effort to put off the trial, including seeking continuances of the trial and ostensibly firing his attorney. Because of Defendant’s continued complaints about his attorney, Defendant ended up representing himself at trial. The jury ultimately convicted Defendant on all counts. The First Circuit affirmed Defendant’s convictions, holding (1) the trial judge did not deprive Defendant of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice when she allowed Defendant to represent himself at trial; and (2) the district judge did not err in refusing Defendant’s motions to continue. View "United States v. Robinson" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner was convicted as an accessory before the fact to George Carpenter’s murder. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) reversed the conviction, concluding that the indictment charging Petitioner improperly defined the offense on which he was tried. The Commonwealth subsequently indicted Petitioner for the murder of Carpenter. Petitioner moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the second prosecution was barred by double jeopardy as incorporated against the states. The SJC affirmed the trial judge’s denial of Petitioner’s motion, concluding that its earlier reversal had been based on a variance between the crime charged and the crime proved at trial under state law, and a second prosecution under these facts did not give rise to a double jeopardy problem. Petitioner filed a petition for habeas relief, claiming that his pending prosecution was barred by double jeopardy. The district court granted the petition. The First Circuit reversed, holding that under Tibbs v. Florida, the SJC’s interpretation of its earlier reversal and the requirements of Massachusetts law bound the Court, and therefore, Petitioner’s double jeopardy argument necessarily failed. View "Marshall v. Bristol Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff brought sex discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against his former employer, DDR Corp., after his employment was terminated. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that DDR discriminated against him on the basis of sex by terminating him after his co-worker, whose sexual advances he refused, maligned his job performance. The district court granted summary judgment to DDR. The First Circuit (1) vacated the portion of the district court’s judgment granting summary judgment against Plaintiff on his sex discrimination claim, holding (i) a reasonable jury could find that the jilted co-worker’s discriminatory efforts were the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s termination, and (ii) although the co-worker was not Plaintiff’s direct supervisor, DDR could nonetheless be found liable for negligently allowing the co-worker’s discriminatory acts to cause Plaintiff’s firing; and (2) otherwise affirmed the judgment of the district court. Remanded. View "Velazquez-Perez v. Developers Diversified Realty" on Justia Law

by
Defendant was prosecuted in federal court for possession of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B), after police officers took several digital devices from his home, including a thumb drive that contained child pornography. To establish that the pornography was “produced using materials which have been…shipping or transported” in interstate commerce, the prosecution relied on an inscription on the thumb drive stating, “Made in China.” The First Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction, holding (1) copying pornography onto a thumb drive is “producing” pornography under the statute, and the Court’s interpretation of the law did not put it beyond Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce; (2) the district court did not err by admitting as evidence the drive’s inscription over Defendant’s hearsay objection; and (3) the warrant to search Defendant’s home and the devices inside it was constitutional. View "United States v. Burdulis" on Justia Law

by
After Plaintiff attempted to film a police officer as he was conducting a traffic stop, Plaintiff was arrested and charged with violating New Hampshire’s wiretapping statute, among other crimes. Plaintiff was not brought to trial. Plaintiff subsequently brought a First Amendment claim against the police officers, the police department, and the Town of Weare, alleging that the wiretapping charge constituted retaliatory prosecution. The officers moved for summary judgment, claiming that they were entitled to qualified immunity because there was no clearly established right to film the traffic stop. The district court denied the officers’ motions for summary judgment. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) it was clearly established at the time of the stop that the First Amendment gives citizens the right to film police carrying out their duties in public if no reasonable restriction is imposed or in place; and (2) therefore, the district court properly denied qualified immunity to the officers on Plaintiff’s claim that the wiretapping charge constituted retaliatory prosecution in violation of the First Amendment. View "Gericke v. Begin" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner was convicted in Massachusetts state court of drug distribution and trafficking. While Petitioner’s appeal was pending in the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), the U.S. Supreme Court decided Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. On appeal, Petitioner argued that his conviction must be reversed because the trial proceedings violated his federal Confrontation Clause rights as articulated in Melendez-Diaz. The SJC decided that there was a Melendez-Diaz error in this case but that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Petitioner petitioned for habeas review in federal district court, arguing that the state proceedings had violated his Sixth Amendment rights under Melendez-Diaz. The district court denied the petition, concluding that Petitioner could not show sufficient injury under the Brecht v. Abrahamson standard of review. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that under the highly deferential standard announced in Brecht, Petitioner failed to show the “substantial and injurious effect or influence” on the verdict required to set aside the SJC’s affirmance of his conviction. View "Connolly v. Roden" on Justia Law