Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, Sotera, alleging that the company violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601 et seq. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment to Sotera, holding that the district court correctly rejected plaintiff's legal contention that Sotera interfered with plaintiff's FMLA rights by not restoring him to his pre-leave position; no reasonable factfinder could conclude that Sotera failed to place plaintiff in "an equivalent position" or that the differences between the two jobs at issue were more than merely de minimis; and plaintiff failed to create a genuine issue of material fact as to his termination-related claims. The court affirmed the district court's conclusion that Sotera was entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's claim that Sotera interfered with his FMLA rights by reinstating him to a sham position and then firing him at the first opportunity. Finally, plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact such that a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the adverse employment action was taken for an impermissible reason, such as retaliation. View "Waag v. Sotera Defense Solutions" on Justia Law

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After BNT, a minority-owned television network, was granted and then denied an economic development loan from the City, BNT filed suit alleging, among other things, claims for racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court concluded that BNT's factual allegations were so insubstantial as to render its claim implausible, and therefore dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court misinterpreted and misapplied the controlling pleading standard. In this case, the key issue was not whether the City would contract with a minority-owned business, but whether the City would contract with BNT on the same conditions and under substantially the same circumstances as it would with a nonminority-owned business. BNT has plausibly pled that the conditions under which the City was willing to grant it a loan were more stringent than those the City applied to similarly situated white-owned applicants. Therefore, the district court erred in dismissing BNT's claim of discrimination at the pleading stage. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Woods v. City of Greensboro" on Justia Law

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The court vacated the grant of qualified immunity to prison officials and summary judgment, concluding that a reasonable prison official had fair warning that retaliating against an inmate who filed a prison grievance was unlawful and an inmate's First Amendment right to be free from retaliation for filing a grievance was clearly established at the time. Plaintiff, an inmate at SCDC, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that he received a disciplinary charge in retaliation for filing a prison grievance. Although the court agreed with the district court's conclusion that no published decision squarely addressed whether filing a grievance was protected First Amendment conduct, the court concluded that the district court failed to consider whether the right was clearly established based on general constitutional principles or a consensus of persuasive authority. In this case, the inmate's right was clearly established based on a robust consensus of persuasive authority where the Second, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Eleventh, and D.C. Circuits have all recognized in published decisions that inmates possess a right, grounded in the First Amendment's Petition Clause, to be free from retaliation in response to filing a prison grievance. View "Booker v. South Carolina Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, convicted of murder and sentenced to death, sought post-conviction relief in state court under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act (RJA), N.C. Gen. Stat. 15A-2010 to 2012. The state trial court awarded relief under the RJA and reduced petitioners' sentences to life imprisonment. The State appealed and the North Carolina Supreme Court vacated, remanding for additional RJA proceedings. Petitioners filed suit under 28 U.S.C. 2241 in federal court, arguing that a second RJA proceeding would violate their rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The district court abstained from exercising federal jurisdiction pursuant to Younger v. Harris, and alternatively held that petitioners failed to exhaust their state remedies. The court affirmed, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by deciding to abstain because the basic requirements for Younger abstention were present in this case and petitioners failed to make a showing of extraordinary circumstances. The court rejected petitioners' claims to the contrary and affirmed the judgment. View "Robinson v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The court issued a certificate of appealability (COA) to allow federal prisoner, Lamar Richard Lee, to challenge the denial of his motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The court held this case in abeyance pending the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles v. United States. In Beckles, the Supreme Court concluded that the Guidelines are not subject to a vagueness challenge under the Due Process Clause. The court explained that, in short, Johnson v. United States' vagueness holding does not apply to the residual clause in USSG 4B1.2(a)(2). In this case, the court concluded that the district court did not err by determining that Lee's unlawful wounding conviction qualified as a crime of violence under the residual clause. