Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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A Pennsylvania municipal lien is automatic; it is perfected by filing with the local court, without notice or a hearing, where it is publicly docketed. Until filed, a municipal lien may not be enforced through a judicial sale. Municipalities can delay filing a lien indefinitely, but it is not enforceable against subsequent purchasers until filed. A municipality can petition the court for a sale. Property owners may request a hearing on the legality of a lien at any time by paying the underlying claim into the court with a petition. PGW, a public utility owned by the city, scans its billing database, identifies delinquent accounts, then sends a pre-filing letter. If full payment is not made, the system automatically files the lien and sends another notice. Landlords are not normally apprised of tenants' growing arrearages. An exception is entered if the name/address associated with an account does not match the property tax records. PGW frequently enters “exceptions,” which do not prevent arrearages from continuing to grow nor do they interrupt service but prevent the lien from being filed. Landlords who learned of thousands of dollars of liens against their properties, due to nonpayment by tenants, filed suit. The court certified a class and held that the City had violated the landlords’ due process rights. The Third Circuit reversed. Whether the lien procedures comport with due process depends on three factors: the private interest that will be affected; the risk of an erroneous deprivation and the value of other procedural safeguards in avoiding errors; and the governmental interest. Although the filing of a lien is “significant” enough to trigger due process protections, it is a relatively limited interference with the landlords’ property. None of the plaintiffs have suffered injury to their credit. Nor have the liens interfered with their ability to maintain their properties or collect rents. Risks associated with an erroneous lien are mitigated by the statute's post-deprivation remedies. View "Augustin v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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In 1995, a Pennsylvania jury found Abdul-Salaam guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy. After a one-day penalty phase hearing in which Abdul-Salaam’s counsel presented three mitigation witnesses, the jury sentenced Abdul-Salaam to death. Abdul-Salaam, after exhausting his state remedies, filed a federal petition for habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. 2254, challenging his sentence, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to investigate adequately and to present sufficient mitigation evidence at sentencing. The Third Circuit reversed the denial of relief. Trial counsel could not have had a strategic reason not to investigate Abdul-Salaam’s background, school, and juvenile records, to acquire a mental health evaluation, or to interview more family members about his childhood abuse and poverty, counsel’s performance was deficient. There is a reasonable probability that the un-presented evidence would have caused at least one juror to vote for a sentence of life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. Abdul-Salaam has met the prejudice prong of the ineffective assistance of counsel inquiry. View "Abdul-Salaam v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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"Immediate relatives” of U.S. Citizens can enter the United States without regard to numerical limitations on immigration. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, 120 Stat. 587 (AWA) amended the statute so that a citizen “who has been convicted of a specified offense against a minor” may not file any petition on behalf of such relatives “unless the Secretary of Homeland Security, in the Secretary’s sole and unreviewable discretion, determines that the citizen poses no risk to the alien.” The definition of a “specified offense against a minor,” includes “[c]riminal sexual conduct involving a minor, or the use of the Internet to facilitate or attempt such conduct.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) memos state that “a petitioner who has been convicted of a specified offense against a minor must submit evidence of rehabilitation and any other relevant evidence that clearly demonstrates, beyond any reasonable doubt," that he poses no risk and that “approval recommendations should be rare.” In 2004, Bakran, a U.S. citizen, was convicted of aggravated indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor. In 2012, Bakran married an adult Indian national and sought lawful permanent resident status for her. USCIS denied his application citing AWA. Bakran claimed violations of the Constitution and Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. 