Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City in an action brought by plaintiffs, challenging its enforcement of the City's zoning regulations against them. Plaintiffs' claims stemmed from the City's enforcement of commercial zoning regulations.Even assuming zoning-enforcement decisions are susceptible to class-of-one challenges, the court concluded that plaintiffs have not shown that the City lacked a rational basis for its differential treatment of plaintiffs and other property owners. In this case, plaintiffs have not shown that they are identical or directly comparable to the comparator property owners in every material respect. The court also concluded that plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence of affirmative misconduct to withstand summary judgment on their equitable-estoppel claim. View "Bruning v. City of Omaha" on Justia Law

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Utah police officers discovered Defendant Tevita Tafuna sitting in a parked car with a gun he admitted to possessing. Because Defendant had a prior felony conviction, the Government charged him with unlawful possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress the firearm and his confession, arguing that he was detained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights and that his detention led to the incriminating evidence used against him. The district court denied the motion, and Defendant appealed. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether officers unconstitutionally seize Defendant before they found the firearm or obtained his confession? The Court concluded no, so it affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Tafuna" on Justia Law

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Appellants Lorie Smith and her website design company 303 Creative, LLC (collectively, “Appellants”) appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Appellees Aubrey Elenis, Director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division (the “Director”), members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (the “Commission”), and Phil Weiser, Colorado Attorney General (collectively, “Colorado”). Appellants challenged Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (“CADA”) on free speech, free exercise, and vagueness and overbreadth grounds. Consistent with Ms. Smith’s religious beliefs, Appellants intended to offer wedding websites that celebrate opposite-sex marriages but intended to refuse to create similar websites that celebrate same-sex marriages. Appellants’ objection was based on the message of the specific website; Appellants would not create a website celebrating same-sex marriage regardless of whether the customer was the same-sex couple themselves, a heterosexual friend of the couple, or even a disinterested wedding planner requesting a mock-up. Appellants brought a pre-enforcement challenge to CADA in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. After summary judgment briefing had concluded, the district court found that Appellants only established standing to challenge the Communication Clause, and not the Accommodation Clause. After the Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, the district court denied Appellants’ summary judgment motion on its Communication Clause challenges. The Tenth Circuit held Appellants had standing to challenge CADA. As to the merits, the Court held that CADA satisfied strict scrutiny, and thus permissibly compelled Appellants’ speech. The Court also held that CADA was a neutral law of general applicability, and that it was not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad. View "303 Creative, et al. v. Elenis, et al." on Justia Law

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After Mathew Gordon died within 30 hours of being admitted as a pretrial detainee, his mother filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging claims of inadequate medical care under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a previous appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that inadequate medical care claims brought by pretrial detainees require a showing of objective, not subjective, deliberate indifference (Gordon I). The district court, on remand, granted summary judgment for the individual defendants based on qualified immunity and for the entity defendant on the ground that plaintiff could not establish a custom or practice sufficient under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978).The Ninth Circuit affirmed as to plaintiff's Monell claim and individual defendants Deputy Robert Denney, Nurse Brianna Garcia, and Sergeant Brian Tunque. However, the panel reversed and remanded as to individual defendant Nurse Debbie Finley. In regard to Finley and Denney, the panel concluded that the district court committed legal error by using a subjective standard in analyzing the clearly established prong of the qualified immunity test. Furthermore, in regard to Finely, the panel concluded that summary judgment was not proper because the available law at the time of the incident clearly established Gordon's constitutional rights to proper medical screening to ensure the medically appropriate protocol was initiated. However, in regards to Denney, the panel concluded that although it now holds that Gordon had a constitutional right to direct-view safety checks, that right was not clearly established at the time of the incident. View "Gordon v. County of Orange" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal before the Tenth Circuit in this case involved a pretextual search, in which police impounded a car simply as an excuse to look inside for evidence of a crime. The search at issue stemmed from a call complaining to police about defendant-appellant Evan Woodard. The caller said that Woodard was fighting a huge drug case, may have smoked PCP, had three previous gun cases, and violated a protective order. After talking to the caller, police discovered Woodard had an outstanding warrant for misdemeanor public intoxication. With this information, the police looked for Woodard, planning to serve him with the protective order and execute the warrant. Police officers found Woodard in Tulsa, Oklahoma and initiated a traffic stop. Woodard pulled into a parking lot at a QuikTrip convenience store and stopped there. Police told Woodard to get out of the car, arrested him based on the warrant, and took his cellphone. Woodard then asked if he could call someone to pick up the car. One of the police officers responded “I don’t think so,” and the police decided to impound the car. Two officers then opened the front doors and began to search the car. One officer commented that he was looking for verification of car insurance, expressing doubt that Woodard had insured the car. After seeing no verification in the center console, he eventually found proof of an old insurance policy in the glove compartment. By then, however, another officer had found marijuana, cocaine, a digital scale, and a gun. With that evidence, the police obtained a warrant allowing access to text messages on Mr. Woodard’s cellphone. Those text messages provided evidence of drug dealing. Woodard moved to suppress the evidence found during that stop, arguing the officers ordered impoundment as pretext to investigate suspected crimes. The district court denied the motion, and Woodard was ultimately tried and convicted on all charges. The Tenth Circuit concluded the search was indeed pretextual, and reversed the district court's denial of Woodard's motion to suppress. View "United States v. Woodard" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus where petitioner alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for not providing closing argument during the penalty phase of his capital-murder trial. Petitioner, though advised otherwise, insisted that his trial counsel forgo closing argument.The panel concluded that petitioner's informed, voluntary decision prevented his attorney's reluctant compliance with petitioner's wishes from subsequently becoming ineffective assistance of counsel. The court explained that the nature of the decision to forego oral argument, whether fundamental or one of trial strategy, does not alter this result. Therefore, petitioner's ineffective assistance-of-counsel claim is procedurally defaulted and barred. View "Taylor v. Steele" on Justia Law

