Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Two men robbed a store. The security video shows that one pointed a shotgun at the clerk. The gunman wore a black sweatshirt with a white skeleton pattern that zipped to form a skull hood. The gunman’s exposed hands appeared black to the clerk and on the video. The accomplice took cash. The men fled. Weeks later, officers visited Bailey’s mother. She showed the detectives Bailey's bedroom. They saw a skeleton hoodie and prepared an affidavit for a search warrant, noting that they had received an anonymous tip that Bailey, an African-American, had committed the robbery. A judge approved the warrant. Detectives seized the sweatshirt. Officers arrested Bailey after he fled. Bailey was indicted for armed robbery, possession of a short-barreled shotgun, and resisting arrest. The prosecutor dropped two charges; Bailey pleaded guilty to resisting. Bailey sued, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violations of his Fourth Amendment rights, citing inconsistencies in the description. The district court denied motions to dismiss, based on purported falsehoods in the affidavit. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The warrant did not say whether the description came from the victim or the video and mentioned both sources; it was not deliberately false. There were few disparities between the video and the warrant description. Even if the warrant were stripped of possible falsities, a fair probability remained that the officers would find evidence of the robbery in Bailey’s home; his Fourth Amendment claim and his Monell claim against the city fail as a matter of law. View "Bailey v. City of Ann Arbor" on Justia Law

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An unidentified individual alleged that Doe had engaged in nonconsensual sexual activities with a female University of Kentucky student. After an investigation, a Hearing Panel found that Doe had violated the Code of Student Conduct and assessed a one-year suspension. The University Appeals Board (UAB), reversed, finding violations of Doe’s due process rights and the Code of Student Conduct because Simpson, Director of the Office of Student Conduct, withheld critical evidence and witness questions from the Panel. After a second hearing, the Panel again found Doe had violated the policy. The UAB reversed, finding due process errors, including improper partitioning of Doe and his advisors from the student, denying Doe the “supplemental proceeding” described in the Code, and ex parte communications between the student, Simpson, and the Panel. A third hearing was scheduled, but Doe sought an injunction, citing 42 U.S.C. 1983, and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, 20 U.S.C. 1681. Defendants argued that any constitutional problems would be cured in the third hearing, with new procedures. The court granted Defendants’ request that the court abstain from providing injunctive relief under Younger and held that Simpson was entitled to qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the abstention decision, reversed as to Simpson, and instructed the court to stay the case pending completion of the University proceedings. View "Doe v. University of Kentucky" on Justia Law

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Anita drove her son, Omar, to Lowe’s, to pick up his last paycheck. When the assistant manager approached, Omar “started talking a lot of gibberish” and eventually began throwing paint cans. Officers, responding to a 911 call, stopped Anita’s car. Omar was evasive but compliant. During the pat-down, officers discovered pills in a container, which they returned to Omar’s pocket after handcuffing him. Omar stated that he had not taken his medication, for a psychiatric condition, for weeks. Anita stated that Omar, who began ranting incoherently, was bipolar, that the pills were Seroquel, and that he had not taken his medication. At the jail, Omar would calm down periodically, then return to rambling, talking to himself, and engaging in strange behavior. Released without handcuffs to make a phone call, Omar threw an officer to the floor and began choking him. Officers rushed into the jail and pulled Omar into the restraint chair and noticed something wrong. Omar’s pulse was weak. They tried to resuscitate him and called the rescue squad. At the hospital, Omar was pronounced dead “as a result of a sudden cardiac event during a physical altercation in association with bipolar disease.” In Anita’s suit, alleging deliberate indifference, the court denied the officers qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed. There was no violation of a clearly established constitutional right. The officers did not act with recklessness that would permit them to be liable under Ohio law. View "Arrington-Bey v. City of Bedford Heights" on Justia Law

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Reporting regulatory violations “up the chain” to supervisory governmental employees can constitute speech on a matter of public concern, for purposes of First Amendment retaliation claim. Mayhew, a long-time employee of Smyrna’s wastewater-treatment plant, reported violations of state and federal requirements and voiced concerns about the hiring of a manager’s nephew without advertising the position. His reports went up the chain of command to government employees. Mayhew was terminated, allegedly because the plant manager no longer felt that he could work with him. The district court rejected his claim of First Amendment retaliation on summary judgment, reasoning that Mayhew’s speech did not involve matters of public concern. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, stating that “constitutional protection for speech on matters of public concern is not premised on the communication of that speech to the public.” Nor must courts limit reports of wrongdoing to illegal acts; a public concern includes “any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community.” View "Mayhew v. Town of Smyrna" on Justia Law

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Damages-only action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against county clerk who had refused to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple is not moot. The Sixth Circuit reversed dismissal of such a case, noting: the Supreme Court’s 2015 holding that Kentucky’s definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman violated the Fourteenth Amendment; the Kentucky Governor’s order that county clerks begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples; a preliminary injunction in another case, prohibiting County Clerk Kim Davis from refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses; and that the state has amended its marriage-license issuance process so that county clerks’ names and signatures no longer appear on marriage-license forms. The Sixth Circuit stated that “so long as the plaintiff has a cause of action for damages, a defendant’s change in conduct will not moot the case. Indeed where a claim for injunctive relief is moot, relief in the form of damages for a past constitutional violation is not affected.” View "Ermold v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Thomas’s apartment door opened to a breezeway that led to a parking lot. When two men broke through Destin’s door. Destin called 911 from his bedroom and spoke quietly to avoid drawing the burglars’ attention. The men forced their way into Destin’s room. A struggle ensued. Columbus officers responded. Officer Kaufman, the first to arrive, had been alerted that the caller was inside a bedroom, that multiple suspects were inside, and that there was yelling and crashing noises. The complex was in a high-crime area; Kaufman, expecting a gun might be involved, unholstered his weapon. As Kaufman approached the breezeway, two men exited Destin’s apartment and ran toward him. The first had a gun in his hand. Kaufman stopped about 40 feet from Destin’s door, shouted, and fired two shots at the person with the gun. The second suspect fled. Kaufman never administered aid to the wounded man, later saying that he considered it unsafe to do so with an active crime scene and that the suspect appeared to be dead. The person that Kaufman shot was Destin, who had disarmed a burglar before fleeing. Destin died. When the next officer arrived, Kaufman stated, “I think this was the homeowner.” The burglar that fled was captured, but refused to testify. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of Destin’s estate’s claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging excessive force and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. View "Thomas v. City of Columbus" on Justia Law

