Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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The Cincinnati Citizen Complaint Authority investigates alleged police misconduct and usually interviews the relevant officers, complainants, and other witnesses. Officers are required to participate in such investigations. An officer may bring a union representative to the interview. The Authority video records the interviews. Sergeant Hils, the President of the Union, claims that Authority Investigator Ekeke, in recording an officer’s interview, selectively turned off the recording when the officer made exculpatory statements. Another time, he alleges, Ekeke “threatened” an officer before the interview. Hils tried to record an interview of Officer Knapp, whom he represented. The Authority instituted a policy, prohibiting officers or their representatives from recording the interviews.Hils and affected officers sued, alleging violations of their free-speech rights, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The union filed an unfair labor practices charge, which led to a partial settlement agreement. The city agreed to record all future interviews. The district court held that the settlement agreement mooted the selective-recording claims and that the First Amendment does not include a right to record a government investigation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The policy satisfies rational-basis review. The Authority has legitimate interests in maintaining order and fairness during its interviews by ensuring the ongoing interviews are not selectively broadcasted, by ensuring the integrity of the investigation, by protecting the subjects of the investigation from unfair and precipitous public criticism, and by trying to prevent other subjects of the investigation from hearing prior interviews. View "Hils v. Davis" on Justia Law

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In September 2022, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission sent letters to Fischer, who is running for the Kentucky Supreme Court, and Winter, who is running for the Court of Appeals, stating that unidentified individuals had filed complaints, alleging they had “engaged in political or campaign activity inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary," including references to the Republican Party and “pledges, promises or commitments in connection with cases, controversies, or issues likely to come before the Court—specifically the issue of abortion.” The candidates requested additional information, identifying statements that might have prompted the complaints and explaining why the First Amendment protected the statements. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, raising facial and as-applied challenges to Kentucky's Judicial Conduct Rules. They sought an emergency injunction pending appeal, justifying their request based on “the passage of 12 days without a ruling in the middle of an election cycle,” and the “specter of … self-censorship.”That day, the district court denied the request for a preliminary injunction on standing grounds. The Sixth Circuit granted a preliminary injunction, protecting specific campaign statements. The candidates have standing and have demonstrated a likely constitutional violation. There is a credible threat of enforcement of the Rules. The candidates have guessed which of their statements might have violated the rules; the First Amendment protects each. “When a judicial commission sends vague and threatening letters to candidates on the eve of election, it puts the candidates to a choice between self-censorship and uncertain sanctions.” View "Fischer v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Lamb was involved in an altercation with a WCI correctional office. Lamb alleges that other correctional officers retaliated by beating him and deploying pepper spray against him while he was handcuffed outside the presence of surveillance cameras. That night, Lamb was transferred to the Lebanon Correctional Institution (LeCI), where he was placed in restrictive housing. Lamb filed an internal informal complaint. WCI responded with a computer entry on the prison’s internal system, stating “[y]ou will be able to give your statement during the use of force investigation.” Lamb asserts that he did not receive this response for two years because he did not have access to the System while in restrictive housing. Lamb also alleges that he filed second and third informal complaints and unsuccessfully asked LeCl officers for forms to escalate his grievance. Lamb was transferred to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. Lamb allegedly sent an appeal letter to the Chief Inspector of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. There is no record of this letter.Lamb filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action. The district court dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). The Sixth Circuit reversed. While Lamb did not exhaust his administrative remedies properly, there remain material disputes of fact about whether prison officials rendered those administrative remedies unavailable. View "Lamb v. Kendrick" on Justia Law

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Oakland County took title to the plaintiffs’ homes under the Michigan General Property Tax Act, which (after a redemption period) required the state court to enter a foreclosure judgment that vested “absolute title” to the property in the governmental entity upon payment of the amount of the tax delinquency or “its fair market value.” The entity could then sell it at a public auction. No matter what the sale price, the property’s former owner had no right to any of the proceeds.In February 2018, under the Act, Oakland County foreclosed on Hall’s home to collect a tax delinquency of $22,642; the County then conveyed the property to the City of Southfield for that price. Southfield conveyed the property for $1 to a for-profit entity, the Southfield Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which later sold it for $308,000. Other plaintiffs had similar experiences.The plaintiffs brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, citing the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The “Michigan statute is not only self-dealing: it is also an aberration from some 300 years of decisions.” The government may not decline to recognize long-established interests in property as a device to take them. The County took the property without just compensation. View "Hall v. Meisner" on Justia Law

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Colerain Township prohibited the public from posting “inappropriate” or “offensive” comments on the police department’s Facebook page and prohibited the public from making “disrespectful” comments at its board of trustees meetings. Davis was active in criticizing the board and the department, through oral comments at board meetings and written comments on the Facebook page. Davis sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that the Township had violated the First Amendment. She alleged that the prohibitions discriminated against speech based on the speaker’s viewpoint and that the (alleged) removal of her video from the Facebook page amounted to retaliation. The parties agreed that the comments section of the Facebook page and the public-participation portion of board meetings were “limited public forums.” The district court rejected Davis’s challenges to the Facebook Rule, finding the categorical ban on posting videos viewpoint-neutral and reasonable. It upheld the Meeting Rule, finding that the board had not applied it to Davis in a discriminatory way. It rejected overbreadth and vagueness challenges.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Davis’s claims for lack of jurisdiction. Davis did not raise her free-speech claims in an Article III case or controversy. She failed to show that the Facebook rule has injured her in the past or is likely to do so in the future. The Township has repealed the meeting rule. View "Davis v. Colerain Township, Ohio" on Justia Law

