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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Relying on an earlier decision (Rabun County), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a decision ordering the removal of a 34-foot Latin cross from the City of Pensacola’s Bayview Park, finding that the maintenance of the cross violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. While the city's petition for certiorari was pending, the Supreme Court held, in "American Legion," that a 32-foot Latin cross on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court vacated the earlier decision and remanded for further consideration in light of American Legion. On remand, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that it remains bound by Rabun to conclude that plaintiffs have Article III standing to challenge Pensacola’s maintenance of the cross but that American Legion abrogates Rabun to the extent that the latter disregarded evidence of “historical acceptance.” When "American Legion" is applied, the cross’s presence on city property does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Bayview cross (in one iteration or another) stood in the same location for more than 75 years; there is no evidence of the city's original purpose in its placement. The message and purposes of the cross have changed over time. A strong presumption of constitutionality” attaches to “established” monuments, View "Kondrat'yev v. City of Pensacola," on Justia Law

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In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a state constitutional amendment that automatically restored voting rights to ex-felons who had completed all of the terms of their sentences. Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the "legal financial obligation" (LFO) requirement in Senate Bill 7066, which implemented the Amendment and interpreted its language to require payment of all fines, fees and restitution imposed as part of the sentence. The district court ultimately issued a preliminary injunction requiring the state to allow the named plaintiffs to register and vote if they are able to show that they are genuinely unable to pay their LFOs and would otherwise be eligible to vote under Amendment 4. The state appealed. The Eleventh Circuit held that the LFO requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as applied to these plaintiffs. The court stated that it was undeniable that the LFO requirement punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can, and denying access to the franchise to those genuinely unable to pay solely on account of wealth does not survive heightened scrutiny. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its considerable discretion in balancing the equitable factors for a preliminary injunction. Furthermore, under Florida law the unconstitutional application of the LFO requirement was easily severable from the remainder of Amendment 4. Accordingly, the court affirmed the preliminary injunction entered by the district court. View "Jones v. Governor of Florida" on Justia Law

