Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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

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The district court dismissed, for lack of jurisdiction, a constitutional challenge to an electronic surveillance program operated by the National Security Agency (NSA) under the authority of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), 50 U.S.C. 1881a. The court noted that the plaintiff failed to plead facts from which one might reasonably infer that his own communications had been seized by the federal government. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. The second amended complaint alleged that because the government was “intercepting, monitoring and storing the content of all or substantially all of the e-mail sent by American citizens,” plaintiff’s own online communications had been seized in the dragnet. That allegation sufficiently pleaded standing to sue for a violation of plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Plaintiff may lack actual standing to sue; the government may, on remand to make a factual jurisdictional challenge to that pleading. The alleged facts—even if proven—do not conclusively establish that a dragnet on the scale alleged by plaintiff. On remand, the court must closely supervise limited discovery. View "Schuchardt v. President of the United States" on Justia Law

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As a result of criminal convictions Immigration and Customs Enforcement sought removal of lawful U.S. permanent residents. Pending removal proceedings, each was detained under 8 U.S.C. 1226(c), which provides that if ICE has “reason to believe” that an alien is “deportable” or “inadmissible” by virtue of having committed a specified crime, that alien “shall” be taken into custody when released from detention for that crime, "without regard to whether the alien is released on parole, supervised release, or probation, and without regard to whether the alien may be arrested or imprisoned again for the same offense.” In a purported class action, the district court dismissed in part, holding that section 1226(c) did not violate substantive due process with respect to aliens who assert a substantial challenge to their removability. The court later held that the form giving aliens notice of their right to seek a hearing does not provide constitutionally adequate notice, that the government was required to revise the form, and that procedures for that hearing violate due process by not placing the initial burden on the government. The court then denied a motion to certify the class, stating that certification was “unnecessary” because “all aliens who are subjected to mandatory detention would benefit from the injunctive relief and remedies.” Stating that the district court “put the cart before the horse a,” the Third Circuit vacated. Once petitioners were released from detention, their individual claims became moot so the court retained jurisdiction only to rule on the motion for class certification—not to decide the merits issues. View "Gayle v. Warden Monmouth Cnty. Corr. Inst." on Justia Law

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On April 22, 2012, Philadelphia Police Officer Dempsey was on solo patrol in a radio car in North Philadelphia, armed with a baton, a taser, and a handgun. Around 2:00 a.m. and again at 5:30, Dempsey received a call that a naked man was standing in North Mascher Street. Dempsey and other officers responded, but found no one. At 6:00 a.m., a passing motorist informed Dempsey of a naked man at the corner of North Mascher and Nedro Avenue. Dempsey radioed in the information, drove to the intersection, and saw a naked man (Newsuan), standing in front of a residence. Accounts diverge as to what happened next. Ultimately Newsuan, high on PCP, attacked Dempsey, slammed him into multiple cars, and tried to remove Dempsey’s handgun. Dempsey shot and killed Newsuan. The district court entered summary judgment, rejecting excessive force claims by Newsuan’s estate under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit affirmed. Regardless of whether Dempsey unnecessarily initiated a one-on-one confrontation with Newsuan that led to the subsequent fatal altercation, Newsuan’s violent attack on officer Dempsey was a superseding cause that severed any causal link between Dempsey’s initial actions and his subsequent justified use of lethal force. View "Johnson v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Goodwin was arrested pursuant to a warrant for allegedly selling heroin to an undercover police officer. He was indicted, but the charges were eventually dropped. Goodwin brought suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution against the detectives involved in securing his arrest warrant. He claims that they submitted a false warrant application because they knew or should have known that he was in jail at the time of one of the undercover drug deals. He argues that his incarceration was evident from a booking sheet the detectives had when they applied for his arrest warrant. The detectives moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion, holding that there was a genuine dispute as to whether the detectives possessed the booking sheet when they submitted the warrant. At oral argument before the Third Circuit, defense counsel conceded that the detectives were aware of the booking sheet before submitting the warrant application. The court concluded that booking sheet did not preclude a finding of probable cause. The sheet showed the date on which Goodwin was incarcerated. It did not say when he was released and did not trigger a duty to further investigate. The detectives had probable cause when they applied for Goodwin’s arrest warrant and are entitled to qualified immunity. View "Goodwin v. Conway" on Justia Law

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To stimulate economic development, Jersey City, New Jersey offers tax exemptions and abatements to private developers of projects in certain designated areas. Those tax benefits are conditioned on the developers’ entry into agreements with labor unions that bind the developers to specified labor practices. Employers and a trade group challenged that law, alleging that it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and barred by the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Jersey City acts as a market participant, not a regulator, when it enforces the law, so that NLRA, ERISA, and dormant Commerce Clause claims were not cognizable. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that Jersey City was acting as a regulator in this context. The city lacks a proprietary interest in Tax Abated Projects. The Supreme Court has recognized a government’s proprietary interest in a project when it “owns and manages property” subject to the project or it hires, pays, and directs contractors to complete the project; when it provides funding for the project; or when it purchases or sells goods or services. This case fits none of these categories. View "Assoc. Builders & Contractors, Inc. v. City of Jersey City" on Justia Law