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, three death row inmates in Virginia, filed suit alleging that their conditions of confinement amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Death row inmates, among other things, spent 23 hours a day alone; had only non-contact visits and contact visitations with immediate family members were subject to unspecified "extreme circumstances" with the warden maintaining unconstrained discretion to grant or deny such requests; and were barred from joining general population inmates for vocational, educational, or behavioral programming. After plaintiffs filed their complaint, defendants substantially changed the policies governing the conditions of confinement for inmates on Virginia's death row, addressing virtually all of the issues raised in plaintiffs' complaint. The district court concluded that plaintiffs' action was moot. The court agreed with plaintiffs that defendants' voluntary cessation of the challenged practice has not yet mooted this action because defendants failed to meet the Supreme Court's requirement of showing that it was absolutely clear the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur. In this case, nothing bars the Corrections Department from reverting to the challenged policies in the future. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Porter v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an inmate who is missing toes on his right foot, filed suit against defendants after he fell and injured himself while ascending the stairs to his upper-tier cell. The district court sua sponte dismissed the complaint based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The court held that the district court improperly sua sponte examined defendant's administrative exhaustion requirement. In this case, it was not apparent from the face of the complaint that plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The court explained that before Jones v. Bock, this court allowed district courts to sua sponte dismiss an inmate's complaint where exhaustion was not apparent in his pleading, so long as the court gave the inmate an opportunity to address the exhaustion question. In Jones, the Supreme Court held that failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense, and that inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaint. After Jones, this Court held that, where exhaustion is not apparent from an inmate's pleading, a complaint may be dismissed on exhaustion grounds so long as the inmate is first given an opportunity to address the issue. The court held that to the extent that Anderson v. XYZ Corr. Health Servs., Inc., allows courts to sua sponte dismiss complaints where exhaustion is unclear so long as an inmate receives only an opportunity to address the issue, it is irreconcilable with Jones and cannot survive. Because the district court erred in this case when it sua sponte examined plaintiff's exhaustion of available administrative remedies, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Custis v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former Battalion Chief, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the County and others, alleging that he was fired in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment free speech rights, and that the Department's social media policy was facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants on the First Amendment claim, and dismissed as moot the facial challenge to the social media policy. The court held that the district court properly granted summary judgment to defendants as to the First Amendment claim. In this case, at least some of plaintiff's Facebook activity prompting his termination implicated matters of public concern, and the Department's interest in workplace efficiency and preventing disruption outweighed the public interest commentary contained in plaintiff's Facebook activity. Because the court found that the district court properly granted defendants' motion for summary judgment against plaintiff, the court declined to review the as-applied challenge. The court concluded that the third-party facial challenge was properly dismissed as moot where defendants have adopted a new social media policy and revised code of conduct, as well as declared that the Department has no intent to reenact the offending policies. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Buker v. Howard County" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, convicted of federal drug and firearms offenses, appealed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion for habeas relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, petitioner claimed that his counsel's performance was deficient because she failed to bring to the attention of the trial court the fact that, before the trial began, a member of the jury approached petitioner's father while entering the courthouse and told him that "everything would be alright" and that he needed to give his son "a good kick in the butt," thereby allegedly demonstrating bias against petitioner. The court concluded that counsel's response fell within the range of competent representation required by the Sixth Amendment because the juror's alleged statement did not sufficiently indicate actual bias against petitioner but was instead ambiguous. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Powell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, currently confined as a sexually dangerous person, filed suit against BOP, alleging various claims related to BOP's failure to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for medical appointments and other important interactions, its refusal to provide him with access to a videophone, and its failure to otherwise accommodate his deafness. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of BOP. The court concluded that plaintiff's evidence was sufficient to satisfy the objective and subjective components of the deliberate-indifference inquiry. Therefore, the district court erred by granting summary judgment on plaintiff's claim that BOP failed to provide him with constitutionally adequate medical care. The court also concluded that the district court erred by granting summary judgment as to plaintiff's claim that he was unreasonably denied access to the TTY device. Finally, the court agreed with plaintiff that the district court erred by relying on BOP's voluntary, post-litigation actions to reject his remaining claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Heyer v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law