Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to a police officer in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the officer used excessive force during a routine traffic stop. The court held that a police officer, like the one here, was not entitled to qualified immunity when he intentionally applies unnecessarily tight handcuffs to an arrestee who is neither resisting arrest nor attempting to flee, thereby causing serious and permanent injuries. In this case, plaintiff was in handcuffs for more than five hours and suffered nerve damage to his hands and risks. The court held that such injuries that were not de minimus. View "Sebastian v. Ortiz" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his wife filed a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983, on behalf of themselves and their daughter, alleging that the assistant principal violated the daughter's rights under the Fourth Amendment when he searched her cellphone, the superintendent violated plaintiff's rights under the First Amendment by restricting his communication with school personnel and access to school property and by prohibiting him from addressing the school board, and other officials violated plaintiff's rights under the Fourth Amendment when they removed him from school premises. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the school officials based on qualified immunity. The court held that the search of the cellphone did not violate clearly established law; the superintendent did not violate clearly established law when he prohibited plaintiff from appearing on school premises and from addressing the school board; and the school officials did not violate clearly established law by removing plaintiff from the volleyball game. View "Jackson v. McCurry" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging a policy that the Georgia Board of Regents set requiring Georgia's three most selective colleges and universities to verify the "lawful presence" of all the students they admit. Plaintiffs, students who are otherwise qualified to attend these schools, are lawfully present in the country based on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memorandum. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action, holding that the policy did not regulate immigration, was not field preempted, and was not conflict preempted. As to plaintiffs’ equal protection claim, the court declined to extend strict scrutiny and heightened scrutiny, holding that the policy was rationally related to the state's legitimate interest in responsibly investing state resources. In this case, the Regents could have decided to prioritize those students who are more likely to stay in Georgia after graduation, and the Regents might have decided that DACA recipients were less likely to do so because they are removable at any time. The court reasoned that it would be rational for the Regents to conclude that refugees, parolees, and asylees were more likely to stay in Georgia after graduation because they have more permanent ties to the United States than DACA recipients. Therefore, refugees, parolees, and asylees were not similarly situated to DACA recipients. View "Estrada v. Becker" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the county and others, alleging that they violated her First Amendment rights by retaliating against her for engaging in protected speech regarding medical clearance decisions for firefighter applicants. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and denial of reconsideration, holding that plaintiff spoke as an employee and not as a private citizen. In this case, plaintiff worked under contract with the county and, for fifteen years, was the primary person responsible for determining whether firefighter applicants were medically qualified. View "King v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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This case involved Florida's practice of counting vote-by-mail ballots only after verifying that the voter's signature provided with the ballot matches the voter's signature in the state's records. At issue in this appeal was NRSC's motion for emergency stay. The court denied NRSC's motion and held that NRSC failed to satisfy the requirements for the issuance of a stay. The court applied the factors in Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 434 (2009), and held that NRSC has not made a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on appeal. In this case, NRSC has not made a strong showing that the burden imposed on the right to vote is constitutional as judged by the Anderson-Burdick balancing test and NRSC has not made a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits of its laches argument. The court also held that the remaining Nken factors similarly disfavored a stay. View "Democratic Executive Committee of Florida v. Lee" on Justia Law

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A litigant in this circuit does not have a substantive due process claim under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when the alleged conduct is the unlawful application of a land-use ordinance. The Eleventh Circuit held in McKinney v. Pate, 20 F.3d 1550 (11th Cir. 1994) (en banc), that executive action never gives rise to a substantive due process claim unless it infringes on a fundamental right. The court held that a land use decision is executive, rather than legislative, action, and did not implicate a fundamental right under the Constitution in this case. The ordinance at issue was Ordinance No. 11-15, which seeks to preserve, protect, and provide for the dedication and/or acquisition of right-of-way and transportation corridors that are necessary to provide future transportation facilities and facility improvements to meet the needs of projected growth. The court held that the application of the Ordinance to Hillcrest did not give rise to a substantive due process claim. Therefore, Hillcrest lacked a viable cause of action and the judgment as a matter of law was appropriate. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment. View "Hillcrest Property, LLP v. Pasco County" on Justia Law

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After plaintiffs were arrested on various charges of public corruption, they filed suit against the arresting officers and other defendants, alleging violation of plaintiffs' constitutional rights by intentionally omitting exonerating information from the probable cause affidavits that secured their arrest warrants. The district court denied appellants qualified immunity. The Second Circuit held that, even if the omitted information had been included in the affidavits, there would still have been probable cause to believe each of the plaintiffs had engaged in a scheme to defraud in violation of Florida state law. Therefore, the court held that there was no constitutional error in plaintiffs' arrests pursuant to warrants based on those affidavits, and appellants were entitled to qualified immunity. View "Paez v. Mulvey" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a civil rights complaint and emergency motion for stay of execution, claiming that excluding his Imam from the execution chamber at the time of his execution in favor of a Christian chaplain violated his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA); requiring the presence of a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber at the time of his execution also violated his rights under RLUIPA; Alabama's practice of requiring a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber, while forbidding clerics of other faiths, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; and refusing to honor his late election for nitrogen hypoxia as the method of his execution, where his lateness resulted from his religious beliefs, also violated RLUIPA. The Eleventh Circuit held that Alabama's prison officials favored one religious denomination to the detriment of all others; they have made only general claims about their compelling interest; and they have offered nothing remotely establishing that their policy was narrowly tailored to further that interest. The court held that petitioner was substantially likely to succeed on the merits of his Establishment Clause claim given the little evidence in the record to support the government's interest and the fit between those interests and the state's policy. In this case, given the paucity of evidence, the court concluded that it was not altogether surprising that the state has not clearly argued that petitioner knew or should have known sooner that his religious beliefs would not be accommodated. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for an emergency stay of execution. View "Ray v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against a district attorney for violating his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, 42 U.S.C 1983, when the attorney committed libel per se by defaming plaintiff in retaliation for seeking legislative compensation for his wrongful convictions. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint based on qualified immunity holding that, although plaintiff's complaint stated a valid claim of retaliation under the First Amendment, the attorney enjoyed qualified immunity because plaintiff's right was not clearly established when the attorney violated it. View "Echols v. Lawton" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for a writ of habeas corpus based on trial counsel's ineffective assistance by failing to object, or move for a mistrial, at any point during the deadlocked jury deliberations. Petitioner claimed that the total force and effect of the two trial judges instructing the jury over and over again that it must keep deliberating after the jury declared over and over again that it was unable to reach a verdict, was coercive. Because the claim was not adjudicated on the merits in the state court proceedings, the court need not defer to the decisions of the state courts here. The court held that the failure of petitioner's counsel to object and to move for a mistrial, as the coercive circumstances piled up, was prejudicial. Furthermore, trial counsel's failure to object and move for a mistrial was deficient performance for Strickland purposes. View "Brewster v. Hetzel" on Justia Law