Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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S.S. was a student in the Cobb County School District. S.S.’s parents challenged the adequacy of the individualized educational plans. S.S.’s parents fought the school district for two years and eventually filed an administrative complaint requesting a due process hearing under the Act with the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings. In the administrative complaint, S.S. alleged that the school district failed to provide her with a free and appropriate public education under the Act. The school district moved for summary determination of the administrative complaint. S.S. challenged the administrative law judge’s decision in the Northern District of Georgia.The district court denied the school district’s motion for summary judgment and remanded to the administrative law judge for a due process hearing. The school district appealed the district court’s remand order.   The DC Circuit concluded that remand orders from district courts to administrative agencies for further proceedings under the Act are not final and appealable under section 1291. And because the district court’s remand order was not final and appealable, the court wrote it lacks appellate jurisdiction to review it. Accordingly, the court dismissed the school district’s appeal. View "S.S. v. Cobb County School District" on Justia Law

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After a thirteen-year-old victim of human trafficking performed at a City of Miami Beach (“the City”) fully nude strip club, Club Madonna, Inc. (“the Club”), the City came down hard on the Club. It enacted two closely intertwined ordinances (collectively, “the Ordinance”) that required all nude strip clubs to follow a record-keeping and identification-checking regime in order to ensure that each individual performer is at least eighteen years old.   The district court ruled for the City at summary judgment on the Club’s first two claims, ruled for the Club on its federal preemption claim at summary judgment, and ruled for the City on the Club’s state law preemption claim at the motion-to-dismiss stage for failure to state a claim. The Club then appealed the court’s rulings and the City cross-appealed the district court’s ruling on the Club’s federal preemption claim.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed on all counts. First, although the Ordinance implicates the First Amendment because it singles out an industry that engages in expressive activity for special regulation, it satisfies intermediate scrutiny. Second, the Ordinance’s warrantless-search provision does not violate the Fourth Amendment because the adult entertainment industry is a closely regulated industry for Fourth Amendment purposes, and the warrantless-search provision satisfies the administrative-search exception because it can be narrowly read to avoid Fourth Amendment concerns. Third, the Ordinance’s employment-verification requirement is preempted by federal immigration law. And finally, the Club’s state law conflict preemption claim fails because there is no Florida law that cabins the City’s ability to levy fines against the Club for violating the Ordinance’s requirements. View "Club Madonna Inc. v. City of Miami Beach" on Justia Law

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In this action brought by a group of pre-trial detainees challenging the constitutionality of the Cullman County bail system, the court reversed the district court's finding that the system discriminated against indigent defendants and deprived pretrial detainees of procedural due process. View "Bradley Hester v. Matthew Gentry, et al." on Justia Law

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While Plaintiff was intoxicated and handcuffed, former deputy sheriff (“Deputy”) pushed Plaintiff onto a concrete floor, breaking Plaintiff’s left arm. In response to a complaint from Plaintiff’s husband, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (“PCSO”) investigated the incident and terminated the Deputy’s employment. A few months later, Plaintiff sued PCSO Sheriff (“Sheriff”), among others, in the Middle District of Florida, alleging several state and federal constitutional claims.  The district court denied the Sheriff summary judgment on this claim.   The parties now agree that the Deputy behaved inappropriately, but disagree over whether the Deputy’s behavior was so egregious that the Sheriff could not be held liable for it. Put differently, this interlocutory appeal centers entirely on whether the Sheriff is, as a matter of law, entitled to sovereign immunity with respect to Plaintiff’s state law battery claim.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Florida’s sovereign immunity statute protects the Sheriff. The court explained that serious factual disputes have often prevented Florida’s courts from applying sovereign immunity at the summary judgment stage.  Measuring the facts as they have been adduced in this case against Florida’s legal standards, the court agreed there are material factual disputes about the precise actions Plaintiff and the Deputy took, the Deputy’s state of mind, and the inferences that might reasonably be drawn from them. Moreover, reasonable factfinders could disagree over whether the Deputy’s conduct was wanton and willful, malicious, or exhibitive of bad faith. View "Marie Butler v. Bob Gualtieri" on Justia Law

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Georgia enacted the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act in 2019. 2019 Ga. Laws Act 234 (H.B. 481). A group of abortion-rights advocacy groups, providers, and practitioners filed a two-count complaint naming as defendants multiple state officials in their official capacities. The abortionists’ first count alleged that the Act’s prohibition on post-fetal-heartbeat abortions violated women’s substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. See H.B. 481 Section 4. The abortionists’ second count alleged that the definition of “[n]atural person” in section 3 of the Act, see id. Section 3, is unconstitutionally vague on its face. The abortionists’ complaint requested preliminary and permanent injunctions restraining the enforcement of the Act, a declaratory judgment that the Act violates the Fourteenth Amendment, and attorney’s fees.   The district court entered a permanent injunction prohibiting the state officials from enforcing the Act and declared that sections 3 and 4 of the Act violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit vacated the injunction and reversed the judgment, holding that the prohibition of abortion after fetal heartbeat in the Act is subject only to rational basis review and that abortion prohibitions survive rational basis review. Further, the court held that the definition of natural person is not facially void for vagueness. View "SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, et al. v. Governor of the State of Georgia, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioners filed for rehearing in Robert W. Otto, et al. v. City of Boca Raton, Florida, et al. The Eleventh Circuit requested a poll on whether this case should be reheard by the court sitting en banc. A majority of the judges in active service on the court voted against granting rehearing en banc. Thus, the court ordered that this case will not be reheard en banc. View "Robert W. Otto, et al. v. City of Boca Raton, Florida, et al." on Justia Law

