Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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A Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ordinance prohibits persons to “knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 20 feet from any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a health care facility.” Individuals purporting to provide “sidewalk counseling” to those entering abortion clinics claimed that the ordinance violated their First Amendment rights to speak, exercise their religion, and assemble, and their due process and equal protection rights. The court determined that the ordinance was content-neutral because it did not define or regulate speech by subject-matter or purpose, so that intermediate scrutiny applied, and reasoned that it must accept as true (on a motion to dismiss) claims that the city did not consider less restrictive alternatives. The claims proceeded to discovery. In denying preliminary injunctive relief, the court ruled that plaintiffs did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. The Third Circuit vacated. In deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs normally bear the burden of demonstrating likelihood of prevailing on the merits. In First Amendment cases where the government bears the burden of proof on the ultimate question of a statute’s constitutionality, plaintiffs must be deemed likely to prevail for purposes of considering a preliminary injunction unless the government has shown that plaintiffs’ proposed less restrictive alternatives are less effective than the statute. View "Reilly v. City of Harrisburg" on Justia Law

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Roquet, is a psychologist at the Avenel Special Treatment Unit (STU), where Oliver, a sexually violent predator, has been civilly committed for treatment. At least annually, the Treatment Progress Review Committee (TPRC) interviews each detainee and considers a range of materials to formulate a recommendation about whether the patient should progress to the next step in the program. Roquet, a member of the TPRC, wrote a report that recommended that Oliver not advance in treatment. The Report recognized that this was “not consistent” with Oliver’s treatment team's recommendation, but concluded that Oliver “had not fully met the treatment goals,” provided a detailed overview of Oliver’s sexual and non-sexual offenses, diagnostic history, and clinical treatment, and summarized the results of Oliver's interview, including that “it appears that he denies, minimizes or justifies much of his documented offense history,” and that “[h]e did not demonstrate remorse for his crimes or empathy for his victims.” Oliver sued, alleging retaliation for his First Amendment-protected participation in legal activities on behalf of himself and other STU residents. The Third Circuit concluded that Roquet was entitled to qualified immunity, reasoning that Oliver pleaded facts reflecting that Roquet based her recommendation on the medically-relevant collateral consequences of his protected activity, but has not sufficiently pleaded that the recommendation was based on the protected activity itself. View "Oliver v. Roquet" on Justia Law

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Counsel was ineffective in failing to object to jury instruction concerning eyewitness testimony, using the words “may not” rather than “need not.” Bey was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and possessing an instrument of crime, based on a nonfatal shooting and a fatal shooting that took place in 2001. Philadelphia Police Officer Taylor was in the parking lot during the shooting: his identification of Bey as the shooter was consistent and unequivocal. However, in statements to Bey’s then-defense counsel, the surviving victim said that his shooter was not Bey. Defense counsel requested a “Kloiber” jury instruction. In instructing the jury, the court changed a word, telling jurors that they “may not” receive an identification with caution rather than instructing them that they “need not” receive the identification with caution. Defense counsel did not object. In his unsuccessful petition for state post-conviction relief, Bey raised an ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on the Kloiber instruction, but failed to highlight the “may not” language. The federal district court held that, to the extent that Bey’s ineffective assistance claims were not procedurally defaulted, Bey could not show prejudice because “there was overwhelming evidence of guilt.” The Third Circuit reversed, based on the Kloiber claim, finding cause to excuse Bey’s procedural default. View "Bey v. Superintendent Greene SCI" on Justia Law

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Pretrial detainee’s due process rights were not violated by placement in administrative segregation and restriction of phone privileges pending investigation of misconduct. While Steele was a pretrial detainee at New Jersey’s Middlesex County Adult Correction Center, officials received credible information that Steele was threatening other detainees in order to coerce them into using Speedy Bail Bond Service and was receiving compensation from Speedy. After interviewing Steele and advising him of the allegations, officials placed him in administrative segregation while they investigated. Steele’s telephone privileges were restricted to legal calls only. Steele filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violations of his due process rights when the defendants transferred him to administrative segregation and restricted his phone privileges, interfering with his ability to find a co-signer for his own bail. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for all defendants. Defendants’ limitation of Steele’s phone privileges did not “shock the conscience.” Steele has not met his heavy burden of showing that defendants exaggerated their response to the genuine security considerations that actuated his move. Steele’s transfer was for institutional security reasons rather than for discipline or punishment and he was accorded the required level of process. View "Steele v. Cicchi" on Justia Law

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In 2008, the Delaware correctional system was facing scandal for its handling of inmate releases. One inmate committed suicide in his cell on the day he was supposed to be—but was not—released. Dozens of others had either been released too early or too late. Reform consisted of establishment of a new Central Offender Records office within the Delaware Department of Corrections. Inmates who were over-detained sued top correctional officials in a putative class action, claiming that Delaware’s problems with over-detentions have, if anything, gotten worse since 2008. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The court noted that “hard, reliable data about the number of over-detentions occurring each year is more or less missing from the record.” To survive summary judgment on an allegation of deliberate indifference, the plaintiffs needed more than speculation connecting any increase in over-detentions with the COR policies they deem ineffective. View "Wharton v. Danberg" on Justia Law