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After the County formally revoked plaintiff's pistol license and prohibited him from possessing any firearms following the dismissal of a Family Court matter and temporary order of protection that was dissolved, he filed suit against the County alleging the violation of his Second Amendment rights. The district court applied intermediate scrutiny and held that plaintiff failed to state a Second Amendment claim.The Second Circuit reversed, concluding that the complaint plausibly alleges that the County did not have substantial evidence that plaintiff is a danger to the safety of others. The court explained that because these allegations, accepted as true, would mean that the County's actions were not substantially related to its interests in public safety and crime prevention, the complaint should not have been dismissed for failure to state a claim under intermediate scrutiny. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's other claims. View "Henry v. Nassau County" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part in an action brought by parents and a student challenging the State of California's extended prohibition on in-person schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic. The panel concluded that, despite recent changes to the State's Covid-related regulations, this case is not moot.On the merits, the panel held that the district court properly rejected the substantive due process claims of those plaintiffs who challenge California's decision to temporarily provide public education in an almost exclusively online format. The panel explained that both it and the Supreme Court have repeatedly declined to recognize a federal constitutional right to have the State affirmatively provide an education in any particular manner, and plaintiffs have not made a sufficient showing that the panel can or should recognize such a right in this case.However, in regard to the State's interference in the in-person provision of private education to the children of five of the plaintiffs in this case, the panel concluded that the State's forced closure of their private schools implicates a right that has long been considered fundamental under the applicable caselaw—the right of parents to control their children's education and to choose their children's educational forum. The panel explained that California's ban on in-person schooling abridges a fundamental liberty of these five plaintiffs that is protected by the Due Process Clause, and thus that prohibition can be upheld only if it withstands strict scrutiny. Given the State's closure order's lack of narrow tailoring, the panel cannot say that, as a matter of law, it survives such scrutiny. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to these five plaintiffs and remanded for further proceedings.In regard to plaintiffs' claims under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the panel concluded that the public-school plaintiffs have failed to make a sufficient showing of a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The panel explained that the challenged distinctions that the State has drawn between public schools and other facilities are subject only to rational-basis scrutiny, and these distinctions readily survive that lenient review. In regard to the private-school plaintiffs, the panel vacated the district court's judgment rejecting their Equal Protection claims and remanded for further consideration in light of the conclusion that the State's actions implicate a fundamental right of those plaintiffs. View "Brach v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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Johnson, an inmate at Dixon Correctional Center in Illinois, sued medical professionals under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs because none of them referred Johnson for surgery to repair his hernia. In 2011-2016, Dixon's medical professionals evaluated Johnson more than 90 times, including for treatment of his often-uncontrolled diabetes. Johnson complained, intermittently, of hernia pain but the hernia was at times undetectable, and even when detected, it was small and reducible. Johnson claims that the defendants told him that he would not receive surgery unless his hernia became strangulated or incarcerated. They prescribed over-the-counter pain medication and abdominal binders to manage his symptoms.A court-appointed expert, Dr. Toyama opined that the standard of care in treating a “medically fit” individual with an umbilical hernia is surgical repair but when an umbilical hernia is not strangulated or incarcerated, surgery is not urgent and usually scheduled as an elective procedure. Toyama reiterated that Johnson’s medical records showed no evidence that Johnson’s hernia was strangulated or acutely incarcerated and testified that Johson’s medical records established that his hernia never changed significantly, that he continued to be physically active. When asked whether he had any criticisms of the defendants’ treatment, Toyama answered, “No.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in the defendants’ favor. The record failed to support that they acted with deliberate indifference. View "Johnson v. Dominguez" on Justia Law

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A member of the Metlakatla Indian Community was convicted of several commercial fishing violations in State waters and fined $20,000. He appealed his conviction and sentence to the court of appeals, which asked the Alaska Supreme Court to take jurisdiction of the appeal because of the importance of the primary issue involved: whether the defendant’s aboriginal and treaty-based fishing rights exempted him from State commercial fishing regulations. The defendant also challenged several evidentiary rulings and the fairness of his sentence. Because the Supreme Court held the State had authority to regulate fishing in State waters in the interests of conservation regardless of the defendant’s claimed fishing rights, and because the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its procedural rulings, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. The Court also affirmed the sentence as not clearly mistaken, except for one detail on which the parties agreed: the district court was mistaken to include a probationary term in the sentence. The case was remanded for modification of the judgments to correct that mistake. View "Scudero Jr. v. Alaska" on Justia Law