Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
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In this lawsuit brought against three Boston police officers who were involved in breaking up a party and arresting Plaintiffs, the First Circuit reversed the judgment for Plaintiffs, holding that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity for entering through the open door of a house under the community care taking exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. Plaintiffs brought civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, 11H and 11I, as well as state tort claims for, among other things, false imprisonment. The jury reached a unanimous verdict in favor of Defendants on all counts. The district court, however, granted Plaintiffs' motion for a new trial, finding that the verdict was against the law as to the officers' warrantless entry into the home and that the warrantless entry on the facts as presented in the trial was not protected by qualified immunity. The court then amended its judgment so that it reflected a judgment in favor of Plaintiffs as to the section 1983 unlawful entry claim. The First Circuit reversed, holding that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because, under the community caretaking exception, their entry through the home's open door did not violate Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. View "Castagna v. Jean" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit declared that exclusion of otherwise eligible residents of Puerto Rico from receiving the disability benefits that are granted to persons residing in the fifty States, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provisions of Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 1381-1383(f) is not rationally related to a legitimate government interest and is invalid. While residing in New York, Defendant became eligible and commenced receiving SSI disability benefits. The benefits were discontinued when the Social Security Administration became award that Defendant had moved to Puerto Rico. The United States subsequently brought suit against Defendant seeking to collect the amount the SSA claimed was owed by Defendant due to the allegedly improper payment of SSI benefits since Defendant's relocation to Puerto Rico. Defendant raised as an affirmative defense that the exclusion of Puerto Rico residents from the SSI program violated the Equal Protection Clause. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant, holding that Congress's actions in this case failed to pass rational basis constitutional muster. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the Fifth Amendment forbids the categorial exclusion of Puerto Rico residents from SSI coverage. View "United States v. Vaello-Madero" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the United States and the Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (collectively, the Government) on Plaintiff's claims that the inclusion of the phrase "so help me God" at the end of the both of allegiance administered at United States naturalization ceremonies is unlawful and unconstitutional, holding that the district court correctly denied Plaintiff's claims. In her complaint, Plaintiff argued that the inclusion of "so help me God" as a means of completing the naturalization oath violates the First and Fifth Amendments and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-2000bb-4 (RFRA). The district court granted summary judgment on all claims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the phrase "so help me God" in the oath does not violate the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, the RFRA, Equal Protection, or the Due Process Clause. View "Perrier-Bilbo v. United States" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Appellants' complaint challenging the constitutionality of the winner-take-all method for selecting presidential electors that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts adopted, holding that Appellants failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Pursuant to its constitutional authority, Massachusetts enacted a statutory scheme that provides for the appointment of electors for president and Vice President on a winner-take-all (WTA) basis. Appellants sued the Commonwealth challenging the constitutionality of the WTA system as applied in Massachusetts, arguing that the WTA method violates their right to an equally weighted vote under the Equal Protection Clause as well as their associational rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Appellants did have standing to bring their claims; but (2) Appellants failed to state a claim for relief under either of their constitutional theories. View "Lyman v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions for one count of conspiracy and one count of structuring the export of monetary transactions, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. Defendant's convictions arose from his role in assisting the leader of conspiracy in smuggling cash through the Logan International Airport in Boston and onto a plane headed to Portuguese islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The First Circuit affirmed the convictions, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress certain evidence against him; (2) the district court did not err by admitting into evidence certain statements that the leader made to undercover agents and to admit records of Defendant's phone contacts with the leader; (3) there was no merit to Defendant's argument that the district court erred by refusing to issue certain jury instructions that Defendant argued he requested; and (4) Defendant's remaining allegations of error were without merit. View "United States v. Melo" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit held that the special measure of constitutional protection to which police officers, in the motor vehicle context, performing community care taking functions are entitled extends to police officers performing community caretaking functions on private premises, including homes. Plaintiff's person and firearms were allegedly seized after Defendants, police officers, entered his home. Plaintiff brought several claims against Defendants, including claims brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and under state law. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff's federal and state-law claims, concluding that the officers' conduct at Plaintiff's residence constituted a reasonable exercise of their caretaking responsibilities and thus did not violate Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Defendants' actions did not exceed the proper province of their community caretaking responsibilities. View "Caniglia v. Strom" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of possession of child pornography, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motions to suppress and for a hearing pursuant to Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). After agents executing a search warrant of Defendant's residence discovered digital files containing images and videos of child pornography on Defendant's computers Defendant filed a motion to suppress and, in the alternative, for a Franks hearing. The district court denied both motions. Defendant then entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of child pornography. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) there was no evidence that the affidavit contained egregious misrepresentations sufficient to necessitate a Franks hearing to attack the warrant application, let alone to render the warrant invalid due to a misrepresentation; and (2) the warrant was adequately supported and the evidence obtained was admissible. View "United States v. Larson" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions for one count of conspiracy to make false statements and to conceal in connection with healthcare benefit programs and two counts of false statements in connection with healthcare benefit programs, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress or in instructing the jury. Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress data that the government had acquired pursuant to a warrant because even if the government's conduct violated the Fourth Amendment there was nothing in the record to show that any of the evidence introduce at trial should have been suppressed; and (2) the district court did not err in instructing the jury about the inferences that it could draw from the fact that a particular witness was not called to testify. View "United States v. Aboshady" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit dismissed Petitioner's petition for review of a decision of the Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rejecting reopening and reconsideration of denial of relief from removal, holding that the limitations in 8 U.S.C. 1252(a)(2)(C)-(D) divest this Court of jurisdiction over the petition. Petitioner, a native and citizen of Sudan, was removed from the United States after his robbery conviction. Petitioner later filed a motion to reopen removal proceedings as to his requests for relief based on purported changed country conditions in Sudan. The motion was filed outside the ninety-day deadline for motions to reopen and the thirty-day deadline for motions to reconsider. The immigration judge denied the motion. The BIA dismissed Petitioner's appeal, concluding that 8 C.F.R. 1003.23(b)(1) prevented Petitioner from filing his motion to reopen and, alternatively, that the motion was denied in the exercise of the BIA's discretion. The First Circuit dismissed Petitioner's petition for review, holding that because no questions of law or constitutional claims were presented by Petitioner's challenge to the BIA's alternative discretionary holding, the jurisdictional bar set forth under 8 U.S.C. 1252(a)(2)(C)-(D) applied. View "Daoud v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court decision denying Appellant's petition for habeas corpus relief, holding that the state court's evaluation of Appellant's constitutional claim was not contrary to, nor involved an unreasonable application of, federal law. Appellant was convicted in Rhode Island state court on felony assault and firearms charges. The Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed. Appellant then applied for postconviction relief based on the ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial justice denied relief, and the Supreme Court affirmed. Appellant later filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The district court concluded that Appellant's counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient but that the state Supreme Court's conclusion that Appellant had failed to satisfy the prejudice prong was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the Rhode Island Supreme Court's use of the incurable prejudice standard did not lead to a decision "contrary to" federal law; and (2) the Supreme Court's application of Strickland was not unreasonable. View "Chum v. Coyne-Fague" on Justia Law