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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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After a jury returned a verdict in plaintiff's favor on his claim of First Amendment retaliation, he was awarded only one dollar in nominal damages because the Eleventh Circuit has interpreted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. 1997e(e), as barring punitive damages for a prisoner's civil action where no physical injury is shown.The en banc court now recognizes that section 1997e(e) permits claims for punitive damages without a showing of physical injury. The en banc court explained that it did not conduct a textual interpretation of the statutory text and did not consider any non-physical injuries that were also not mental or emotional in nature. The en banc court misapprehended the text of the statute and the nature of the physical injury requirement when it comes to punitive damages. Therefore, in this case, plaintiff should be given an opportunity to obtain punitive damages too. In all other respects, the en banc court reinstated the panel opinion. View "Hoever v. Marks" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit sua sponte vacated its previous opinion and substituted the following opinion.In 2015, plaintiffs filed suit challenging Alabama's 2011 Photo Voter Identification Law passed by the Alabama legislature as House Bill 19 and codified at Ala. Code 17-9-30. The voter ID law took effect in June 2014 and requires all Alabama voters to present a photo ID when casting in-person or absentee votes. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the enforcement of Alabama's voter ID law, alleging that the law violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution; Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), 52 U.S.C. 10301; and Section 201 of the VRA, 52 U.S.C. 10501.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the Secretary, concluding that plaintiffs have failed to identify any genuine disputes of material facts and because no reasonable factfinder could find, based on the evidence presented, that Alabama's voter ID law is discriminatory. The court explained that the burden of providing a photo ID in order to vote is a minimal burden on Alabama's voters—especially when Alabama accepts so many different forms of photo ID and makes acquiring one simple and free for voters who lack a valid ID but wish to obtain one. Therefore, the Alabama voter ID law does not violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, nor does it violate the VRA. View "Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a long-time customer with a visual disability who must access websites with screen reader software, filed suit against Winn-Dixie under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after he was unable to access Winn-Dixie's website with his software. The district court found that Winn-Dixie's website violated the ADA.The Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded, concluding that plaintiff had Article III standing to bring the case where the difficulties caused by his inability to access much of the website constitute a concrete and particularized injury that is not conjectural or hypothetical and will continue if the website remains inaccessible; the websites are not places of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA because, pursuant to the language of Title III, public accommodations are limited to actual, physical places; and Winn-Dixie's limited use website, although inaccessible by individuals who are visually disabled, does not function as an intangible barrier to an individual with a visual disability accessing the goods, services, privileges, or advantages of Winn-Dixie's physical stores (the operative place of public accommodation). The court explained that, absent congressional action that broadens the definition of "places of public accommodation" to include websites, the court cannot extend ADA liability to the facts presented here, where there is no barrier to the access demanded by the statute. View "Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to AMR in a Title VII action brought by plaintiff, alleging failure to accommodate his religious requirement, discrimination on the basis of religion, and retaliation for filing a discrimination claim. Plaintiff's action stemmed from AMR's refusal to allow him to work emergency transports with his goatee, which he grew as part of his practice of Rastafarianism.In regard to plaintiff's disparate-treatment claims based on religion, the court concluded that plaintiff forfeited any "convincing mosaic" argument in support of his traditional religious disparate-treatment discrimination claim. Furthermore, plaintiff made no other argument to support that version of his disparate-treatment discrimination claim. In regard to plaintiff's religious-discrimination claim based on AMR's alleged failure to provide plaintiff with a reasonable accommodation of his religious practice of wearing a beard, the court concluded that AMR offered plaintiff a reasonable accommodation by providing him with an opportunity to maintain his beard and to work on the non-emergency-transport side of its operations, for which DeKalb County's facial-hair policy did not apply. The panel explained that his terms and conditions of employment would not have been affected by the accommodation AMR offered. In regard to the retaliation claim, the record indicates that the but-for cause of plaintiff's termination was AMR's belief that he had given an untrue answer on his employment application. Therefore, his retaliation claim necessarily fails. View "Bailey v. Metro Ambulance Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, a police officer, under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Georgia state laws, alleging claims for unlawful entry, false arrest, excessive force, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, assault, and battery. Plaintiff's claim arose from an August 4, 2016, interaction with defendant and other officers at his mobile home where defendant deployed his taser on plaintiff and plaintiff was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, obstruction, and simple battery, which were eventually dismissed.