Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Detective Yasenchack saw Williams enter and then exit Gilbert's Jeep Cherokee within a few seconds at an intersection known for drug activity, shoving a plastic bag into his shorts as he exited. Yasenchack stopped Williams and recovered half a pound of cocaine. Williams pleaded guilty to state drug-trafficking charges. Two weeks later, Yasenchack saw Gilbert driving the Jeep and conducted a traffic stop. He smelled marijuana but his search only turned up a large amount of cash. Yasenchack later learned that Gilbert had convictions for drug possession, trafficking, and possessing a weapon while under disability. Yasenchack began surveilling Gilbert and searching the trash outside Gilbert’s residence. He found scale weights, a vacuum-sealed bag and zip-lock bags. Gilbert moved. Yasenchack searched the trash at Gilbert’s new residence but found nothing suggestive of trafficking. Yasenchack again searched Gilbert’s trash and discovered a vacuum-sealed bag containing “crumbs” later confirmed to be marijuana. An Ohio judge authorized a warrant for Gilbert’s home, which officers executed the following day. Officers discovered four kilograms of heroin (some laced with fentanyl), a handgun, $119,000 in cash, and drug-trafficking tools. After a Franks hearing and denial of his motion to suppress, Gilbert pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession with intent to distribute a mixed drug and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A reasonably well-trained officer in these circumstances would not know to disregard a judicial determination that probable cause existed, so the good-faith exception applies. View "United States v. Gilbert" on Justia Law

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Paulus, a cardiologist at KDMC, was first in the nation in billing Medicare for angiograms. Audits indicated that in multiple cases Paulus reported a higher degree of blockage in his patients’ arteries than their angiograms reflected, inserted a stent, and billed insurers. Before Paulus was indicted, the government informed him that its consultants had reviewed 496 of Paulus’s procedures and concluded that 146 were unnecessary and that KDMC’s consultants had reviewed a random selection of Paulus’ procedures and found 75 angiographic films with minimal blockage. A jury convicted Paulus of healthcare fraud and making false statements relating to healthcare. Before sentencing, the government disclosed to Paulus for the first time the “Shields Letter,” indicating that KDMC's independent experts had reviewed 1,049 of Paulus’s cases and flagged 75 procedures as unnecessary. KDMC offered to refund Medicare for those procedures. Paulus knew that KDMC had identified 75 of his procedures as problematic but did not know that KDMC had reviewed 974 other procedures that it apparently found non-problematic. The government had planned to use the Letter at trial but KDMC objected. After an ex parte hearing, the district court held that the information was inadmissible and ordered that the parties not disclose any more information about the KDMC Review. The district court denied Paulus’s motion for a new trial, sentenced Paulus to five years’ imprisonment, and ordered him to pay $1,156,102.23 in restitution. The Sixth Circuit vacated. KDMC's attorney-client privilege claims did not justify and ex parte hearings and the evidence withheld from Paulus violated his Fifth Amendment rights under “Brady.” The Letter had “potential exculpatory value” and Paulus lacked a readily available means to get the missing details. Paulus was prejudiced and “it doesn’t matter how blameless” the prosecution was. View "United States v. Paulus" on Justia Law

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Ashford was driving while intoxicated, speeding at over 100 miles per hour and changing lanes without a turn signal. An officer followed him, using his lights to indicate that Ashford should pull over. Ashford did not comply. Backup cruisers arrived and forced him to stop. Ashford complied with instructions to show his hands but ignored instructions to turn his engine off. Officer Raby and his police dog, Ruger, arrived. Raby reached through the window, unlocked Ashford's door, and pulled it open. The officers told Ashford to step out of the vehicle. He did not comply. Ashford’s SUV was in drive and his foot on the brake was the only thing stopping it from lurching forward into a police cruiser. Ashford claims he was afraid to retract a hand into the passenger compartment to turn the key. Ashford tried to explain this to the officers. Officers warned him that Raby would use the dog. Raby commanded Ruger to attack. Raby stepped in, grabbing Ashford’s arm and lowering it for Ruger to bite. Raby and Ruger pulled Ashford out of the car. At a hospital, Ashford was treated for puncture wounds and superficial injuries to his forearm. Ashford sued Raby under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming excessive force. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Raby based on qualified immunity. Existing law did not clearly establish that the officer’s perspective was unreasonable, View "Ashford v. Raby" on Justia Law

