Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Plaintiffs, operators of bowling alleys and roller-skating rinks in Michigan, sued Michigan Governor Whitmer, former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Gordon, and the Department alleging that various orders limiting the use of Plaintiffs’ properties early in the COVID-19 pandemic constituted an unconstitutional taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article X of the Michigan Constitution.The district court found that the defendants were entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment and dismissed the complaint for lack of jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause does not abrogate sovereign immunity. To accept Plaintiffs’ argument that states waived their sovereign immunity in suits that invoke a right incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment would destroy the protection the Eleventh Amendment was specifically ratified to provide; future plaintiffs could claim any right incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment is no longer subject to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Because Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages, the ultra vires theory of skirting Eleventh Amendment immunity is inapplicable. View "Skatemore, Inc. v. Whitmer" on Justia Law

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The University of Kentucky investigated two dentistry professors for entering false data about whether they, or their students, had performed services for patients at a university clinic and who should be paid for those services. The professors had earned more for treating patients than they earned in salary; they had circumvented the University’s system for determining who performed services. While the investigation proceeded, the professors were barred from seeing patients in the clinic but performed their other duties. After the investigation, both professors left the University. The professors sued, alleging violations of their due process rights and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment.The Sixth Circuit reversed the denial of summary judgment to the administrators on the due process claims involving the suspension of their clinical duties and one claim of constructive discharge. Because the administrators did not violate clearly established law, qualified immunity protects them. Even if the professors had a property interest in their clinical duties, the administrators did not violate any clearly established due process right when they suspended them from working in the clinic and allowed them to continue working in other roles. The court affirmed summary judgment for the administrators on a due process claim involving the early end to one professor’s appointment and on the professors’ First Amendment retaliation claims. View "Cunningham v. Blackwell" on Justia Law

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To dispute a property tax assessment under Detroit ordinances and Michigan state law, taxpayers “make complaint on or before February 15th" before the Board of Assessors. Any person who has complained to the Board of Assessors may appeal to the Board of Review. For the Michigan Tax Tribunal to have jurisdiction over an assessment dispute, “the assessment must be protested before the board of review.” On February 14, 2017, Detroit mailed tax assessment notices to Detroit homeowners, including an “EXTENDED ASSESSORS REVIEW SCHEDULE” that would conclude on February 18, just four days later. At a City Council meeting on February 14, the city announced: “The Assessors Review process will end this year February the 28th.” News outlets reported the extension and that Detroit had waived the requirement of appearance before the Board of Assessors so residents could appeal directly to the Board of Review. Detroit did not distribute individualized mailings to so inform homeowners.Plaintiffs filed a class action, alleging violations of their due process rights; asserting that Michigan’s State Tax Commission assumed control of Detroit’s flawed property tax assessment process from 2014-2017 so that its officials were equally responsible for the violations; and claiming that Wayne County is “complicit” and has been unjustly enriched. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, citing the Tax Injunction Act and the principle of comity. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that a state remedy is uncertain. View "Howard v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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Akron Police received an anonymous call that men were smoking marijuana in Whitney Park, "a high-crime area." Several officers, including Detective Elam, went to investigate. They arrived at the park in the early evening and saw a group of 10-15 men, including McCallister; they detected the odor of marijuana and began stopping people. Four men, including McCallister, tried to walk away. An officer instructed them to stop moving and place their hands on their heads. McCallister did so. Elam saw a “little bump out on his shirt,” which the detective concluded was a gun, and saw McCallister “turn[] his body in towards the huddle so no one would see.” Elam asked McCallister if he was carrying any weapons; McCallister did not respond. As McCallister raised his hands, his shirt lifted, and Elam saw a firearm magazine tucked into McCallister’s waistband. Elam retrieved the weapon.McCallister was indicted for illegal possession of a machinegun, 18 U.S.C. 922(o), and possessing an unregistered firearm, 26 U.S.C. 5861(d). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion to suppress. The officers had reasonable suspicion that all of the men were smoking marijuana, justifying the detention, and reasonable suspicion that McCallister was armed and dangerous, justifying the search. View "United States v. McCallister" on Justia Law

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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