Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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While imprisoned at Moshannon Valley Correctional Center ()MVCC), Davis, a Jamaican national, requested permission to marry a non-inmate U.S. citizen. MVCC apparently imposed requirements on those wishing to get married, beyond the requirements specified in the Federal Bureau of Prison regulations. Davis alleges that, despite having complied with all requirements, including MVCC’s additional requirements, Warden Wigen denied the request. MVCC almost exclusively houses foreign nationals who have been ordered to be deported or are facing immigration proceedings. Davis claims that federal defendants and officials of GEO, a company that operates private prisons on behalf of the government, conspired to ensure that no MVCC inmate can get married; marriage could complicate, and perhaps stop, removal and other immigration proceedings. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of section 1983 claims, reasoning that the complaint did not allege a purely private conspiracy, so a basic premise of the district court’s decision on the availability of relief was erroneous. The court affirmed the dismissal of the Bivens claim as asking for an unsupportable extension of Bivens liability; the Supreme Court has never recognized or been asked to recognize, a Bivens remedy for infringement of the right to marry. The court affirmed the dismissal of other 42 U.S.C. 1981, 1983, and 2000d claims. View "Davis v. Samuels" on Justia Law

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Scripps was convicted of wire fraud for transferring millions of dollars from the bank accounts of his mother and autistic uncle—heirs to the family’s publishing fortune—into his own account. During sentencing arguments, the court repeatedly indicated that Scripps could address the court without personally asking Scripps if he wished to speak. The court asked defense counsel (Dezsi) whether Scripps wished to address the court. Dezsi stated that Scripps did not. The judge later concluded that “[t]here’s nothing in this record from which I could fairly conclude there’s any remorse” and sentenced Scripps to 108 months’ imprisonment, the maximum period of incarceration within the Guidelines range. On appeal, with Scripps represented by Dezsi, the Third Circuit affirmed. Scripps filed an unsuccessful 28 U.S.C 2255 motion, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel, including by failing to argue that the judge erred by not personally inviting Scripps to speak during sentencing. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(i)(4)(A)(ii) requires a sentencing judge to “address the defendant personally in order to permit the defendant to speak or present any information to mitigate the sentence.” The Third Circuit reversed. The district court abused its discretion in failing to conduct an evidentiary hearing. It is possible that appellate counsel’s failure to raise Rule 32 error “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” The Supreme Court has held that a Rule 32 query, directed towards counsel, does not satisfy the requirement that the court personally address the defendant. View "United States v. Scripps" on Justia Law

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New Jersey and New York agreed more than 50 years ago to enter into the Waterfront Commission Compact. Congress consented to the formation of the Waterfront Commission Compact, under the Compacts Clause in Article I, section 10, of the U.S. Constitution, 67 Stat. 541. In 2018, New Jersey enacted legislation to withdraw from the Compact. To prevent this unilateral termination, the Waterfront Commission sued the Governor of New Jersey in federal court. The district court ruled in favor of the Commission. The Third Circuit vacated. The district court had federal-question jurisdiction over this dispute because the Complaint invoked the Supremacy Clause and the Compact (28 U.S.C. 1331) but that jurisdiction does not extend to any claim barred by state sovereign immunity. Because New Jersey is the real, substantial party in interest, its immunity should have barred the exercise of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor v. Governor of New Jersey" on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania Trooper Ramirez stopped a car for speeding after running the license plate and learning the car was owned by Enterprise. It lacked typical rental stickers. Each vent had an air freshener clipped to it. The driver, Fruit, gave Ramirez his license and rental car agreement, identifying his passenger, Garner. The rental agreement listed Fruit as the authorized driver but limited to New York and appeared to have expired 20 days earlier. Ramirez questioned Garner; 12 minutes into the stop, Ramirez put their information into his computer and learned that neither man had outstanding warrants, although Fruit was on supervised release. Both had extensive criminal records, including drug and weapons crimes. Enterprise confirmed that Fruit had extended the rental beyond the listed expiration date. Ramirez resolved to ask permission to search the vehicle but waited for backup, which arrived 37 minutes into the stop. Fruit declined permission to search. Ramirez stated that he was calling for a K-9 and Fruit was not free to leave. "Zigi" arrived 56 minutes into the stop, alerted at the car, then entered the vehicle and alerted in the back seat and trunk. A search revealed 300 grams of cocaine and 261 grams of heroin. Both men were indicted for conspiracy to possess (and possession) with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine. The district court denied their motion to suppress, ruling that Ramirez had “an escalating degree of reasonable suspicion” that justified extending the stop. In a consolidated appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. Ramirez had reasonable suspicion to extend the stop based on information he obtained during the first few minutes of the traffic stop before he engaged in an unrelated investigation; no unlawful extension of the stop occurred. View "United States v. Fruit" on Justia Law

