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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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After plaintiff asked her employer, Rural, for a temporary light-duty or dispatcher assignment for the duration of her pregnancy because her physician advised her to refrain from lifting more than 50 pounds while pregnant, Rural declined plaintiff's request for accommodation. Plaintiff filed suit against Rural, alleging discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's grant of Rural's motion for summary judgment, holding that the district court erroneously factored into the "similar in their ability or inability to work" evaluation the distinct, post-prima-facie-case consideration of Rural's purported legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for treating plaintiff and the non-pregnant employees differently. The court explained that neither a non-pregnant EMT who is limited to lifting 10 or 20 pounds nor a pregnant EMT who is restricted to lifting 50 pounds or less can lift the required 100 pounds to serve as an EMT. Consequently, neither can meet the lifting requirement and are thus the same in their "inability to work" as an EMT. The court held that plaintiff's prima facie requirement to establish that she was similarly situated to other employees in their ability or inability to work was satisfied. The court remanded for the district court to determine the remaining issues in the first instance. View "Durham v. Rural/Metro Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that defendants violated her Fourth Amendment rights by falsely arresting her and by unlawfully detaining her. Plaintiff also alleged state law claims for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Sheriff on the Monell claim related to plaintiff's detention. Because plaintiff was kept in custody pursuant to (and because of) the Sheriff's mandatory eight-hour hold policy after her two breathalyzer test results registered blood-alcohol readings of 0.000 and after she posted bond, the only remaining question is whether a reasonable jury could find that the hold policy, as applied to plaintiff violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The court agreed with the Fifth Circuit that, following a warrantless DUI arrest based on probable cause, officers do not have an affirmative Fourth Amendment duty to investigate or continually reassess whether the arrestee is or remains intoxicated while in custody. The court held that where, as here, the officers seek and obtain information which shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the arrestee is not intoxicated—in other words, that probable cause to detain no longer exists—the Fourth Amendment requires that the arrestee be released. In this case, a reasonable jury viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff could find that her continued detention pursuant to the Sheriff's eight-hour hold policy violated the Fourth Amendment. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Barnett v. MacArthur" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Worldplay on plaintiff's claim of retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The court held that the district court erroneously applied the court's decision in Gowski v. Peake, 682 F.3d 1299, 1312 (11th Cir. 2012), and required plaintiff to show that the alleged retaliation was sufficiently pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment. However, the proper standard in a retaliation case is the one set out by the Supreme Court in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 57 (2006), where the retaliation is material if it well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. In this case, the court held that a jury must decide plaintiff's retaliation claim and thus remanded for a jury trial. View "Monaghan v. Worldpay US, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court held that the state habeas court's decision as to petitioner's ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of federal law nor based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. The court rejected petitioner's claim that trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective under Strickland v. Washington when counsel failed to investigate mitigating evidence at sentencing. Petitioner also alleged that he was denied due process and a fair trial when his request for a one day continuance was denied, that the jury's verdict was unconstitutional, and that he was denied a right to self-representation under Faretta v. California. The court concluded that it was barred from considering petitioner's claims because he failed to raise them on direct appeal, and cannot show cause and prejudice to overcome the default. View "Sealey v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Officer Swarbrick falsely arrested him and used excessive force; Officer Trammel failed to intervene; and the Sheriff had a custom or policy of excessive force or failed to adequately train, supervise, and discipline Swarbrick and Trammel. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Swarbrick on plaintiff's false arrest claim and plaintiff's excessive force claim regarding an alleged three-to-five minute period of pepper spraying. In this case, plaintiff has presented a genuine dispute of material fact regarding Swarbrick's use of force as to that period of pepper spraying. Accordingly, the court remanded those claims for further proceedings. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Swarbrick as to any other allegations of excessive force. Likewise, the court affirmed the claims against the Sheriff and Trammel. View "Alston v. Swarbrick" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, as the personal representative of her son, filed suit against a deputy, alleging that he violated her son's substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by stopping several bystanders from performing CPR on her son after he attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and held that the district court analyzed this case under the erroneous assumption that a deliberate indifference level of culpability was sufficient. Rather, the court held that the deputy's actions cannot be deemed to violate clearly established substantive due process rights, unless the jury finds that he acted with a level of culpability more than reckless interference with bystanders' attempted rescue efforts. In this case, the court could not conclude that the deputy's reckless or deliberately indifferent interference with bystanders' rescue attempts is sufficient to constitute a violation of plaintiff's clearly established substantive due process rights. The court held that the deputy's actions would rise to that necessary level should the jury find that the deputy acted for the purpose of causing harm to plaintiff's son. The court explained that, if the jury finds that the deputy intended to cause harm to plaintiff's son in the form of death or serious brain injury, and finds the other circumstances it assumed in this summary judgment posture, then plaintiff would have proved a violation of clearly established substantive due process rights. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Waldron v. Spicher" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an inmate who was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging violations of her Eighth Amendment rights, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The Eleventh Circuit held that plaintiff's challenges to the prior freeze-frame policy and the FDC's initial denial of hormone therapy are moot in light of the FDC's subsequent repeal and replacement of the policy and its provision of hormone treatment. The court rejected the merits of plaintiff's claim that the FDC violated the Eighth Amendment by refusing to accommodate her social-transitioning requests (to grow out her hair, use makeup, and wear female undergarments). In light of the disagreement among the testifying professionals about the medical necessity of social transitioning to plaintiff's treatment and the "wide-ranging deference" that the court pays to prison administrators' determinations about institutional safety and security, the court could not say that the FDC consciously disregarded a risk of serious harm by conduct that was "more than mere negligence" and thereby violated the Eighth Amendment. Rather, the court concluded that the FDC chose a meaningful course of treatment to address plaintiff's gender-dysphoria symptoms, which was sufficient to clear the low deliberate-indifference bar. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's order, dismissed as moot in part, and reversed in part. View "Keohane v. Florida Department of Corrections Secretary" on Justia 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