Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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Where a plaintiff seeks damages based on alleged illegal actions of a municipal official, there is no authority to award damages against the municipality when the jury concludes that the official committed no wrong. Plaintiff filed suit against the city and the mayor under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that defendants discriminated against him based on race in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1981. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the mayor but against the city. The Eighth Circuit reversed and held that, because there was no race discrimination violation of section 1981, the city could not be held liable for damages under section 1983. In this case, plaintiff did not challenge the jury's finding that the mayor did not discriminate against him based on race and there was insufficient evidence that any other city official, or combination of the mayor or other municipal officers or employees, discriminated against plaintiff based on race. View "Ridgell v. City of Pine Bluff" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 based on Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). The court held that Johnson did not justify relief in this case, because defendant's prior conviction for first degree assault qualified as a violent felony under the force clause. Therefore, defendant was not sentenced based on the residual clause and failed to satisfy the requirements for proceeding with a successive motion under section 2255(h)(2). View "Unverzagt v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of themselves and their children against the social workers involved in their cases and two of their DHS supervisors, alleging violations of their constitutional rights. The Eighth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to seek damages, to the extent they did so, against the individual defendants where plaintiffs' injuries were fairly traceable to defendants. However, plaintiffs lacked standing to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief, which they sought as remedies for their facial attack on the constitutionality of the relevant statutes, because the injury was too speculative to form the basis for the relief sought. The court upheld the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' facial challenge to the relevant statutes, but remanded with instructions to dismiss the claim without prejudice. On the merits, the court held that plaintiffs' damages claims against social workers for failure to receive prompt post-deprivation hearings failed, because the social workers did not contribute to any subsequent delays, considering they lacked the authority to file ex parte petitions or to schedule hearings on state-court dockets. Furthermore, the court could not say that a policy or custom the supervisors created or applied, or their alleged failure to train or supervise, caused plaintiffs' harm. However, the court held that the district court erred in applying the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to plaintiffs' claim that the social workers used ex parte proceedings containing knowingly false allegations, because the state court never issued any judgments in the case. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to consider the claims on the merits. View "Webb v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion for relief under Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). Although petitioner concedes that his petition was untimely, he argued that his claim should be equitably tolled. The court held that petitioner's failure to receive a letter from his attorney stating that she would not file a claim on his behalf, and his failure to follow up, did not amount to extraordinary circumstances requiring equitable tolling. Even if petitioner could show an extraordinary circumstance, he would not benefit from equitable tolling because he was not reasonably diligent in pursuing his claims. View "Chachanko v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Union Pacific in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging claims of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act (NFEPA). In regard to plaintiff's discrimination claim, the court held that plaintiff was not qualified for a dispatcher position as a matter of law because she was unable to work mandatory overtime and Union Pacific's earlier willingness to accommodate a two-month restriction did not create a genuine issue of fact about whether availability for overtime was an essential function of the position. In regard to the sex and pregnancy discrimination claims, the court held that plaintiff suffered no adverse action when her supervisor denied her requested training or commented on the length of her breast pumping breaks, and the evidence did not give rise to an inference of discrimination in any event. In regard to the race discrimination claim, the court held that plaintiff's proffered comparators were not similarly situated because they were able to work overtime. View "McNeil v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs own and operate Telescope Media Group, a company that makes commercials, short films, and live-event productions. Plaintiffs filed suit against Minnesota, seeking injunctive relief preventing Minnesota from enforcing two provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), requiring plaintiffs to produce both opposite sex and same sex videos, or none at all. The district court denied a preliminary injunction and dismissed the complaint. Determining that plaintiffs had standing, the Eighth Circuit reversed and held that wedding videos are speech and plaintiffs have a First Amendment right to make them for only opposite sex weddings; plaintiffs, like the creators of other types of films, will exercise substantial editorial control and judgment when making the wedding videos; and Minnesota's interpretation of the MHRA interferes with plaintiffs' speech by compelling them to speak favorably about same sex marriage if they choose to speak favorably about opposite sex marriage, and it operates as a content-based regulation of their speech. Applying strict scrutiny, rather than intermediate scrutiny, the court held that Minnesota seeks to regulate speech itself as a public accommodation and has violated the First Amendment by doing so. Finally, plaintiffs may pursue their free-exercise claim on remand. View "Telescope Media Group v. Lucero" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and MDHS brought a negligence action against defendants, alleging that a jail official provided and made plaintiff wear shoes that were too small for his feet. The shoes caused a blister on one of his left toes, which ultimately resulted in a severe infection requiring multiple corrective surgeries. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the County, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the county negligently caused plaintiff's injury. In this case, the district court erred when it concluded that plaintiff's infection was not a foreseeable consequence of wearing too small shoes. The court also held that the county was not entitled to vicarious official immunity, because the duty of providing suitable shoes in a county jail setting is ministerial. View "DeLuna v. Mower County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging federal constitutional and tort claims against the city, the county, and several city and county employees after his son died of hypothermia. Plaintiff alleged that defendants, by prematurely declaring plaintiff's son dead and therefore cutting off possible aid, caused his death in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss with prejudice, holding that plaintiff failed to identify a clearly established right and defendants were entitled to qualified immunity where they did not intentionally deny emergency aid to someone they believe to be alive. The court noted that the medical guidelines were not followed here could possibly be the basis for a negligence suit, but it was not the basis for a constitutional one. View "Anderson v. City of Minneapolis" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff and her four children died from smoke inhalation as a result of a kitchen fire in their apartment, administrators of their estate filed suit against the JHA, the manufacturer of the smoke alarm, the City, the fire department, and others. Plaintiffs appealed the district court's judgment in favor of defendants. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to the Housing Authority Defendants and BRK, because no reasonable factfinder could determine, absent speculation, that the fire alarm failed to sound, causing the tragic deaths of plaintiffs; the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to the City Defendants, because there was lack of evidence showing that the firefighters' actions caused plaintiffs' deaths; the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying a motion to strike the affidavit of a defense expert; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by requiring one of plaintiff's counsel to pay for part of defendants' costs. View "Beavers v. Arkansas Housing Authorities Property & Casualty Self-Insured Fund, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the City and Doc's Towing, alleging that defendants violated her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments when her car was towed and stored without her consent or a warrant. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, holding that plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to establish defendants' liability. In this case, a reasonable jury could find that plaintiff's truck was towed and held under the City's unwritten but widespread and persistent policy of reporting vehicles as wanted for the purpose of detaining them without a warrant. Furthermore, plaintiff has adduced evidence from which a reasonable juror could find that Doc's Towing was acting under color of law when it refused to allow her access to her truck. View "Meier v. St. Louis" on Justia Law