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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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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

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Plaintiff, a Jewish inmate at the Broward County Main Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, did not participate in Passover in 2018 because he failed to register 45 days prior to its celebration as required by the Jail’s policy. Proceeding pro se, he sued Broward Sheriff’s Office Chaplains under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, alleging violations of his rights under the First Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. Section 2000cc-1(a), and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed the claims with prejudice under Rule 12(b)(6).   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court first held the 45-day registration requirement did not constitute a substantial burden on Plaintiff’s exercise of his Jewish faith under the RLUIPA, and therefore it also did not violate the First Amendment’s more lenient reasonableness standard. Second, the electronic posting of the 45-day registration requirement on the Jail’s computer kiosk, which he and other inmates used to communicate with Jail staff, provided adequate notice of the registration requirement to satisfy due process. The court explained that if a claim fails under the RLUIPA—which embeds a heightened standard for government restrictions of the free exercise of religion—it necessarily fails under the First Amendment. View "Bradley Dorman v. Chaplains Office BSO, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs—five organizations and two individual voters from Gwinnett County, Georgia—alleged that absentee ballot applications and voting-related information should have been, but were not, provided in both English and Spanish to voters in Gwinnett County during the 2020 election cycle. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit was tasked with determining whether Defendants—the Gwinnett County Board of Registrations and Elections, the Board’s individual members, and Georgia Secretary of State—violated Section 203 and Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. Section 10503, requires certain States and their political subdivisions to provide voting materials in languages in addition to English.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiffs lacked standing. Plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded standing under a diversion of resources theory, and while some of Plaintiffs’ claims were moot, others remained live and amenable to meaningful relief from the court. The court, therefore, vacated the district court’s dismissal of the suit pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1).The court held that the district court was correct, however, in concluding that Plaintiffs failed to state causes of action under either Section 203 or Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act and in not granting Plaintiffs leave to file their proposed supplemental complaint. The court, therefore, affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the suit pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and its denial of leave for Plaintiffs to file the supplemental complaint pursuant to Rule 15(d). View "Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Inc., et al. v. Gwinnett County Board of Registration and Elections, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff retained an attorney of the Advocacy Law Firm to sue Defendants for alleged ADA violations following Plaintiff’s visit to Defendants’ place of business. The attorney has filed hundreds of lawsuits under the ADA on behalf of Plaintiff and others. As the prevailing party, Plaintiff  moved for attorney’s fees.. While the district court found that Plaintiff was entitled to attorney’s fees, the district court determined that the requested amount was grossly disproportionate given the case’s circumstances. The district court therefore reduced the requested fees.   Plaintiff argued that the district court abused its discretion in reducing the amount he requested for attorney’s fees.  The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the award, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the attorney billed an excessive number of hours given the complexity of the case. The court noted that the attorney has been involved in hundreds of ADA lawsuits, including 140 during the case. Additionally, the district court found that the pleadings and motions filed here were “boilerplate” and much like filings in the attorney’s other ADA cases.   Further, the record reflects that the attorney was unduly litigious and engaged in unnecessary motion practice. Accordingly, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the attorney unnecessarily prolonged the litigation which, in turn, unnecessarily increased the amount of attorney’s fees. View "Howard Michael Caplan v. All American Auto Collision, Inc., et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (together, “NetChoice”)—are trade associations that represent internet and social-media companies. They sued the Florida officials charged with enforcing S.B. 7072 under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. They sought to enjoin enforcement of Sections 106.072 and 501.2041 on a number of grounds, including, that the law’s provisions (1) violate the social-media companies’ right to free speech under the First Amendment and (2) are preempted by federal law.   The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it preliminarily enjoined those provisions of S.B. 7072 that are substantially likely to violate the First Amendment. But the district court did abuse its discretion when it enjoined provisions of S.B. 7072 that aren’t likely unconstitutional.   The court reasoned that it is substantially likely that social-media companies—even the biggest ones—are “private actors” whose rights the First Amendment protects, that their so-called “content-moderation” decisions constitute protected exercises of editorial judgment and that the provisions of the new Florida law that restrict large platforms’ ability to engage in content moderation unconstitutionally burden that prerogative. The court further concluded that it is substantially likely that one of the law’s particularly onerous disclosure provisions—which would require covered platforms to provide a “thorough rationale” for each and every content-moderation decision they make—violates the First Amendment. However, because it is unlikely that the law’s remaining disclosure provisions violate the First Amendment, the companies are not entitled to preliminary injunctive relief with respect to them. View "NetChoice, LLC, et al. v. Attorney General, State of Florida, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the district court’s denial of his 28 U.S.C. Section 2254 habeas petition. The Eleventh Circuit issued a certificate of appealability and concluded that the district court properly denied Section 2254 habeas petition. The court reviewed Petitioner’s ineffective assistance claims under the two-prong test set forth in Strickland. To prevail on an ineffective-assistance claim, the petitioner must show (1) that counsel’s performance was deficient and (2) that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.   The court held that counsel’s failure to assert the failure-to-inform theory as trial court error in briefing Petitioner’s appeal could not amount to ineffective assistance under Strickland. The fact that Petitioner was concerned about a joint trial, not joint representation, fully supports the Florida District Court of Appeal (“DCA”) rejection of this ineffective assistance claim. The court reasoned that the trial court appropriately responded to Petitioner’s concern by explaining why Petitioner would not be prejudiced by a joint trial: because the State had charged Petitioner as a principal in the armed robbery, all of the evidence that would be introduced in co-defendant’s trial would be introduced in his as well.   Further, the district court correctly concluded that Petitioner failed to establish that the DCA’s affirmance of this ineffective assistance claim constituted an adjudication that was “contrary to, or an incorrect application of,” the Supreme Court’s holdings in Strickland. View "Gregory Lamar Blackmon v. Secretary, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law