Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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In 2021, Carmelo Etienne threatened violence against a federal magistrate judge, a courtroom deputy, and other courthouse employees via a phone call to a federal courthouse. He later pleaded nolo contendere to threatening to assault and murder a federal magistrate judge and a courtroom deputy. The district court imposed a time-served sentence and three years of supervised release. As special conditions of that release, the district court ordered Etienne to make financial disclosures to the probation office and prohibited him from visiting certain federal courthouses and from calling the judges’ chambers or court facilities. Etienne challenged both conditions on appeal.Previously, the district court had overruled Etienne's objection to the stay-away order, which he argued unduly burdened his right to access the federal courts. He did not object to the financial disclosure condition.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that it was not plain error to impose the financial disclosure condition. The court also found that the stay-away order was not vague or overbroad and did not unduly burden Etienne’s right to access the federal courts. The court noted that the stay-away order was narrowly tailored to address Etienne’s serious criminal conduct and did not create an absolute bar on Etienne’s rights. View "USA v. Etienne" on Justia Law

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This case involves a mistaken identification by two sheriff's office investigators, Joseph Bultman and Jon Hixon, who identified George Angel Harris as the individual captured on security camera footage using a stolen debit card. Based on this identification, Hixon obtained two arrest warrants for Harris for financial transaction card fraud. Harris was arrested and held in jail for a few hours before being released. The criminal case against him was eventually dismissed.Previously, Harris filed a lawsuit against the investigators under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging they violated his Fourth Amendment rights by causing him to be falsely arrested and unlawfully detained without probable cause. The district court construed Harris' claims as ones for malicious prosecution and granted summary judgment in favor of the investigators on qualified immunity grounds.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Harris argued that the investigation leading to his arrest was inadequate, that the district court erred in excluding his expert's testimony about the unreasonableness of the investigation, and that Hixon's arrest affidavit was based on conclusory statements without supporting facts, making the warrants for his arrest constitutionally inadequate.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. It held that the investigators' mistaken identification of Harris was a reasonable mistake and did not violate Harris' Fourth Amendment rights. The court also found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding Harris' expert's testimony, as it would not have been helpful to a jury. Finally, the court held that even if the arrest warrant application was insufficient, the investigators had probable cause to arrest Harris based on their own knowledge and the brief period of Harris' detention. View "Harris v. Hixon" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Anna Lange, a transgender woman employed by the Houston County Sheriff's Office in Georgia. Lange was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2017 and her healthcare providers recommended a treatment plan that included hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgery. In 2018, her healthcare providers determined that a vaginoplasty was medically necessary. However, Lange's request for coverage was denied based on the health insurance plan's exclusion of services and supplies for sex change and/or the reversal of a sex change. Lange filed claims against Houston County with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and subsequently sued Houston County and the Sheriff of Houston County in the Middle District of Georgia.The district court granted summary judgment to Lange on the Title VII claim, finding the Exclusion facially discriminatory as a matter of law. The Title VII claim then proceeded to trial, and a jury awarded Lange $60,000 in damages. After trial, the district court entered an order declaring that the Exclusion violated Title VII and permanently enjoined the Sheriff and Houston County from any further enforcement or application of the Exclusion.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that a health insurance provider can be held liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for denying coverage for gender-affirming care to a transgender employee because the employee is transgender. The court also held that Houston County is liable under Title VII as an agent of the Sheriff's Office. The court affirmed the district court's order permanently enjoining Houston County and the Sheriff from further enforcement or application of the Exclusion. View "Lange v. Houston County, Georgia" on Justia Law

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The case involves Victor Hill, the former Sheriff of Clayton County, Georgia, who was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 242 for using his position to deprive detainees in his custody of their constitutional rights. Hill ordered individual detainees, who were neither violent nor uncontrollable, into a restraint chair for at least four hours, with their hands cuffed behind their backs and without bathroom breaks. Each detainee suffered injuries, such as “open and bleeding” wounds, lasting scars, or nerve damage.Hill was convicted by a jury in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. He appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that he lacked fair warning that his conduct was unconstitutional, that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, and that the district court improperly handled allegations of juror misconduct.The Eleventh Circuit rejected Hill's arguments and affirmed his conviction. The court found that case law provided Hill with fair warning that his actions violated constitutional rights. The court also found that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's conclusion that Hill's conduct had no legitimate nonpunitive purpose, was willful, and caused the detainees’ injuries. Lastly, the court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in investigating and responding to alleged juror misconduct. View "United States v. Hill" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Tammie Terrell, an African-American nurse, applied for a Chief Nurse position at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital but was not selected. She sued the Secretary of Veterans Affairs under Title VII, alleging race and national-origin discrimination, retaliation, and a discriminatory and retaliatory hostile work environment. The district court granted summary judgment for the Secretary on all counts.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Terrell failed to provide evidence that her race or national origin was a but-for cause of her non-selection or that it tainted the hiring process. The court also found that Terrell did not engage in any protected Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) activity that could form the basis for a retaliation claim. Furthermore, the court found that Terrell did not provide evidence that she experienced a hostile work environment due to her race, national origin, or EEO activity.Finally, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Terrell's Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment, finding that Terrell was attempting to relitigate her case and present evidence that she could have raised at the summary-judgment stage. View "Terrell v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around the death of Susan Teel, who was shot by Deputy Jonathan Lozada during a suicide attempt at her home. Dr. Dudley Teel, Susan's husband and the personal representative of her estate, sued Deputy Lozada and the Sheriff of Indian River County, alleging excessive force under the Fourth Amendment and a claim under Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York.The district court initially granted summary judgment in favor of Deputy Lozada and the Sheriff, but the decision was partially reversed and vacated in an earlier appeal. On remand, the district court granted summary judgment on the Monell claim, and the excessive force claim proceeded to trial. The jury found that Deputy Lozada did not use excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the Estate appealed the grant of summary judgment on the Monell claim, two of the district court’s jury instructions, and one of the district court’s evidentiary rulings. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decisions on all issues. The Court held that the district court had wide discretion to modify the jury instructions to make them understandable for the jury. The Court also found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding evidence of Deputy Lozada's prior misconduct. Finally, the Court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Sheriff on the Monell claim, as there was no underlying constitutional violation. View "Teel v. Lozada" on Justia Law

