Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Freed created a Facebook profile, limited to his “friends.” Eventually, he exceeded Facebook’s 5,000-friend limit on profiles and converted his profile to a “page,” which has unlimited “followers.” His page was public, anyone could “follow” it; for the page category, Freed chose “public figure.” Freed was appointed Port Huron’s city manager. He updated his Facebook page to reflect that title. In the “About” section, he described himself as “Daddy ... Husband ... and City Manager, Chief Administrative Officer for the citizens of Port Huron, MI.” Freed listed the Port Huron website as his page’s website, the city’s general email as his page’s contact information, and the City Hall address as his page’s address. Freed shared photos of family events, visits to local community events, and posts about administrative directives he issued as city manager. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, he posted policies he initiated for Port Huron and news articles on public-health measures and statistics. Lindke responded with criticism. Freed deleted those comments and eventually “blocked” Lindke from the page.Lindke sued Freed under 42 U.S.C 1983, arguing that Freed violated his First Amendment rights. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Freed. Freed’s Facebook activity was not state action. The page neither derives from the duties of his office nor depends on his state authority. View "Lindke v. Freed" on Justia Law

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Alcoa Officers arrested an obviously inebriated Colson following a report that, while driving her SUV, she chased her 10-year-old son in a field and then crashed in a ditch, and transported her to a hospital. Colson then withdrew her consent. to a blood draw. Colson defied repeated orders to get back into the cruiser. During the struggle, an officer's knee touched Colson’s knee, followed by an audible “pop.” Colson started screaming “my fucking knee” but continued to resist. Once Colson was in the cruiser, officers called a supervisor, then took Colson to the jail where a nurse would perform the blood draw. Colson never asked for medical care. At the jail, Colson exited the vehicle and walked inside, with no indication that she was injured. As she was frisked, Colson fell to the ground and said “my fucking knee.” Jail nurse Russell asked Colson to perform various motions with the injured leg and compared Colson’s knees, commented “I don’t see no swelling,” and then left. A week later, Colson was diagnosed with a torn ACL, a strained LCL, and a small avulsion fracture of the fibular head. Colson pleaded guilty to resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and DUI.Colson sued; only a claim for failure to provide medical care for her knee injury survived. The Sixth Circuit held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity on that claim. View "Colson v. City of Alcoa" on Justia Law

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Harrington, the founder of a nonprofit corporation that engages in anti-abortion protests, sought to demonstrate at the Democratic Party’s presidential-primary debates in Detroit in 2019. In response to security concerns, the Detroit Police Department imposed and enforced several measures that impeded the group’s speech. A “restricted area” blocked access to the debate venue’s immediate vicinity. Protestors were divided into “right-leaning” and “left-leaning” camps and were barred from commingling. Harrington was briefly detained after a confrontation with police. Harrington and his group eventually abandoned the site. They filed suit, alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments and the Equal Protection Clause.The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants—the city and three individual officers. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The restricted area satisfies intermediate scrutiny; to hold that law enforcement could not establish a restricted area around such an event without a known, specific threat would make it essentially impossible to guard against terroristic violence. The plaintiffs failed to establish a genuine dispute that the defendants’ asserted security rationale was somehow pretextual or non-existent. Noting that the protestors were not “similarly situated” to other groups, the court rejected equal protection claims. The court further noted that the property that the group was asked to leave was privately owned; when officers began to place Harrington in cuffs, they reasonably believed he was committing criminal trespass. View "Reform America v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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Detroit police officers apprehended a fleeing suspect who had run across several yards, including White’s yard. Believing that the suspect had disposed of a weapon nearby, officers called in a canine unit to search. Bodycam and security camera footage captured the events that followed. Officer Cherry arrived with her trained canine, Roky. The White family had two dogs outside, White’s daughter, Mi-Chol, grabbed Chino, a pit bull, to put him inside but he escaped and ran to the front yard. Mi-Chol went inside to grab a leash. As Officer Cherry and Roky reached the corner of the adjoining yard, Chino lurched through the fence’s vertical spires and bit down on Roky’s snout. Roky yelped. Cherry turned and saw Roky trapped up against the fence with his nose in Chino’s mouth. Cherry tugged at Roky’s leash and yelled at Chino to “let go.” Chino began “thrashing.” Unable to free Roky and afraid for the dog’s life, Cherry shot Chino. Six seconds passed between Chino’s attack and Cherry’s shot. Chino died from the shot. The Whites sued. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants, citing qualified immunity. Officer Cherry acted reasonably. View "White v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Adolphe was found murdered in front of his apartment building. Adolphe and Carr had been dating. Carr, age 16, was arrested and entered an Alford plea in 2008 to second-degree manslaughter, conspiracy to commit robbery, conspiracy to commit burglary, and tampering with physical evidence. She was paroled in 2009 and discharged in 2018. In 2019, Kentucky Governor Bevin granted Carr “the full and unconditional pardon she has requested.”A year later, Carr sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the defendants fabricated evidence, coerced false statements, and withheld exculpatory evidence. The district court dismissed Carr’s complaint, finding that her section 1983 claims were not cognizable under the Supreme Court’s “Heck” decision. The Sixth Circuit reversed. While a full pardon does not always indicate that the individual is innocent, Heck did not impose a prerequisite of innocence to seek relief under section 1983; a full pardon in Kentucky removes all legal consequences so that a plaintiff can proceed with her section 1983 claims. View "Carr v. Louisville-Jefferson County" on Justia Law

