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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Plaintiffs accused the City of Doraville, Georgia, of violating their right to due process. Each of the four Plaintiffs received citations from the City for traffic or property code violations and were ordered to pay fines and fees by the municipal court. They allege that this process presented an unconstitutional risk of bias because the City’s budget heavily relies on fines and fees, and this reliance could encourage the judge, prosecutor, and law enforcement agents—all paid by the City—to overzealously enforce the law. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that Doraville’s prosecutor has a financial incentive to bring more cases because, like the judge, his income supposedly depends on his ability to generate revenue for the City.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the City finding that Plaintiffs have not raised a genuine issue of material fact concerning the bias of Doraville’s judge, its prosecutor, its police, or its code enforcement agents. The court held while unwise for a government to rely on fines and fees to balance its budget, the importance of fines and fees to a city’s budget does not make its procedures for imposing fines and fees unconstitutional.   The court explained that the fact a judge works for a government, which gets a significant portion of its revenues from fines and fees, is not enough to establish an unconstitutional risk of bias on the part of the judge. Further, given the relaxed standard of impartiality for prosecutors, Plaintiffs have presented inadequate evidence that the prosecutor had a personal financial interest. View "Hilda Brucker, et al. v. City of Doraville" 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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In Defendant’s presentence investigation report (“PSI”), the probation officer determined that Jackson’s prior criminal history qualified him for an Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) sentencing enhancement. ACCA applies to a conviction under 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g) for firearm possession by a prohibited person if the defendant has three qualifying convictions for “a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another.” 18 U.S.C. Section 924(e)(1). Based on that conclusion, it sentenced Defendant to ACCA’s mandated fifteen-year minimum.   The Eleventh Circuit vacated Defendant’s sentence. The court held that due-process fair-notice considerations require the court to apply the Controlled Substance Act Schedules in place when Defendant committed the offense for which he is being sentenced. At the times of Defendant’s cocaine-related prior offenses for which he sustained convictions under Fla. Stat. Section 893.13, the cocaine-related activity Section 893.13 criminalized categorically included activity involving ioflupane. Further, At the times of Defendant's prior cocaine-related state convictions, Fla. Stat. Section 893.13(a)(1)’s controlled-substance element was broader for cocaine-related offenses than ACCA’s “serious drug offense” definition, so Defendant’s 1998 and 2004 cocaine-related convictions do not qualify as “serious drug offense[s].” The two Smith cases, Shular, and McNeill do not require the conclusion that Defendant’s prior cocaine-related convictions qualify as “serious drug offense[s].” Thus, because Defendant’s cocaine-related Section 893.13 offenses do not qualify as “serious drug offenses” under ACCA, the court vacated his sentence and remanded to the district court for sentencing without the ACCA enhancement. View "USA v. Eugene Jackson" on Justia Law

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The appeals at issue involve two conceptually different causes of action against separate Defendants. These claims were pled together and tried to a jury empaneled for each claim. In one claim, Plaintiff, an at-will employee of a sheriff’s office, sued the sheriff, alleging that he made false and stigmatizing statements in terminating her employment that deprived her of a liberty interest in her reputation without affording her a post-termination hearing to clear her name in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the other claim, Plaintiff alleged that a sheriff’s office co-employee, whom she supervised, defamed her in violation of state tort law. The jury found for Plaintiff on both claims. Defendants’ appealed the judgments entered pursuant to the jury’s verdicts in No. 18-14808. In No. 19-13269, the sheriff appealed the judgment awarding Plaintiff an attorney’s fee on the claim brought against him.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the judgment in No. 18-14808 and vacated and remand for further proceedings the judgment for attorney’s fee in No. 19-13269. The court held that because the defamation claim and the due process claim are unrelated, it was an error for the district court to consider the hours expended on the defamation claim in determining the lodestar. The court explained that Plaintiff had the burden of establishing the hours her attorneys spent in preparing for and prosecuting her due process claim against the Sheriff. Thus on remand, the district court must hold Plaintiff to her burden of proof so that it can identify the non-compensable hours and adjust the lodestar accordingly. View "Jacquelyn Johnston v. Gary S. Borders, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant was arrested and indicted under 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(5)(A), which prohibits an alien who "is illegally or