701. The Third Circuit held that the protocols Bakran challenged simply guide the Secretary’s determination; courts lack jurisdiction to review them. The AWA does not infringe Bakran’s marriage right but deprives him of an immigration benefit to which he has no constitutional right. The Act is aimed at providing prospective protection and is not impermissibly retroactive. View "Bakran v. Secretary, United States Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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The district court refused to enjoin the School District from allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with the students’ gender identities rather than the sex they were determined to have at birth. The District required students claiming to be transgender to meet with licensed counselors. There are several multi-user bathrooms; each has individual stalls. Several single-user restrooms are available to all. "Cisgender" students claimed the policy violated their constitutional rights of bodily privacy; Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681; and tort law. The Third Circuit affirmed. Under the circumstances, the presence of transgender students in the locker and restrooms is no more offensive to privacy interests than the presence of the other students who are not transgender. The constitutional right to privacy must be weighed against important competing governmental interests; transgender students face extraordinary social, psychological, and medical risks. The District had a compelling interest in shielding them from discrimination. Nothing suggests that cisgender students who voluntarily elect to use single-user facilities face the same extraordinary consequences as transgender students would if they were forced to use them. The cisgender students were claiming a broad right of personal privacy in a space that is just not that private. The mere presence of a transgender individual in a bathroom or locker room would not be highly offensive to a reasonable person. View "Doe v. Boyertown Area School District" on Justia Law

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Mothers and children fled violence perpetrated by gangs in Honduras and El Salvador and were apprehended near the U.S. border. They were moved to a Pennsylvania detention center. Immigration officers determined that they were inadmissible. They were ordered expeditiously removed, 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1), and unsuccessfully requested asylum. They sought habeas relief, claiming that Asylum Officers and IJs violated their constitutional and statutory rights in conducting the “credible fear” interviews. The Third Circuit initially affirmed the dismissal of the claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court held that, while the Suspension Clause of the Constitution would allow an aggrieved party with sufficient ties to the U.S. to challenge that lack of jurisdiction, the petitioners’ relationship to the U.S. amounted only to presence for a few hours before their apprehension. The children were subsequently accorded Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status—a classification intended to safeguard abused, abandoned, or neglected alien children who are able to meet rigorous eligibility requirements. The Third Circuit then reversed the dismissal, noting that protections afforded to SIJ children include eligibility for application of adjustment of status to that of lawful permanent residents, exemption from various grounds of inadmissibility, and procedural protections to ensure their status is not revoked without good cause. The jurisdiction-stripping provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act is an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus as applied to SIJ designees seeking judicial review of expedited removal orders. View "Osorio-Martinez v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Ricks, a former inmate at a Pennsylvania State Corrections facility, alleged that during a routine morning pat-down, Corrections Officer Keil rubbed his erect penis against Ricks’ buttocks through both men’s clothing. When Ricks stepped away and verbally protested to Keil’s supervisor, Lieutenant Shover, Ricks alleges that Shover “slammed” Ricks against the wall, causing injuries to his face, head, neck, and back. The district court dismissed his 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint, stating that “a small number of incidents in which a prisoner is verbally harassed, touched, and pressed against without his consent do not amount” to an Eighth Amendment violation. The Third Circuit reversed. A single incident of sexual abuse can constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment if the incident was objectively sufficiently intolerable and cruel, capable of causing harm, and the official had a culpable state of mind rather than a legitimate penological purpose. Although his sexual abuse claim as to Shover under a participation or failure-to-intervene theory was properly dismissed, Ricks’ excessive force claim stands on a different footing and should have been permitted to survive the motion to dismiss. View "Ricks v. Shover" on Justia Law