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The Hopkinses kept cattle on their Marshall County, Tennessee farm. Detective Nichols received a complaint about the treatment of those cattle, drove by, and observed one dead cow and others that did not appear to be in good health. Nichols returned with Tennessee Department of Agriculture Veterinarian Johnson. Wearing his gun and badge, Nichols knocked and. according to Mrs. Hopkins, “demanded that [she] escort them to see the cattle,” refusing to wait until Mr. Hopkins returned or until she fed her children. Johnson completed a Livestock Welfare Examination, as required by law, noting that the cattle were not in reasonable health, that they lacked access to appropriate water, food, or shelter, and that major disease issues were present; she determined that probable cause for animal cruelty existed. Nichols returned to the Hopkins’s farm several times and discovered a sinkhole containing the remains of multiple cattle. Nichols and Sheriff Lamb eventually seized the cattle without a warrant and initiated criminal proceedings. The cattle were sold.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion for qualified immunity in a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Forced compliance with orders is a Fourth Amendment seizure; words that compel compliance with orders to exit a house constitute a seizure. While the open fields doctrine allowed the officers to lawfully search the farm, it did not give them lawful access to seize the cattle; they lacked exigent circumstances when they seized the cattle. View "Hopkins v. Nichols" on Justia Law

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After a judicial foreclosure proceeding for delinquent property taxes, the county generally sells the land at a public auction and pays any proceeds above the delinquency amount to the owner upon demand. Ohio's 2008 land-bank transfer procedure for abandoned property permits counties to bring foreclosure proceedings in the County Board of Revision rather than in court and authorizes counties to transfer the land to landbanks rather than sell it at auctions, “free and clear of all impositions and any other liens.” The state forgives any tax delinquency; it makes no difference whether the tax delinquency exceeds the property’s fair market value. The Board of Revision must provide notice to landowners and the county must run a title search. Owners may transfer a case from the Board to a court. After the Board’s foreclosure decision, owners have 28 days to pay the delinquency and recover their land. They also may file an appeal in a court of general jurisdiction. Owners cannot obtain the excess equity in the property after the land bank receives it.After Tarrify’s vacant property was transferred to a landbank, Tarrify sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the transfers constituted takings without just compensation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Tarrify’s motion to certify a class of Cuyahoga County landowners who purportedly suffered similar injuries. While the claimants share a common legal theory—that the targeted Ohio law does not permit them to capture equity in their properties after the county transfers them to a land bank—they do not have a cognizable common theory for measuring the value in each property at the time of transfer. View "Tarrify Properties, LLC v. Cuyahoga County" on Justia Law

