Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
by
The plaintiffs, captains in Cleveland’s Emergency Medical Service division, belong to the same union; all are black. Each fall, captains bid on their schedules for the upcoming year. The city uses a seniority-based bidding system to assign shifts. The collective bargaining agreement also allows Carlton, the EMS Commissioner, to transfer up to four captains to a different shift that conflicts with a captain’s first choice. The 2017 bidding generated a schedule in which three plaintiffs were slated to work a day shift together; only black captains would staff the shift. Carlton removed Anderson from that day shift and replaced him with a white captain to “diversify the shift[].” Informal discussions failed. Discrimination charges were filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the federal EEOC. A rebidding generated a schedule that again resulted in reassignment to “create diversity.” A local news station ran a story about the shift situation.The captains sued, bringing discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII and Ohio law, and a section 1983 claims based on the federal constitution. The district court ultimately rejected all of the claims, reasoning the captains could not show that the shift change subjected them to a “materially adverse employment action.” The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Shifts count as “terms” of employment under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1) and the shift change is not “de minimus.” View "Threat v. City of Cleveland" on Justia Law

by
In 2008, another inmate, Macari, assaulted Himmelreich, who had pleaded guilty to producing child pornography, Himmelreich alleges that Macari was placed in the general population despite making comments about targeting “pedophiles.” Himmelreich filed a Tort Claim Notice with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Himmelreich alleges that Captain Fitzgerald warned him not to complain and threatened to have him transferred. Prison officials subsequently placed Himmelreich in the special housing unit (SHU). Himmelreich claims that Fitzgerald told him it was because of the Tort Claim. Prison officials claim they placed Himmelreich in the SHU for his own protection after he complained of threats from other inmates.Himmelreich’s subsequent lawsuits alleged numerous claims against prison officials, including a “Bivens” claim for retaliation in violation of the First Amendment based on Fitzgerald’s alleged threats and statements. Fitzgerald unsuccessfully moved for summary judgment only on the ground that there is no Bivens remedy for a First Amendment retaliation claim. The Sixth Circuit dismissed Fitzgerald’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction because her appeal concerns neither a final order nor a non-final order entitled to review under the collateral order doctrine. View "Himmelreich v. Federal Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

by
Kensu, a resident of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), was sentenced to life imprisonment for first-degree murder. He has filed several actions under 42 U.S.C. 1983 during his sentence; he won $325,002 after the jury found that five defendants had been “deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need[s].” Since then, Kensu has filed several more suits against MDOC and Corizon, a correctional health care contractor, including putative class actions, some of which remain pending.The complaint, in this case, had 808 numbered allegations plus additional sub-allegations, spanning 180 pages. Although his counsel failed to identify this case as related to any of his earlier actions (in violation of a local rule) the district court determined that it was a companion to Kensu v. Borgerding, and reassigned it. Finding his complaint too long and unclear, the district court dismissed, allowing Kensu to try again. His second effort was still too long and unclear. The district court explained the problems with Kensu’s complaint in more detail and gave him one last chance to amend it. Kensu made his complaint longer instead of reducing it to a plain statement of his grievance. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his complaint with prejudice. View "Kensu v. Corizon, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Michigan attorneys, like those in most other states, must join an integrated bar association in order to practice law. Taylor, a Michigan attorney, argued that requiring her to join the State Bar of Michigan violates her freedom of association and that the State Bar’s use of part of her mandatory membership dues for advocacy activities violates her freedom of speech. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of Taylor’s First Amendment claims as foreclosed by two Supreme Court decisions that have not been overruled: Lathrop v. Donohue (1961) Keller v. State Bar of California (1990). The court rejected Taylor's argument that Lathrop and Keller no longer control because of the 2018 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees where the Court held that First Amendment challenges to similar union laws are to be analyzed under at least the heightened “exacting scrutiny” standard Even where intervening Supreme Court decisions have undermined the reasoning of an earlier decision, courts must continue to follow the earlier case if it “directly controls” until the Court has overruled it. View "Taylor v. Buchanan" on Justia Law

by
Christina and Dustin lived with Dustin’s parents, Richard and Evalee. Christina filed for divorce. After a physical altercation with her in-laws, Christina left. Christina requested a law-enforcement escort to retrieve her belongings, stating that she was afraid to go alone. Trooper Couch accompanied Christina and followed Christina and her mother inside. Richard and Evalee were disturbed that law enforcement had entered their home. Dustin became hostile and shouted that he did not want Christina, Christina’s mother, or the trooper in his home. Richard called his son-in-law Napier, a Perry County sheriff’s deputy, who soon arrived. As Christina and Couch exited the house, Richard insulted Couch. A fight ensued. Napier disrupted the brawl; Couch deployed his taser to subdue Richard and Dustin. Richard, Dustin, and Evalee were arrested but a grand jury declined to issue indictments. Richard sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for wrongful entry, excessive force, wrongful arrest, deliberate indifference, and failure to train. The district court dismissed the claims against the Commonwealth, the state police, and Couch in his official capacity and granted Couch qualified immunity on the unlawful-entry claim, citing the “community caretaker” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, and noting that Couch had Christina’s consent to enter the home. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. A reasonable jury could conclude that Couch’s conduct was in violation of Richard’s clearly established Fourth Amendment right to be free from the state’s warrantless entry into his home. View "Clemons v. Couch" on Justia Law

