Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The Free Speech Clause does not protect speech expressed in an admissions interview from admissions consequences in a competitive process. After he was denied admission in the Radiation Therapy Program (RTP) at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), plaintiff filed suit alleging that points were deducted from his application score and that he was denied admission because of the expression of his religious beliefs during his interview in violation of the Free Speech Clause, the Establishment Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's claim under the Free Speech Clause where plaintiff's speech was not protected. After applying the Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), test to plaintiff's Establishment Clause claim, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants because CCBC had a secular purpose in identifying the best qualified candidates; none of CCBC's actions inhibited religion; and there was no excessive government entanglement. View "Buxton v. Kurtinitis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging North Carolina's Senate Bill 2, which allows state magistrates to recuse themselves from performing marriages on account of a religious objection. The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs, simply by virtue of their status as state taxpayers, have not alleged a personal, particularized injury for the purposes of Article III standing. The court explained that, given that the Supreme Court has expressly upheld taxpayer standing on just two occasions, the application of the doctrine has been narrowly circumscribed. In this case, the link between legislative action and the expenditures in S.B. 2 is attenuated, and plaintiffs have not alleged a classic spending injury under the Establishment Clause. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Ansley v. Warren" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254 after the district court granted a certificate of appealability on the narrow procedural question of whether a habeas petitioner's claims raised for the first time in objections to a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations must be heard by the district judge. The Fifth Circuit broadly answered in the affirmative, but found in this case that the district court did not commit reversible error. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Samples v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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The EEOC filed suit on behalf of a Consol Energy employee, alleging that Consol violated Title VII by constructively discharging the employee instead of accommodating his religious beliefs. In this case, the employee was forced to resign because his religious beliefs prevented him from using a biometric hand scanner. Consol provided an alternative to employees who could not use the hand scanner for non-religious reasons, but refused to accommodate the employee here for his religious objection. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the EEOC. The district court subsequently denied Consol's post-verdict motions. The Fourth Circuit held that Consol was not entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law where the evidence presented at trial allowed the jury to conclude that Consol failed to make available to a sincere religious objector the same reasonable accommodation it offered other employees, in clear violation of Title VII. Furthermore, the court found no error in the numerous evidentiary challenges raised by Consol nor in the district court's determinations regarding lost wages and punitive damages. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "EEOC v. Consol Energy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, who is civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person, filed suit against BOP employees challenging various conditions of his confinement at FCI Butner. The district court dismissed some of plaintiff's claims and then granted summary judgment as to the other claims. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court correctly dismissed BOP policies claims regarding double-bunking of civil detainees, forcing plaintiff to wear the same uniform as a prisoner, and limiting purchases at the commissary and his options on television to those of a prisoner; the commingling with prisoners claims where plaintiff was frequently in the presence of prisoners and that other prisoners taunted and harassed him; and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claim where plaintiff did not qualify as an employee. The court also held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment as to the strip searches and mass shakedowns claims, the mail claims, and the educational and vocational programs claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Matherly v. Andrews" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Eshow and Safar were arrested for an allegation of fraud that was mistakenly reported and almost immediately retracted. Safar was also briefly incarcerated. Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law, against the police officer and prosecutor who, at different stages of the criminal process, learned that no crime had occurred and yet failed to take steps to withdraw an arrest warrant. Given the absence of an established duty to act, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the award of qualified immunity to the officer on the section 1983 claims. The court affirmed the grant of absolute immunity to the prosecutor because the prosecutor's decision whether to withdraw an arrest warrant was intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. However, the court reversed as to the state law claims, remanding to the district court to dismiss the state law claims without prejudice to plaintiffs' right to advance their case in state court. View "Safar v. Tingle" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Cava, alleging a Title VII retaliation claim for reporting alleged sexual harassment between employees. Plaintiff's supervisor concluded, after an investigation, that plaintiff made up the allegations. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment against plaintiff, holding that neither plaintiff nor amici have cited any case holding that the opposition clause protects employees' pretending to oppose Title VII violations by intentionally fabricating allegations, and the court was not aware of any; while the case law plaintiff and amici presented favor liberally interpreting the statute to further the goal of encouraging employees to come forward, they did not favor rewriting a statute that conditions liability on the existence of a retaliatory motive; and there was no genuine dispute of fact regarding the reasonableness of Cava's investigation into whether plaintiff fabricated her conversation with an employee. View "Villa v. Cavamezze Grill, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff pro se filed suit against defendant, a prison official, alleging that plaintiff's placement in segregation violated his constitutional rights to freedom from retaliation for filing a grievance, equal protection, and due process. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to state a claim under the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses. The court held, however, that plaintiff pleaded sufficient facts to state a claim that defendant violated plaintiff's First Amendment rights by placing him in segregation as retaliation for filing a grievance. Furthermore, it was clearly established at the time that defendant placed plaintiff in segregation that retaliating against an inmate for filing a grievance violates the inmate's rights under the First Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Martin v. Duffy" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed in substantial part the district court's issuance of a nationwide injunction as to Section 2(c) of the challenged Second Executive Order (EO-2), holding that the reasonable observer would likely conclude EO-2's primary purpose was to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs. Section 2(c) reinstated the ninety-day suspension of entry for nationals from six countries, eliminating Iraq from the list, but retaining Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Determining that the case was justiciable, the Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs have more than plausibly alleged that EO-2's stated national security interest was provided in bad faith, as a pretext for its religious purpose. Because the facially legitimate reason offered by the government was not bona fide, the court no longer deferred to that reason and instead may look behind the challenged action. Applying the test in Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court held that the evidence in the record, viewed from the standpoint of the reasonable observer, created a compelling case that EO-2's primary purpose was religious. Then-candidate Trump's campaign statements revealed that on numerous occasions, he expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as his intent, if elected, to ban Muslims from the United States. President Trump and his aides have made statements that suggest EO-2's purpose was to effectuate the promised Muslim ban, and that its changes from the first executive order reflect an effort to help it survive judicial scrutiny, rather than to avoid targeting Muslims for exclusion from the United States. These statements, taken together, provide direct, specific evidence of what motivated both executive orders: President Trump's desire to exclude Muslims from the United States and his intent to effectuate the ban by targeting majority-Muslim nations instead of Muslims explicitly. Because EO-2 likely fails Lemon's purpose prong in violation of the Establishment Clause, the district court did not err in concluding that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim. The court also held that plaintiffs will likely suffer irreparable harm; the Government's asserted national security interests do not outweigh the harm to plaintiffs; and the public interest counsels in favor of upholding the preliminary injunction. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a nationwide injunction was necessary to provide complete relief, but erred in issuing an injunction against the President himself. View "International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition, alleging that his guilty plea to attempted murder and a related firearm offense resulted from his trial counsel's disabling conflict of interest. Determining that the appeal was not moot, the Fourth Circuit held that the petition was timely. In this case, petitioner's limitations period commenced on December 12, 2008, when the judgment entered upon his November 2008 resentencing became final. Because his postconviction proceedings statutorily tolled the limitations period from at least January 20, 2009 through October 21, 2013, his petition was timely. Furthermore, under the exceptional circumstances presented by petitioner's case, neither procedural bar at issue was adequate to preclude federal review of petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim; the Court of Special Appeals' application of Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. 7-106(b)(1)(i)(6) was inadequate to bar federal review of petitioner's claim; and the circuit court's reliance on section 7-106(b)(1)(i)(4) was inadequate to bar consideration of his ineffective assistance claim on federal habeas review. The court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Woodfolk v. Maynard" on Justia Law