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A Wilmington barbershop employee watched an Accord in the parking lot for approximately 20 minutes and later testified that the passenger had a full beard and that the driver was wearing a red or pink scarf over his face, while repeatedly looking around the strip of stores and “pumping himself up to do something.” He could not identify the occupants; he could only tell that they were black males. When Delaware State Troopers arrived, the Accord left. The barbershop’s owner took a picture of the car’s license plate. Troopers discovered that the car had been reported stolen in an armed robbery and sent an email alert. Trooper Yeldell received the e-mail and patrolled the area the following morning. The car passed; Yeldell saw that the passenger (Foster) was wearing a red or pink scarf; the driver (Payton) was a black male with facial hair. Moments later, in the parking lot, Foster was outside of the Accord, holding an object. The second man was not present. Yeldell pulled out his gun and ordered Foster to the ground. Foster ran. Shot with a Taser, Foster fell, and a gun "went flying.” Officers recovered a loaded semi-automatic pistol. Payton was picked up while walking down the street, based on a generic description of a “black man.” The Accord was transported; a search revealed a loaded rifle, a scope, duct tape, and gloves, which were not in the car when it was stolen. No DNA or fingerprints connected either defendant to those items. The Third Circuit affirmed their convictions for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), finding there was reasonable suspicion to stop Payton and upholding the admission of the barbershop employees’ testimony and sentencing enhancements for use of a firearm in connection with another offense. View "United States v. Foster" on Justia Law

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Bonilla, a citizen of El Salvador, first attempted to enter the U.S. illegally in 2010 and was removed but returned. In 2017, Bonilla was arrested and found to be the subject of a removal order. He expressed a fear of persecution or torture if returned to El Salvador. Bonilla first three meetings with an asylum officer ended because Bonilla wanted his attorney present. At the fourth meeting, with his attorney present via telephone, Bonilla stated that he had been extorted by a gang in El Salvador because they thought he received money from his family in the U.S. and had light skin color. They never physically harmed or threatened him and he did not report these incidents to the police. The asylum officer issued a negative reasonable fear determination. Bonilla then appeared before an IJ. Bonilla later declared that he did not request that his attorney be present because he believed his attorney was listening on the phone; his counsel submitted a letter notifying the IJ of counsel’s error in not appearing. The IJ upheld the determination. The Third Circuit denied a petition for review. Bonilla has not shown that the regulations explicitly invested him with a right to counsel at the IJ’s review hearing and Bonilla was not denied the opportunity to obtain the counsel of his choice; his attorney simply failed him. Bonilla has not shown that he suffered prejudice by the absence of his counsel. View "Bonilla v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Grant was 16 years old when he committed crimes that led to his incarceration. He was convicted in 1992 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and for drug trafficking. The court determined that Grant would never be fit to reenter society and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for the RICO convictions with a concurrent 40-year term for the drug convictions and a mandatory consecutive five-year term for a gun conviction. In 2012, the Supreme Court decided, in Miller v. Alabama, that only incorrigible juvenile homicide offenders who have no capacity to reform may be sentenced to LWOP and that all non-incorrigible juvenile offenders are entitled to a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” The court resentenced Grant to a term of 65 years without parole. Grant argued that the sentence constitutes de facto LWOP. The Third Circuit vacated Grant’s sentence. A sentence that either meets or exceeds a non-incorrigible juvenile offender’s life expectancy violates the Eighth Amendment; courts must hold evidentiary hearings to determine the non-incorrigible juvenile offender’s life expectancy and must consider as sentencing factors his life expectancy and the national age of retirement, with the section 3553(a) factors, to properly structure a meaningful opportunity for release. View "United States v. Grant" on Justia Law

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.In 1990, 19-year-old Bennett was sitting in the passenger seat of a getaway car when his conspirator entered a jewelry store to commit a robbery, shooting the clerk and killing her. Bennett was convicted of first-degree murder. After a capital sentencing hearing, the jury returned a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Two state courts later vacated Bennett’s first-degree murder conviction, finding that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that it could convict Bennett of first-degree murder based on the shooter’s intent to kill. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the conviction. The Third Circuit granted Bennett’s federal habeas corpus petition, finding that the trial court’s erroneous jury instructions deprived him of due process of law. The court analyzed the issue de novo, concluding that Bennett’s due process claim was not adjudicated on the merits in state court. Due process is violated when a jury instruction relieves the government of its burden of proving every element beyond a reasonable doubt. There is “‘a reasonable likelihood’ that the jury at Bennett’s trial applied the instructions in a way that relieved the state of its burden of proving the specific intent to kill. View "Bennett v. Superintendent Graterford SCI" on Justia Law