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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiff, a Florida LLC, sued a Canadian company, Teck Resources Limited, alleging that it had illegally trafficked in property to which Plaintiff says it has a claim. The district court granted Teck’s motion, holding that Florida’s long-arm statute didn’t provide jurisdiction over Teck and, additionally, that Teck lacked the necessary connection to the United States to establish personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2).The Eleventh Circuit affirmed holding that courts should analyze personal jurisdiction under the Fifth Amendment using the same basic standards and tests that apply under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court wrote that applying the minimum-contacts test here is relatively straightforward. The court held that Teck doesn’t have contacts with the United States sufficient to establish either specific or general personal jurisdiction over it. Plaintiff’s suit doesn’t arise out of or relate to any of Teck’s ties with the United States. And because a relationship between the defendant’s conduct within the forum and the cause of action is necessary to exercise specific jurisdiction, the lack of any such relationship here dooms Plaintiff’s effort to establish specific personal jurisdiction over Teck. View "Herederos De Roberto Gomez Cabrera, LLC v. Teck Resources Limited" on Justia Law

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S.S. was a student in the Cobb County School District. S.S.’s parents challenged the adequacy of the individualized educational plans. S.S.’s parents fought the school district for two years and eventually filed an administrative complaint requesting a due process hearing under the Act with the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings. In the administrative complaint, S.S. alleged that the school district failed to provide her with a free and appropriate public education under the Act. The school district moved for summary determination of the administrative complaint. S.S. challenged the administrative law judge’s decision in the Northern District of Georgia.The district court denied the school district’s motion for summary judgment and remanded to the administrative law judge for a due process hearing. The school district appealed the district court’s remand order.   The DC Circuit concluded that remand orders from district courts to administrative agencies for further proceedings under the Act are not final and appealable under section 1291. And because the district court’s remand order was not final and appealable, the court wrote it lacks appellate jurisdiction to review it. Accordingly, the court dismissed the school district’s appeal. View "S.S. v. Cobb County School District" on Justia Law

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After a thirteen-year-old victim of human trafficking performed at a City of Miami Beach (“the City”) fully nude strip club, Club Madonna, Inc. (“the Club”), the City came down hard on the Club. It enacted two closely intertwined ordinances (collectively, “the Ordinance”) that required all nude strip clubs to follow a record-keeping and identification-checking regime in order to ensure that each individual performer is at least eighteen years old.   The district court ruled for the City at summary judgment on the Club’s first two claims, ruled for the Club on its federal preemption claim at summary judgment, and ruled for the City on the Club’s state law preemption claim at the motion-to-dismiss stage for failure to state a claim. The Club then appealed the court’s rulings and the City cross-appealed the district court’s ruling on the Club’s federal preemption claim.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed on all counts. First, although the Ordinance implicates the First Amendment because it singles out an industry that engages in expressive activity for special regulation, it satisfies intermediate scrutiny. Second, the Ordinance’s warrantless-search provision does not violate the Fourth Amendment because the adult entertainment industry is a closely regulated industry for Fourth Amendment purposes, and the warrantless-search provision satisfies the administrative-search exception because it can be narrowly read to avoid Fourth Amendment concerns. Third, the Ordinance’s employment-verification requirement is preempted by federal immigration law. And finally, the Club’s state law conflict preemption claim fails because there is no Florida law that cabins the City’s ability to levy fines against the Club for violating the Ordinance’s requirements. View "Club Madonna Inc. v. City of Miami Beach" on Justia Law

