Articles Posted in Civil Rights

by
Nursing Homes, on behalf of eleven residents, filed suit against the Secretaries, alleging that the Secretaries wrongfully denied the residents Medicaid benefits in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and several federal statutes. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. The court held that the Eleventh Amendment barred the Nursing Homes' constitutional and Medicaid Act claims for damages or other relief based on past actions; the Nursing Homes' claims for declaratory and injunctive relief were moot and required dismissal because the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction; and, because the Nursing Homes failed to state a viable Americans with Disabilities Act claim, they failed to state a cognizable Rehabilitation Act claim. View "Wicomico Nursing Home v. Padilla" on Justia Law

by
In 2004, after pleading guilty to selling crack cocaine to a government informant, Lester was sentenced to almost 22 years in prison because he was designated a career offender under the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. This enhancement depended on a past conviction for a “crime of violence,” Lester’s 1990 Georgia conviction for walkaway escape. In 2005, the Supreme Court stripped the Sentencing Guidelines of legal force and made them purely advisory; in 2009, the Court ruled that the generic crime of failing to report to a prison was not a crime of violence. Lester’s sentence should have been up to 11 years shorter. Lester sought habeas corpus relief. The district court denied his petition. The Fourth Circuit vacated, noting that its 2018 decision in United States v. Wheeler permits Lester’s challenge although Lester had already filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255. In limited circumstances, courts, including the Fourth Circuit, allow a prisoner otherwise unable to file a second or successive section 2255 petition to seek relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. A sentencing error “need not result in a sentence that exceeds statutory limits in order to be a fundamental defect.” Lester’s case must be considered on the merits. View "Lester v. Flournoy" on Justia Law

by
Lawlor worked at a Fairfax County apartment complex and had access to keys to each apartment. On September 24, 2008, Lawlor consumed alcohol and a large amount of crack cocaine and sexually assaulted, bludgeoned, and killed a tenant in that complex, Genevieve Orange. A Virginia state court sentenced Lawlor to death; the sentencing jury found that there was a probability Lawlor “would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing serious threat to society,” Va. Code 19.2–264.4.C. Lawlor exhausted state court direct appeal and post-conviction remedies then sought review of his death sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The district court dismissed his petition. The Fourth Circuit reversed. The state court excluded specialized and relevant testimony of a qualified witness who would have explained that Lawlor “represents a very low risk for committing acts of violence while incarcerated,” where the jury’s only choices were life in prison without parole or death. That ruling was an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent that “evidence that the defendant would not pose a danger if spared (but incarcerated) must be considered potentially mitigating,” and “such evidence may not be excluded from the sentencer’s consideration.” The error had a substantial and injurious effect. View "Lawlor v. Zook" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the employer in an action alleging that the unauthorized review and disclosure of plaintiff's confidential personnel files to support her racial and religious discrimination claims constituted protected activity under Title VII. The court held that, under the opposition clause, unauthorized disclosures of confidential information to third parties are generally unreasonable. In this case, plaintiff's unauthorized review and duplication of confidential personnel files did not constitute protected opposition or participation activity. The court also held that section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not protect a violation of valid state law that poses no conflict with Title VII. The court explained that, like in plaintiff's opposition claim, she failed to meet her burden of proving that the sheriff terminated her employment because she engaged in protected activity. View "Netter v. Barnes" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner sought relief from the district court's gag order imposing stringent restrictions on participants and potential participants in a series of nuisance suits brought against the hog industry in North Carolina. Determining that a mandamus petition was the appropriate mechanism for challenging the gag order and that the mandamus petition was not moot, the Fourth Circuit held that petitioner met its burden of showing a clear and indisputable right to the requested relief. Applying strict scrutiny, the court held that the gag order breached basic First Amendment principles in both meaningful and material ways. In this case, the gag order harmed petitioner, farmers, and plaintiffs. Accordingly, the court vacated the gag order and allowed the parties to begin anew under the guidelines the court set forth. View "In re: Murphy-Brown, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying the EEOC's request under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) for retroactive monetary relief from the county. The court held that retroactive monetary awards, such as the back pay sought here, were mandatory legal remedies under the ADEA upon a finding of liability. The court's conclusion was not altered by the county's contention that the EEOC unduly delayed in the investigation. Accordingly, the court remanded for a determination of the amount of back pay to which the affected employees were entitled under the ADEA. View "EEOC v. Baltimore County" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s convictions for possession with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine based and possession of a firearm, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress statements he made to officers during the execution of a search warrant for his residence; (2) did not abuse its discretion in admitting “other acts” evidence under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b); (3) did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to disclose the identity of a confidential informant who provided information used to obtain the search warrant; and (4) did not err in enhancing Defendant’s sentence on the basis of his prior Maryland convictions. View "United States v. Bell" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, a student and two student groups behind a Free Speech Event at the University of South Carolina, filed suit alleging that University officials violated their First Amendment rights when they required one of the students to attend a meeting to discuss complaints about their event. Plaintiffs also alleged a facial challenge to the University's general policy on harassment, arguing that it was unconstitutionally vague and overly broad. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the University defendants, holding that the University neither prevented plaintiffs from holding their Free Speech Event nor sanctioned them after the fact. Plaintiffs failed to show a credible threat that the University would enforce its harassment policy against their speech in the future, and thus they lacked standing to pursue their facial attack on the policy. View "Abbott v. Pastides" on Justia Law

by
Virginia's regulation of the consumption, purchase, manufacture, and sale of alcohol through a series of interconnecting provisions found in Title 4.1 of the Virginia Code did not qualify as cruel and unusual punishment because it criminalizes plaintiffs' status as homeless alcoholics and did not violate Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962). Robinson held that, although states may not criminalize status, they may criminalize actual behavior even when the individual alleges that addiction created a strong urge to engage in a particular act. In this case, it is the act of possessing alcohol—not the status of being an alcoholic—that gave rise to criminal sanctions. The interdiction statute was a preventative tool and the state could use this sort of prophylactic device to identify those at the highest risk of alcohol problems and put them on notice that subsequent behavior could be subject to punishment. The Fourth Circuit also held that the interdiction provision did not violate plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment right to due process where interdiction carried no threat of imprisonment and therefore did not result in a loss of liberty. Finally, the interdiction provision did not violate plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection. The court applied rational basis review and held that the law was rationally related to Virginia's legitimate interest in discouraging alcohol abuse and its attendant risks to public safety and wellbeing. View "Manning v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal, on remand, of petitioner's juror bias claim. The court held that the district court failed to recognize the applicability of Supreme Court precedent requiring a hearing in these circumstances; erected inappropriate legal barriers and faulted petitioner for not overcoming them; and ignored judicially-recognized factors in determining whether a hearing was necessary. The court also concluded that the district court erred in Porter I by dismissing petitioner's separate but related juror bias claim pursuant to McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548 (1984). Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions for the district court to allow discovery and hold an evidentiary hearing on petitioner's two separate juror bias claims. View "Porter v. Zook" on Justia Law