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Sittenfeld, a former Cincinnati City Council member, was charged with honest-services wire fraud, bribery, and attempted extortion under color of official right. The jury trial comprised nine days. The court did not sequester the jurors but admonished them repeatedly against discussing the case or considering extraneous information. On the third day of jury deliberations, a court employee informed the judge that “Juror X” had been posting to her private Facebook page, which was visible only to Juror X’s Facebook friends, of whom the court employee was one. The court obtained printouts of Juror X’s private posts and comments and called the parties to chambers to discuss the situation. In the meantime, the jury reached a verdict. The parties and court accepted the verdict with the possibility of a post-verdict “Remmer” hearing on possible extraneous influences on the jury. The jury convicted Sittenfeld on two counts. The court discharged the jury, questioned Jurors X and Y in chambers, denied Sittenfeld’s motion for a forensic examination of Juror X’s electronic devices, and concluded that Sittenfeld was not prejudiced by the Facebook postings.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A court’s inherent or statutory authority in conducting a Remmer hearing does not include an unlimited, inquisitorial power to order jurors to surrender their personal possessions, such as their electronic devices, or to divulge their passwords; the district court had no power to order a forensic examination of the juror’s devices. View "In re: Sittenfeld" on Justia Law

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Will started attending Farragut High School in 2015. Will’s style and his friendships created “a perception that he was alternatively sexually oriented” and affiliated “with the LGBT movement.” According to his parents, administrators targeted Will for discipline because of his appearance, perceived sexual orientation, and speech. There were several disciplinary actions that contributed to Will’s increasing anxiety and depression. Although a teacher graded an assignment in which Will expressed suicidal thoughts, nobody at the school informed his parents. During his sophomore year, Will died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.Will's parents brought a state court suit, alleging deprivation of “administrative due process” during Will’s suspension proceedings, violations of the District’s anti-harassment and suicide-prevention policies, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The District removed the suit to federal court, arguing that the “due process” allegations raised federal claims. The district court remanded the suit in 2018, based on the parents’ assertions that they raised only state law claims. Their attorney let the suit languish for years. A new attorney believed that the state law claims would fail and filed an amended complaint adding claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and claims under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681. The District removed the suit to federal court again. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the federal claims as time-barred. The parents forfeited several of their arguments by failing to raise them earlier. View "Bannister v. Knox County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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In 2010, a jury convicted Mammone of the aggravated murder of his two children and his former mother-in-law, aggravated burglary, violation of a protective order, and attempted arson. Mammone’s mother, his father, and a psychologist testified on his behalf at sentencing, and Mammone gave a five-hour unsworn statement. The jury recommended and the court imposed three death sentences plus 27 years of consecutive imprisonment for his noncapital offenses. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of his habeas corpus petition, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court rejected Mammone’s arguments that pretrial publicity was so prejudicial that he did not receive a fair trial; that the jurors unconstitutionally prayed before penalty-phase deliberations; and that trial counsel and appellate counsel were ineffective. The Ohio Supreme Court held that it could not conclude that pretrial publicity rendered Mammone’s trial a “hollow formality.” That decision was not an objectively unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent. Mammone cites no Supreme Court precedent holding that prayer by jurors amounts to the influence of extraneous information. Mammone’s underlying claim that trial counsel should have pursued a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity is not substantial because he cannot overcome the presumption that the decision was strategic. View "Mammone v. Jenkins" on Justia Law

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FBI agents were searching for Davison when they approached King, who has a similar description. King attempted to flee. Officers used force to apprehend King. Bystanders called the police and began filming. Officers ordered them to delete their videos because they could reveal undercover FBI agents. King spent the weekend in jail. The district court found that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over King’s subsequent Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claim, and granted the officers summary judgment based on qualified immunity. In 2019, the Sixth Circuit reversed.After the Supreme Court reversed, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court. Because the district court’s order “hinged” on whether King could establish the elements of an FTCA claim, the order was on the merits for purposes of the judgment bar, 28 U.S.C. 2676, which provides that a judgment under the FTCA is a complete bar to any action by the claimant, by reason of the same subject matter, against the employee of the government whose act or omission gave rise to the claim. The analysis did not change based on the fact that the elements of an FTCA claim also establish whether a district court has subject-matter jurisdiction over that claim. The Sixth Circuit held that the FTCA judgment bar applies to other claims brought in the same lawsuit. View "King v. United States" on Justia Law

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At the Ohio State University, Dr. Strauss allegedly abused hundreds of young men under the guise of performing medical examinations, between 1978-1998. The University placed Strauss on leave in 1996, while it investigated his conduct, and ultimately declined to renew his appointments with Student Health Services and terminated his employment with the Athletics Department. It did not publicly provide reasons for these decisions. The University conducted a hearing but did not notify students or give them an opportunity to participate. Strauss remained a tenured faculty member. He retired in 1998, with emeritus status. He opened a private clinic near the University to treat “common genital/urinary problems,” advertised in the student newspaper, and continued treating students. An independent investigation commissioned by the University in 2018 and undertaken by a law firm substantiated allegations of abuse.Strauss’s victims brought Title IX suits, alleging that the University was deliberately indifferent to their heightened risk of abuse. The district court found that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Many plaintiffs adequately alleged that they did not know they were abused until 2018; the time of the abuse, they were young and did not know what was medically appropriate. Strauss gave pretextual, false medical explanations for the abuse. The plaintiffs did not have reason to know that others had previously complained about Strauss’s conduct. View "Moxley v. The Ohio State University" on Justia Law