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Hamid Sow, a citizen of Guinea, sought review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) denial of his motion to remand based upon ineffective assistance of counsel, and motion to reopen based upon new evidence. In December 2016, Sow entered the United States and immediately applied for asylum because he was a homosexual, and the stigma of being a homosexual in a devout Muslim community in his homeland meant danger for himself and his family. Sow only spoke French, and relied on other detainees to relate information to his attorney. Without a translator, Sow's counsel did not fully understand Sow’s concerns: Sow tried to communicate to his counsel that the content of affidavits counsel “did not match up with what happened.” When asked about discrepancies in facts from the affidavits presented, Sow responded he could not explain them because he did not have an opportunity to read them. In his oral decision, the IJ said that he “unfortunately” had to deny Sow’s application based solely on an adverse credibility finding. In coming to this conclusion, the IJ specifically highlighted the inconsistencies in statements made in affidavits. He noted that, if it were true that Sow were a homosexual, then he “clearly should get” asylum. Sow, represented by new counsel, appealed to the BIA. He argued that the IJ erred in failing to assess Sow’s well-founded fear of future persecution. The BIA denied Sow’s motion to remand. It held that the IJ did not clearly err in making an adverse credibility determination and the record did not establish that Sow was entitled to relief “independent of his discredited claim of past harm.” It also denied Sow’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, reasoning that counsel “reasonably relied on, and submitted the evidence provided by, the respondent and his friends.” The Eleventh Circuit concluded the BIA abused its discretion in denying Sow’s motion to remand based on ineffective assistance of counsel. It therefore granted Sow’s petition for review, vacated the BIA’s decisions, and remanded to the BIA with instructions to remand to the IJ for reconsideration of Sow’s asylum application. View "Sow v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the city, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of her Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and a state-law claim under Georgia law for false imprisonment. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from her misdemeanor proceedings in municipal court for failure to maintain automobile liability insurance as required by Georgia law. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's section 1983 claims, holding that the municipal court was exercising its judicial power under Georgia law to adjudicate a state-law offense, not a violation of a city or county ordinance, and thus was not acting on behalf of the city. However, the court held that the district court failed to address plaintiff's state-law claim for false imprisonment and therefore remanded for further proceedings on that claim. The court stated that, because there are some Georgia cases suggesting that the invalidity of a warrant may permit a false imprisonment claim, it was best for the district court to consider that claim in the first instance. View "Teagan v. City of McDonough" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for habeas relief. Petitioner argued that he would not have pleaded guilty to access device fraud and aggravated identity theft but for his counsel's erroneous advice concerning the deportation consequences of his plea. The district court assumed, without deciding, that petitioner's attorney's performance was deficient. The court declined to assume that counsel's performance was deficient and held, instead, that counsel's performance was not deficient and petitioner failed to satisfy his claim for ineffective assistance of counsel. In this case, counsel could not have predicted the district court's fraud loss findings. Furthermore, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying an evidentiary hearing under 28 U.S.C. 2255. View "Martin v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the Fifth and Sixth Circuits, holding that Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity in the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The court explained that the VRA, as amended, clearly expresses an intent to allow private parties to sue the states. The court stated that the language in sections 2 and 3 of the VRA, read together, imposes direct liability on states for discrimination in voting and explicitly provides remedies to private parties to address violations under the statute. Furthermore, both section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment and section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment, using identical language, authorize Congress to enforce their respective provisions by appropriate legislation. The court agreed with the Fifth and Sixth Circuits that if section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment permits Congress to abrogate state sovereign immunity, so too must section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Alabama's motion to dismiss on sovereign immunity grounds and held that Alabama is not immune from suit under the VRA. View "Alabama State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was sentenced to death for first degree murder, kidnapping, robbery, sexual battery, and burglary of a conveyance with assault. Petitioner subsequently filed a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition, which the district court denied. The Eleventh Circuit granted a certificate of appealability on two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The court affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's ineffective assistance claims, holding that petitioner has not shown that his counsel's failure to investigate and call a witness prejudiced his defense at either the guilt or sentence stage. View "Johnston v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit denied petitioner authorization to file another federal habeas petition so that he could raise an actual innocence claim, a Brady claim, and an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The court held that its authority to grant the application was restricted by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), because petitioner failed to make a prima facie showing that the claims in his application met the requirements under 28 U.S.C. 2244(b). In this case, petitioner could not raise an actual innocence claim in his successive petition because he has already raised the claim, he has not identified a "but for" constitutional violation, and he has not met the demanding actual innocence standard in Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 417 (1993). Furthermore, petitioner's Brady claim failed because he could not show that he could not have discovered the information at issue with due diligence or, assuming the State failed to disclose the information, petitioner failed to show a "but for" constitutional violation. Finally, petitioner failed to show that the factual predicate for his ineffective assistance of counsel claim could not have been discovered previously. View "In Re: James Dailey" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the county, alleging that the reasons for his termination were racial discrimination and unlawful retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the county. The Eighth Circuit held that the district court must reevaluate plaintiff's comparators evidence under the new standard that the court announced in Lewis v. City of Union City, 918 F.3d 1213 (11th Cir. 2019) (en banc), which was decided after the district court ruled this case. Therefore, the court vacated in part and remanded for reconsideration. The court affirmed the district court's judgment that, in the absence of valid comparators, plaintiff failed to establish a retaliation claim regarding (1) the actions of Lieutenant Ricelli in 2013, (2) the discipline he suffered from Captain White in 2015, and (3) Director Patterson's decision to terminate him in 2015. The court also affirmed the district court's ruling that barred plaintiff from deposing the Miami-Dade County mayor regarding plaintiff's section 1983 claim. View "Johnson v. Miami Dade County" on Justia Law

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Although a court must procedurally dismiss without prejudice the claim of a prisoner who has struck out under the three-strikes provision and failed to pay the filing fee, the court may also consider the merits to dismiss the case with prejudice instead. After the sheriff counterclaimed in a prior suit, plaintiff responded with the current action against the sheriff, his counsel, and the United States Department of the Treasury. The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court properly dismissed the current case on its merits and affirmed the judgment. The court held that plaintiff had struck out under the three-strikes provision because he failed to pay the filing fee and that the three-strikes provision is non-jurisdictional. In this case, the district court properly held that plaintiff failed to qualify for in forma pauperis status since he had three qualifying prior dismissals and failed to allege that he was in danger of imminent harm. The court also held that the district court correctly dismissed the case on the merits of plaintiff's claims under the False Claims Act; the abuse-of-process claim was properly dismissed; and plaintiff was not entitled to defense and indemnification. View "White v. Lemma" on Justia Law