by
In 2016, a Madison student fired a gun and injured four students. Approximately two years later, the School Board enacted a resolution allowing staff to carry concealed weapons. Around the same time, Madison students walked out of class during the school day to protest gun violence; school administration disciplined those students. The plaintiffs began attending Board meetings. At one meeting, three were not allowed to speak for failure to complete a “public participation form,” in person, at least two business days before the meeting. Another plaintiff finished his (under three-minute) speech while a security officer escorted him from the room.The plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging the Board Policy’s “use of vague and undefined terms” and “the imposition of content-based restrictions on speech.” The district court granted the Board summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. The Policy’s restrictions on “abusive,” “personally directed,” and “antagonist” statements discriminate based on viewpoint and were unconstitutionally applied to silence the plaintiff. The antagonistic restriction, by definition, prohibits speech opposing the Board. The plaintiff spoke calmly and refrained from personal attacks or vitriol, focusing on his stringent opposition to the Board’s policy and his belief that the Board was not being honest about its motives. The preregistration requirement is a content-neutral time, place, manner restriction that narrowly serves a significant government interest and leaves ample alternative channels. View "Ison v. Madison Local School District Board of Education" on Justia Law

by
Huelsman, age 64, had symptoms of paranoia and bipolar disorder. In the midst of a crisis during which he expressed delusional thoughts and a desire to commit suicide, his wife, Cheryl, a nurse, called their daughter and urged her to call 911. Clermont County Deputies Gregory and Walsh responded, aware of Huelsman’s mental health and that there might be guns in the house. Gregory called off the paramedics who had also responded, calling the matter a domestic dispute. Gregory spoke with both Cheryl who expressed her desperate fear that her husband would commit suicide, and Huelsman, whom Gregory considered to be lucid. Cheryl repeatedly exhorted Gregory not to leave Huelsman alone, but the Deputy left him inside the home, unattended, for about nine minutes while calling for a Mobile Crisis team. Huelsman committed suicide, using a gun.In a suit alleging civil rights violations, 42 U.S.C. 1983; denial of public services under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and Ohio law torts, the district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed as to the section 1983 and ADA claims and vacated as to the state law claims. The deputies were entitled to qualified immunity; it is not clear they had sufficient warning of the possible unconstitutionality of their conduct. Huelsman was not denied the benefits of Clermont County’s services for purposes of the ADA. View "Wilson v. Gregory" on Justia Law

by
Doe is transgender and began presenting publicly as a woman while working for the city, which was supportive of her plans to transition and need for time off. During her transition, an unknown city employee left Doe vulgar items and harassing messages that commented on her transgender identity and stated that people such as Doe should be put to death. Doe reported these incidents. The city asked employees to provide handwriting samples, which were examined for comparison; told employees that the city had a zero-tolerance harassment policy that could result in termination; and interviewed employees in an attempt to identify the harasser. The city eventually notified the police and installed a lock on Doe’s office and cameras. Dissatisfied with that response, Doe contacted a reporter. Doe claims that after her complaints, her supervisor “nit-picked” her work, and she was denied a promotion.Doe sued the city under Title VII and Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, alleging that the city subjected her to a hostile work environment and then retaliated against her. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city. Detroit responded reasonably to Doe’s complaints and the record does not support any causal connection between Doe’s complaints and her failure to receive a promotion. View "Doe v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

by
Hughey, speeding, passed Michigan State Trooper Easlick, who flipped on his dashcam and stopped Hughey. Hughey’s car was uninsured and unregistered and there was an outstanding warrant for Hughey’s failure to appear. Easlick relayed that Hughey needed to pay the $400 bond on her warrant in cash immediately or he would have to take her to the courthouse. Hughey did not resist arrest. Easlick handcuffed Hughey’s hands behind her back and placed her in his car. Hughey expressed suicidal thoughts, so Easlick took her to the hospital.Hughey alleges that Easlick twisted her arm behind her back as he handcuffed her and did not check for tightness, that her shoulder hurt “[a]lmost immediately,” and that after Easlick removed the handcuffs at the hospital, a nurse observed “rings around [Hughey’s] wrists.” No part of the handcuffing is visible in the dashcam footage.Hughey sued Easlick for excessive force and deliberate indifference under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted Easlick summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Hughey created a genuine dispute of material fact about whether Easlick violated her clearly established constitutional right to be free from excessive force. Her allegations are enough to satisfy the “handcuffing test” at summary judgment. The dashcam audio does not foreclose the possibility that Hughey repeatedly complained about pain. A plethora of excessive-force handcuffing cases put Easlick on notice that the way that he yanked Hughey’s arm, placed overly tight handcuffs, and ignored her complaints violated her right to be free from excessive force. View "Hughey v. Easlick" on Justia Law

by
On May 13, 1987, William and Juanita Leeman were killed in their Hamilton County home. There was no trace evidence nor fingerprints. In 1997, the defendant’s brother and his father informed police that Hughbanks had murdered the Leemans. Hughbanks admitted breaking into the house with two accomplices. Later, Hughbanks said that a fourth man might have been present. Hughbanks admitted to confronting William but stated that an accomplice had stabbed William, Hughbanks stated that he did not know where Juanita was and said that his accomplice had “probably got her first.” Hughbanks acknowledged telling his father, brother, and uncle, “I killed somebody” and that he was by himself when he broke into the home. A jury convicted Hughbanks. The trial court imposed a death sentence.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. Rejecting a “Brady” claim, the court found that Hughbanks was not prejudiced by the state’s failure to disclose information identifying other suspects; documentation concerning the actions of one of the victims’ sons, that implicated him in the murders; the absence of trace evidence at the scene of the crime that implicated Hughbanks; eyewitness statements that did not match a description of Hughbanks; evidence that impeached the prosecution’s theory of the case; and evidence that impeached the prosecution’s witnesses. The court also rejected Hughbanks’ argument that trial counsel provided constitutionally deficient assistance by failing adequately to investigate, prepare, and present mitigation evidence. View "Hughbanks v. Hudson" on Justia Law