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Section 1513 of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act prevents the plaintiffs from making political contributions because they hold interests in businesses that have gaming licenses. They sued, claiming First Amendment and Equal Protection violations. The district court concluded that Section 1513 furthers a substantially important state interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption but ruled that the restriction is unconstitutional because the Commonwealth did not draw it closely enough. The court permanently enjoined the enforcement of Section 1513. The Third Circuit affirmed. Limitations on campaign expenditures are subject to strict scrutiny. The government must prove that the regulations promote a “compelling interest” and are the “least restrictive means to further the articulated interest.” Even applying an intermediate threshold, examining whether the statute is “closely drawn,” the Commonwealth does not meet its burden. The overwhelming majority of states with commercial, non-tribal casino gambling like Pennsylvania do not have any political contribution restrictions that apply specifically to gaming industry-related parties. The Commonwealth’s implicit appeal to “common sense” as a surrogate for evidence in support of its far-reaching regulatory scheme is noteworthy in light of the approach taken by most other similarly situated states. View "Deon v. Barasch" on Justia Law

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In November 2013, three men robbed a Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania bank. A bank employee, Kane, later admitted to assisting them. The next morning, the three were pulled over in North Carolina. Wilson stated they were driving to Georgia and admitted that they had a lot of cash in the car. The officer, suspecting that they were going to buy drugs in Atlanta, searched the car, found the stolen cash, turned it over to federal agents, then released the men. A week later, three men robbed a Phoenixville, Pennsylvania bank. The police got a tip from Howell, whom Wilson had tried to recruit for the heists. Howell provided Wilson's cell phone number. Police pulled his cell-site location data, which put him at the Bala Cynwyd bank right before the first robbery and showed five calls and 17 text messages to Kane that day. Howell identified Wilson and Moore from a video of the robbery. Kane and Foster took plea bargains. Wilson and Moore were tried for bank robbery, conspiracy, and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Moore was sentenced to 385 months’ imprisonment. Wilson received 519 months. The Third Circuit affirmed. Counsel’s stipulation that the banks were federally insured did not violate the Sixth Amendment, which does not categorically forbid stipulating to a crime’s jurisdictional element without the defendant’s consent or over the defendant’s objection. View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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Hardy entered the Correctional Institute in urgent need of medical care: he had previously had part of his leg amputated due to diabetes and had developed an infected open wound. He was taken immediately to the infirmary. He was not given the inmate handbook but was told it would be in his prison block. Hardy signed a form acknowledging receipt of the handbook. When Hardy arrived at his block, the handbook was not there. Hardy’s efforts to obtain the handbook or the Inmate Grievance System Policy manual issued to Pennsylvania Corrections staff were unavailing. Hardy did not know that exhausting that grievance process requires two levels of appeals. Hardy’s wound festered; he filed a grievance explaining that a medical provider refused to give him bandages and antibiotic ointment. That grievance was rejected because it was not presented in a courteous manner.” Hardy 's next grievance was rejected as lacking “information that there were any issues not addressed during [Hardy’s] sick call visit.” Hardy filed a grievance detailing the medical staff’s failure to properly treat his leg wound, including declining to follow a doctor’s recommendation to transfer him to a medical facility, and his fear that more of his leg would need to be amputated. The grievance coordinator read the rules to require separate grievances for mental and physical harms. Hardy asked his counselor how he should respond. His counselor told him to “fill out another one.” Unaware of the appeal requirement, Hardy submitted eight new grievances, which were rejected as time-barred. Hardy's last grievance; requesting transfer to a medical facility, was deemed “[f]rivolous.” More of Hardy’s leg was amputated. The Third Circuit reinstated Hardy’s civil rights claim. Under these circumstances, the counselor’s misrepresentation rendered the grievance process “unavailable” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). View "Hardy v. Shaikh" on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania Trooper Johnson stopped Bradley for speeding. Bradley admitted that his license was suspended. Johnson took Bradley to talk in the squad car. With a friendly demeanor, Johnson coaxed Bradley into admitting that he had just been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for “drugs.” After about 10 minutes, Johnson stated that he was going to give Bradley a warning ticket. Johnson later acknowledged that he would not have let Bradley leave and had, from the beginning, suspected criminal activity. Corporal Hoye arrived. Johnson asked Bradley whether there were any guns, marijuana, large sums of U.S. currency, heroin, or cocaine in the car. Bradley denied having those items. Johnson asked again, with Hoye standing next to Bradley. Flanked by state troopers, Bradley admitted he had cocaine. Johnson then recited the Miranda warnings. Johnson believed he had probable cause to search the vehicle. Bradley stated that “a lot” of cocaine was in the trunk. About a kilo of cocaine in a backpack was lying in the trunk. Bradley successfully moved to suppress his confession and the physical evidence. The Third Circuit vacated in part and remanded for the district court to decide whether supplementation of the record is needed to decide whether the cocaine would have been inevitably discovered during an inventory search, and, if so, whether police department policy sufficiently cabined the scope of the officer’s discretion in conducting the inventory search such that the search of the backpack, a closed container, would have been lawful. View "United States v. Bradley" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Dooley was tried for five counts of attempted murder, five counts of aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of a crime, and reckless endangerment. A jury found him guilty but mentally ill (GBMI). Dooley filed grievances requesting the “D Stability Code” designation, which would have entitled him to greater mental health resources. A Department of Corrections (DOC) official told Dooley that after the GBMI verdict, the judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation and the report "did not support the GBMI designation and it was deleted from the final order.” The district court dismissed Dooley’s section 1983 complaint without leave to amend and declared that the dismissal constituted a “strike” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C.1915(g). The Third Circuit vacated. On these facts, Dooley’s contention that he retained the GBMI designation, at least to some extent, is not baseless. If, as the DOC contends, a jury found Dooley GBMI and a sentencing judge concluded that Dooley was not severely mentally disabled, that would not have eliminated his GBMI status. Under current DOC policy, it would have placed him in Category II of GBMI inmates, which would have required that he be placed on the D Roster and receive regular psychiatric evaluations. Even if the sentencing judge found him not severely mentally disabled, his GBMI verdict did not disappear or lose all significance. View "Dooley v. Wetzel" on Justia Law

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Ali, a non-practicing Muslim of Egyptian descent, was a non-tenured high school teacher. His supervisor received complaints about Ali’s instruction on the Holocaust. One English teacher reported that her students were questioning historical accounts of the Holocaust, opining that Hitler didn’t hate the Jews and that the death counts were exaggerated. Students’ written assignments confirmed those accounts. Ali also presented a lesson on the September 11 terrorist attacks, requiring students to read online articles translated by the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Ali posted links to the articles on a school-sponsored website: “U.S. Planned, Carried Out 9/11 Attacks—But Blames Others” and “U.S. Planning 9/11 Style Attack Using ISIS in Early 2015.” The MEMRI articles also contained links to other articles, such as “The Jews are Like a Cancer, Woe to the World if they Become Strong.” A reporter questioned Principal Lottman and Superintendent Zega. Lottman directed Ali to remove the MEMRI links from the school’s website. The following morning, Ali met with Zega and Lottman; his employment was terminated. Ali sued under New Jersey law and 42 U.S.C. 1981, claiming that Lottman referred to him as “Mufasa,” asked Ali if “they had computers in Egypt,” and remarked on his ethnicity during the meetings that resulted in Ali’s termination. He alleged discrimination, hostile work environment, free speech and academic freedom violations, and defamation. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Ali cannot show that his termination for teaching anti-Semitic views was a pretext for discrimination. View "Ali v. Woodbridge Township School District" on Justia Law