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In this case, Amber Jackson filed a lawsuit against Atlanta police officers Cody Swanger and Jeremiah Brandt, alleging that they violated her constitutional rights by unlawfully seizing her without reasonable suspicion or probable cause and using excessive force. She also claimed that Brandt failed to intervene in Swanger's use of excessive force. The officers moved to dismiss the case, arguing that they were entitled to qualified immunity, but the district court denied their motion. The officers then appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that it had jurisdiction to review the district court's denial of the officers' motion to dismiss Jackson's unlawful seizure claim. The court affirmed the district court's decision, agreeing that Jackson had plausibly alleged that the officers violated her clearly established right to be free from an unreasonable seizure.However, the court found that it did not have jurisdiction to review the district court's decision not to incorporate certain video footage into the pleadings. The court also declined to assert pendant appellate jurisdiction over that issue.As for Jackson's claim that Brandt failed to intervene in Swanger's use of excessive force, the court found that it had jurisdiction to review the district court's denial of Brandt's motion to dismiss this claim. However, the court vacated and remanded this part of the case, instructing the district court to dismiss the claim. The court reasoned that Brandt did not have a reasonable opportunity to intervene physically or verbally and stop Swanger's use of alleged excessive force against Jackson. Therefore, Brandt did not violate Jackson's Fourth Amendment rights. View "Jackson v. Swanger" on Justia Law

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A Black woman, Erika Buckley, filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the Army, alleging that her former colleagues at Martin Army Hospital engaged in conduct that was racially discriminatory. Buckley, a speech pathologist, claimed her colleagues diverted white patients from her care, encouraged white male patients to complain about her, and engaged in other race-based harassing conduct. The Secretary moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted on all counts. Buckley appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court's decision regarding Buckley's retaliation claims, but vacated the lower court's decision on her race-based disparate treatment claim and her race-based hostile work environment claim. The court found that Buckley had provided enough evidence to suggest that her race played a role in the decision-making process leading to her dismissal, even if her race was not the but-for cause of the dismissal. The court also concluded that Buckley had provided sufficient evidence to establish a hostile work environment claim. The case was sent back to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the appeals court's opinion. View "Buckley v. Secretary of the Army" on Justia Law

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The case involves Maria Acosta, who sued six Miami-Dade officers involved in the arrest of her son, Maykel Barrera, who died after the encounter. Acosta alleged federal excessive-force claims and state wrongful-death claims. The district court granted summary judgment to the officers, and Acosta appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to five of the six officers on Acosta’s excessive-force claims and to all of the officers on Acosta’s wrongful-death claims.The Court of Appeals found that, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Acosta, the officers used excessive force when they tased and kicked Barrera while he was subdued, on the ground, and no longer resisting arrest, violating clearly established Fourth Amendment rights.Furthermore, the court vacated the summary judgment on Acosta’s wrongful-death claim, concluding that there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial. The court ruled that the district court erred in emphasizing Acosta’s lack of expert evidence directed to the cause of Barrera’s death since she did not have to present expert testimony to show causation. View "Acosta v. Miami-Dade County" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Tyler Copeland, a transgender male, sued his employer, the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC), for workplace harassment. Copeland was a sergeant at a prison in Georgia and alleged that, after coming out as transgender at work, he endured constant and demeaning harassment from colleagues at various levels, despite repeated complaints to supervisors and HR personnel.He brought three claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The first was that his employer had created a hostile work environment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of GDOC, concluding that the harassment Copeland experienced was not sufficiently severe or pervasive. However, the appellate court disagreed and vacated the summary judgment on this claim.The second claim was that Copeland had been denied promotion due to his transgender status. The district court also granted summary judgment on this count, as Copeland failed to provide evidence that those who decided not to promote him were aware of his protected conduct. The appellate court affirmed this decision.The third claim was that GDOC had retaliated against Copeland for engaging in a protected practice, namely opposing sex discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment on this count as well, and the appellate court affirmed the decision, citing lack of evidence of causation.In summary, the appellate court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment on the hostile work environment claim but affirmed the summary judgments on the failure to promote and retaliation claims. The case was remanded for the district court to consider the fifth element of Copeland’s hostile work environment claim. View "Copeland v. Georgia Department of Corrections" on Justia Law