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An assistant district attorney (the “DA”) in Fulton County, Georgia obtained a material witness warrant requiring Plaintiff to appear as a witness at trial. Plaintiff voluntarily appeared at trial, making execution of the warrant unnecessary. After the trial ended, the DA failed to inform the trial judge that the warrant needed to be recalled. A few months later, a police officer arrested Plaintiff and placed him in jail because of the outstanding warrant. A judge eventually ordered Plaintiff’s release.   Plaintiff brought a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 action alleging, among other things, that the DA’s failure to initiate the warrant’s cancelation violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The DA moved to dismiss the suit arguing that as a prosecutor she was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity. The district court agreed and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims against her.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed and held that absolute prosecutorial immunity does not extend to DA’s failure to take action to cancel the warrant. The district court thus erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint.   The court wrote that determining whether prosecutorial immunity applies requires the court to take a fact-specific functional approach. Here, the court found that applying Third Circuit precedent from Odd v. Malone, 538 F.3d 202 (3d Cir. 2008), results in the conclusion that the DA is not entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity. Thus the DA has failed to show that absolute immunity protects her post-trial conduct here. View "Kidanemariam Kassa v. Antionette Stephenson" on Justia Law

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On appeal, Defendant challenged his convictions for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and possessing with intent to distribute. Defendant’s four claims on appeal focused on three discrete portions of his criminal proceeding: the initial arrest, the jury selection, and the trial itself. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction and sentence.   Defendant contended that the collateral estoppel doctrine precluded the federal government from relitigating the legality of the traffic stop and the subsequent search of the Suburban as that identical issue was already decided in state court. The court held that because the federal and state governments were not in privity in this case, the federal government was not estopped from relitigating the legality of the traffic stop, the search, and Defendant’s arrest.   Next, Defendant argued that the district court (1) abused its discretion by striking Juror 13 for cause; and (2) erred in sustaining the government’s Batson challenge and seating Juror 11 over Defendant’s peremptory strike. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in striking Juror 13 for cause during the voir dire stage of Defendant’s case. Juror 13 never confirmed that she felt capable of following the law and the court’s instructions, thus the district court acted within its wide discretion in striking Juror 13 for cause. Moreover, the court concluded that the district court’s finding of discriminatory intent in the peremptory strike of Juror 11 was not clearly erroneous. Further, any error in excluding evidence relating to why the state court prosecution ended did not affect Defendant’s substantial rights. View "USA v. Alfonzo Lewis" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, who is serving two death sentences and a term of life imprisonment, filed a federal habeas petition alleging that his counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance during the penalty phase and that the jurors engaged in premature deliberations before the penalty phase in violation of his constitutional right to a fair trial. The district court denied relief on Petitioner’s juror misconduct claim but concluded that the state court’s determination that counsel was not ineffective was an unreasonable application of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). The district court conditionally granted Petitioner habeas relief on his ineffective-assistance claim.   The Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections (“Alabama”) appealed the grant of habeas relief. Petitioner cross-appealed, arguing that the district court correctly granted habeas relief on his ineffective-assistance claim. In the alternative, he argued that habeas relief is warranted on his juror misconduct claim.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s decision on Petitioner’s ineffective-assistance claim because the state court’s determination that counsel was not ineffective during the penalty phase was not contrary to, or based on an unreasonable application of, Strickland. The court affirmed the denial of habeas relief for the juror misconduct claim.   The court explained that the record developed by Petitioner does not show that the state court’s determination that his counsel’s performance was not unreasonable “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Petitioner also failed to demonstrate that the state court’s determination that he did not satisfy the prejudice prong was an unreasonable application of Strickland. View "Keith Edmund Gavin v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Petitioner went to trial for three counts of tax fraud under 18 U.S.C. Sections 2 and 287 and one count of attempted tax evasion under 26 U.S.C. Section 7201. A jury convicted on all four counts, and he was sentenced to a period of incarceration, supervised release, and restitution. The district court vacated the convictions for the first three counts of tax fraud but left in place the fourth for tax evasion. Petitioner timely appealed, renewing his arguments that his counsel was ineffective 1) in failing to properly move for judgment of acquittal as to Count Four, 2) in calling him to the witness stand, and 3) in failing to advise him of the dangers of testifying in his own defense.   The Eleventh Circuit granted Petitioner’s habeas petition and vacated his conviction under Count Four for tax evasion. The court explained that as to Count Four for attempted tax evasion, the basic inquiry on the ineffective assistance of counsel claim is, whether Petitioner’s trial counsel was deficient in failing to move for judgment of acquittal under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29 after the Government’s presentation of its case-in-chief, and, if so, whether that deficiency prejudiced the outcome of the trial.   The court wrote that here Petitioner’s counsel’s performance was deficient because he failed to properly move for judgment of acquittal when the Government had not carried its evidentiary burden in its case-in-chief. Further, had Petitioner’s counsel properly moved for judgment of acquittal, the district court would have been legally required to grant it for the same reasons the Eleventh Circuit did under a de novo standard. View "Peter Hesser v. USA" on Justia Law