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Brandon, convicted of burglary, was sentenced to 16–48 months’ imprisonment. During intake, Brandon informed mental health staff that he had attempted suicide, had recently engaged in self-harm, and had plans about how to kill himself. Brandon was diagnosed with serious mental disorders, identified as a “suicide behavior risk,” and placed on the mental health roster. During his incarceration at Pennsylania's SCI Cresson, Brandon reported suicidal thoughts. Brandon did not receive counseling or evaluation; any mental health interviews were conducted “through the cell door slot in the solitary confinement unit.” Brandon was repeatedly subjected to solitary confinement. Most SCI Cresson incidents of self-harm occurred in solitary confinement. During Brandon’s incarceration, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated allegations that SCI Cresson provided inadequate mental health care, failed to adequately protect prisoners, and subjected them to excessive periods of isolation. Ultimately, the DOJ reported “systemwide failure” to consider mental health issues appropriately, a “fragmented and ineffective” mental healthcare program, insufficient staffing, poor recordkeeping, screening and diagnostic procedures, deficient oversight and lack of training in the proper response to warning signs by mentally ill prisoners. Brandon, age 23, committed suicide while in solitary confinement. The Third Circuit reversed dismissal of his parents’ civil rights claims. Their allegations support an inference that, despite knowing of Brandon’s vulnerability and the increased risk of suicide in solitary confinement, the defendants disregarded that risk and permitted Brandon to be repeatedly isolated in solitary confinement. View "Palakovic v. Wetzel" on Justia Law

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Wagner, age 15, was walking home, when a man demanded that she get into his car. Wagner refused and told him that she would call the police. He sped away. Stowe Township Officers Sciulli and Ruiz responded and recorded the girl’s description of the vehicle as a red, four-door sedan with a Pennsylvania license plate bearing the letters ACG, driven by a white male with dark hair, around 35 years old. The next day, her mother was driving Wagner home when Wagner saw a red car. She told her mother that it was the car that had stopped her the day before. The license number was JDG4817. They followed the car to a parking lot and saw the driver. Wagner’s mother drove her to the police station. Officers identified the car as belonging to Andrews, obtained Andrews’ license photo, and created a photo array. Wagner identified Andrews. Sciulli went to the parking lot and saw Andrews’ vehicle, a three-door coupe. Sciulli drafted an affidavit of probable cause. A magistrate issued an arrest warrant. Andrews was charged with, but acquitted of, luring a child into a motor vehicle, stalking, corruption of a minor, and harassment. He filed suit. The Third Circuit reversed the district court’s determination that Sciulli was entitled to qualified immunity, noting Siulli’s omission of information about the license plate and vehicle description discrepancies from the affidavit. View "Andrews v. Scuilli" on Justia Law

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The Mirabellas alleged that their neighbors extended their backyard into wetlands owned by Montgomery Township, Pennsylvania by fencing the open space, placing playground equipment, and landscaping. They complained to the Township, which removed the fence, required the neighbors to move their playground equipment and required the neighbors to stop landscaping the open space. The Mirabellas alleged the neighbors continued to “cut and clear.” They continued to complain. The Township gave the neighbors permission to mow the open space. The Mirabellas, both attorneys, notified the Township Board that they intended to sue their neighbors and stated that, as the owner of the open space, “the Township will be an indispensable party.” Officials interpreted this as a threat that the Mirabellas would sue the Township and responded that the Township would seek sanctions. The Board’s chair, Walsh, emailed the Mirabellas to “direct all further communications to the Township attorney. Please never contact me, the Board of Supervisors or the Township employees directly.” The Mirabellas attended a Board meeting and protested the destruction of the open space and the emails. The Mirabellas filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging First Amendment violations. The district court rejected claims of qualified immunity. The Third Circuit reversed. While the Mirabellas adequately alleged a retaliation claim and a violation of their right to petition, those rights were not clearly established for purposes of qualified immunity. View "Mirabella v. Villard" on Justia Law

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While investigating Doe concerning online child pornography, agents executed a warrant and seized iPhones and a computer with attached hard drives, all protected with encryption software. Forensic analysts discovered the password for the computer and found an image of a pubescent girl in a sexually provocative position, logs showing that it had been used to visit sites with titles common in child exploitation, and that Doe had downloaded thousands of known child pornography files, which were stored on the encrypted external drives and could not be accessed. Doe's sister related that Doe had shown her hundreds of child pornography images on those drives. A magistrate, acting under the All Writs Act, ordered Doe to produce his devices and drives in an unencrypted state. Doe did not appeal the order but unsuccessfully moved to quash, arguing that his decrypting the devices would violate his Fifth Amendment privilege. The magistrate held that, because the government possessed Doe’s devices and knew the contents included child pornography, the decryption would not be testimonial. Doe did not appeal. Doe produced the unencrypted iPhone, which contained adult pornography, a video of Doe’s four-year-old niece wearing only underwear, and approximately 20 photographs focused on the genitals of Doe’s six-year-old niece. Doe stated that he could not remember the hard drive passwords and entered incorrect passwords during the examination. The court held Doe in civil contempt and ordered his incarceration. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting that Doe bore the burden of proving that he could not produce the passwords and had waived his Fifth Amendment arguments. View "United States v. Apple Macpro Computer" on Justia Law

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Pearson, a Pennsylvania prisoner, was hospitalized twice in April 2007: first for surgery to remove his appendix and later for surgery to repair a urethral tear caused by insertion of a catheter during the first surgery. Pearson claims that he was in intense pain for several hours before each hospitalization and that medical staff were dismissive of his complaints. In 2009, he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that prison officials and an independent medical contractor were deliberately indifferent to those needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. After remands, the district court granted defendants summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed with respect to one defendant, a nurse, but otherwise affirmed. Rhodes claimed that the nurse refused to examine him and forced him to crawl to a wheelchair, claims that do not require extrinsic proof or expert testimony. Pearson did not present sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the other defendants were deliberately indifferent. View "Pearson v. Prison Health Service" on Justia Law