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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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In 1998, Williams was convicted of robbing a bank while carrying a firearm. The Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA) sentencing enhancement, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1), applies to defendants who committed three previous “violent” felonies. Williams had convictions for first-degree robbery, armed robbery, and federal kidnapping, 18 U.S.C. 1201(a)(1). The federal kidnapping PSR recounted that Williams “accosted” a man in Kentucky, threatened him with a revolver, and demanded a ride to Tennessee. In Knoxville, the victim leaped from the car and signaled a police officer. The federal statute provides that a person commits a federal kidnapping when he “unlawfully seizes, confines, inveigles, decoys, kidnaps, abducts, or carries away" a victim. The court never addressed why his previous felonies counted as violent but sentenced Williams to 327 months’ imprisonment, with a consecutive 60 months for carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.Williams obtained leave to file his third 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion and disputed the classification of his kidnapping conviction as a “violent felony” under ACCA's “residual clause,” which the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in 2015. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, finding it unclear whether the sentencing judge applied ACCA’s residual clause or the elements clause. Williams did not establish that the sentencing court committed a retroactive constitutional error. It is not enough that the court might have committed a statutory error by applying the elements clause in a case that did not warrant it; that error would not be retroactive on collateral review. Requiring Williams to provide “clear precedent showing that the court could only have used one clause” is not arbitrary. View "Williams v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit sua sponte vacated and withdrew its previous opinion, and issued this opinion in its place.Petitioner appealed the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Eleventh Circuit granted a certificate of appealability to determined whether the district court violated Clisby v. Jones, 960 F.2d 925 (11th Cir. 1992) (en banc), by failing to address petitioner's claim that he no longer qualified as an armed career criminal in light of Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015), because his prior 1988 Alabama conviction for attempted first-degree robbery has no state law elements.The court affirmed the district court's judgment and held that a close review of the district court's opinion reveals that it correctly identified and sufficiently addressed petitioner's claim. In this case, the district court classified petitioner's claim as a collateral attack against his state sentence and dismissed it. The court noted that it may be best practice for a district court to follow a "show your work" approach by directly restating a movant's claim and then laying out all analytical steps in addressing that claim. However, the district court's approach here correctly identified and sufficiently analyzed petitioner's claim and did not run afoul of Clisby View "Senter v. United States" on Justia Law

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Students filed suit against Broward County and five public officials on the theory that their response to the school shooting in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was so incompetent that it violated the students' substantive rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint based on failure to state a claim of a constitutional violation. The court first clarified that the three John Does are not parties to this appeal. The court concluded that the students failed to state a claim for violation of their right to substantive due process. The court explained that the students were not in custodial relationship with defendants, and the students did not allege any arbitrary or conscience-shocking conduct. The court also concluded that the students failed to state a claim of failure to train where they never properly presented the claim to the district court. Finally, the court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed the claims with prejudice because leave to amend would be futile. View "L.S. v. Peterson" on Justia Law

