Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Detroit prohibits street vendors from selling their goods within 300 feet of sports arenas or stadiums. After the completion of Little Caesar’s Arena in 2017, the new home of the Red Wings and Pistons, Detroit refused to renew three vendor licenses for locations that fell within the 300-foot exclusion zone. The licenses had been in place since 2008. The displaced vendors sued, claiming due process violations.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Detroit. The ordinance does not create a property interest in a vendor’s license; it never says that applicants will receive licenses for the places they choose but requires that they apply “for an approved location,” and warns that the city may “terminate[] or eliminate[]” a vendor location. Detroit retains the discretion to deny or suspend licenses to prevent a violation of the rules or to protect public safety. Even a protected property interest would not suffice to defeat Detroit’s decision. Detroit had rational reasons for denying these vendor applications: its interest in preventing congestion on its sidewalks, ensuring sidewalk safety, eliminating blight and litter, and protecting arena operators from competition. A 300-foot buffer zone around arenas is a rational way to advance Detroit’s interest in preventing congestion. View "Williams v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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In August, 1993, Fields, having spent the day drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, got into a fight with Burton. Burton lived in a duplex owned by Horton. That night, Burton found that she was locked outside. Fields appeared, with a knife, and broke a window in the duplex. Both Fields and Burton fled before police arrived, having been called by a neighbor. Officers found Fields in Horton’s residence, a block away, in possession of Horton’s jewelry, saying that he had killed Horton, who was dead in her bedroom. At his second trial, the prosecution argued that Fields broke into Horton’s residence through a storm window, murdered her in the bedroom, and started burglarizing the residence shortly before police arrived. To test the plausibility of that theory, the jury conducted an experiment using a flat-tipped knife submitted into evidence to remove a cabinet door in the jury room (in place of the storm window). Satisfied with the outcome, the jurors convicted Fields of intentional murder and sentenced him to death.The Sixth Circuit granted Fields conditional habeas corpus relief. The jury improperly considered extrinsic evidence in violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Given the centrality of the issue, the inherently prejudicial nature of the experiment, and the lack of overwhelming evidence of guilt, the jury experiment had a “substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.” View "Fields v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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On three occasions, Harrison sold methamphetamine to B.B., a confidential informant who recorded the transactions on video. Police arrested Harrison. B.B. died before trial and was unable to testify about the controlled buys. As a substitute, the government played B.B.’s videos of the transactions for the jury, over Harrison’s objection. Recordings of statements from B.B. to law-enforcement personnel were excluded on Sixth Amendment grounds.The jury convicted Harrison on multiple drug counts and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court found that Harrison’s prior conviction for complicity to commit murder was a serious violent felony and that Harrison was subject to a sentencing enhancement, raising his mandatory minimum on the possession-with-intent-to-sell count from 10 years to 15. 21 U.S.C. 841. Harrison was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the introduction of B.B.’s videos violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accusers and the district court improperly characterized his prior conviction as a violent felony at sentencing. B.B.’s statements in the videos were not offered for their truth and were not hearsay. Complicity to commit murder always requires the use of physical force, because murder always requires the use of physical force. View "United States v. Harrison" on Justia Law

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The Fox and Puchlak filed purported class actions, alleging that Michigan counties seized property to satisfy property-tax delinquencies, sold the properties, and kept the difference between the sales proceeds and the tax debts.. The suits assert that the counties committed takings without just compensation or imposed excessive fines in violation of the Michigan and federal constitutions. Genesee County’s insurance, through Safety, precludes coverage for claims “[a]rising out of . . . [t]ax collection, or the improper administration of taxes or loss that reflects any tax obligation” and claims “[a]rising out of eminent domain, condemnation, inverse condemnation, temporary or permanent taking, adverse possession, or dedication by adverse use.”Safety sought a ruling that it owed no duty to defend or to indemnify. The district court entered summary judgment, finding no Article III case or controversy between Safety and Fox and Puchlak. The court also held that Safety owes Genesee County no duty to defend. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Safety lacks standing to sue Fox and Puchlak over its duty to defend and its claim for the duty to indemnify lacks ripeness. Safety owes no duty to defend; the alleged tax-collection process directly caused the injuries underlying each of Fox’s and Puchlak’s claims. View "Safety Specialty Insurance Co. v. Genesee County Board of Commissioners" on Justia Law

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Hewittel was convicted of armed robbery and related offenses based solely on the testimony of the victim. Three witnesses—one of them having little relationship with anyone in the case—were prepared to testify in support of Hewittel’s alibi that he was at home, almost a half-hour from the crime scene when the crime occurred. Hewittel’s attorney failed to call any of those witnesses at trial, not because of any strategic judgment but because Hewittel’s counsel thought the crime occurred between noon and 12:30 p.m. when Hewittel was at home alone. The victim twice testified (in counsel’s presence) that the crime occurred at 1:00 or 1:30 p.m.—by which time all three witnesses were present at Hewittel’s home. Counsel also believed that evidence of Hewittel’s prior convictions would have unavoidably come in at trial. In reality, that evidence almost certainly would have been excluded, if Hewittel’s counsel asked. Throughout the trial, Hewittel’s counsel repeatedly reminded the jury that his client had been convicted of armed robbery five times before.The trial judge twice ordered a new trial. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, based in part on the same mistake regarding the time of the offense. The federal district court granted a Hewittel writ of habeas corpus. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, calling the trial “an extreme malfunction in the criminal justice system.” View "Hewitt-El v. Burgess" on Justia Law