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Mancini, a former Northampton County, Pennsylvania assistant county solicitor, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against Northampton County, County Executive Brown, and County Solicitor Scomillio, in connection with their termination of her employment. Mancini, a Democrat, alleged that she was a protected career service employee and that the newly elected Republican administration wrongfully dismissed her in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause and the First Amendment. The elimination of her position was the only ground Northampton provided for Mancini’s dismissal. Although the county held an informal hearing on her grievance after her termination, no decision was ever announced. A jury found that Northampton County, but not Brown or Scomillio, violated Mancini’s procedural due process rights and awarded her $94,232 in damages. The Third Circuit affirmed. A claimed “reorganization exception” to the constitutional procedural due process requirement cannot apply, as a matter of law, if there is a genuine factual dispute about whether the reorganization was a pretext for an unlawful termination. Northampton did not provide Mancini the meaningful process she was due and the jury could have reasonably concluded that the reorganization of the Solicitor’s Office was a pretext for unlawfully terminating Mancini. View "Mancini v. Northampton County" on Justia Law

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About 20 years ago, Binder pled guilty in a Pennsylvania state court to corrupting a minor, a misdemeanor subject to possible imprisonment for up to five years. Binder was sentenced to three years' probation . Suarez pled guilty in a Maryland state court to unlawfully carrying a handgun without a license, a misdemeanor subject to possible imprisonment for “not less than 30 days and not [more than] three years or a fine.” He received a suspended sentence. Pennsylvania law disqualified both from possessing firearms due to their convictions. The Third Circuit ruled in favor of the men, who brought as-applied challenges to the prohibition. Federal law generally prohibits the possession of firearms by any person convicted of​ a “crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year,” 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), excluding “any State offense classified by the laws of the State as a misdemeanor and punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less,” and “[a]ny conviction which has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored.” The court noted its 2010 “Marzzarella” decision, adopting a framework for deciding facial and as-applied Second Amendment challenges. In its 2011 “Barton” decision, the court held that the section 922(g)(1) prohibition does not violate the Second Amendment on its face. In addressing how a criminal offender may rebut the presumption that he lacks Second Amendment rights, the majority concluded that Marzzarella's two-step test drives the analysis: whether the challenged law imposes a burden on conduct falling within the Second Amendment's scope and, if so, whether it survives intermediate scrutiny. View "Binderup v. Attorney Gen. of thel United States" on Justia Law

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On a January 2013 school day, Christina Regusters entered Bryant Elementary School in Philadelphia, where Jane was enrolled in kindergarten. Regusters went directly to Jane’s classroom, where she encountered Littlejohn, Jane’s teacher. Per School District policy, Littlejohn asked Regusters to produce identification and verification that Jane had permission to leave school. Regusters failed to do so. Littlejohn nonetheless allowed Jane to leave with Regusters. Regusters sexually assaulted Jane off school premises, causing her significant physical and emotional injuries. In the early hours of the next morning, a sanitation worker found the child in a playground after hearing her cries. The district court denied a motion to dismiss a "state-created danger" lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, rejecting an assertion of qualified immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the allegations sufficiently stated a constitutional violation of the young child’s clearly established right to be free from exposure by her teacher to an obvious danger. It is “shocking to the conscience that a kindergarten teacher would allow a child in his care to leave his classroom with a complete stranger.” View "L.R. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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Curry read a newspaper article that stated there was a warrant for his arrest, related to a theft at a Lower Macungie Township, Pennsylvania Wal-Mart store. Wal-Mart security employee Fitcher identified Curry. Curry insists that he had never been in that store. Curry called the store and spoke to a security employee, who refused to review the surveillance video. Curry called Pennsylvania State Trooper Yachera, who informed Curry that the courts would “figure it out.” Curry was arrested. Unable to afford bail, Curry was jailed, While he was in jail, Curry was charged with “theft by deception – false imprisonment” by Exeter Township Detective McClure, unrelated to the Wal-Mart charges. Two months later, McClure admitted Curry was innocent; his charges were dropped, but Curry remained in jail. During his many months in prison, Curry missed his child's birth and lost his job. Fearing loss of his home and vehicle, Curry pleaded nolo contendere. Curry later filed suit, asserting malicious prosecution, false arrest, and false imprisonment. The court determined that the constitutional claims against Yachera, Wal-Mart, and Fitcher were barred bySupreme Court precedent because their success would imply that Curry's conviction was invalid, and that McClure never “seized” Curry. The Third Circuit affirmed with “reluctance,” noting the inequity bail can create. The court clarified that the dismissal was without prejudice; the statute of limitations begins to accrue when “the conviction or sentence is reversed, expunged, invalidated, or impugned.” View "Curry v. Yachera" on Justia Law

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A post-settlement possession addendum allowed Black’s mother to remove her possessions from the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania home she had sold two days earlier, while the buyer’s contractors upgraded the wiring. A fire broke out while Black, her mother, and the electricians were working in the house. Deputy Fire Marshal Hand disassembled the electrical outlet where the fire had started and concluded that the fire was intentional and was not an electrical fire. Hand did not preserve the outlet; Hand intentionally misrepresented his findings to support the proposition that the outlet had no power. Others, relying on Hand without conducting an inspection, concluded the damage was caused by an open flame, not by the electrical outlet. During an interrogation, officers accused Black of setting the fire. Black returned home to California, but returned for her arraignment and, as required, at 13 subsequent proceedings. Black’s expert, Lentini, concluded that the fire was unequivocally electrical, not arson. Hand and the prosecutor refused to communicate with Lentini. Black was acquitted. The district court dismissed her suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit vacated. Considering the totality of the circumstances alleged, Black sufficiently alleged that her liberty was intentionally restrained by the defendants. Black’s acquittal does not preclude her claim that the defendants intentionally fabricated evidence in violation of the due process clause. View "Black v. County of Montgomery" on Justia Law