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Ogle works for the Ohio Department of Taxation. He is not a member of the union that represents the Department’s employees in collective bargaining. Under state law, the union may require non-members to pay “fair share” fees to defray the cost of collective-bargaining activities, Ohio Rev. Code 4117.09(C). In 2016-2018, the state deducted these fees from his pay without consent. In 2018, the Supreme Court held, in “Janus,” that compulsory “fair share” fees violate the free-speech rights of public employees, overruling its 1977 “Abood” decision authorizing such fees. Ogle filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the union, seeking a refund of the fair share fees he and others paid. In the meantime, the Sixth Circuit joined two other circuits in holding that public-sector unions that collected “fair share” fees in reliance on Abood may assert a good-faith defense to section 1983 lawsuits that seek the return of those fees. The Sixth Circuit then affirmed the dismissal of Ogle’s suit. Despite section 1983’s silence about defenses or immunities, the historical context from which the statute emerged indicates that a narrow good-faith defense protects those who unwittingly cross a line in reliance on presumptively-valid state law. View "Ogle v. Ohio Civil Service Employees Association" on Justia Law

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Any Ohio registered voter may cast an absentee ballot, starting about a month before election day, but the state requires voters to request an absentee ballot by noon, three days before election day. The lone exception is for unexpectedly hospitalized electors, who may request an absentee ballot until 3 p.m. on election day. Police arrested the plaintiffs the weekend before election day 2018. Foreseeing their confinement through the upcoming election, they sued for access to absentee ballots on behalf of themselves and a class of similar individuals, with an Equal Protection claim, challenging the disparate treatment of hospital-confined and jail-confined electors, and a First Amendment claim. The trial court permitted the plaintiffs to vote in November 2018 but declined to extend that relief to the class. The district court then granted the plaintiffs summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The burden on the plaintiffs’ right to vote is intermediate, somewhere “between slight and severe.” They are not totally denied a chance to vote by Ohio’s absentee ballot deadlines, so the laws survive if the state’s justifications outweigh this moderate burden. The state identified several counties that do not have adequate resources to process late absentee ballot requests from unexpectedly jail-confined electors without foregoing other duties necessary to ensure the orderly administration of Ohio’s elections. View "Mays v. LaRose" on Justia Law

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When the Sieferts’ child started experiencing suicidal thoughts, they took the teenager to Children’s Hospital near Cincinnati. After about a week, the Sieferts’ insurance company determined that Minor Siefert had no medical problems and denied further coverage. The Sieferts decided to bring their child home but the doctors and social workers resisted. For four weeks, the Sieferts wrangled with the hospital and county about getting their child back. Only after the Sieferts signed a voluntary safety plan did the child leave the facility. The Sieferts sued the county, its employees, the hospital, and its doctors, alleging substantive and procedural due process violations. The district court dismissed the hospital and county defendants. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. The Sieferts adequately pled procedural due process violations “[e]ven a temporary deprivation of physical custody requires a hearing within a reasonable time.” The issue of their consent was not appropriate for summary judgment. The hospital may be considered a state actor in these circumstances. Children’s and Hamilton County worked together, collaborating and communicating about Minor Siefert’s situation. Rejecting substantive due process claims, the court stated that the defendants’ opting to err on the side of protecting the child at the expense of depriving the parents of their parental rights for a month is not conduct that shocks the conscience. The Sieferts’ claims against the county entities must fail under “Monell.” View "Siefert v. Hamilton County" on Justia Law