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Bell asked why Officer Korkis pulled him over. Korkis responded that Bell first needed to provide his driver’s license, registration, and car insurance and that more officers were on their way. Bell claims the officers forcefully removed him from his vehicle, despite Bell volunteering again to exit on his own. Dash-cam videos show Korkis and Bell arguing for three minutes. Korkis asked for Bell’s information about 20 times, then reached into the window to unlock the door. A physical struggle ensued, not fully visible in the videos. Officers eventually pried open the door and told Bell to get on the ground; he repeatedly refused. Officers wrestled him to the pavement, where he refused to comply. An officer warned Bell about the taser. Bell still did not put his hands behind his back. An officer tased him.Bell sued the officers (42 U.S.C. 1983), claiming they violated the Fourth Amendment’s bar against excessive force. The district court dismissed, citing qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part after holding that the video footage could be considered at the motion-to-dismiss stage to determine whether allegations in the complaint were implausible. The court dismissed the appeal with respect to claims concerning the officers removing Bell from his car, noting that factual issues remain. With respect to claims concerning the tasing, Bell had not shown that the officers violated his clearly established rights. View "Bell v. City of Southfield" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged they were sexually abused by Tyler, a Kentucky probation and parole officer, 2017-2019, while Plaintiffs served sentences for state convictions. In 2018, one victim filed a sexual harassment complaint but Tyler’s supervisor, Hall, concealed the complaint. The state terminated Hall and charged Tyler with rape in the first degree, sodomy in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, tampering with physical evidence, official misconduct in the first degree, and harassment.Plaintiffs brought their claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Thirteenth Amendment, arguing that Defendants directly violated their rights. to be free from involuntary sexual servitude guaranteed by the Thirteenth Amendment and violated Plaintiffs’ Thirteenth Amendment rights to be free from “unwanted sexual physical contact,” “unwanted intrusion upon Plaintiffs’ person(s) for the sexual gratification of Defendants’ employee,” “sexual physical assault,” and “unwanted sexual contact.” Because the section 1983 limitations period had expired, Plaintiffs amended their complaint and claimed that their action arose out of the Thirteenth Amendment exclusively, disclaimed their arguments against Governor Beshear, and asserted that jurisdiction was proper under 28 U.S.C. 1331. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit; the Thirteenth Amendment neither provides a cause of action for damages nor abrogates state sovereign immunity against private damages actions. The court rejected Plaintiffs’ argument that no state or federal law prohibits them from filing suit directly against the Commonwealth. View "Smith v. Commonwealth of Kentucky" on Justia Law

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Thomas called 911, stating that he believed he was overdosing from cocaine. Law enforcement officers customarily secure suspected drug overdose scenes before paramedics enter. Officer Pinkerman knocked on the door, which burst open. Thomas ran into the lawn, disobeying officers’ commands. When Thomas fell, Pinkerman fell on top of him. Thomas actively resisted. Four officers handcuffed Thomas and signaled to paramedics to approach. Thomas was kicking and dropping his weight, so the officers laid him down and called for a hobble strap to prevent him from kicking paramedics. Officer Shaffner applied his knee to Thomas’s lower back/hip area. Stephens had his knees against Thomas’s shoulder. Thomas was kept in this position for approximately 90 seconds while waiting for a hobble strap. Officers noticed that his breathing slowed and rolled Thomas onto his side. Paramedics administered Narcan to increase his respiratory rate and deemed Thomas to be in stable, non-life-threatening condition; minutes later he went into cardiac arrest. Thomas arrived at the hospital in critical condition. A drug screen detected marijuana, cocaine, and opiates. Thomas died of “anoxic encephalopathy” resulting from cardiac arrest.Thomas’s estate alleged that his cardiac arrest was caused by “forcible restraint that precluded adequate breathing.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of the estate’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims. The estate cannot establish that Thomas had a clearly established right against the type of force that was used; the officers are entitled to qualified immunity. View "Wiley v. City of Columbus" on Justia Law