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In 2021, Tennessee enacted a statute that vaccination, masking, and quarantine decisions: “A local health entity or official, mayor, governmental entity, or school does not have the authority to quarantine a person or private business for purposes of COVID-19,” and “a school or a governing body of a school shall not require a person to wear a face mask while on school property” unless various conditions are met. Before seeking accommodation under its terms, eight minor students with disabilities filed suit, alleging that the legislation violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101m Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Supremacy Clause. The district court granted a preliminary injunction with respect to sections of the Act concerning face coverings for schools and provisions that prohibit local health officials and schools from making quarantining decisions as they relate to public schools.While acknowledging that the case is moot, the Sixth Circuit dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction. The plaintiffs’ argument that they are injured because the Act categorically violates the ADA amounts to an overly generalized grievance. They do not seek redress for a completed violation of a legal right; they seek only prospective relief to protect against future violations. Their injuries are not fairly traceable to any defendant, so no remedy applicable to those defendants (be it an injunction or a declaration) would redress the alleged injuries. View "R. K. v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Wellpath contracted with the jail to provide on-site medical staff and services. Wellpath assigned Dr. Cogswell, to work at the jail. While there, he sexually assaulted three inmates during their visits to the medical clinic. None of the women called out for help or otherwise indicated to the jail staff that anything untoward was occurring. One inmate, Bills recounted seeing an unidentified officer “glance through the little crack of the white curtain [and give] kind of like a head nod,” which Bills interpreted as the officer saying to Cogswell “I got your back.” Wellpath had a policy that if there was a sensitive exam going on, there would be a chaperone. During Cogswell’s tenure, Macomb Officer Horan reported to Wellpath’s nursing director and a Wellpath paramedic that Cogswell was potentially violating this policy by seeing patients unchaperoned, using a privacy screen. At Horan’s request, the nursing director “pop[ped] [her] head in” and saw “nothing out of the ordinary[ or] suspicious.”Days after their assaults, inmates reported the incidents to the jail. Wellpath learned of the reports the same day and immediately informed Cogswell not to report to work. Following an investigation, his employment was terminated. Cogswell was later convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. In the inmates’ suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants, citing the lack of evidence that the defendants knew of Cogswell’s assaults before they were reported. View "Buetenmiller v. Macomb County Jail" on Justia Law

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In 2019, Tennessee imposed new requirements for conducting voter-registration activities. The law required individuals to register with the state; complete state-administered “training”; file a “sworn statement” agreeing to obey Tennessee’s voter-registration laws; and return “completed” voter-registration forms within 10 days. Plaintiffs argued that the law significantly burdened their rights of speech and association, in violation of the First Amendment, and was unconstitutionally vague. The court stated that the defendants had offered “little, if any, evidence” in support of the Act’s requirements, “despite having had an opportunity” and held that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the merits, further noting “the vagueness about the scope and nature" of the Act. The court “ordered” the defendants “not to take any steps to implement” or otherwise enforce the challenged provisions. The defendants did not appeal. Seven months later, the state repealed the provisions.The district court approved a stipulation to dismiss the case without prejudice. Plaintiffs were awarded attorneys’ fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988, as the “prevailing party.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A preliminary injunction that, as a practical matter, concludes the litigation in the plaintiffs’ favor and that is not challenged on appeal, is, in this case, enduring enough to support prevailing-party status under section 1988. View "Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP v. Hargett" on Justia Law

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Reho, proceeding pro se, moved for an extension of time to apply for a certificate of appealability and to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal, 83 days after the district court entered judgment denying his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion. If Reho’s motion was a notice of appeal, it was three weeks late, 28 U.S.C. 2107(b)(1); Fed.R.App.P. 4(a)(1)(B)(i).The Sixth Circuit remanded. If Reho’s motion was a notice of appeal, it was time-barred. However, the motion, which repeatedly asks for an extension of time and offered an explanation for his delay, is better construed as a motion for an extension of time to file a notice of appeal, 28 U.S.C. 2107(c); Fed.R.App.P. 4(a)(5)(A); the district court may extend the time to file a notice of appeal based on “excusable neglect or good cause” if the petitioner moves for an extension within 30 days of the expiration of the time to file a notice of appeal. On remand, the district court must determine whether Reho has shown excusable neglect or good cause so as to merit an extension of time to file a notice of appeal. View "Reho v. United States" on Justia Law

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Officials switched Flint’s municipal water supply from the Detroit Water Department to the Flint River, reviving a dormant treatment plant. Flint residents immediately complained of water that looked, tasted, and smelled foul. There was evidence of E. coli contamination in the water, a localized outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, and a dangerously high lead poisoning rate in children. Without proper corrosion-control treatment, lead leached from aging pipes into the water. The plaintiffs, children who suffered lead poisoning, brain damage, and other injuries, sued “governmental defendants” and “engineering defendants.” Criminal charges were prosecuted at the same time.The appellants, Flint Emergency Managers, and the former Flint Director of Public Works sought a protective order in the civil litigation after their initial criminal charges were dismissed, asking the court to delay discovery pertaining to them until the criminal statute of limitations expired or to seal the discovery. The district court denied the motion. Each sat for a deposition; none invoked the Fifth Amendment. All were later indicted.The governmental defendants settled the civil case. The remaining civil defendants served subpoenas on appellants, who moved to quash, contending that they would invoke their privilege against self-incrimination. The court denied the motions, concluding that they had waived the privilege by testifying at their depositions. At trial, after each appellant invoked the Fifth Amendment, the court played videos of the depositions. After a mistrial, the court scheduled a retrial.The Sixth Circuit vacated. Appellants’ deposition waivers did not waive the privilege at trial because the waiver extended only through cross-examination at their depositions. View "Walters v. Snyder" on Justia Law