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Franklin was convicted of arson (18 U.S.C. 844(i)), using a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c), possessing an unregistered firearm or destructive device; and possessing firearms while unlawfully using a controlled substance. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In 2010, Franklin filed an unsuccessful 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel. Franklin later sought authorization to file a second section 2255 motion, in which he would argue that his section 924(c) conviction should be vacated because his arson conviction no longer qualifies as a crime of violence under the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Davis” decision. The Sixth Circuit granted the petition. Davis established a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable. Lower courts may determine the retroactivity of new rules when “[m]ultiple cases . . . necessarily dictate" retroactivity. The Supreme Court’s 2016 “Welch” decision explained that decisions announce a substantive rule and are retroactive when they “alter[] the range of conduct . . . that the law punishes.” In Davis, the Court narrowed section 924(c)(3), concluding that its second clause was unconstitutional. Arson under 18 U.S.C. 844(i) does not qualify as a crime of violence under section 924(c)(3)(A) because it can be committed against a building, including one owned by the arsonist, Franklin’s section 924 conviction must have been based on section 924(c)(3)(B), which Davis invalidated. View "In re: Franklin" on Justia Law

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Straser built a carport in 2009, about 17 feet from the road. The zoning ordinance requires carports to be 30 feet from the road. The city notified Straser four times that his carport violated the rule. In 2016, the city cited Straser’s neighbor for violating the setback rule. The neighbor accused the city of targeting him for enforcement based on his race and Muslim religion. In 2017, the city cited Straser for his carport. City Attorney Trew stated that the city would enforce the rule, having “had trouble with a Muslim” who complained about a similar violation. Straser claimed he was fined because he is a Christian and the city did not want to favor him over his Muslim neighbor. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A government that enforces its laws equally against those of different faiths honors the neutrality imperative of the Fourteenth Amendment. Straser did not identify any cases in which the city refused to enforce the 30-foot rule against non-Christians nor did he show discriminatory purpose and effect. Straser’s own account of the conversation showed that Trew was committed to even-handed enforcement. Straser has no evidence that Trew knew of Straser’s religious beliefs. View "Straser v. City of Athens" on Justia Law

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During a screening of Wells’ luggage, TSA officials discovered bundles of U.S. currency totaling $39,000.00. The government filed a forfeiture action. Wells filed a verified claim asserting that he is “the sole[] and absolute owner of the monies ... unlawfully removed from [his] exclusive possession and control.” Wells filed an answer to the forfeiture complaint, denying the government’s allegations on the grounds “that the answer could very well tend to, or actually, violate Claimant’s Fifth Amendment rights.” Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure’s Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Civil Forfeiture Actions, the government served “special interrogatories” to Wells seeking information testing his assertion of ownership. In response to each interrogatory, Wells stated, “Claimant refuses to answer this interrogatory as he is asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.” The government then moved for summary judgment, citing Wells’ failure to respond to discovery requests aimed at determining the legitimacy of his alleged ownership interests. The district court granted the government summary judgment, finding that Wells failed to establish standing. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A blanket assertion of the Fifth Amendment privilege does not excuse a claimant’s burden of establishing standing at the summary judgment stage, nor can a claimant use the privilege “to make one’s assertions of ownership impervious to attack.” View "United States v. $39,000.00 in U.S. Currency" on Justia Law

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Davis, an African American inmate, claims that officer Gallagher called him “Bubba” and “boy.” Davis stated he might file a grievance over Gallagher’s perceived racism. Later that day, Davis encountered Gallagher. According to Davis, Gallagher “searched” Davis and planted heroin in Davis’s pocket and wrote an incident report which falsely alleged that Davis possessed heroin. Davis was placed in administrative segregation and was tested for drug use. The test came back negative. Gallagher’s version is that he saw Davis put something in his pocket, “shook [Davis] down,” and discovered a rock-like substance, which proved to be heroin. Davis claims that Inspector Miller told him that he would be released from segregation only if he revealed who had supplied him with drugs and threatened to make Davis “suffer.” A jury found Davis not guilty of felony heroin possession by a prisoner. Davis filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging an Eighth Amendment violation for being placed in solitary confinement; First Amendment retaliation for threatening to file a grievance; malicious prosecution (Fourth Amendment); and substantive and procedural due process violations. The district court ultimately rejected all of his claims. The Sixth Circuit reversed summary judgment to Gallagher on Davis’s malicious prosecution claim. When there is evidence to support each version of the parties’ dueling allegations, summary judgment is not appropriate—even when the evidence includes self-serving statements from the parties. View "Davis v. Gallagher" on Justia Law