unlawfully in the United States" from possessing a firearm. Defendant did not dispute that he possessed a firearm, but filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, claiming Section 922(g)(5)(A) violated his Second Amendment rights. The district court denied Defendant's motion, ultimately convicting him after a bench trial.Defendant appealed, arguing that because he lived in the United State prior to his arrest, he was among "the people" protected by the Second Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit rejected Defendant's argument, holding that the Second Amendment does not apply to all citizens. Under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Second Amendment confers the right to gun ownership to individuals, not collectively. Thus, certain groups of people are constitutionally deprived of the right to own or possess a gun. Based on the Eleventh Circuit's "'examination of a variety of legal and other sources' from the Founding era," aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States are among those who are constitutionally restricted from owning or possessing a firearm. View "USA v. Ignacio Jimenez-Shilon" 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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Defendant was convicted of conspiracy and substantive health care fraud for fraudulently billing Medicare and Medicaid for millions of dollars for visits to nursing home patients that he never made. He challenged the convictions, sentence, restitution amount, and forfeiture amount on appeal. In an April 12, 2022 opinion, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentence.Following the court's initial opinion, Defendant filed a petition for rehearing en banc. The Eleventh Circuit considered Defendant's petition as a petition for a panel rehearing. The court granted Defendant's petition, vacated its previous opinion and issued a revised opinion that did not change the court's judgment or Defendant's sentence. Defendant was given 21 days to file a supplemental brief. View "USA v. Douglas Moss" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s dismissal of their constitutional and state law claims against Defendants and its owner for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiffs are legal practitioners who reside in Florida and represent clients in personal injury cases. Defendant is a company is operated by an owner who resides in Florida.   Plaintiffs claim that Defendants violated their right to due process of law by freezing their assets in Maryland, obtaining writs of garnishment based on Maryland law without providing notice and an opportunity to be heard. They also alleged violations of state law, including a charge of usury, breach of contract, and tortious interference. The district court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiffs’ federal claim was so utterly frivolous that it robbed the court of federal question jurisdiction.   The sole issue before the Eleventh Circuit court was whether the district court erred in concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims. The court reversed the district court’s ruling that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate Plaintiffs’ state and constitutional claims against Defendants. The court reasoned that Defendants have identified no case law suggesting that a plaintiff does not have a constitutionally protected interest in her property, even post-judgment.  Plaintiffs have plausibly raised an as-applied challenge to the use of Maryland’s garnishment statute, as opposed to a facial challenge, because they claim that the Maryland rules were applied in a way that unconstitutionally deprived them of their property. View "Diane N. Resnick, et al. v. KrunchCash, LLC, 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

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Petitioner petitioned the Eleventh Circuit for review of his Final Administrative Removal Order and adverse reasonable fear determination, which were issued during his expedited removal proceedings as an alien convicted of an aggravated felony under the Immigration and Nationality Act.   Petitioner contended that he was substantially prejudiced by his lack of counsel at the hearing before the immigration judge in his reasonable fear proceedings. He also argued that he was denied a “full and fair hearing” before the immigration judge because the judge failed to provide an adequate explanation of the procedures.   The Eleventh Circuit denied Petitioner’s petition for review and held that Petitioner’s due process rights were not violated during his expedited removal proceedings. The court concluded that the immigration judge reasonably found that Petitioner’s assertions failed to establish his torture claim and the record does not compel a contrary finding. The court further concluded that substantial evidence supports the asylum officer’s and immigration judge’s negative reasonable fear determination on Petitioner’s claim for CAT relief.   The court reasoned that under the substantial prejudice standard, the petitioner “must demonstrate that, in the absence of the alleged violations, the outcome of the proceeding would have been different.”  Petitioner failed to identify how he would have presented his case differently before the immigration judge.  Further, while Petitioner testified that some individuals threatening him were Haitian public officials, he did not offer any examples to show that those officials were threatening him in their official capacities or under the color of law. View "Emmanuel Priva v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law