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Ten days after the 2020 presidential election, plaintiff, a Georgia voter, filed suit against state election officials to enjoin certification of the general election results, to secure a new recount under different rules, and to establish new rules for an upcoming runoff election. Plaintiff alleged that the extant absentee-ballot and recount procedures violated Georgia law and, as a result, his federal constitutional rights. The district court denied plaintiff's motion for emergency relief.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiff lacks standing to sue because he fails to allege a particularized injury. The court explained that plaintiff alleged only a generalized grievance because he bases his standing on his interests in ensuring that only lawful ballots are counted, and an injury to the right to require that the government be administered according to the law is a generalized grievance. In this case, plaintiff cannot explain how his interest in compliance with state election laws is different from that of any other person.Even if plaintiff had standing, because Georgia has already certified its election results and its slate of presidential electors, plaintiff's requests for emergency relief are moot to the extent they concern the 2020 election. The court stated that the Constitution makes clear that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and the court may not entertain post-election contests about garden-variety issues of vote counting and misconduct that may properly be filed in state courts. View "Wood v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Selig on her claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's claim of retaliation under the FMLA where a reasonable jury could find that plaintiff suffered retaliation for intending to use FMLA leave in the future. In this case, there are a number of factual disputes that are material to plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim and thus summary judgment was not appropriate. However, the court affirmed in all other respects, holding that plaintiff is not disabled under the ADA and that plaintiff has not identified any evidence that she was terminated as a result of Selig's failure to give her notice of her FMLA rights. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Munoz v. Selig Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Georgia's lethal injection protocol, as applied to his unique medical situation, violates the Eighth Amendment and that the firing squad is a readily available alternative. At issue was whether a method-of-execution claim that would have the necessary effect of preventing the prisoner's execution should be brought as a civil rights action under section 1983, or as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's order dismissing the complaint as untimely and held that a section 1983 claim for relief that would prevent a state from executing a prisoner under present law must be reconstrued as a habeas petition. Because plaintiff's requested relief would prevent the State from executing him, implying the invalidity of his death sentence, it is not cognizable under section 1983 and must be brought in a habeas petition. Furthermore, because the petition is second or successive, the court vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. In this case, plaintiff did not move this court for permission to file his petition and thus the district court lacked jurisdiction. View "Nance v. Commissioner, Georgia Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Boca Raton and Palm Beach County's ordinances prohibiting therapists from engaging in counseling or any therapy with a goal of changing a minor's sexual orientation, reducing a minor's sexual or romantic attractions (at least to others of the same gender or sex), or changing a minor's gender identity or expression violates the First Amendment.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's order denying plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and remanded for entry of a preliminary injunction enjoining the enforcement of the ordinances. The court held that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the challenged sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) ordinances violate the First Amendment because they are content-based and viewpoint-based restrictions on speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny. The court stated that the First Amendment has no carveout for controversial speech. The court also held that plaintiffs will likely suffer irreparable injury, and that neither the government nor the public has any legitimate interest in enforcing an unconstitutional ordinance. Finally, the court rejected plaintiffs' claim that the ordinances are ultra vires. View "Otto v. City of Boca Raton" on Justia Law

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After the City denied zoning permits to construct a Buddhist meditation and retreat center in a residential area of Mobile, the Association and its incorporators filed suit alleging violations of the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, several provisions of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Alabama Constitution, and state common-law principles.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court applied the wrong standard in evaluating plaintiffs' claims under RLUIPA's substantial-burden provision and the Free Exercise Clause, and that the district court should reconsider those claims on remand under the proper standard, but that the district court properly rejected plaintiffs' claims under RLUIPA's equal-terms and nondiscrimination provisions and the Equal Protection Clause. The court also held that the district court misread the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment (ARFA) and should reconsider plaintiffs' ARFA claim under the court's interpretation, but that the district court correctly rejected plaintiffs' negligent-misrepresentation claim. Therefore, the court vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings. The court affirmed the district court's rejection of plaintiffs' remaining claims. View "Thai Meditation Association of Alabama, Inc. v. City of Mobile" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition. The court held that the district court did not err in concluding that petitioner was not denied his right to counsel when the state court accepted his motion to withdraw his guilty plea without first appointing him new counsel or providing him an opportunity to confer with counsel; the district court did not err in concluding that petitioner's appellate counsel was not ineffective for failing to argue he had been denied his right to counsel before withdrawing his guilty plea; and the district court did not err in concluding that petitioner's appellate counsel was not ineffective for failing to raise a claim that petitioner did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to counsel, in violation of Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975). View "Tuomi v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Eleventh Circuit granted a certificate of appealability and held that the district court violated Clisby v. Jones, 960 F.2d 925 (11th Cir. 1992) (en banc), by failing to address petitioner's claim that he no longer qualified as an armed career criminal in light of Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015), because his prior 1988 Alabama conviction for attempted first-degree robbery has no state law elements. The court explained that Clisby requires a federal district court to resolve all claims for relief raised in a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to section 2254, regardless of whether habeas relief is granted or denied. In this case, the district court never in the first instance resolved petitioner's claim that his attempted robbery conviction could not be a violent felony because, as an offense unrecognized by Alabama law, it has no elements at all. Accordingly, the court vacated the denial of the section 2255 petition without prejudice and remanded. View "Senter v. United States" on Justia Law