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Phillips worked at the MGM Detroit casino from 1999-2015. Beginning in 2001, she belonged to Local 7777, a UAW International affiliate. In 2002, she became the Local’s chairperson. Phillips, an African-American, claims that UAW employees Johnson and Kagels, created a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII and the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Phillips described “a smattering of offensive conduct” from 2012-2014, including an alleged statement that the “problem with the Union was that there are too many blacks” and speaking “in a condescending tone when dealing with black union members as compared to white members.” Phillips claims that, in a 2013 meeting, Johnson demanded to know the race of each grievant and then separated the grievances into piles based on whether they were filed by “white” or “black” union members and said he intended to withdraw the grievances filed by African-American union members. Johnson and Kagels denied all of the alleged misconduct. The district court dismissed the case. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that no matter who can be held liable for hostile work environment claims under Title VII, Phillips fails to create a genuine issue of material fact that she was subjected to one. View "Phillips v. UAW International" on Justia Law

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Hill suffered a diabetic emergency. Paramedics, including Streeter, found Hill very disoriented and combative. Streeter tested Hill’s blood-sugar level, which was extremely low at 38. As blood sugar falls, a person may lose consciousness, become combative and confused, or suffer a seizure. A blood-sugar level of 38 is a medical emergency and, untreated, can lead to death. Deputy Miracle arrived as paramedics were attempting to intravenously administer dextrose to raise Hill’s blood-sugar level. Hill ripped the catheter from his arm, causing blood to spray, and continued to kick, swing, and swear as the paramedics tried to restrain him. Miracle eventually deployed his taser to Hill’s thigh, quieting Hill long enough for Streeter to reestablish the IV catheter and administer dextrose. Hill’s blood-sugar levels stabilized. Hill denied being in pain, but was taken to the hospital. Not treatment was rendered for the taser wound. Hill claimed that he suffered burns and that his diabetes worsened. Hill filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging excessive force, with state-law claims of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Hill subsequently died from complications of diabetes. The district court denied Miracle’s claim of qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed, with instructions to dismiss. Miracle acted in an objectively reasonable manner with the minimum force necessary to bring Hill under control, and his actions enabled the paramedics to save Hill’s life. View "Estate of Hill v. Miracle" on Justia Law

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Memphis animal-control officer Lynch investigated a third complaint of animal cruelty at Moore's house. Moore did not come to the door. Moore’s neighbor, Hillis, told Lynch that Moore had threatened her and that she was “terrified” of him. Backup arrived. Moore opened the door, gestured as if he had a weapon, and shut the door. A second visit was equally unsuccessful. The next day, Hillis told Lynch that Moore said he would kill Lynch if she returned. TACT (the Memphis version of SWAT) was asked to assist in serving a search warrant. At the both doors, officers announced “police" and threw flash-bangs inside. A TACT officer saw Moore enter his bedroom. Moore called 911. The team approached, calling “Memphis Police” and “search warrant.” To prevent a barricade situation, an officer threw a flash-bang into the bedroom. Officer Penny entered and saw Moore holding a semi-automatic pistol, pointed at Penny. On the 911 tape, after the flash-bang, Penny can be heard y elling, “Hands, Don! Hands, hands, hands!” Seconds later, Penny fired at Moore, killing him. Moore’s gun, still in his hand was fully loaded with a round in the chamber; he had another pistol in a holster. Officers found a rifle next to the front door and axes next to each door. Moore’s children sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming excessive force. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding no violation of Moore’s constitutional rights. View "Moore v. City of Memphis" on Justia Law

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Ohio’s execution protocol allows for lethal injection using a three-drug combination of midazolam; either vecuronium bromide, pancuronium bromide, or rocuronium bromide, which are paralytics; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. The midazolam is intended to ensure that the person being executed is insensate to the pain that the other drugs cause. If midazolam does not “render the prisoner unconscious,” then “there is a substantial, constitutionally unacceptable risk of suffocation . . . and pain” from the second two drugs. The district court granted a preliminary injunction to allow for further litigation regarding midazolam’s efficacy before Ohio executes three men. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The ultimate question is whether use of midazolam “entails a substantial risk of severe pain” as compared to “a known and available alternative.” Plaintiffs demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of that claim. The public has an interest in sentences being carried out, but also also has an interest in ensuring that those sentences are carried out in a constitutional manner. The court cited estoppel, noting that Ohio represented that it was not going to use pancuronium bromide or potassium bromide “going forward,” and that there was “no possibility” it would revert to using those drugs and subsequently acted inconsistently with those representations. View "In re: Ohio Execution Protocol" on Justia Law