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the facts of this case are heavily disputed and there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether defendant lawfully entered plaintiff's home. Therefore, summary judgment was improper and the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to plaintiff on the unlawful entry claim. The court also concluded that disputed facts exist as to the remaining claims. Therefore, because genuine issues of material fact prevent finding for defendant as a matter of law, the court affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment, qualified immunity, and official immunity on all other claims. View "Hardigree v. Lofton" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded on plaintiff's age discrimination and gender discrimination claims, affirming the Title VII retaliation and hostile work environment claims. Plaintiff sought rehearing, arguing that the Supreme Court's decision in her case also undermined the court's Trask-based rejection of her Title VII retaliation claim and that an intervening 11th Circuit decision, Monaghan v. Worldpay US, Inc., 955 F.3d 855 (11th Cir. 2020), gutted the precedent on which the court had relied in rejecting her hostile work environment claim.The Eleventh Circuit held that the Supreme Court's decision in plaintiff's case undermined Trask v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, 822 F.3d 1179 (11th Cir. 2016), to the point of abrogation and that the standard that the Court articulated there now controls cases arising under Title VII's nearly identical text. The court also held that Monaghan clarified the court's law governing what the court called "retaliatory-hostile-work-environment" claims, and that the standard for such claims is, as the court said there, the less onerous "might have dissuaded a reasonable worker" test articulated in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006), and Crawford v. Carroll, 529 F.3d 961 (11th Cir. 2008), rather than the more stringent "severe or pervasive" test found in Gowski v. Peake, 682 F.3d 1299 (11th Cir. 2012). Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's Title VII retaliation and hostile work environment claims and remanded for the district court to consider those claims under the proper standards. View "Babb v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit concluded that petitioner is entitled to equitable tolling as he demonstrated that he exercised reasonable diligence in pursuing his rights and he further demonstrated extraordinary circumstances—his counsel's abdication of her duty of loyalty to petitioner so she could promote her own interests—that prevented the filing of his petition. The court explained that counsel's interests were so adverse to those of her client that counsel effectively abandoned petitioner. In this case, counsel sacrificed petitioner's guaranteed opportunity of federal habeas review in order to pursue her own novel—and ultimately meritless—constitutional argument against the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's limitations period.On the merits of the habeas petition, the court concluded that the district court correctly ruled that petitioner procedurally defaulted on his first two claims and the state court reasonably denied relief on his third claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order denying habeas relief on the merits. View "Thomas v. Attorney General, State of Florida" on Justia Law

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McKiver is serving a mandatory 25-year sentence for a crime he committed shortly after he graduated high school. He admitted to stealing oxycodone pills from his neighbor; the state never disputed that he consumed those pills within 48 hours of acquiring them. A state postconviction court granted McKiver a new trial based on allegations of ineffective assistance. An appellate court reversed in a one-sentence order. McKiver filed a federal habeas petition that argued his trial counsel failed to investigate and present certain witnesses who would cast doubt on the state’s case and the criminal history of a key state witness.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The state court did not unreasonably apply "Strickland" in rejecting the witness-testimony claim. The only evidence before that court was McKiver’s own conclusory testimony about what the witnesses would have said and whether they would have been available and willing to testify. Fair-minded jurists could agree that McKiver’s evidentiary presentation failed to establish that he met Strickland’s test, especially with respect to its prejudice prong. McKiver cannot surmount the procedural default of his criminal-history claim. There is no reasonable probability that McKiver’s trial would have reached a different conclusion if his trial counsel had investigated the criminal history of the witness. View "McKiver v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit concluded that this court's and the Florida state courts' precedent are clear that petitioner's amended state-court motion for postconviction relief relates back to his initial postconviction motion, tolling the statute of limitations for the time in between his initial motion was dismissed and his amended motion was filed. In this case, petitioner's amended rule 3.850 motion relates back to his initial motion, tolling the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's limitations period for the time in between. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the petition as untimely and remanded for further proceedings. View "Morris v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition as untimely. Petitioner argues that the district court erred by taking judicial notice of the online state court dockets without providing him an opportunity to be heard. However, the court concluded that petitioner himself provided all the information needed to show that his filing was late, and he was given a chance to argue that the district court erred. In this case, when petitioner admitted untimeliness and provided the dates to prove it, he eliminated any need for the district court to look elsewhere before dismissing his petition. Furthermore, petitioner had an opportunity to be heard on the propriety of taking judicial notice here and simply did not take advantage of it. View "Turner v. Secretary, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law