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While Plaintiff was intoxicated and handcuffed, former deputy sheriff (“Deputy”) pushed Plaintiff onto a concrete floor, breaking Plaintiff’s left arm. In response to a complaint from Plaintiff’s husband, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (“PCSO”) investigated the incident and terminated the Deputy’s employment. A few months later, Plaintiff sued PCSO Sheriff (“Sheriff”), among others, in the Middle District of Florida, alleging several state and federal constitutional claims.  The district court denied the Sheriff summary judgment on this claim.   The parties now agree that the Deputy behaved inappropriately, but disagree over whether the Deputy’s behavior was so egregious that the Sheriff could not be held liable for it. Put differently, this interlocutory appeal centers entirely on whether the Sheriff is, as a matter of law, entitled to sovereign immunity with respect to Plaintiff’s state law battery claim.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Florida’s sovereign immunity statute protects the Sheriff. The court explained that serious factual disputes have often prevented Florida’s courts from applying sovereign immunity at the summary judgment stage.  Measuring the facts as they have been adduced in this case against Florida’s legal standards, the court agreed there are material factual disputes about the precise actions Plaintiff and the Deputy took, the Deputy’s state of mind, and the inferences that might reasonably be drawn from them. Moreover, reasonable factfinders could disagree over whether the Deputy’s conduct was wanton and willful, malicious, or exhibitive of bad faith. View "Marie Butler v. Bob Gualtieri" on Justia Law

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An assistant district attorney (the “DA”) in Fulton County, Georgia obtained a material witness warrant requiring Plaintiff to appear as a witness at trial. Plaintiff voluntarily appeared at trial, making execution of the warrant unnecessary. After the trial ended, the DA failed to inform the trial judge that the warrant needed to be recalled. A few months later, a police officer arrested Plaintiff and placed him in jail because of the outstanding warrant. A judge eventually ordered Plaintiff’s release.   Plaintiff brought a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 action alleging, among other things, that the DA’s failure to initiate the warrant’s cancelation violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The DA moved to dismiss the suit arguing that as a prosecutor she was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity. The district court agreed and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims against her.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed and held that absolute prosecutorial immunity does not extend to DA’s failure to take action to cancel the warrant. The district court thus erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint.   The court wrote that determining whether prosecutorial immunity applies requires the court to take a fact-specific functional approach. Here, the court found that applying Third Circuit precedent from Odd v. Malone, 538 F.3d 202 (3d Cir. 2008), results in the conclusion that the DA is not entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity. Thus the DA has failed to show that absolute immunity protects her post-trial conduct here. View "Kidanemariam Kassa v. Antionette Stephenson" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. After pulling Defendant over in a rental vehicle for running a stop sign and arresting him for resisting, the Tampa Police Department (“Tampa PD”) conducted an inventory search of the vehicle and located a loaded firearm belonging to him. Defendant challenged the constitutionality of the search in the district court and moved to suppress the gun, but the court found that Defendant did not have Fourth Amendment standing to do so because his license was suspended and he was not an authorized driver on the rental car agreement.   On appeal, Defendant argued that driving with a suspended license does not prohibit him from establishing Fourth Amendment standing. He further asserted that the inventory search violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the government failed to demonstrate that the search complied with department policy.   The Eleventh Circuit concluded that Defendant has standing to challenge the inventory search; nonetheless, it affirmed the district court’s denial of his suppression motion on the basis that the inventory search was lawful. The court explained that Defendant’s conduct of operating a rental vehicle without a license and without authorization from the rental company, without more, did not defeat his reasonable expectation of privacy giving rise to Fourth Amendment standing to challenge the search. However, the district court did not err in finding that the Tampa PD performed a permissible impound and inventory of Defendant’s vehicle because the record supports that it was conducted in accordance with the Department’s standard operating procedures. View "USA v. Devon Cohen" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was imprisoned at Hays State Prison after he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. While he lived there, Plaintiff killed another inmate by stabbing him with a knife during a fight. Plaintiff disagreed with prison policy regarding shower security. Plaintiff believed that the restrictions infringed his constitutional rights.   To challenge these policies and raise a host of other complaints, Plaintiff sued several prison officials under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. Section 2000cc–1, and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, seeking declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. In his complaint, Plaintiff claimed that the shower policies intruded on his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment to the prison officials on his shower policy claims.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The court explained to test whether a state prison regulation violates an inmate’s constitutional rights, courts ask whether the regulation is reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. That inquiry is intended to ensure that prison officials respect constitutional boundaries without frustrating their efforts to fulfill the difficult responsibility of prison administration.   Here, although the inmate suggests ways the prison could make an exception to accommodate his religious requests, he does not show that the policies were unconstitutional in the first place. And even if they were, qualified immunity would protect the officials because the types of shower rights the inmate seeks are not clearly established. View "Hjalmar Rodriguez, Jr. v. Edward H. Burnside, et al." on Justia Law

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Public Risk Management of Florida (“PRM”) Munich Reinsurance America, Inc. (“Munich”) for breach of contract and sought declaratory relief that Munich is obligated by the parties’ reinsurance agreement (“the Reinsurance Agreement”) to reimburse PRM for the defense and coverage it provided to an insured in an underlying lawsuit. Munich counter-claimed for a declaratory judgment stating that it has no duty to reimburse PRM, and the district court granted that relief. On appeal, PRM argues, inter alia, that the Reinsurance Agreement contained a “follow the fortunes” clause, which forbids a reinsurer “from second guessing” an insurer’s “good faith decision” to pay a claim to the insured.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment holding that the district court correctly decided that Munich had no duty to reimburse PRM for its defense and indemnification of the City in the underlying Section 1983 suit. The court explained that The Reinsurance Agreement contains language that is plainly inconsistent with the follow the-fortunes doctrine. Accordingly, the district court properly rejected the doctrine’s application in this case. Further, the court held that it will not infer the application of the follow-the-fortunes doctrine in a reinsurance agreement where the agreement’s plain and unambiguous language is inconsistent with the doctrine. Applying this rule the court concluded that it would be inconsistent with the plain, unambiguous terms of the Reinsurance Agreement to infer that Munich should be bound by PRM’s coverage decision. View "Public Risk Management of Florida v. Munich Reinsurance America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff wanted to share his religious message on the public streets and sidewalks of Fort Myers Beach, Florida (“the Town”). However, to reduce visual blight and increase traffic safety, Chapter 30 of the Town’s Land Development Code (hereinafter, “the Ordinance”) prescribed an elaborate permitting scheme for all signs to be displayed within the Town. Among other things, the Ordinance has entirely prohibited some categories of signs, including portable signs. Plaintiff carried a portable sign to spread his message and, after receiving a written warning, the Town issued him a citation. He sued the Town and the officers who cited him in their individual and official capacities for declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, alleging violations of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and Florida’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The district court denied Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding that the Ordinance’s ban on portable signs was content-neutral and narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the judgment. The court explained that the Town’s complete ban on all portable signs carried in all locations almost surely violates the First Amendment. The court wrote that the most natural reading of the Ordinance leads to the conclusion that all portable signs are banned--regardless of whether they are political, religious, advertising a garage sale, or an open house. The Ordinance’s ban on portable signs is content-neutral. But portable, handheld signs still are a rich part of the American political tradition and are one of the most common methods of free expression. The ban on these signs leaves the residents without an effective alternative channel of communication. View "Adam Lacroix v. Town of Fort Myers Beach, Florida, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 action against several DeKalb County, Georgia investigators, alleging that they violated his constitutional rights during his arrest. Plaintiff claimed that S.D. used excessive force when he shot him three times, that V.J. used excessive force when he pistol-whipped him, and that all three Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants on every claim.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for V.J. on the pistol-whip claim. But affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for S.D. on the shooting claim and for all Defendants on the deprivation of medical care claim.   The court held that V.J. used excessive force in pistol-whipping Plaintiff and that Plaintiff’s right to be free of V.J.’s use of force was clearly established at the time. Further, viewing the facts through the appropriate lens, V.J. could not have reasonably believed that Plaintiff was resisting when he tried to sit up after communicating that he needed to do so to breathe. And because “a handcuffed, non-resisting [suspect’s] right to be free from excessive force was clearly established” at the time, V.J is not entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff’s excessive force claim against him.   Finally, even though Plaintiff met his burden that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights, the court concluded that there was no established law on how long before officers must request medical care for a suspect that has been shot to constitute deliberate indifference. View "Nicholas C. Wade v. Solomon Daniels, et al." on Justia Law